5 Definitions of Giftedness

May 2, 2012

You are told your child is gifted, but what does that really mean? There are many definitions of giftedness. None are universally agreed upon, but many share certain defining characteristics. Here are a few:

  1. Some definitions address the “asynchronous development” found in gifted kids. One such definition comes from the Columbus Group (1991):
    “Giftedness is asynchronous development in which advanced cognitive abilities and heightened intensity combine to create inner experiences and awareness that are qualitatively different from the norm. This asynchrony increases with higher intellectual capacity. The uniqueness of the gifted renders them particularly vulnerable and requires modifications in parenting, teaching and counseling in order for them to develop optimally.”
    This is the definition we use at IEA.
  2. Through the Jacob Javits Gifted and Talented Students Education Act – part of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act – the federal government currently defines gifted students as:
    “Students, children, or youth who give evidence of high achievement capability in areas such as intellectual, creative, artistic, or leadership capacity, or in specific academic fields, and who need services and activities not ordinarily provided by the school in order to fully develop those capabilities.”
  3. In Gifted Children: Myths and Realities, Ellen Winner defines giftedness with these three atypical characteristics:
    • Precocity – “They begin to take the first steps in the mastery of some domain at an earlier-than-average age. They also make more rapid progress in this domain than do ordinary children, because learning in the domain comes easily to them.”
    • An insistence on marching to their own drummer – “Gifted children not only learn faster than average or even bright children but also learn in a quantitatively different way.”
    • A rage to master – “Gifted children are intrinsically motivated to make sense of the domain in which they show precocity.”
  4. The National Association for Gifted Children (NAGC) defines giftedness as the following:
    “Gifted individuals are those who demonstrate outstanding levels of aptitude (defined as an exceptional ability to reason and learn) or competence (documented performance or achievement in top 10% or rarer) in one or more domains. Domains include any structured area of activity with its own symbol system (e.g., mathematics, music, language) and/or set of sensorimotor skills (e.g., painting, dance, sports).”
  5. Most states also have their own definition of “gifted” for program and funding purposes. To see your state’s definition, look here: http://www.ecs.org/clearinghouse/52/28/5228.htm. It is important to note that few districts differentiate between the different levels of giftedness. A child who scores in the 130 – 140 range on an IQ test is very different than the child who scores in the 150 – 180 range.

While no two definitions are the same, there are a few guiding principles which can help structure our thinking about giftedness.

  • Annemarie Roeper, who developed the Annemarie Roeper Model of Qualitative Assessment, helps bring together many of the different theories with her conception that “giftedness is a greater awareness, a greater sensitivity, and a greater ability to understand and transform perceptions into intellectual and emotional experiences.”
  • Some believe there are many areas of giftedness, not all of which are what we typically think of as intellectual. The following are six categories of giftedness to which experts and definitions often refer:
    1. General intellectual ability
    2. Specific academic ability
    3. Creative ability
    4. Leadership ability
    5. Visual and performing arts ability
    6. Psychomotor ability
  • While some define giftedness based on IQ score, IQ tests do not always tell the whole story, and identifying solely based on IQ tests can ignore many kids considered gifted by other criteria.
  • “Gifted” is not the only word that can be used to describe these incredibly bright and talented young people. (For an exploration of the various terms most often used, take a look at Stephanie Tolan’s post “What is in a Name?”) The word itself is not what is important. Neither, in many ways, is the definition. What is important is that we identify these highly able young people and help them reach their full intellectual and personal potential.
  • Gifted children, no matter how you define or identify them, have different educational needs than their age-peers. Their education needs to allow them to grow with their unique intellectual development.

Due to the variety of definitions in the field, it is often more effective to use specific descriptions of your child’s abilities and insights. This may make it easier for others to understand your child’s needs.

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