NATIONAL

NIAS team develops instrument to identify gifted students

THE PERILS:A gifted child in a non-stimulating environment may end up being ill-adjusted.— FILE PHOTO: AP

THE PERILS:A gifted child in a non-stimulating environment may end up being ill-adjusted.— FILE PHOTO: AP  

Those with special talents have accelerated learning needs not met inregular classrooms

A child showing any special talent — ranging from singing to telling tables backwards — is arbitrarily called ‘gifted.’ But can giftedness be identified through an empirical method?

The National Institute of Advanced Studies (NIAS), as part of a national project on gifted education started in 2010, has developed an instrument for teachers to identify children showing ‘gifted behaviour’ in Indian classrooms. The instrument is a list of 21 behaviours that some children show more often than others. Teachers can use their observations of children to identify early signs of potential.

Field tests

This instrument is currently being field-tested before it can be used for identification. The project team is looking for the participation of interested schools or teachers to standardise the teacher nomination form for gifted children.

The model of behaviours has been developed based on the team’s field research in 12 schools in and around Bangalore from 2010 to mid-2012 using non-participant observation across the school day. The classroom sizes, syllabus, and teaching styles were varied.

Primary schoolchildren

The checklist is suitable for primary schoolchildren. It covers a range of abilities including concentration, observation, learning speed, critical thinking, vocabulary and extracurricular ability.

“We studied children in one of their natural contexts — at school. Our objective was to determine the behaviours characterising gifted children, and the situational factors that elicit or impede these behaviours,” said Anitha Kurup, principal investigator of the project.

Amita Basu, research assistant, pointed out that while western models of giftedness and identification measures do exist, context is crucial in any behaviour. “We needed to study giftedness in India as a basis for culture-appropriate identification and education protocol.”

Because mainstream Indian classrooms focus on repetitive tasks and rote learning, gifted children have few formal opportunities to display their abilities in reasoning, problem solving, or creativity. “In such a situation, [they] are prone to get bored, leave work incomplete, misbehave, and absent themselves frequently from school. Often, a child with high ability is noticed by teachers only because of his/her behavioural problems.” A gifted child in a non-stimulating environment may end up being ill-adjusted.

Burden of boredom

In the course of the study, the NIAS team examined links between giftedness and behavioural problems. “It is important to note that, on the whole, gifted children seemed well-adjusted, happy, and performing at above-average levels in the class,” says Ms. Basu. “However, highly gifted children tended to show more non-normative behaviours such as total disengagement and questioning the teacher, for which they were disciplined.” For instance, in one classroom, a bored 7-year-old persuaded his friend to let him cut his hair, and was beaten by the teacher.

Progressive problems

These problems may intensify as children progress through school. One possible reason for this is that preschool environment allows relative freedom and frequent hands-on or physical activity, whereas in mainstream schools even primary classrooms are highly regimented.

Ms. Basu believed that the project to identify some children as ‘gifted’ was not an elitist and exclusionary exercise. “Gifted children have accelerated learning needs that are simply not met in the regular classroom. Just as we do not expect a child with mental retardation or a learning disorder to succeed in the mainstream classroom without any additional intervention, neither should we expect a gifted child to do so.”

Gender and giftedness

The NIAS team found that gender played a role in identifying giftedness, with girls more likely to hide their gifts to fit in. Gifted girls more often than gifted boys underplayed or hid their abilities.

“They wanted to conform to classroom environments where their high abilities simply cannot be met in any acceptable way,” said Amita Basu.

If the curriculum was not challenging enough, gifted boys tended to “act out” or misbehave where gifted girls “go underground” or hide their abilities, which pointed to a trend where girls and boys responded differently to an under-stimulating environment.

(Teachers or schools interested in participating in the project can contact Ajay Chandra at 9916161322 or Amita Basu at 080-26431516.)



While western models of giftedness and identification measures do exist, context is crucial in any behaviour

Gifted children have few formal opportunities to display their abilities in reasoning, problem solving, or creativity


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