Giftedness and the Gifted (page 3)
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 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 combination:
- general intellectual ability
- specific academic aptitude
- creative or productive thinking
- leadership ability
- visual or performing arts
- 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.
- 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 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 Behavior (FIRO-B).
- 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.
- 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.
Reprinted with the permission of the Education Resources Information Center.
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