Giftedness in General: Frequently Asked Questions

Q: What is giftedness?

A: There is no one definition of ‘gifted,’ ‘talented,’ or ‘giftedness’ that is universally accepted. Sometimes gifted refers to those students who have strong intellectual/academic abilities, and talented refers those students who excel in the arts or in sports. Giftedness can be seen as a continuum, with some students who barely meet the criteria as well as some students who are at the high extreme. This will happen in any program.

The Federal definition from 1988 (P. L. 100-297, Sec. 4103. Definitions) reads: ‘The term ‘gifted and talented students’ means children and youth who give evidence of high performance capability in areas such as intellectual, creative, artistic, or leadership capacity, or in specific academic fields, and who require services or activities not ordinarily provided by the school in order to fully develop such capabilities.’

 Q: Won’t being identified make gifted students fell “different”?

A: Most gifted kids don’t need to be identified or labeled before they know that they’re not quite like their age peers.

Q: Are all gifted children the same?

A: There is no ‘typical’ gifted child. However, there are some common characteristics, many of which are seen in gifted children.

Q: What are the chacteristics of giftedness?

A: The following is a partial list:

* Reads early with great comprehension

* Learns faster with less repetition and practice

* Has a long attention span; may be resistant to interruption

* Understands and makes abstractions earlier; may ignore details Is curious and tends to ask complex questions

* Likes to know why and how things happen Is quick to recognize relationships, including cause-effect

* May have difficulty accepting the illogical

* Is bored with routine tasks

* Has large vocabulary and expresses himself well

* Is emotionally sensitive

* May overreact Is a keen and alert observer

* Evaluates facts, arguments, and persons critically

* May be self-critical, impatient or critical of others

* High energy Learns by experimenting and manipulating objects; tries to find answers to questions in unusual ways

* Is creative, inventive and original

* Displays highly developed sense of humor; understands jokes that age peer wouldn’t

 Q: How many gifted children are there?

A: Children generally considered as gifted range from three to five percent of the general population. In the total school-age population in the United States, that would be between 1.7 and 2.8 million children. In a K-12 population in Garnet Valley School District of 3,664 (Fall 2001), 7%, or 256 students, were considered gifted.

Q: Aren’t there already plenty of appropriate options for gifted students?

A: It depends on the school district and the grade level. Many school districts in Pennsylvania utilize a pull-out strategy to serve gifted students at the elementary level. This involves taking students out of the regular classroom to work with their intellectual peers and a separate teacher. The drawback of this model is that it limits specialized instruction to a small amount of time, often less than 2 hours per week. Gifted children need appropriate instruction and challenge one hundred percent of the time.

A pull-out model is often accompanied by ‘differentiated instruction’ in the classroom. This is a very egalitarian concept, but the reality is that truly differentiated instruction for all students in the classroom is very difficult to achieve. A 1995 study revealed that 80-85% of the time gifted students are not involved in activities that are different than their non-identified classmates.

At the middle school level, teachers and principals often seem more focused on the social development of adolescents and academics may be a relatively low priority.

At the high school level, it is frequently assumed that advanced placement classes or independent study opportunities will serve the needs of mentally gifted students. This may or may not be accurate. There may not be anyone accountable for these students. According to a study reported in 2001, by Dr. Del Siegle, University of Connecticut, ninety-five percent of high schools say they offer a high school gifted and talented program, but only 35% have a consultant or coordinator associated with those programs.

Q: What is the difference between enrichment and acceleration?

A: Enrichment usually entails adding breadth and depth. Acceleration usually involves increasing the pace and skipping content and skills that are already mastered.

 Q: Why should gifted children experience trouble with ordinary school curricula?

A: Precisely because the curricula are ordinary. Education is a mass enterprise, geared by economic necessity as well as politics to the abilities of the majority. Just as a child of less-than-average mental ability frequently has trouble keeping up with his classmates, so a child of above-average ability has trouble staying behind with them. Prevented from moving ahead by the rigidity of normal school procedures, assigned to a class with others of the same age, expected to devote the same attention to the same textbooks, required to be present for the same number of hours in the same seat, the gifted youngster typically takes one of three tacks: (1) he drifts into a state of lethargy and complete apathy; (2) he conceals his ability, anxious not to embarrass others or draw their ridicule by superior performance; or (3) not understanding his frustration, he becomes a discipline problem.’

- Dr. Harold C. Lyon, Jr., former Director of Education for the Gifted/Talented, U. S. Office of Education ‘The normal school curriculum calls for a 70/30 split between time spent on teaching basic skills and time devoted to higher cognitive learning, such as reasoning, drawing inferences and reaching conclusions. The gifted child seems to need the reverse emphasis.’

 Q: What happens if gifted children don’t get an appropriate education?

A: Gifted children are at-risk, for boredom, frustration, underachievement, dropping out, using drugs, turning to delinquency and even committing suicide. ‘Boredom and frustration in regular classrooms drive gifted children out of school at a rate three to five times higher than the dropout rate among the rest of the school population. In fact, studies in Iowa and Pennsylvania indicate that gifted and talented children may account for 20 percent of all high school dropouts. Those who stay in classes that do not challenge them may develop emotional problems, become juvenile delinquents or simply sink to the level of average classmates and never reach their full potential. Indeed, the characteristics displayed by many gifted children – high activity level, divergent thinking, daydreaming and continuous questioning – are sometimes misinterpreted as indicators of emotional disturbance or learning disability. At the very least, teachers who are not used to dealing with students that learn quickly, have long attention spans, are creative and want to explore subjects in great depth, consider these children’s behaviors and attitudes as abnormal and an irritation.’ Teaching Gifted Children, 1981

‘The small amount of work – often mundane, repetitious work – that gifted students are asked to do in school, they can achieve quickly and with little effort. They rarely have to face difficult problems and often do not know how to cope when, at some later educational level, they meet a challenging and intractable problem that does not easily yield to a facile but undisciplined mind.’ America 2000, 1991

A study by Ralph, Goldberg and Passow (1966) classified 42% of the gifted as underachievers.

In Boston, child psychiatrist Shepard Ginandes tells the story of a gifted teen-ager who became a ‘genius drug-dealer.’ He was enormously successful at his work, and used his huge profits to restore a colonial house. ‘If society doesn’t give kids like these a channel for their energies,’ says Ginandes, who works closely with troubled adolescents, ‘they’ll find one – often turning into dragons within the system.’ – Newsweek, October 23, 1978

A study (Harvey and Seeley, 1984) of the juvenile courts in Colorado revealed that 15 percent of the delinquent population was composed of students in the top 3 percent of the nation intellectually. This is five times the percentage that should have shown up if proportionally distributed.

Q: Should gifted children be removed from the regular classroom for instruction?

A: Yes. Gifted children have a right to a free and appropriate education every hour of the instructional day, just as all children do. If this cannot be successfully achieved in the regular classroom, then other options must be embraced. Unfortunately, for gifted children the regular classroom is the most, rather than the least restrictive environment. According to Jim Delisle, gifted students want to:

* be able to learn at their own speed, not someone else’s,

* skip over work they already know and understand,

* study things of interest beyond basic school work, and

* work with abstract concepts that require more than simple thinking

‘The advantages of segregation include providing students with the opportunity to interact with others of similar ability and to receive faster-paced instruction. A fully segregated program attends to the unique needs of the gifted children in a comprehensive manner. ‘- Dr. Linda K. Silverman, ‘Providing Appropriate Education for the Gifted,’ 1990

Homogeneous [ability] groups are more beneficial academically for all abilities than heterogeneous groups. – Cohen and Lotan, 1995; Hacker and Rowe, 1993; Lou, Abrami, Spence, and Poulsen, 1996; Slate, Jones and Dawson, 1993

High ability students do not benefit academically when paired with a low-ability student. – Carter and Jones, 1994; Hooper, 1992

‘…gifted learners do better in every respect when they are placed together with others who are performing at their levels and share their interests and abilities. ‘ – Goldring, 1992; Lou et al., 1996,; Rogers, 1998

‘As Feldhusen (1989) indicates in his synthesis of research on gifted youth, the gifted show both achievement and attitudinal gains when they are grouped together for instruction.’ – Suzanne H. McDaniel in Understanding Our Gifted, 1990

Q: Separate grouping is not a reflection of the real world. Won’t this be detrimental to gifted students who need to learn to interact effectively with all types of people as adults?

A: Children have many other opportunities to interact with all types of children. ‘I understand that school systems try not to put students in homogeneous groups for social reasons, but there are many other places and times for gifted and talented students to socialize with these people. Our important education should be compromised for social reasons.’- Corinne, gifted 12-yr-old quoted in Understanding Our Gifted, 1990

‘Students are more likely to respond with appropriate social skills if they are with others of similar interest and ability….Positive social experiences with just one person can become the catalyst to elicit appropriate responses in other social settings.’ Arlene DeVries, Board of Directors, Supporting Emotional Needs of Gifted (SENG), 2001

According to Schunk, 1996, we tend to make friends with others who think and act like we do, people with similar occupations and interests. As adults, our friends are not chosen for us by others.

The other part of this issue is rarely asked. Is anyone worried about teaching students of lesser abilities how to relate well with gifted students? Gifted students are often teased because of their abilities, called names, bullied and even ostracized. It’s okay to be a star athlete, but not a star student. If you are African-American and are a high-achieving student, you are often accused of ‘acting white.’ Students, who want to fit in, may start to mask their abilities. Girls, in particular, are likely to do this.

‘As a shy eleven-year-old, I was just beginning to cave in to social pressure that implied that it wasn’t ‘cool’ to appear too smart, let alone passionate and enthusiastic about learning. I stopped raising my hand in class, not from fear of being wrong, but from fear of being right.’ – Tristan Ching in Gifted Education Communicator, 2001

Q: Aren’t special provisions undemocratic?

A: No. Special provisions for children with mental or physical disabilities are not considered undemocratic. Special provisions for student with outstanding athletic abilities (i.e., the football team) are not considered undemocratic. Why should special provisions for children with outstanding mental abilities be undemocratic?

In the words of Thomas Jefferson, ‘There is nothing more unequal than the equal treatment of unequal people.’

‘Equal education is the foundation of the right to be a human being…This does not mean than any gifted child or any child having a greater capability to learn may or shall be deprived of his or her opportunity of learning more. It does mean that every child shall have the equal opportunity to learn to the best of his or her ability. That opportunity must be made available to all on equal terms.’ – Judge Alfred Gitelson, County of Los Angeles, Superior Court Case 822854

‘Whatever equal opportunity means it must mean an opportunity for each person to rise to those heights to which his own motivation, energy and ability take him. To recognize the exceptionally fine mind and/or discover a brilliant talent and not provide for their development is wasteful as well as a deprivation of equal opportunity.’ – Dr. Harold L. Blackburn, former Regional Commissioner of the Office of Educational programs, Region VII of Health, Education and Welfare, in ‘Opportunity and Quality for Gifted, Too! in G/C.T, 1979

‘True equality demands that we maintain equal awareness, respect and freedom for every individual to develop his or her uniqueness. This would, of course, mean an equal opportunity to develop unequal abilities to the fullest extent.’ – Dr. Dorothy Sisk, former head of the Office of Gifted and Talented, Department of Health, Education and Welfare in G/C/T, 1979

 Q: What is the difference between socialization and social development?

A: Dr. Linda K. Silverman suggests socialization is ‘the ability to adapt to the needs of the group,’ while social development is ‘a deep comfortable level of self-acceptance that leads to true friendships.’ Adapting to the needs of the group is not always what is most appropriate for gifted children.

Q: If gifted children are placed together for instruction, will they still have other friends?

A: Yes. They will still have many opportunities to have other friends in sports activities, church activities, social organizations, such as Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts, and in their neighborhoods. However, research has shown that it is equally important for gifted children to be with their intellectual peers, and that by doing so, they may improve their relationships with others, as well.

‘Students are more likely to respond with appropriate social skills if they are with others of similar interest and ability….Positive social experiences with just one person can become the catalyst to elicit appropriate responses in other social settings.’ – Arlene DeVries, Board of Directors, Supporting Emotional Needs of Gifted (SENG), 2001

According to Janos and Robinson (1985), gifted students often choose older friends, perhaps in an attempt to find intellectual peers.

Q: Won’t grouping gifted students together cause them to become arroant and conceited?

A: Generally, gifted students tend to be more arrogant in the regular classroom. If they look around the class and see that they are at the top, they tend to get an inflated view of their own abilities. Once they have an opportunity to match their abilities with those of their intellectual peers, they develop a much more realistic picture of their talents. ‘Work with competitors of one’s own caliber tends to starve conceit, rather than feed it. Observers have recorded that a pupil coming into special classes often meets a successful rival for the first time.’- Dr. Leta Hollingworth, 1926

‘The programs have not produced arrogant, selfish snobs; special programs have extended a sense of reality, wholesome humility, self-respect, and respect for others.’- Marland Report, 1972

Earnest Newland (1976) found there was no evidence whatsoever to support the notion that classes for the gifted breed elitism. Contrary to popular belief, when the gifted are placed in classes together, they do not come to the conclusion they are better than everyone else. Rather they are humbled by finding peers who know more than they do.

‘The best place for gifted children to learn arrogant attitudes is in regular classes in which they can excel and lord it over others. When placed with high-ability peers, they are forced to realize that others are as bright as they and are challenged to compete without an unfair advantage. Too often, the gifted child who completes schoolwork before other pupils is rewarded with time to play chess or solve crossword puzzles. Such activities, while enjoyable and educational, confer a great deal of status on the child for simply working quickly, and do little to encourage the child to pursue subjects in depth with discipline. Playing games while other students study increases the social distance between the gifted child and his peers, and may produce resentment on the part of other children who are unable to obtain similar rewards.’ – Teaching Gifted Children, January 1981

Q: What benefits will we derive from special programming for the gifted?

A: There are multiple benefits to the students, and to our society. ‘The relatively few gifted students who have had the advantage of special programs have shown remarkable improvements in self-understanding and in ability to relate well to others, as well as in improved academic and creative performance… A good program for the gifted increases their involvement and interest in learning through the reduction of the irrelevant and redundant.’ – Marland Report, 1972

‘It has been documented for 60 years that gifted students are capable of achieving at least two years of advancement for every year of school. Hollingworth (1930) taught gifted students the regular curriculum in half the day (now known as ‘compacting’ or ‘telescoping’) and had the rest of the day for enrichment. Martinson (1961) compared gifted students in self-contained classes with their counterparts in the regular classroom and found that the congregated group gained two years in achievement, while the others gained only one year…Renzulli and Reis (1991) note that curriculum compacting reduces the amount of time needed for gifted children to master the basic curriculum by 50 percent.’ – Dr. Linda K. Silverman, ‘Scapegoating the Gifted,’ 1991

‘Delisle reports (1984) that gifted children must often hide or suppress their special interests or their enthusiasms for academic topics or else face ridicule; peer pressure prohibits excitement about academics in many schools. In special classes for the gifted and talented, the reverse is true: mutual reinforcement of enthusiasm for academic interests and activities prevails.’ – Dr. John F. Feldhusen, ‘Synthesis of Research on Gifted Youth,’ 1989

‘Before gifted classes came along I was bored of the same old stuff six and a half hours a day, five days a week. I don’t know where I’d be without my gifted classes.’ – Gifted boy, 9, California

Worcester has estimated that if 3 per cent of school children could save one year by acceleration, ‘our country would have gained for its use more than 1,000,000 years of its best brains in a single generation.’ – D. A. Worcester, The Education of Children of Above-Average Mentality , University of Nebraska Press, 1956

‘Even more disturbing is the fact that our brightest students are performing far below the level of capable students from many other nations. This condition provides a poor foundation for thrusting the United States boldly into the 21st century. This is one fundamental reason for wanting to provide special challenges for these gifted youngsters now in our public schools. The more they can accomplish, in school and beyond, the more benefits will accrue to all of us. That is why investment in appropriate programs for highly able students is enlightened self-interest. – Dr. James Gallagher, Gifted Child Quarterly, 1991

An article in the Patriot-News (4/01) reported from the Third International Mathematics and Science Study, that ‘as a group, U. S. eighth-graders… tested just above average, lagging behind 18 other countries in math and 17 in science.

Q: Are there affective benefits for gifted students being with intellectual peers?

A: Yes. ‘GTs in such classes unanimously agree that their gifted class is the one place they can really be themselves. They don’t have to worry about using certain words for fear people will accuse them of showing off. They don’t have to concern themselves with whether or not people understand what they were saying because it sounds ‘too sophisticated or philosophical.’ You can brainstorm without being judged a weirdo. Some GTs went so far as to say that their gifted class was the most important time of the week. They felt accepted.’ – Jim Delisle, The Gifted Kids Survival Guide, 1983

‘For gifted and talented youth, grouping also confirms the legitimacy of their personal identity.’ – Dr. John F. Feldhusen, ‘Synthesis of Research on Gifted Youth,’ 1989

‘Working with peers on an extended, daily basis is a tremendous plus for these students. Discussing sophisticated mathematical concepts and not feeling weird or strange about that discussion does wonders for developing positive self-concepts (DeLisle, 1992). Teachers of the gifted can offer discussions of the unique sets of problems that face the gifted (Colangelo and Peterson, 1993). Realizing that other students with similar abilities and interests feel different from their peers, have problems, or need assistance in developing strategies for coping with situations, provides a solid foundation for the prevention of possible future social and emotional problems.’ – Dr. Mary F. Toll, Understanding Our Gifted, 1993

Q: Why does it seem to be socially unacceptable to identify and serve gifted children?

A: ‘American society’s attitudes and practices toward the gifted show all the ambivalence of a love/hate relationship. We admire and applaud the initiative and performance of talented youngsters. Yet our distorted view of ‘quality’ discourages special educational programs that would provide the gifted with ‘unfair advantages.’ As a result, many gifted individuals find their most interested and exciting learning opportunities outside the public education stream.’ – Dr. James Gallagher, University of North Carolina

Shared with permission from the Gifted and Special Education Resource Group.






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