Is High IQ Sufficient to Identify a Gifted Child?

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Schools have a responsibility to provide the best education they can to every child. Part of this duty is the identification of those with learning difficulties and also the gifted and talented. Both groups of children require different support from the school environment, but learning difficulties are often prioritised above helping the gifted. After all, schools want to make sure there are no barriers to education, and the natural inclination is to see a gifted child as one that has no difficulty with accessing education.

Sadly, this can cause problems for the gifted child. If the school does nothing to challenge them, a gifted child can deal with their boredom in a variety of ways. The best case scenario is that they find ways to educationally challenge themselves, or have a family with the time and resources to find activities designed to stretch them. However, the less positive outcome is a gifted child with huge potential to achieve that becomes bored and disillusioned with schooling, and learning in general. Realising that they only need to do the bare minimum to keep up, or sometimes not caring when they fall behind, it can be the beginning of a downward spiral into behavioural problems such as truancy, depression and even petty crime. At this point, the school becomes focused on the behaviour, rather than the problem, and once a child is labelled as a troublesome student, it can take a huge effort to reverse the process.

The definition of a ‘gifted child’

In order to prevent this from happening, the first step is the correct identification of a gifted child – something that all parents and education professionals need to be able to do with confidence. Having been in education for over thirty years, I have come to the conclusion that the word ‘gifted’ is overused, and frequently applied to children who are simply very bright. In the 1930’s, the official indicator for a gifted child was an IQ above 130, but is this sufficient?

In order to illustrate how extraordinary a gifted child can be, I’d like to offer some anecdotes about a French student that myself and tutors in my agency have been working with for the past year.

The parents of the teenaged boy in question got in touch because he had been expelled from a prestigious private school in Beijing. The school simply hadn’t found the right way to engage him, or deal with a group of troublesome students with whom the boy had got involved. The family found themselves in a terrible situation: their child had been expelled from a prestigious private school, he had effectively lost a semester of work, thus damaging his grade point average, and it seemed impossible for him to be able to attend any decent university, let alone the Ivy League school he had his sights upon.

Several months later his life has turned around and we are starting to see what this young man is capable of. Recently, he completed one semester of an AP Literature course in ten days – a course that usually takes 16 weeks to complete. He scored more than 92% – his tutor didn’t even have to grade the last three assignments as he had already achieved an A grade. This is an American college level course, but he completed it at this high level in this extraordinary timeframe.

Another illustration is the reaction of a Cambridge professor who kindly agreed to tutor him for three weeks during the summer vacation. The student attended a one-on-one tutorial with the head of maths of Churchill College for three hours everyday, and thrived on it. The professor later told me that he had had reservations about teaching such a young student, but that he had found the experience ‘refreshing’.

Why high IQ should not be the only criterion when identifying gifted children

These anecdotes demonstrate that high IQ is not sufficient to determine whether a child is gifted. An IQ test wouldn’t reveal all of the other traits that are seen in truly gifted children; their tenacity, for example, or their ability to produce exceptional work in exceptional circumstances. The truly gifted child will develop an incredible work ethic when given the right support and stimulation.

Children like the student described are rare, but they have the capabilities to go on and do incredible things for society. A school system that cannot give such children what they need can crush the enthusiasm out of them and also deny society the benefits of their abilities in years to come. Coping with a gifted child can be a challenge – the young man I described has needed ten tutors this year to give him the required breadth and depth of tuition, but the benefits cannot be denied. As education professionals we must encourage and nurture gifted children, otherwise society will suffer in the long term.

Adam Caller has been directly involved in education for the entirety of his career, and has tutored students of all ages. He has received specialist training in dyslexia and Attention Deficit Disorder and is very sensitive to children’s educational difficulties. As founder of Tutors International, a worldwide organisation providing experienced private tutors to work with children of all ages and nationalities, Adam has turned his expertise to recruiting, training and placing other tutors to help families. Tutors International has extensive experience of tutoring gifted children and ensuring that they can reach their full potential.

Tutors International specialises in providing tutors for a wide variety of situations, from helping students re-take critical exams, helping pupils with the transition of moving between international school systems, and supporting youngsters with AD/HD and dyslexia. They provide a bespoke service to find the right tutor that suits the child’s needs and aspirations, and if a full-time live-in tutor is required, Adam personally ensures that the assigned tutor is the right match for the family and fits in the environment.

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