ERIC Identifier: ED321481
Publication Date: 1990-00-00
Source: ERIC Clearinghouse on Handicapped and
Gifted Children Reston VA.
Giftedness and the Gifted: What's It All About? ERIC Digest
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 and creativity."
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" (Marland, 1972).
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
general intellectual ability
specific academic aptitude
creative or productive thinking
visual or performing arts
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.
General intellectual 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
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
Psychomotor Ability. 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.)
Shows superior reasoning powers and marked ability to handle ideas; can
generalize readily from specific facts and can see subtle relationships; has
outstanding problem-solving ability.
Shows persistent intellectual curiosity; asks searching questions; shows
exceptional interest in the nature of man and the universe.
Has a wide range of interests, often of an intellectual kind; develops one or
more interests to considerable depth.
Is markedly superior in quality and quantity of written and/or spoken
vocabulary; is interested in the subtleties of words and their uses.
Reads avidly and absorbs books well beyond his or her years.
Learns quickly and easily and retains what is learned; recalls important
details, concepts and principles; comprehends readily.
Shows insight into arithmetical problems that require careful reasoning and
grasps mathematical concepts readily.
Shows creative ability or imaginative expression in such things as music, art,
dance, drama; shows sensitivity and finesse in rhythm, movement, and bodily
Sustains concentration for lengthy periods and shows outstanding responsibility
and independence in classroom work.
Sets realistically high standards for self; is self-critical in evaluating and
correcting his or her own efforts.
Shows initiative and originality in intellectual work; shows flexibility in
thinking and considers problems from a number of viewpoints.
Observes keenly and is responsive to new ideas.
Shows social poise and an ability to communicate with adults in a mature way.
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 be.
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
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 MANY THINGS
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
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
"Superior" is 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.
"Rapid learner" 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
Clark, B. (1988). GROWING UP GIFTED (3rd ed.).
Columbus, OH: Charles E. Merrill.
Gardner, H. (1983). FRAMES OF MIND. New York: Bantam Books.
Marland, S. (1972). "Education of the Gifted and Talented." Report to
Congress. Washington, DC: U. S. Government Printing Office.
Renzulli, J. (1986). "The three ring conception of giftedness: A
developmental model for creative productivity." In R. J. Sternberg & J. E.
Davidson (Eds.), CONCEPTIONS OF GIFTEDNESS (pp.53-92). New York: Cambridge
Sternberg, R., & Wagner, R. (1982). "A revolutionary look at
intelligence." GIFTED CHILDREN NEWSLETTER, 3, 11.
Adapted from D. W. Russell, D. G. Hayes, & L. B. Dockery, "MY CHILD IS
GIFTED! NOW WHAT DO I DO?" (2nd ed. 1988), North Carolina Association for the
Gifted and Talented, Inc., P. O. Box 5394, Winston-Salem, NC 27113-5394; and D.
Sisk, "The State of Gifted Education: Toward a Bright Future", MUSIC EDUCATORS
JOURNAL, (March 1990), pp. 35-39. Adapted by permission.