Beginning to Learn About Giftedness
Terminology in British Columbia
In understanding children with special needs who are considered “gifted”, many terms are used to describe these children. In British Columbia the terms “gifted and talented” are used to describe children who are above age-peers in at least one of their abilities. These abilities are usually assessed within the school system and are usually related to academic subjects where the student has exceptional levels of ability in one or more areas, or “gifts”. Often the word “talented” is used to refer to more artistic, creative, athletic or social abilities.
Children can be “gifted and talented” and also have other special needs, such as learning disabilities, Attention Deficit and Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), etc. Children who are gifted and also have an additional special need are often called “Twice exceptional” or “2e”.
What is written below is an introduction for those who are at the beginning of the journey of learning about giftedness. There is a great deal of additional information that is available through the organizations and links on our “Useful links” page, as well as through talking to parents and speakers at chapter or provincial meetings of the Gifted Children’s Association of BC (GCABC).
Definition of Giftedness
British Columbia Ministry of Education definition of giftedness:
A student is considered gifted when she/he possesses demonstrated or potential abilities that give evidence of exceptionally high capability with respect to intellect, creativity, or the skills associated with specific disciplines. Students who are gifted often demonstrate outstanding abilities in more than one area. They may demonstrate extraordinary intensity of focus in their particular areas of talent or interest. However, they may also have accompanying disabilities and should not be expected to have strengths in all areas of intellectual functioning.
Information obtained from the Manual of Policies, Procedures, and Guidelines, Section E.
Special education. (n.d). Retrieved from:
Theories of Giftedness
The BC Ministry of Education suggest looking at Gardner’s “Multiple Intelligences” and Renzulli’s “Three Ring Concept”.
Gardner’s Multiple Intelligences examines multiple forms of intelligence when understanding a child’s strengths, and these may be so strong as to be considered gifts and talents. Seven intelligences are listed in the Special Education Manual (see link below).
Joseph Renzulli’s model of giftedness involves a “Three Ring Concept” including above average intelligence, creativity and task commitment. These are each seen as an overlapping venn diagram, and all three are seen as essential to succeed in talent development.
More about both of these theories can be found on the Ministry of Education website at https://www.bced.gov.bc.ca/specialed/gifted/who_are.htm
Identification of giftedness
The Ministry of Education guides teachers who are watching for giftedness to look at factors like:
- physical ability
- learning or sensory disabilities, and
- personality style
Each school district or independent school has their own method for identifying gifted students. The Ministry of Education encourages teachers to develop a profile that consists of academic achievement, learning styles and strengths, interests, special abilities, and visions and goals for the future.
The Ministry of Education Special Education Manual of Policies, Procedures and Guidelines says:
Identification of strengths and talents should be ongoing and should involve using multiple criteria. Several of the following sources of information should be used as part of the identification process:
- Formal test results including indicators of cognitive ability, achievement, aptitude and creativity.
- Teacher observations including anecdotal records, checklists and inventories.
- Records of student achievement including assignments, portfolios, grades and outstanding talents and accomplishments.
In addition, the following may contribute to a deeper understanding of individual student strengths:
- Nominations by educators, parents, peers and self.
- Interviews of parents and students.
Retrieved from https://www.bced.gov.bc.ca/specialed/gifted/identifying.htm
What types of assessments might be used?
There are a variety of possible assessments and each test measures a particular set of skills. The special education or other teacher in the school may implement some assessments and some would need to be implemented with the School Psychologist or a Psychologist working in the community.
The Achievement test is used to measure the child’s ability to decode what they were taught. The Wechsler Preschool and Primary Scale of Intelligence consist of both verbal and nonverbal tasks to formulate the intelligence quotient score. Supplementary psychological tests are used to test the child’s problem solving skills. Psychoeducational tests are sometimes used in additionon to verify giftedness in the child.
What does giftedness look like in a young child?
According to Palmer (2011) in an article in Psychology Today, early identification of the child’s giftedness is important because it will help the parents and the teachers place the child in programs that will work with their talents and needs.
Some steps that parents can take are:
- Going through a testing to identify giftedness in their child.
- Enrol their child in private preschool programs that start prior to primary school to identify giftedness in their child.
Parents should look into the child’s unusual interest such as any behavioural or social differences that the child displays compared to other children of their age group. Research indicates that there is an overlap between characteristics of giftedness and emotional problems like ADHD, ASD, and OCD. Hence, without proper assessment it is difficult to determine if the child is gifted and/or has emotional problems.
Various studies have revealed that giftedness is associated the density of neural connections in the brain. However, the environment plays an important role along with genetics, which makes it complicated to list a specific set of characteristics that is associated with giftedness. Thus, it is recommended that the child is compared to children of the same age group and the goal is to identify any behaviour that deviates from the norm.
There are three broad categories that are defined to help parents and teachers identify if the child is gifted.
1. Language is an important milestone in children. Parents should pay close attention to their child’s development of language skills. Usually gifted children develop complex language at a fast pace and develop a more sophisticated vocabulary than their peers. Some language traits are forming sophisticated vocabulary, speaking quickly, forming longer and complex grammatically correct sentences, asking questions about what they hear and see, picking up on double meaning phrases, reading prior to starting school, understanding and carrying out multi-step directions/instructions, and modifying language based on the type of audience.
2. Natural Learners: they absorb information effortlessly
Gifted children have the ability to learn quickly and efficiently. They tend to become very focused on a particular topic, conduct research independently on a topic that interests them, may have poor hand-writing since they think faster than they can write and do not pay attention to details, display excellent memory and can recall things efficiently, require little directions or instructions, understand their own thinking and learning process, and/or display creative thinking.
3. Emotional and behavioural features
Gifted children may understand their own emotions and emotions of others well, they tend to be energetic, think and talk quickly, connect with adults and other older children based on their interest, and may appreciate natural beauty and art.
It is important to note that the characteristics listed above are not absolute signs of giftedness. Since some children tend to be more emotionally reserved, talk at a slower pace, and hide their talents in order to fit in with their peers. Also, intelligence assessments have their limitations especially since they are time-based. It is possible that some children answer slowly in order to maintain accuracy, thus the score may fail to accurately identify the child’s giftedness. Most importantly, anxiety plays a major role in modulating performance, and if the child is anxious the test scores may not accurately reflect the child’s talent and abilities. Also, a child can excel at a particular skill (nonverbal skill task i.e creating patterns) but may perform average in other task (verbal task i.e vocabulary). If the score is averaged, this can impact the result.
For additional reading refer to :
Palmer., D. (2011). Is your child gifted? What to look for and why you should know.
Some key traits that may be associated with giftedness
(Published by the National Association for Gifted Children in the US):
Unusual alertness, even in infancy
Rapid learner; puts thoughts together quickly
Unusually large vocabulary and complex sentence structure for age
Advanced comprehension of word nuances, metaphors and abstract ideas
Enjoys solving problems, especially with numbers and puzzles
Often self-taught reading and writing skills as preschooler
Deep, intense feelings and reactions
Thinking is abstract, complex, logical, and insightful
Idealism and sense of justice at early age
Concern with social and political issues and injustices
Longer attention span and intense concentration
Preoccupied with own thoughts—daydreamer
Learn basic skills quickly and with little practice
Asks probing questions
Wide range of interests (or extreme focus in one area)
Highly developed curiosity
Interest in experimenting and doing things differently
Puts idea or things together that are not typical
Keen and/or unusual sense of humor
Desire to organize people/things through games or complex schemas
Vivid imaginations (and imaginary playmates when in preschool)
Parent Involvement in Gifted Education
The National Association for Gifted Children (NAGC) in the US recommends that parents should take a proactive role in their child’s education. Generally, gifted children learn the curriculum at a faster pace than their peers, and may behave disruptively in the classroom due to boredom. It is helpful for parents to seek contact the classroom teacher and closely investigate the classroom environment and their child’s performance. When the child is identified as gifted, the parent may contact the teacher to discuss the type of curriculum that would benefit the child. It is very important for parents to interact with the teacher as their ally. If the teacher is unable to accommodate the request, it may be possible to talk to the principal and/or the district gifted coordinator to bring change into the school.
Children who are not identified as gifted at an early age tend to lose motivation to study and problem solve. As a result, when they are faced with challenging problems they are unable to resolve them since they did not learn the problem solving skills earlier in their academic career. Hence, it is important to challenge the student in order to help them maintain and develop persistence and critical problem solving skills.
For additional reading refer to :
National association for gifted children. (n.d).