Why Do We Need To Define Giftedness?
by Mary Codd
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 educational experiences.
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 migrants.
Who Are The Gifted?
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 states:
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 combination:
- General intellectual ability
- Specific academic aptitude
- Creative or productive thinking
- Leadership ability
- Visual and performing arts
- Psychomotor ability
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 under-served 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).
A New Definition of Giftedness – Defining Giftedness from Within
A new definition of giftedness that highlights the complexity of raising gifted children was developed by The Columbus Group in 1991. The Columbus Group asserts that the contemporary tendency to define giftedness as behaviours, achievement, products or school placements, external to the individual, necessarily misses the essence of giftedness – how it alters the meaning of life experience for the gifted individual. Consequently, the Group offers the following preliminary attempt at a phenomenological definition, which at this point, may apply best to the highly gifted:
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.
(The Columbus Group, 1991, in Morelock, 1992)
Asynchrony means being out of sync, both internally and externally. "Asynchronous development" means that gifted children develop cognitively at a much faster rate than they develop physically and emotionally, posing some interesting problems. For example, ideas forged by 8-year-old minds may be difficult to produce with 5-year-old hands. Further, advanced cognition often makes gifted children aware of information that they are not yet emotionally ready to handle. They tend to experience all of life with greater intensity, rendering them emotionally complex. These children usually do not fit the developmental norms for their age; they have more advanced play interests and often are academically far ahead of their age peers. The brighter the child, the greater the asynchrony and potential vulnerability. Therefore, parents who are aware of the inherent developmental differences of their children can prepare themselves to act as their advocates. (Silverman)
Who Are The Highly Gifted?
Highly gifted or exceptionally gifted children include:
- Those who score extremely high on individually administered IQ tests (generally in the 148+ range, Stanford-Binet L-M scores; or in the 140+ range on the WISC-R or Stanford-Binet Fourth Edition
- Child prodigies in areas such as music, mathematics, or chess
- Children with extremely highly developed talents in unusual areas
- Profoundly intellectually gifted children above 170 IQ
Why is it Important to Know Whether or Not a Child is Highly Gifted?
The child of 160 IQ is as different from the child of 130 IQ as that child is from the child of average ability. The kind of educational program developed for the highly gifted child of 160, 170, or 180 IQ often differs markedly from appropriate programs for most gifted children, but usually these programs are designed for the moderately gifted. An exceptionally gifted child may have difficulty finding appropriate challenges even in the gifted class, because of the need to move at a much faster pace, the ability to process material in greater depth, and the increased sensitivity, awareness, and intensity typical of this population. (Kearney)
It may be nearly impossible for highly gifted children to conform their thinking to the ways in which others think. Some do not ‘group’ well. Some have difficulty developing relations with others. Some argue continuously because that is the way they learn. Some are intensely sensitive. Some have major discrepancies between their intellectual maturity and motor coordination and so appear ‘immature.’ (Silverman)
This definition of giftedness allows penetration beyond behavioural achievement or non-achievement. Achievement remains an interesting and significant expression of giftedness, and it continues to be important to examine whether it occurs and why or why not. Nevertheless, it is neither the essence of giftedness nor the most important aspect of it. The Columbus Group definition calls for a shift of focus from the external products of giftedness to the true nature of the phenomenon itself. This shift to a view from within is an important move towards both understanding giftedness and understanding our gifted. (Morelock)
Kearney, Kathi – The 10 Most Commonly Asked Questions About Highly Gifted Children, Source: Highly Gifted Children, Hollingworth Center. Full text article online at: www.gtcybersource.org
McClellan, Elizabeth – Defining Giftedness. ERIC Clearinghouse on Handicapped and Gifted Children, 1920 Association Dr., Reston, VA 22091 1985 Digest. ERIC Identifier: ED262519, Publication Date: 1985-00-00
Silverman, Linda Kreger – How Parents Can Support Gifted Children. ERIC Clearinghouse on Handicapped and Gifted Children, 1920 Association Dr., Reston, VA 22091 ERIC Digest #E515. ERIC Identifier: ED352776, Publication Date: 1992-12-00
Mary Codd has been interested in the arts and education for a long time. She has a BFA in Art Education from the Rhode Island School of Design, and a M.Ed. in Gifted Education from the University of Connecticut. She is currently the President of Growing Minds, Inc.