Case Studies of Gifted Kindergarten Children: Profiles of Promise

Article excerpt

The early years have been considered formative and critical to subsequent cognitive, social and emotional development, yet research on young children has focused on commonalities; individual differences and abnormally advanced development are often viewed as "'troublesome noise' rather than objects of interest in themselves" (Robinson, 1993, p. 507). Despite considerable growth in the field of school psychology, identification of, and intervention with, the young gifted has received little emphasis; most notably neglected are gifted school-entry-aged children. So few areas with respect to the young gifted have been researched that much uncertainty still exists about the nature and fostering of giftedness and talent at this age.

There has been a preponderance of retrospective studies in the examination of the early lives of the highly gifted (Albert, 1980; Cox, 1926; Goertzel, Goertzel, & Goertzel, 1978). Bloom's (1985) study on world-class achievers found their early years to consist of warm and gentle nurturance. The abilities of prodigies, those whose adult-level talents emerge by middle childhood, are rarely addressed prior to school entry (Feldman & Goldsmith, 1986; Radford, 1990). The accuracy of parent and teacher identification has also been examined. Because of biased sampling from high socioeconomic areas, early studies of the young gifted tended to conclude that they were superior in all facets of development. Unfortunately, these studies have instituted firmly held beliefs that these children are able to overcome their problems independently and will rise to the top, regardless of any intervention provided.

This study utilized an in-depth, qualitative case study research approach, as described by Bogdan and Biklen (1992), to investigate the lives of gifted kindergarten children. When studying subpopulations of gifted students, it is difficult to obtain large populations and it is not possible to employ random selection as the identification of the gifted and talented within this age group is not common practice. Very few studies of this population have been undertaken in "present time," when the children are actually experiencing events, such as school programs, parenting, social relationships and other influences that contribute to their overall development. By focusing on the present, characterizations of particular and idiosyncratic features of the child's development and more detailed attention to environmental factors influencing the individuality and diversity of this population can be acquired. Retrospective studies, by contrast, are subject to the inaccuracies of the recollections of older memories. This study allowed growth and change experiences to be observed firsthand.

There have been a number of research case studies conducted within gifted education. Children with IQs exceeding 180 (Hollingworth, 1942), gifted twins (Witty & Coomer, 1985), eminent historical figures (Goertzel & Goertzel, 1962), adolescents (Flack, 1983), world class performers (Bloom, 1985), prodigies (Feldman & Goldsmith, 1986), and the radical acceleration of an Australian extraordinarily gifted child (Gross, 1986) are all examples of research utilizing this methodology. Case study techniques were used to develop theory unique to special populations of gifted individuals. Whitmore and Maker (1985) focused on gifted individuals with disabilities, including those with hearing, visual, and physical impairment, and learning disabilities. However, these research studies, with the exception of Gross, have focused on intellective and academic characteristics rather than the overall development of these individuals within a social and academic setting.

Early life experiences can powerfully impact attitudes toward learning and later achievements in education. The purpose of this study was to: (a) delineate developmental characteristics and (b) explore educational needs that apply to the young gifted. …