Commentary—Identifying High Ability Preschoolers

Spring 1993 Masthead

A Review of Identifying Giftet Preschoolers by Barbara Louis, Candice Feiring, and Michael Lewis

Florence Caillard
The University of Connecticut
Storrs, CT

As early childhood education is gaining more and more importance in the field of education, identifying young gifted children has become an important issue in the field of gifted education. In the past five years, research has increased on the subject of identification (Burns, Matthews, & Mason, 1990; Burns & Tunnard, 1991; Louis, Lewis, & Feiring, 1991; Parkinson, 1990; Robinson & Weimert, 1990; Rogers & Silverman, 1988; Shaklee & Hansford, 1992). Various identification techniques have been developed or are in the process of being developed.

Identifying Gifted Preschoolers is a timely videotape and teacher’s manual produced by Barbara Louis, Candice Feiring, and Michael Lewis. The thirty minute training tape, which has a high technical quality, was produced to help teachers recognize gifted preschool children in a school setting. A well designed teacher’s manual accompanies the tape, and it also describes a second assessment task. The videotape identifies three areas where a child can demonstrate advanced abilities: spatial abilities, verbal abilities, and problem solving abilities. It then shows average and gifted 3 and 5 year old children completing tasks requiring the use of these specific abilities. Each example is clearly presented and analyzed. Children are shown doing the tasks but never heard; the narrative is dubbed over the verbal interactions. By allowing viewers to hear part of the verbal interactions with the children, a richer context for viewers could have been established.

The videotape, if used by teachers as an identification tool, needs to be used with some caution. First, the only definition of giftedness in the tape or the manual is “Some children learn more quickly and can accomplish more difficult tasks at an earlier age than most. These children are considered to be gifted.” This definition is very simplistic and the connection between the first part of the definition and the second is not as obvious as the authors seem to believe. The developmental rates of the children could be a rational explanation of the differences. Other explanations could be early stimulation, such as previous school experience, home experiences, or self teaching from TV shows such as Sesame Street.

Second, even though the authors mention that children “can show their abilities in many different areas,” and “may show advanced abilities in all or any one of these areas,” no examples are given of other areas which are either not as well known, or harder to identify (e.g., visual, mechanical, or artistic abilities). Within each area the tasks presented to the children are isolated from everyday life and may not resemble the real abilities of the child. For example, problem solving is illustrated by presenting the child with a set of blocks of different sizes, shapes, and colors. The child then has to figure out different ways of arranging these blocks. In another task, mentioned in the manual, the adult asks the child how to arrange a birthday party for a friend. A child may not show many different strategies or know what is needed for a birthday party. Therefore, the child may not be identified as having advanced problem solving skills. The child may display problem solving skills in other domains (e.g., science or play). For example, a child may not demonstrate a superior ability in reproducing a pattern that involves looking at a picture and then translating it into a 3-dimensional object when presented with the blocks. However, the same child may be knowledgeable about an area of interest (e.g., planets, American Indians, or dinosaurs) that goes beyond the knowledge of a 3 or 5 year old. None of these tasks would have assessed that special knowledge and interest.

Finally, the tasks as illustrations of advanced abilities are similar to those used in developmental assessment. They do not seem to have been created to discover especially high abilities. They may assess the child’s developmental level, but they do not show how much more the child knows or is able to do.

Identifying Gifted Preschoolers emphasizes important issues in early childhood education, such as:

  • Children develop at different rates;
  • Teachers need to recognize how children express their advanced abilities;
  • Children must be inspired to reach their potential and gain a sense of accomplishment; and
  • Learning tasks should challenge, motivate, and encourage interest in learning.

Although this videotape should not be used as the only tool for identifying young children with high abilities, it does raise awareness of the different developmental rates of children. However, it falls short of being a good identification tool for advanced abilities because of its simplification of the issue, the lack of theory or research to back up all the statements, assumptions of differences between average and gifted young children, and the restricted range of tasks.

Teachers interested in identifying high ability young children should supplement their investigation with additional research. Many researchers believe that in order to better identify high ability young children, an identification system should combine more than one approach (Burns, 1990; Fatouros, 1986; Ehrlich, 1980; Felker, 1982; Hollinger, 1985; Kames, 1986; Roedell, 1980; Smutny, 1989). Useful information can be collected from parents through the use of interviews, checklists, and anecdotal records (Hanson, 1984; Louis & Lewis, 1992; Roedell, Jackson, & Robinson, 1980; Wolfle, 1989) from teachers through observations, work samples, interest assessment (Cohen, 1989; Wolfle, 1989), and other sources, such as test scores, performance ratings, or results from the tasks previously described.

Identifying Gifted Preschoolers presents the viewer with a visual and written training package that is a first step in developing a broad-based screening and identification system tailored to the needs of bright young students. Persons involved in designing and developing programs for preschoolers should review this training package.

Louis, B., Feiring, C., & Lewis, M., (1992). Identifying gifted preschoolers (teacher’s manual and videotape). New Brunswick, NJ: Institute for the Study of Child Development. Cost: $175.00

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Bums, J. M., & Tunnard, J. D. (1991). Public programming for precocious preschoolers. Gifted Child Today, 14, 56-60.
Cohen, L. N. (1989). Understanding the interests and themes of the very young gifted child. Gifted Child Today, 9, 6-9.
Ehrlich, V. Z. (1980). Identifying giftedness in the early years: From three through seven. In S. Kaplan (Eds.), Educating the preschool/primary gifted and talented. Ventura, CA: National/State Leadership Training Institute on the Gifted and Talented.
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Robinson, N. M., & Weimert, L. J. (1990). Selection of candidates for early admission to kindergarten and first grade. In W. T. Southern & E. D. Jones, (Eds.), The academic acceleration of gifted children (pp. 29-50). New York, NY: Teachers College Press.
Rogers, M. T., & Silverman, L. (1988). Recognizing giftedness in young children. Understanding Our Gifted, 1(2), 5 & 16-17 & 20.
Shaklee, B., & Hansford, S. (1992). Identification of underserved populations: Focus on preschool and primary children. In Challenges in gifted education. Ohio Department of Education.
Wolfle, J. (1989). The gifted preschooler: Developmentally different, but still three or four years old. Young Children, 44(3), 41-08.


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