Context Matters To Highly Gifted Children

There is an interesting misconception about how learning as a process works in gifted children. There is an assumption that intelligence overrides the need for context around the topic they are studying. Yet Psychologist Bart Vogelaar discovered that even the most gifted group of children benefit from training and explanation.

When children have their learning abilities assessed or are tested at school, they don’t always show their full potential. Exam stress can cause a child to under-perform in this environment.

One way to avoid this issue is to adopt dynamic tests, where children receive training during the test and their progress is then measured. This provides a clearer picture of their learning capabilities.

If the assumption is that gifted children are always working to their full potential in these tests, then they would not require training or an explanation about the test topic. However, as development psychologist, Bart Vogelaar explains. ‘I’m not sure that assumption is correct.’

Measuring Progress

For his Ph.D. research, Vogelaar studied 522 children aged between five and ten years of age. The study comprised two groups; 173 highly gifted and 349 average students. Both groups took part in dynamic testing including a learning potential test component.

The children had to solve analogical reasoning tasks, comprising four boxes with different geometric figures. The first three boxes were filled with figures that changed from one box to the next according to a particular rule, for example, in size or in position. The children had to use analogical reasoning to draw the figure in the last box.

A Testing Assessment

The test consisted of an initial assessment based on a series of tasks, after which the children were given a training session followed by a further set of tasks as a post-assessment follow-up.

As Vogelaar explained, “This kind of test gives a better insight into how well children learn because we are able to measure not only how much they progress on a new task, but also how much and what kind of help they need to achieve this progress.”

Indications Are Training Helps

The test showed all groups of children made progress from the starting to the post-measurement. However, there were major individual differences between the two groups. As Vogelaar observed, “It confirmed that highly gifted children also benefit from explanation and training and that they don’t always show their full potential in tests.’ Vogelaar concludes from this that dynamic testing gives better insight into the reasoning capabilities and learning process of children – whether or not highly gifted – than conventional testing, such as with an IQ test.”

Training and Instruction For All

What really surprised Vogelaar was, how similar the two groups of children were to each other. The test Vogelaar said showed that, “highly gifted children have the same need for instruction as averagely gifted children, and that they exhibited the same degree of progress from the starting to the post-assessment. The highly gifted children started at a higher level of reasoning but made the same amount of progress as their averagely gifted peers. These findings suggest that they learn just as much from the training and instruction as averagely gifted children.”

Conclusion: Gifted Children Also Need Context

Schools tend to assume that highly gifted children can manage by themselves and that they do not need extra support. As a result, ironically, they sometimes seem to be forgotten. Vogelaar’s research shows highly gifted children also benefit from extra learning support. As Vogelaar summarised, “The fact that these children are clever does not mean that they always perform to maximum capacity.”

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