ERIC Identifier: ED262519
Publication Date: 1985-00-00
Author: McClellan, Elizabeth
Source: ERIC Clearinghouse on
Handicapped and Gifted Children Reston VA.
Defining Giftedness. 1985 Digest.
Historically, giftedness has been closely linked with the concept of genius.
This association began around the turn of the century when psychologists
developed tests that were designed to measure intelligence (Termam 1925); people
who scored on the low end of the scale were labeled retarded, and those who
scored on the high end were considered geniuses.
The use of intelligence tests as the single measure of giftedness has been
greatly criticized in recent years, primarily because the tests are often biased
in favor of the white middle class and because they penalize children with
differing linguistic styles.
Also, many researchers and educators have come to believe that giftedness is
more than high intellectual ability; it also includes creativity, memory,
motivation, physical dexterity, social adeptness, and aesthetic sensitivity.
Dissatisfaction with a limited perspective has led researchers and educators
to develop "broadened" definitions. One of the first educators to write about
such an expansion was Hollingsworth. Although her research focused on children
with IQ's above 170, Hollingsworth believed that children can have other types
of gifts, such as mechanical aptitude or artistic ability (Pritchard 1951).
During the 1840s, the conception of giftedness was expanded further when the
federal government began to take an interest in the education of gifted and
talented children. This federal interest was sparked during and after World War
II when policy makers perceived a need for technological advancement in order to
maintain the nation's military and political superiority.
By 1950, Congress had passed the National Science Foundation Act which marked
the first time the federal government provided funds specifically for the gifted
and talented (Zettel 1982). By providing funds for encouraging students to
develop their abilities in mathematics and the physical sciences, the Act led,
in essence, to the designation of specific academic aptitude as a type of
Another significant development in defining giftedness was the publication of
Guilford's (1959) studies of the structure of the intellect. As early as 1950,
Guilford had urged psychologists to explore the area of creativity, or divergent
thinking, but it was his structural model of the 120 theoretical components of
intelligence that led to the development of tests to measure intellectual
abilties other than those measured by conventional IQ tests.
The development of creativity tests and the results of many studies of the
relationship between intelligence and creativity (Getzels and Jackson 1962) have
led many educators to include creativity in their definitions. Renzulli (1976),
for example, considers giftedness to be a combination of above average ability,
creativity, and task commitment.
In 1969, Congress mandated a study by the U.S. Commissioner of Education to
determine the extent to which the needs of gifted and talented children were
being met (Sisk 1980). The ensuing document, known as the Marland Report (1972),
contains a definition of giftedness that has been and continues to be the one
most widely adopted or adapted by state and local education agencies. The Report
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 differential educational programs
and/or services beyond those provided by the regular school program in order to
realize their contribution to self and the society.
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 and performing arts
Although the definition has been criticized as being limiting (Reis and
Renzulli 1982) and of promoting elitism (Feldman 1979), more than 80% of the 204
experts polled for their reactions to the Marland definition agreed with the
selection of the categories of high intellectual ability, creative or productive
thinking, specific academic aptitude, and ability in visual or performing arts.
Approximately half of the experts agreed that social adeptness and psychomotor
ability should be included (Martinson 1975).
The federal government has included five broad areas in the definition found
in the Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act of 1981. In this act, block grants for
education have been provided to the states; some of these funds may be used for:
special programs to identify, encourage, and meet the special educational
needs of children who give evidence of high performance capability in areas such
as intellectual, creative, artistic, leadership capacity, or specific academic
fields, and who require services or activities not ordinarily provided by the
school in order to fully develop such capabilities.
More recently, the Regulations for the Educational Security Act of 1984,
which provides grants for strengthening the skills of teachers and instruction
in mathematics, science, foreign languages, and computer learning have defined
the term "gifted student" as a "student, identified by various measures, who
demonstrates actual or potential high performance capability in the fields of
mathematics, science, foreign languages, or computer learning." Gifted students
may come from "historically underrepresented and underserved groups, including
females, minorities, handicapped persons, persons of limited English-speaking
proficiency, and migrants.
By placing an emphasis on math, science, foreign languages, and computer
learning, this latest federal definition highlights the fact that the ways in
which schools operationally define giftedness are often based on the needs of
society. Definitions are also influenced by cultural and socioeconomic factors.
As Bernal points out, "what is clever and creative for a child in the barrio
or on the reservation, where different value systems are in operation, will not
be the same as for the child who grows up in the suburbs" (1974). For
economically disadvantaged populations that place a heavy emphasis on preparing
students for employment rather than college, a definition might recognize that
students can be gifted in areas that are generally nonacademic in nature, such
as carpentry or mechanics (McClellan 1984).
WHY DO WE NEED TO DEFINE GIFTEDNESS?
A definition of giftedness is the foundation upon which an educational
program for gifted children is built. The specific abilities included in a
definition determine the kinds of identification criteria that are used to
select children for a program and the kinds of educational services that are
provided to those children. The selection of abilities to be included in a
definition is, therefore, very important to educators who must determine which
children are designated as gifted and what kinds of educational services are
provided to them.
For example, a definition that incorporates creativity as a category suggests
that schools provide experiences aimed at developing the potential of children
who have been identified as being creative; a definition that includes
leadership ability suggests other types of identification criteria and
Educators who are charged with the reponsibility of creating or maintaining
programs for gifted children and youth face a different task when they must
decide what giftedness is, how gifted children can be identified, and what
services schools should provide. The following points are a guide for helping
them make those decisions:
--The concept of giftedness is not limited to high intellectual ability. It
also comprises creativity, ability in specific academic areas, ability in visual
or performing arts, social adeptness, and physical dexterity.
--A program for gifted children should be based on the way in which the
school system operationally defines giftedness. A definition should be the basis
of decision regarding the selection of identification procedures as well as the
provision of educational services for gifted children.
--Definitions of giftedness are influenced by social, political, economic,
and cultural factors.
--Giftedness is found among all groups, including females, minorities,
handicapped persons, persons with limited English-speaking proficiency, and
FOR MORE INFORMATION
Bernal, E. M. "Gifted Mexican American Children: An Ethnoscientific
Perspective." CALIFORNIA JOURNAL OF EDUCATIONAL RESEARCH 25 (1974):261-273.
Feldman, D. "Toward a Nonelitist Conception of Giftedness." PHI DELTA KAPPAN
Getzels, J. W. and P. W. Jackson. CREATIVITY AND INTELLIGENCE. London: John
Wiley and Sons, 1962.
Guilford. J. P. "Three Faces of Intellect." AMERICAN PSYCHOLOGIST 14
Marland, S. P. EDUCATION OF THE GIFTED AND TALENTED. Report to the Congress
of the United States by the U.S. Commissioner of Education. Washington, DC: U.S.
Government Printing Office, 1972.
Martinson, R. A. THE IDENTIFICATION OF THE GIFTED AND TALENTED. Reston, VA:
The Council for Exceptional Children, 1975.
McClellan, E. DEFINING GIFTEDNESS: AN ETHNOGRAPHIC APPROACH. Paper presented
at the American Educational Research Association Annual Meeting, New Orleans,
OMNIBUS BUDGET RECONCILIATION ACT OF 1981, Section 582, 42 USC 3842.
Pritchard, M. C. "The Contribution of Leta Hollingsworth to the Study of
Gifted Children." In THE GIFTED CHILD, edited by P. Witty. New York: D.C. Heath,
REGULATIONS FOR THE EDUCATION FOR ECONOMIC SECURITY ACT OF 1984. Part 208,
Reis, S. M. J. S. Renzulli. "A Case for a Broadened Conception of
Giftedness." PHI DELTA KAPPAN 63 (1982):619-620.
Renzulli, J. "What Makes Giftedness?" PHI DELTA KAPPAN 60 (1978):180-184.
Terman, L. GENETIC STUDIES OF GENIUS: VOLUME 1, MENTAL AND PHYSICAL TRAITS OF
A THOUSAND GIFTED CHILDREN. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1925.
Zettal, J. J. "The Education of Gifted and Talented Children from a Federal
Perspective." In SPECIAL EDUCATION IN AMERICA: ITS LEGAL AND GOVERNMENTAL
FOUNDATIONS, edited by J. Ballard, and others. Reston, VA: The Council for
Exceptional Children, 1982.