Someone once suggested to me that instead of testing students for the gifted program, that I should go to classrooms and do observations. The problem is that I have spent years training myself to look for the gifts in everyone. Sometimes the gifts are not always easy to find, but when you spot them it is the most amazing experience. I can’t imagine someone heading to the Klondike during the gold rush being more excited when they come across that golden seam. Interestingly enough, some of the “gifts” that I perceive, aren’t always recognized in the same way by others and as a result our perceptions of what constitutes a gifted child can differ greatly. So how and why do we build gifted programs when there are gifts in all children and there are so many different kinds of gifts?
The how part is easy. Once you establish a definition of what kind of gifted child you are looking for, you find the tools that will identify students to fit that definition. If you are looking for students who are capable of achieving beyond their grade level, you use a test that will establish whether the student is able to engage in the thinking processes at a level beyond their current level. The test must be normed so students are being evaluated against a large group of students of a certain age and grade. It must also be independent of specific content knowledge that would vary from school to school and province to province. We use the Canadian Cognitive Abilities Test two grades above level to help us identify students who demonstrate advanced reasoning in the verbal, quantitative and non-verbal domains.
The why part is often more difficult to explain but the crux of it is that the most rewarding learning experiences come when we are faced with tasks that challenge us. If something is easy to do, we may feel a brief sense of pride in the fact that we are able to do it easily, but over time simply demonstrating that something is easy wears thin. We need not only the sense of discovery, but the comraderie of those who are discovering alongside of us. But this is nothing compared to succeeding at something that you weren’t certain you’d be able to do! So learning becomes an adventure and it’s great if you’re with a companion who points out what you might be missing and at the same time allows you to share your observations as well.
And so we develop gifted programs to find students who might be in need of that adventure, exploring beyond the boundaries of their current understanding, sometimes on their own, sometimes with other travelers. Could this adventure be supplied in their regular classroom? It depends on the student, the subject, the teacher and an understanding of the nature of the giftedness. Do the tests correctly identify the students for me? Most of the time. Every year, there are some who I’m told have not demonstrated their full capacity on the test for a multitude of reasons and are not included. And every year, the tests identify a few who despite my best efforts, are not engaging with the challenge that I try to create for them and withdraw from the program.
This spring I met almost 100 amazing students, full of gifts, in search of adventure. I was only able to invite 24 of them into the program based on the criteria we have developed for our district and the results of the testing. Despite knowing that the tests are not perfect and that all students have gifts, I will do my best to help create those challenging, meaningful learning experiences for those students who have been identified as needing my support.