Author: Neville-Garrison, C. N.
Organization: Talent Identification Program, Duke University
Publications: Highly Gifted Children
Publisher: The Hollingworth Center
Volume: Vol. 11, No. 1
Year: Spring 1997
As a high school principal and former gifted program director, I know that educators are comfortable with the portfolio concept. A portfolio, as a demonstration of specific abilities and developmental needs, provides school personnel with the concrete evidence they need to design an appropriate program for a child. It also presents information in a direct visual way with clear data which teachers and administrators trust, allowing them to feel more comfortable. The individuals with whom you meet hold the keys to the possibilities at school. In my experience they want to provide appropriate learning programs for their students, but sometimes have not had the experiences, the coursework, or the will to provide effective alternatives to the regular curriculum. The portfolio with its evidence and your interest in using positive problem solving skills will make it more possible to create an environment which produces a range of educational alternatives that more closely meet the needs of your child.
Begin with the end in mind
It may help to visualize the meeting in which you will present your portfolio. Who needs to be present at the meeting and what will you present? What do you seek or what do you want to happen as a result of this meeting? What is possible in this school district? What has been done in the past for other gifted students? Are you the first to ask for alternatives? Who is the building administrator and what evidence do you have of how you might be received? What information might the people who come to this meeting need in advance to give them some background to even the playing field and help them feel like partners in a problem-solving process? You want the initial meeting and those that follow to be as productive as possible, so your advance preparation is important. Try to answer as many of the questions listed above as you can to assist you in your planning. One important tip: Do not overwhelm them with evidence. Less is probably more in this situation because time is a critical factor for people in the intensive service of teaching and learning. Provide them in advance with a letter that addresses your needs or one or two examples germane to what you will seek. A portfolio that can stand by itself after the meeting is important. Many families have presented notebooks, some have created a video (under 30 minutes please!), and some have presented computer discs. Choose the medium (or a combination of media) that will be most effective for your particular school. Decide on the format right from the beginning because the presentation style determines how you will gather and organize the data. You will collect much more than you will need for the portfolio, so choose the evidence that is most important to convince the school to meet your child’s most critical needs.
The difference between what is and what ought to be
If there is a major gap between the appropriate level and depth of learning your child needs from what is actually being taught, then highlight this difference in your portfolio. It is this difference between what is being offered in the regular curriculum to your child and the developmentally appropriate learning that would keep your child discovering new ideas, developing new skills and excited about the learning process that needs to be the focus of your portfolio.
You must decide how you define a gifted student to insure that the documentation in the portfolio is in concert with your beliefs about giftedness. There are a variety of definitions about giftedness and I offer you the following:
- Giftedness is asynchronous development in which advanced cognitive abilities and heightened intensity combine to create inner experiences and awareness that are qualitatively different from the norm. This asynchrony increases with higher intellectual capacity. The uniqueness of gifted children renders them particularly vulnerable and requires modifications in parenting, teaching and counseling in order for them to develop optimally. (The Columbus Group, 1991)
Teachers understand that a gifted child is out of “sync” with the students for whom the regular curriculum is designed. Teachers observe the evidence of high intellectual capacity and know that a gifted child can be vulnerable in the regular population because the other kids cannot understand the perspective from which the gifted child views the world. Even if your child is in the gifted program in your school, the program may not be different enough from the norm to meet your child’s needs. Your portfolio must show how your child is unique and provide evidence of the areas of high intensity or interests that your child exhibits. The evidence you present needs to provide information to clarify the severity of the gap between what is being planned that is appropriate for other children and what needs to be designed for your child. As you begin to consider gathering evidence for a portfolio, the following questions might help to get you started:
- What does your child need developmentally to be learning new facts, concepts, and skills while gaining the understanding that learning takes effort and discipline and is worth the expenditure of high energy?
- What is it about learning that ignites the sparkle in your child’s eyes?
- With whom does your child enjoy learning?
- In what situations has your child been a happy, confident learner? What are the characteristics of that learning situation that make the difference?
- What special topics, projects or subjects can hold your child’s interest for long periods of time?
- What happens to your child when asked to do learning activities that have already been mastered?
- What causes frustration for your child when learning?
- If you and your child could plan a unit of study or a project to investigate, what would it include?
- How does your child learn best?
- What events, situations or anecdotes come to your mind when you think of your child as asynchronous?
Presentation of information
Early in your data gathering, decide on your method of presentation and how much the student who is the subject of the planning meeting will contribute to the product.
Numbers as one piece of information
You may have all kinds of evidence to share with the teachers and administrator which demonstrates how special your child is, but it is suggested that you first use any numbers or scores you have that indicate asynchrony from the typical school population. If your child has tested well, use the scores to get the attention of the school. Scores on standardized readiness tests and achievement tests are particularly helpful when scores are in the high ninetieth percentiles. It is especially meaningful to teachers if your child scores well above 11 to consider grade level in reading or math.
In spite of the IQ test controversies, it is difficult to ignore a formidable score. A student cannot score high by accident and educators know that. They cannot deny that a high score indicates intellectual capacity. If you have a good score, use it. However, you need to be aware that the newer IQ tests (Binet IV, WISC Ill) have a low ceiling for highly gifted children. When scores on the newer tests have been compared to scores on the older Binet LM and the WISC R, the new test scores are drastically lower. (Silverman and Kearney, 1991.) It is strongly recommended that you request an evaluator to use the Stanford Binet LM because it is more likely to produce a more accurate number.
A full evaluation
Beyond the IQ score itself, there is helpful information about your child from a full evaluation and the resulting recommendations. If there is someone within a reasonable distance who understands the needs of gifted children, that would be ideal. Information on reading and math levels, early readiness for algebra, educational assessment in a variety of subject areas, and family information can help the school with decisions about placement. If you have an outside evaluation, include a written summary of the results in a section of the portfolio for added strength.
What else do you have that would be effective evidence? If you recorded when your child began to read and what books have captured his or her attention along the way, it is important to point out how the interests and reading levels are different from what typical students would choose. What were some of your child’s unusual questions and clear understandings about the world that demonstrate high intellectual capacity? At what time were you sure your child had learning needs that were different from other children? How did you know? It is helpful to have brief anecdotes explaining such events. What are your current observations and concerns? Do you have examples of events or situations in school that cause you concern? Your concerns probably go beyond content needs. What is happening to your child as a result of not having intellectual peers with whom to interact? Is it difficult for your child to share ideas and be understood by his classmates?
School personnel often believe in the need for all children to be in age-appropriate educational and social activities, but gifted students often enjoy older or younger peers with whom they can share intellectually. In elementary school, a gifted student may especially enjoy interacting with the classroom teacher, someone in the media center, a high school or community mentor, or other students within the school who have similar interests and abilities. High school student often gravitate to a teacher of a favorite subject or advisor of an extracurricular activity, a mentor, or an expert in a field of interest. Young people need to feel “normal” in a relationship or group at sometime during their day. Highly gifted children who may be light years head of the other gifted children often feel alienated from the core group and can walk a lonely path if they have no opportunity to share ideas with another individual who has, similar abilities and interests. In order for them to develop naturally during the school year it is critical that they be with intellectual peers, not just in special programs on weekends and in the summer. A student once said to me during a discussion on the problems of a pull out group for gifted students, “Oh, you can’t take away this gifted resource class, it’s the only time during the week that I feel normal!” It was decided that they would be scheduled together for at least one academic class a day where they felt safe to be themselves.
The “light year kids” mentioned above rarely have their needs met by the typical gifted program. These students have needs that exceed enrichment and/or resource classes, and each one needs an individual educational plan. Acceleration becomes an obvious option. Unfortunately educators often have misinformation about acceleration and will place obstacles in the way. There is a wealth of research that supports acceleration at all levels because of the demonstrated positive results. Well written studies with concrete results will help teachers and principals to understand how effective acceleration is for students who have a large gap between what is being taught and what is necessary to keep them excited and engaged in learning. There is a host of acceleration options that can be considered, but you need to present only one or two possibilities at the planning meeting.
Another sub group of gifted children could be called “connective learners.” When these children are faced with work that is repetitive or boring, they may allow their mind to wander to ideas. One idea leads to another and another until they are somewhere out in the ozone thinking about things. Meanwhile back in the classroom, life goes on and the “ozone walker” is A WOL, with unfinished assignments perhaps ending in low grades for classwork or homework. If your child shows the inability to stay focused on work they find uninteresting or that they already know, the portfolio must demonstrate that your child is productive when involved in learning new things and dealing with complexity. Work that is boring and without meaning for your child may bring on severe “ozone walking” so you must demonstrate how complex, challenging work can sustain your child’s focused attention for long periods of time. The teacher probably sees your child as a daydreamer, who is underachieving due to lack of motivation. She may not sense the extreme need for appropriate intellectual stimulation to enable your child to function optimally. Show how your child works successfully when challenged and supported. The high level of frustration that is experienced by children who are expected to spend time and energy on work they have already mastered must be made clear by your examples.
Gather all of your data and then organize it into categories. If you choose to present your information in a notebook, divide data and examples into specific notebook sections with a table of contents at the beginning. Possible sections might include: Definition or description of giftedness, brief abstract of needs to be met, the numbers that demonstrate both ability and achievement, a full evaluation with recommendations, early developmental data, social/emotional/intellectual needs, evidence and examples of the gap between what is being offered to your child in school and what is developmental appropriate, a timeline of events that demonstrate the different developmental trajectory of your child, and products that your child has created. Pictures of large or bulky products or projects might be advisable rather than filling the principal’s office with boxes of inventions and/or collections.
In your section about needs to be met, you and your child need to prioritize he needs because there is a great probability that the needs will be met in increments. You must be clear which needs must be met first. Use the portfolio as evidence and have possibilities ready to suggest. The meeting will work best if it is experienced as a problem-solving meeting with your child’s needs as the focus.
References and Suggested Reading
Garrison, C.N. (1989). Emotional needs of gifted girls. Understanding Our Gifted, 2(2), 1 10-14.
Gross, M.U.M. (1993). Exceptionally gifted children. New York and London: Routledge.
Highly Gifted Children. Newsletter for the Hollingworth Center for the Highly Gifted, 827 Central Ave. #282, Dover, NH 03820-2506.
Morelock, M. J. (1992). Giftedness: The view from within. Understanding Our Gifted. 4(3), 1, 11-15.
Silverman, L.K. ed. (1993). Counseling the gifted child. Denver: Love Publishing Company.
Silverman, L.K. & Kearney, K. (1991). Don’t throw away your old Binet. Roeper Review.
Silva, C. (1993). Educating educators. Understanding Our Gifted. Vol 16, II, p. i, 11-14.
Southern, W.T. & Jones, E.D. (1991). The academic acceleration of gifted children. New York: Teachers College Press.
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