A lot of time and money is spent thinking about special needs children, says Florida State University professor Steven I. Pfeiffer, while there is an assumption that no educational resources need to be provided for 'gifted' kids to help them thrive in school.
"There is a view occasionally expressed by those outside of the gifted field that we don't need programs devoted specifically to gifted students," Pfeiffer, member of the Department of Educational Psychology and Learning Systems, said. "'Oh, they're smart, they'll do fine on their own' is what we often hear. And because of this anti-elitist attitude, it's often difficult to get funding for programs and services that help us to develop some of our brightest, most advanced kids -- America's most valuable resource."
A key problem in working with gifted children is one of definition. What exactly does it mean to be 'gifted'?
Part of Pfeiffer's research has been finding ways to best identify those children. To that end, he led a group that developed a diagnostic test which complements the widely used intelligence test in identifying children who might be gifted. Pfeiffer's test is now being used in more than 600 school districts across the nation and has been translated for use in a number of other countries. (For more information on the Gifted Rating Scales, visit www.fsu.com/pages/2006/11/20/gifted_rating_scales.html.)
"For almost a hundred years, schools used one measure, the IQ test," stated Pfeiffer. "Our own research indicates that the IQ test, although it works fairly well, is not without limitations in identifying giftedness. We launched a project to develop a test that would be a companion to the IQ test in helping educators better identify those children who have potential but perhaps are missed on IQ tests."
But once that is accomplished, how do we help them best? Harder classes isn't necessarily productive.
Pfeiffer discusses the issue of defining giftedness, how to best nurture it and many of the emotional and social challenges facing gifted children in a new paper, "The Gifted: Clinical Challenges and Practice Opportunities for Child Psychiatry," published in the Journal of the American Academy of Child&Adolescent Psychiatry.
"Even within the gifted field, there is considerable controversy regarding definitional, conceptual and diagnostic issues," Pfeiffer said. "However, as a generally agreed-upon definition, gifted children are those who are in the upper 3 percent to 5 percent compared to their peers in one or more of the following domains: general intellectual ability, specific academic competence, the visual or performing arts, leadership and creativity."
In other work involving gifted students, the state of Florida recently asked Pfeiffer and his team to lead an effort to help Florida's best and brightest high school students reach their potential so they can help the state reach its. The result was the establishment of the Florida Governor's School for Space Science and Technology, which was created by the Legislature in 2007. (Visit www.fsu.com/pages/2008/04/08/space_science_and_tech.html to read more.)
"The Florida State University -- in partnership with the Florida Institute of Technology and Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University -- was fortunate to be asked to develop a plan to design a state-of-the-art residential academy for Florida's most capable high school students," Pfeiffer said. "Essentially, the Florida Legislature was interested in providing resources for Florida's brightest students in high schools, particularly in terms of a curriculum which would emphasize science, math, engineering and technology."
Pfeiffer is working with the national organization SENG (Supporting Emotional Needs of the Gifted) to develop a certification system so that professionals working with gifted children -- educators, mental health providers, pediatricians and others -- will be able to receive an official designation citing their expertise in this area.
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