Gifted Children – Identifying Special Talents And Abilities

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The term gifted is used to describe children who have exceptionally high intelligence quotients (IQs); children who display unusual abilities in artistic, creative, physical, or niche areas; and children who are outstanding in both dimensions. Using the Wechsler or Stanford-Binet intelligence tests, children who score 130 or above-about 2% to 3% of the population-are labeled gifted.

However, because children with special gifts do not always achieve this IQ score, other assessment measures are also used to identify a broader range of special talents. Gifted children may score a year or more above their age or grade level on tests of academic achievement in language arts or math. Children with exceptional creativity may be identified by behavioral checklists evaluating innovative problem-solving skills, initiative in developing concepts, and even boredom with school routine. Children with outstanding musical, artistic, or physical competencies can be identified by teachers, tutors, or coaches. Children with unusual niche-fitting skills are often found through special activities in which they show gifted abilities in diverse areas such as leadership, computers, or practical mechanics. This broadened definition of giftedness emphasizes the contributions of both genetic inheritance of competencies and environmental influences of identifying, developing, and training these inherited potentials. Casting a broad net allows gifted children who are hard to identify-those with fewer environmental advantages, with physical handicaps, with cultural differences, or with underachieving barriers-to achieve their God-given potential.

It remains true that intellectual assessment through IQ and achievement tests provides more standardized results and more reliable prediction of success in educational endeavors. The question of appropriate schooling for gifted children is always under debate. Educators with a philosophy of heterogeneity maintain that keeping gifted children in classes with children of all other ability levels benefits both groups of children; this approach appeals to democratic as well as economic concerns in some school districts. Other educators argue the necessity of a separate school program with classes of only gifted children; curriculum can then be consistently ahead of grade level and there is freedom for the whole class to do challenging special projects to draw out creativity often associated with giftedness. In many cases gifted children are moved up to the next grade level with good academic results, but many parents raise concerns about age differences in psychosocial and physical development. In between the extremes, various enrichment programs seek to help gifted children reach their potential while still attending classes with peers of the same age and different abilities.

Teachers of identified gifted children describe their students as intellectually curious, lively in generating ideas and questions in discussion classes, exercising initiative to learn, and unusually self-motivated in areas of gift. Gifted children with supportive learning environments may be recognized in various areas of talent by their large oral and written vocabulary; ability to perceive and organize visual/spatial relationships; broad range of information and ability to store and recall the data quickly; capacity to generalize, conceptualize, and deduce; intensity of concentration; elaborate and clever responses; and persistence of effort.

Research in giftedness addresses questions of cognition and culture. There are four approaches to the study of how humans learn. The stimulus-response approach emphasizes learning by rote association. The widely utilized Piagetian approach stresses stages of biological and cognitive development, from the infant’s simple taking in data by the senses to the teen’s or adult’s highest order abstract and theoretical reasoning capability. The psychometric approaches seek to quantify and measure intelligence from two theoretical views: tests of general intelligence-Charles Edward Spearman’s “g,” a general mental energy or unitary underlying ability thought to exist in gifted persons; or tests of specific intelligence-multifactoral domains of ability, interconnected but distinct, such as spatial or comprehension abilities. The information processing approach seeks to understand the actual cognitive workings of the brain. Other theorists argue more attention should be paid to the outcomes of giftedness: do individuals apply their abilities not only to help solve social problems but also to identify significant new problems needing solutions? Giftedness, some theorists argue, must include development at the highest moral as well as intellectual levels. The values of the culture influence definitions of giftedness, these theoreticians maintain, and some children are thus not identified and given opportunities. Acknowledging the need for multiple tests of giftedness, proponents of intelligence testing still maintain considerable research shows no systematic or significant bias in IQ measurements and that IQ tests provide a fair and useful measure for identifying gifted individuals.


K.C. Brownstone

K.C. Brownstone is an independent scholar who believes that critical thinking and spiritual reasoning should not be mutually exclusive. She received theological education from Dallas Theological Seminary and Asbury Theological Seminary. Personal subjects of interest are psychology and counseling.

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