Definition of Gifted
The Council for Exceptional Children,
ERIC DIGEST #E476 ED 321 481 1990
GIFTEDNESS AND THE GIFTED:
WHAT'S IT ALL ABOUT?WHAT DOES GIFTEDNESS MEAN?
Many parents say, "I know what giftedness is, but I can't put it into words."
This generally is followed by reference to a particular child who seems to manifest
gifted behaviors. Unfortunately, there are many misconceptions of the term, all
of which become deterrents to understanding and catering to the needs of children
identified as gifted. Let's study the following statement:
"Giftedness is that
precious endowment of potentially outstanding abilities which allows a person
to interact with the environment with remarkably high levels of achievement
This statement is the product
of a small neighborhood group of parents who took a comprehensive view of the
concept of giftedness before focusing on any attempt to define the gifted child.
They thought, first, that within giftedness is a quality of innateness (or,
as they said, "a gift conferred by nature"), and second, that one's
environment is the arena in which the gifts come into play and develop. Therefore,
they reasoned that the "remarkably high levels of achievement and creativity"
result from a continuous and functional interaction between a person's inherent
and acquired abilities and characteristics.
We often hear statements
such as "She's a born artist," or "He's a natural athlete,"
or conversely, "Success never came easy for me; I had to learn the hard
way," or "He's a self-made man." Those who manifest giftedness
obviously have some inherent or inborn factors plus the motivation and stamina
to learn from and cope with the rigors of living.
We suggest that you wrestle
with the term in your own way, looking at giftedness as a concept that demands
the investment of time, money, and energy. This will help you discuss giftedness
more meaningfully with other parents, school administrators, school board members,
or anyone who needs to understand the dynamics of the term.
WHO ARE GIFTED CHILDREN?
Former U. S. Commissioner of Education Sidney P. Marland, Jr., in his August
1971 report to Congress, stated, "Gifted and talented children are those
identified by professionally qualified persons who by virtue of outstanding
abilities are capable of high performance. These are children who require differentiated
educational programs and/or services beyond those normally provided by the regular
school program in order to realize their contribution to self and society"
The same report continued:
"Children capable of high performance include those with demonstrated achievement
and/or potential ability in any of the following areas, singly or in combination:
1. general intellectual
2. specific academic aptitude
3. creative or productive thinking
4. leadership ability
5. visual or performing arts
6. psychomotor ability."
Using a broad definition
of giftedness, a school system could expect to identify 10% to 15% or more of
its student population as gifted and talented. A brief description of each area
of giftedness or talent as defined by the Office of Gifted and Talented will
help you understand this definition.
ability or talent. Laypersons and educators alike usually define this in
terms of a high intelligence test score--usually two standard deviations above
the mean--on individual or group measures. Parents and teachers often recognize
students with general intellectual talent by their wide-ranging fund of general
information and high levels of vocabulary, memory, abstract word knowledge,
and abstract reasoning.
Specific academic aptitude
or talent. Students with specific academic aptitudes are identified by their
outstanding performance on an achievement or aptitude test in one area such
as mathematics or language arts. The organizers of talent searches sponsored
by a number of universities and colleges identify students with specific academic
aptitude who score at the 97th percentile or higher on standard achievement
tests and then give these students the Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT). Remarkably
large numbers of students score at these high levels.
Creative and productive
thinking. This is the ability to produce new ideas by bringing together
elements usually thought of as independent or dissimilar and the aptitude for
developing new meanings that have social value. Characteristics of creative
and productive students include openness to experience, setting personal standards
for evaluation, ability to play with ideas, willingness to take risks, preference
for complexity, tolerance for ambiguity, positive self-image, and the ability
to become submerged in a task. Creative and productive students are identified
through the use of tests such as the Torrance Test of Creative Thinking or through
demonstrated creative performance.
Leadership ability. Leadership
can be defined as the ability to direct individuals or groups to a common decision
or action. Students who demonstrate giftedness in leadership ability use group
skills and negotiate in difficult situations. Many teachers recognize leadership
through a student's keen interest and skill in problem solving. Leadership characteristics
include self-confidence, responsibility, cooperation, a tendency to dominate,
and the ability to adapt readily to new situations. These students can be identified
through instruments such as the Fundamental Interpersonal Relations Orientation
Visual and performing
arts. Gifted students with talent in the arts demonstrate special talents
in visual art, music, dance, drama, or other related studies. These students
can be identified by using task descriptions such as the Creative Products Scales,
which were developed for the Detroit Public Schools by Patrick Byrons and Beverly
Ness Parke of Wayne State University.
This involves kinesthetic motor abilities such as practical, spatial, mechanical,
and physical skills. It is seldom used as a criterion in gifted programs.
Robert Sternberg and Robert Wagner (1982) have suggested that giftedness is
a kind of mental self-management. The mental management of one's life in a constructive,
purposeful way has three basic elements: adapting to environments, selecting
new environments, and shaping environments. According to Sternberg and Wagner,
the key psychological basis of intellectual giftedness resides in insight skills
that include three main processes: (1) separating relevant from irrelevant information,
(2) combining isolated pieces of information into a unified whole, and (3) relating
newly acquired information to information acquired in the past. Sternberg and
Wagner emphasized problem-solving abilities and viewed the gifted student as
one who processes information rapidly and uses insight abilities. Howard Gardner
(1983) also suggested a concept of multiple intelligences, stating that there
are several ways of viewing the world: linguistic, logical/mathematical, spatial,
musical, bodily-kinesthetic, interpersonal, and intrapersonal intelligence.
Joseph Renzulli (1986) stated
that gifted behavior reflects an interaction among three basic clusters of human
traits: above-average general and/or specific abilities, high levels of task
commitment (motivation), and high levels of creativity. According to Renzulli,
gifted and talented children are those who possess or are capable of developing
this composite of traits and applying them to any potentially valuable area
of human performance.
A good source for pursuing
the characteristics of giftedness in depth is Barbara Clark's informative book,
GROWING UP GIFTED (1988), which presents an exhaustive list of characteristics
under five major headings: Cognitive (thinking), Affective (feeling), Physical,
Intuitive, and Societal.
No one child manifests all
of the attributes described by researchers and the Office of Gifted and Talented.
Nevertheless, it is important for parents to be fully aware of the ways in which
giftedness can be recognized. Often, certain behaviors such as constantly having
unique solutions to problems, asking endless, probing questions, or even the
masterful manipulation of others are regarded by parents as unnatural, unlike
other children, and trying to parental patience. Therefore, our recommendation
is to study the characteristics of gifted children with an open mind. Do not
use the list as a scorecard; simply discuss and appreciate the characteristics
and let common sense, coupled with love, take over.
SOME GENERAL CHARACTERISTICS
(These are typical factors stressed by educational authorities as being indicative
of giftedness. Obviously, no child is outstanding in all characteristics.)
1. Shows superior reasoning powers and marked ability to handle ideas; can generalize
readily from specific facts and can see subtle relationships; has outstanding
2. Shows persistent intellectual curiosity; asks searching questions; shows
exceptional interest in the nature of man and the universe.
3. Has a wide range of interests, often of an intellectual kind; develops one
or more interests to considerable depth.
4. Is markedly superior in quality and quantity of written and/or spoken vocabulary;
is interested in the subtleties of words and their uses.
5. Reads avidly and absorbs books well beyond his or her years.
6. Learns quickly and easily and retains what is learned; recalls important
details, concepts and principles; comprehends readily.
7. Shows insight into arithmetical problems that require careful reasoning and
grasps mathematical concepts readily.
8. Shows creative ability or imaginative expression in such things as music,
art, dance, drama; shows sensitivity and finesse in rhythm, movement, and bodily
9. Sustains concentration for lengthy periods and shows outstanding responsibility
and independence in classroom work.
10. Sets realistically high standards for self; is self-critical in evaluating
and correcting his or her own efforts.
11. Shows initiative and originality in intellectual work; shows flexibility
in thinking and considers problems from a number of viewpoints.
12. Observes keenly and is responsive to new ideas.
13. Shows social poise and an ability to communicate with adults in a mature
14. Gets excitement and pleasure from intellectual challenge; shows an alert
and subtle sense of humor.
A QUICK LOOK AT INTELLIGENCE
The attempts to define giftedness refer in one way or another to so-called "inborn"
attributes, which, for lack of a better term, are called intelligence. Significant
efforts have been made to measure intelligence, but, because the concept is
elusive, test constructors simply aim at testing what they feel are typical
manifestations of intelligence in behaviors. Perhaps a little rhyme used for
years by kindergarten teachers will help to describe this elusiveness: "Nobody
sees the wind; neither you, nor I. But when the trees bow down their heads,
the wind is passing by." Just as we cannot see the wind, we cannot find,
operate on, or transplant intelligence. Yet we see the working or manifestations
of intelligence in the behaviors of people. The man-made computation of an intelligence
quotient, or IQ, is probably the best general indicator of intelligence, but
in no way is it infallible. All too often, a child's IQ is misunderstood and
becomes a lifelong "handle." However, given our present knowledge,
the results of a standardized intelligence test administered by a competent
examiner provide as reliable an indication as possible of a person's potential
ability to learn and cope. Until some scientific breakthrough is developed,
we will rely on the IQ score to approximate how mentally gifted a person may
The nature of intelligence
was once explained in this way: If intelligence were something you could see,
touch, and weigh, it would be something like a can of paint. The genius would
have a gallon, the person who has severe retardation, only half a pint. The
rest of us would have varying amounts between these extremes, with the majority
possessing about two quarts. This is clear enough, but it is only half the story.
Each can of paint contains the same five or six ingredients in varying amounts.
One can may be "long" on oil, another on pigment, a third on turpentine,
the fourth on gloss or drying agent. So, although two cans contain the same
amount of paint, the paint may be of vastly different consistency, color, or
character. Good painters want to know the elements in the paint with which they
are working. Parents and teachers want to know the kinds of intelligence with
which they are working. What are the special qualities of this intelligence?
In what proportions are these elements present? Most important, how can these
elements be used?
We recommend that you do
not become bogged down in probing into the concept of intelligence. Its intricacies
and mysteries are fascinating, but it must not become a convenient synonym for
giftedness. An excellent coverage of the concept of intelligence is provided
by Barbara Clark in GROWING UP GIFTED. The exciting advances in research on
brain functioning, coupled with the realization that a child's intelligence
is only one key to understanding giftedness, have underscored the importance
of studying all characteristics of the gifted child.
THE GIFTED CHILD IS CALLED
Often parents are confused by the many terms used in referring to the gifted
child. Many parents hear these terms used--sometimes adopting them in their
own conversations--without knowing whether they are synonymous with "gifted"
or are just words that help to explain the concept.
The term "genius"
used to be widely employed but now it is reserved for reference only to the
phenomenally gifted person. "Talented" tends to be used when referring
to a particular strength or ability of a person. Thought should be given to
whether the talent is truly a gift or is, rather, an ability that has become
a highly developed skill through practice. It is safe to say that generally
the person identified as gifted is one who has multiple talents of a high order.
The terms "prodigy"
and "precocious" are most commonly used when a child evidences a decidedly
advanced degree of skill in a particular endeavor at a very early age, as well
as a very disciplined type of motivation. It is interesting to note that the
derivation of the words precocious or precocity comes from the ancient Greek
word for "precooked" and connotes the idea of early ripening.
a comparative term. When a child is classified as "superior," we would
like to know to whom, or what group, he or she is superior, and to what degree.
A child may be markedly superior to the majority of children in a specific mental
ability such as verbal comprehension and at the same time be equally inferior
in spatial relations or memory. The looseness of the term limits its usage in
most cases to broad generalization. A "high IQ" may be anything, depending
on what it is higher than.
is a helpful term in understanding giftedness, because it is a distinct characteristic
manifested by the identified gifted child.
The term "exceptional"
is appropriate when referring to the gifted child as being different in the
characteristics listed earlier.
At this point it is important
to bring into focus a term that continues to be tossed around altogether too
loosely in reference to education of the gifted. That term is "elitism."
By derivation, elite means the choice, or best, or superior part of a body or
class of persons. However, time and an overemphasis on egalitarianism have imparted
a negative connotation to the word, implying snobbishness, selectivity, and
unfair special attention. But in fact, gifted children are elite in the same
way that anyone becomes a champion, a record-holder, a soloist, an inventor,
or a leader in important realms of human endeavor. Therefore, their parents
have a distinct responsibility to challenge those who cry "elitism"
and explain to them the true meaning of the term. The only reason for mentioning
these terms--and there are many more--is to caution parents that semantics and
language usage can be tricky and confusing. Thus, your personal understanding
and application of the term gifted becomes doubly important.