Giftedness can be conceived as unusually high ability or potential in any domain. Views of giftedness are culturally shaped, and society deems which domains are recognized, valued, and nurtured. Historically, the term gifted was primarily applied to high intellectual abilities, although it has also been applied to high ability in areas such as the arts. From a psychometric perspective, the term gifted refers to performance at 2+ standard deviations above the mean on an IQ test (130 or 132 IQ). IQ tests are intended to measure verbal abstract reasoning, logical-mathematical reasoning, and general knowledge, as well as certain types of social awareness and spatial abilities. Unintentionally, they also measure such things as test-taking skills, self-efficacy, and the effects of the testing situation.

IQ tests have been criticized because they evaluate a narrow range of human abilities. Many theorists assert that giftedness should also be recognized in additional areas, such as creativity, task commitment, “street smarts,” interpersonal skills, and so on. The Marland Report informed the U.S. Office of Education’s definition of giftedness (P.L. 97–35). Six areas were targeted: general intelligence, specific academic aptitude,  creative  thinking,  leadership  ability,  visual and performing arts, and psychomotor ability. Across these domains, the defining characteristic of giftedness is extraordinary potential or performance.

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Teacher recommendations, academic achievement, and behavioral checklists are commonly employed methods of screening students for gifted programs, and most gifted programs include IQ tests as part of their strategy for identifying participants for gifted programs. Recently, new methods of recognizing giftedness have emerged to complement these traditional methods. For example, alternative approaches to the use of portfolio evaluation and dynamic assessment have been proposed as methods that show promise for addressing a serious problem plaguing gifted education: the underrepresentation of certain minority groups in gifted programs. Instead of simply measuring the products of learning, both of these methods evaluate the processes of new learning.

How giftedness is defined matters. It has implications for the identification and selection of students for programs. It also determines the scope and character of gifted programs.

Education Of Gifted Students

In his 1972 report to Congress, Marland asserted that if they are to attain their potential, gifted children need educational programming that goes beyond what is provided in the regular classroom. More than 20 years later, another U.S. Department of Education report described the state of gifted education as being in a crisis. Misplaced perceptions of egalitarianism may underlie the slow progress many schools have made toward developing and implementing successful gifted programs.

A survey of teachers documented the practices employed in the education of gifted students. These included acceleration, or increasing the rate at which students progress through material; enrichment, or increasing the depth and breadth of students’ knowledge base; using various student grouping practices; and independent work. In addition, individualized instruction such as private tutoring, distance learning, and home schooling are noted in the literature on gifted education.

The most successful gifted programs employ differentiation, individualization, and teachers trained in giftedness. Differentiation refers to curricula that are suited specifically to how gifted students learn. Although differentiation can be provided within the regular classroom in theory, in practice, little or no real differentiation seems to occur in most such situations.

Most agree that gifted students benefit intellectually, and without social detriment, from accelerated learning opportunities. However, the research on enrichment based program outcomes is mixed. Gifted students may benefit from  independent  projects  and  the  like,  but given the opportunity, might prefer working with other gifted students rather than working in isolation. Mixedability grouping practices, which are effective for many students, may not serve gifted students well. From both an academic and a social perspective, placing gifted students together is the preferred method of grouping for this population. Although it is not as effective as grouping gifted students together in separate classes or schools, from an achievement perspective, pull-out gifted programs are better than within-class gifted programming. Many pull-out programs employ generic enrichment models, however, and fail to individualize curricula. Like their counterparts enrolled in special education, gifted students, especially highly gifted students, have special needs that may be best addressed in a case-by-case manner.

Not all gifted children show gifted performance in the typical school setting and may fail to achieve at levels commensurate with their abilities. Gifted children can become disenfranchised, hide their giftedness, underachieve, or dedicate their energies to socially acceptable activities, such as athletics. To avoid such negative consequences, gifted children need both to be challenged and to be around like-minded peers. Without sufficient opportunities to interact with other gifted children, these children can feel very “different” from their classmates and very alone.

Social And Emotional Issues

In general, the gifted have fewer mental health problems than most. This advantage may not apply to some subgroups. For example, those who are exceptionally gifted in verbal ability, creativity, or the arts may suffer disproportionally from mood disorders and problems with self-esteem.

Gifted children’s self-concepts are generally at average or above-average levels. Their high academic self-concept may be in part responsible for these findings. Gifted children’s social self-concept scores are not generally found to be similarly enhanced.

Gifted students tend to have good social relations but may have distinct perceptions concerning their relationships and social status. They may not be as satisfied with their peer relationships, even when from the outside those relationships seem positive. With extreme ability, problems can arise from not being synchronized with peers. The extremely gifted choose to spend a great deal of time alone and may be inclined toward introversion or isolation. Indeed, the extremely gifted may feel extremely lonely.

Giftedness, for some, is a social liability. They feel they cannot be themselves and must hide their gifts. Gifted children also perceive themselves as different from others and feel that others treat them differently and see them as different. Feeling different can include both positive factors, such as being curious and capable, having additional resources, and feeling proud, as well as some negative factors, such as feeling isolated and feeling out of step with one’s peers.

Although gifted individuals feel things very deeply, their emotional intensity is not associated with adjustment problems. Young gifted children have a passion for their domains of ability. Being inclined towards perfectionism, the gifted often expect a great deal of themselves. Others, too, expect a great deal from them. These children may be given the message that they should do extraordinary things (which rarely happens)— and if they don’t, they are somehow failing.

The adults in the lives of gifted children need to be sensitive and responsive not only to their educational needs but also to their social-emotional needs. Although some gifted subgroups, such as the extremely gifted, may be at increased risk for adjustment problems, in general, the gifted are well adjusted. Gifted children, nevertheless, have some atypical responses and face some unique social-emotional challenges.


Gifted individuals are, by definition, exceptional owing to having extraordinary abilities. Regardless of the domain of their giftedness, they have atypical needs. They need differentiated and individualized education provided by trained teachers, and they need opportunities to work and play with other gifted children.


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