Academic journal article Phi Delta Kappan

What Makes Giftedness? Reexamining a Definition: Giftedness Needs to Be Redefined to Include Three Elements: Above-Average Intelligence, High Levels of Task Commitment, and High Levels of Creativity

Academic journal article Phi Delta Kappan

What Makes Giftedness? Reexamining a Definition: Giftedness Needs to Be Redefined to Include Three Elements: Above-Average Intelligence, High Levels of Task Commitment, and High Levels of Creativity

Article excerpt

Throughout recorded history and undoubtedly even before records were kept, people have always been interested in men and women who display superior ability. As early as 2200 B.C., the Chinese had developed an elaborate system of competitive examinations to select outstanding persons for government positions (DuBois 1970), and down through the ages almost every culture has been fascinated by its most able citizens. Although the areas of performance in which one might be recognized as a gifted person are determined by the needs and values of the prevailing culture, scholars and laypersons alike have debated (and continue to debate) the age-old question: What makes giftedness?

The purpose of this article is therefore threefold. First, I shall analyze some past and current definitions of giftedness. Second, I shall review studies that deal with characteristics of gifted individuals. Finally, I shall present a new definition of giftedness that is operational, i.e., useful to school personnel, and defensible in terms of research findings.

THE DEFINITION CONTINUUM

Numerous conceptions and countless definitions of giftedness have been put forth over the years. One way of analyzing existing definitions is to view them along a continuum ranging from "conservative" to "liberal," i.e., according to the degree of restrictiveness used in determining who is eligible for special programs and services.

Restrictiveness can be expressed in two ways. First, a definition can limit the number of performance areas that are considered in determining eligibility for special programs. A conservative definition, for example, might limit eligibility to academic performance only and exclude other areas such as music, art, drama, leadership, public speaking, social service, and creative writing. Second, a definition may specify the degree or level of excellence one must attain to be considered gifted.

At the conservative end of the continuum is Lewis Terman's definition of giftedness, "the top 1% level in general intellectual ability, as measured by the StanfordBinet Intelligence Scale or a comparable instrument" (1926: 43).

In this definition, restrictiveness is present in terms of both the type of performance specified (i.e., how well one scores on an intelligence test) and the level of performance one must attain to be considered gifted (top 1%). At the other end of the continuum may be found more liberal definitions, such as the following one by Paul Witty:

  There are children whose outstanding potentialities in art,
  in writing, or in social leadership can be recognized largely by
  their performance. Hence, we have recommended that the definition
  of giftedness be expanded and that we consider any child gifted
  whose performance, in a potentially valuable line of human
  activity, is consistently remarkable. (1958: 62)

Although liberal definitions have the obvious advantage of expanding the conception of giftedness, they also open up two "cans of worms" by introducing the values issue (What are the potentially valuable lines of human activity?) and the age-old problem of subjectivity in measurement.

In recent years, the values issue has been largely resolved. There are very few educators who cling to a "straight IQ" or purely academic definition of giftedness. "Multiple talent" and "multiple criteria" are almost the bywords of the present-day gifted student movement, and most educators would have little difficulty in accepting a definition that includes almost every area of human activity that manifests itself in a socially useful form.

The problem of subjectivity in measurement is not as easily resolved. As the definition of giftedness is extended beyond those abilities clearly reflected in tests of intelligence, achievement, and academic aptitude, it becomes necessary to put less emphasis on precise estimates of performance and potential and more emphasis on the opinions of qualified human judges in making decisions about admission to special programs. …

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