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Gifted students

​What is “Giftedness”?

- Definition and identification of gifted students at Benowa State High School.

Various definitions of giftedness have been proposed over the years and it is the existence of these different yet still accepted definitions that lead to the confusion surrounding what a “gifted” child is.

Early use of the term gifted defined a gifted individual as having an exceptional talent in a particular area. In the early 1900s Lewis Terman expanded upon this view to include children with high IQ (>140). Leta Hollingworth (1926) believed that this inherited ability had to be nurtured and made a case for giftedness vs. talent as a result of environmental factors affecting the expression of innate ability. Building on this, Renzulli proposed that giftedness is only expressed in adult achievement and success if task commitment and motivation are also demonstrated in gifted children.

Gagne’s differentiated model of giftedness and talent is derived from the earlier definitions above. The use of this model is encouraged by Education Queensland when considering gifted children in Queensland schools. It defines the difference between giftedness and achievement as giftedness being an exceptional potential and its expression as achievement being an outcome only when mediated by overarching influences and environmental factors, such intrapersonal relationships, education, and chance factors.

More recent definitions are based on Linda Silverman’s proposal that giftedness is demonstrated by asynchronous development, which is the uneven development of physical, mental or emotional traits relative to other children of the same chronological age. Development can be advanced or delayed with respect to chronological age, however in order to be considered as gifted a child must demonstrate advanced development in at least one of the spheres (physical, mental or emotional) mentioned.

In using this model the Columbus Group (1991) defined giftedness as:

“’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 counselling in order for them to develop optimally.”

Traditionally, school-based definitions centre on identifying high achieving students and therefore fail to identify the social and emotional needs of gifted learners as described by the above definitions. According to these definitions gifted students are a special needs group not always characterised by high performance but by their innate ability to learn and progress at a faster rate than other students (advanced development) in one or more areas of giftedness (academic, sporting, arts, civics and leadership). In accordance with this ability, over-excitabilities and asynchronous development can be experienced and often render the child unable to perform well in traditional classroom and school settings without modified curricula catering towards their specific needs.

It is therefore our view here at Benowa State High School that a gifted child should be defined as:

“A child who demonstrates (or has the potential to demonstrate) advanced development in one or more areas of giftedness, be it civics, leadership, arts, academics or sporting ability, while potentially experiencing delayed development in other areas (asynchronous development) as a result of the experience of over-excitabilities in social, emotional and/or physical spheres.”

According to this definition gifted children should display early or advanced development as indicated by their ability to perform a year (or years) ahead of peers of the same chronological age in any of the five identified areas of giftedness.

This makes identifying those students strong in civics or leadership, for example, difficult in a traditional setting where academic data is used as the objective instrument by which to determine whether a child shall be considered as gifted or not. This takes us back to one of the original definitions of giftedness which proposes an IQ cut-off score for giftedness. In fact, Canada and America use IQ tests as a basis for screening their cohorts and will investigate children that score above 120. The concern is that IQ-based tests do not identify students with gifts in areas other than academics, and the jury is still out on whether or not gifted students think differently in general (including having a higher IQ) than other students.

The definition also makes it difficult to identify under-achieving students as they will not display advanced development in any area. This does not mean they are not capable of it, just that other factors (socio-emotional, for example) are affecting their performance. It is therefore important to see the definition of giftedness as an overarching description for a wide range of attributes associated with gifted children as demonstrated in any one of the current rating scales for giftedness (GRS, SAYLER, Whittmoor’s, etc).

Therefore, in considering the definition of giftedness given above we can also see that a range of testing instruments and the collation of both subjective and objective data are necessary to fully investigate the giftedness of our students. It is our belief that a GRS (Gifted Ratings Scale), SAGES test, and Stanford-Binet or WISC IV test are warranted as determined by funding and need. This is then further supported by the collection of other data as indicated on the “Identification Record” for each student, which includes (but is not limited to) NAPLAN and ACER data, teacher referral and feedback, academic results, reporting, and a parent interview.