Does a definition matter? For the purposes of a school program, yes. 

    • It provides a foundation for making program decisions.
    • It helps teachers identify children who would benefit from programming.
    • It determines identification criteria.
    • It guides provided services.

    A definition should be broad, yet specific, inclusive yet focused on particular qualities that set some children apart from their age peers, and indicate the need for different types of educational opportunities. There is no one right, absolute, or generally accepted definition of giftedness. 

    Rockford Area Schools Definition:
    The EXCEL Program exists to serve students who exhibit unique abilities or potential significantly beyond that of their peers of similar age, experience or environment. The program provides four different levels of service to meet the diverse needs of these highly able learners.



    Minnesota Department of Education (MDE)
    Gifted and talented children and youth are those students with outstanding abilities, identified at preschool, elementary and secondary levels. These students are capable of high performance when compared to others of similar age, experience and environment, and represent the diverse populations of our communities. These are students whose potential requires differentiated and challenging educational programs and/or services beyond those provided in the general school program. Students capable of high performance include those with demonstrated achievement or potential ability in any one or more of the following areas: general intellectual, specific academic subjects, creativity, leadership and visual and performing arts.

    Minnesota Council for Gifted Children (MCGT) Conference (2012)
    Giftedness is a greater awareness, a greater sensitivity, and a greater ability to understand and transform perceptions into intellectual and emotional experiences. Giftedness is someone you are...not something you do.

    National Association for Gifted Children
    Gifted individuals are those who demonstrate outstanding levels of aptitude (defined as an exceptional ability to reason and learn) or competence (documented performance or achievement in top 10% or rarer) in one or more domains.  Domains include any structured area of activity with its own symbol system (e.g., mathematics, music, language) and/or set of sensorimotor skills (e.g., painting, dance, sports).

    Joseph Renzulli, National Research Center on Gifted and Talented
    Gifted behavior occurs when there is an interaction among three basic clusters of human traits: above-average abilities (general and/or specific), high levels of task commitment (motivation), and high levels of creativity. Gifted and talented children are those who possess or are capable of developing this composite of traits and applying them to any potentially valuable area of human performance. As noted in the Schoolwide Enrichment Model, gifted behaviors can be found "in certain people (not all people), at certain times (not all the time), and under certain circumstances (not all circumstances)."

    The Columbus Group
    Defining giftedness as behaviors, achievement, products or school placements, external to the individual, necessarily misses the essence of giftedness – how it alters the meaning of life experience for the gifted individual. Achievement remains an interesting and significant expression of giftedness but is not the most important aspect of it. Giftedness is ‘asynchronous development’ in which advanced cognitive abilities and heightened intensity combine to create inner experiences and awareness that are qualitatively different from the norm. This asynchrony increases with higher intellectual capacity. The uniqueness of the gifted renders them particularly vulnerable and requires modifications in parenting, teaching and counseling in order for them to develop optimally. These children usually do not fit the developmental norms for their age; they have more advanced play interests and often are academically far ahead of their age peers

    Jim Delisle & Judy Galbraith (Authors of When Gifted Kids Don’t Have all the Answers)
    There is no one “portrait” of a gifted student. Talents and strengths among the gifted vary as widely as they do with any sample of students drawn from a so-called “average” population. Some educators distinguish between academically gifted and socially gifted; between highly gifted and normally gifted; and between highly creative and highly talented students. Many other breakdowns and categories exist. (p. 29)

    Some are outgoing risk-takers, challengers of the status quo. Some are quiet, satisfied with their private world. As learners, some need constant feedback, others don’t. Some need a tremendous amount of encouragement to perform, or a lot of structure. Others ask for help after class, or years later. 

    When compared against other kids the same age, (child’s name):
    Is easily bored by routine tasks
    Can play and work independently
    Prefers complex tasks and open-ended activities
    Rebels against conformity
    Creatively makes toys or tools out of anything
    Asks probing questions
    Make connections between ideas that classmates “don’t get” (but you do)
    Has an “adult” sense of humor; understand irony and puns

    Susan Winebrenner (Author and ConsultantTeaching Gifted Kids in the Regular Classroom)
    The Short List: I believe any student who possesses most or all of the following five characteristics is probably gifted. To be gifted, one does not have to possess all of these characteristics. However, when you observe students consistently exhibiting many of these behaviors, the possibility that they are gifted is very strong. 

    •  Learns new material faster, and at an earlier age, than age peers.
    • Remembers what has been learned forever, making review unnecessary.
    • Is able to deal with concepts that are too complex and abstract for age peers.
    • Has a passionate interest in one or more topics, and would spend all available time learning more about that topic if he or she could.
    • Does not need to watch the teacher to hear what is being said; can operate on multiple brain channels simultaneously and process more than one task at a time.

    In More Detail
    The gifted child (refers to girls and boys):

    • Is extremely precocious, when compared to his age peers, in any area of learning and/or performance.  Learns at a much earlier age than is typical and makes much more rapid progress in certain areas of learning.
    • Exhibits asynchronous development.  May be highly precocious in some areas while demonstrating age-appropriate or delayed behaviors in other areas.  Example: Can read at an early age but can’t tie his own shoes until age 5 or later.  Note: Not all gifted kids learn to read before starting school; not all kids who do learn to read before starting school are gifted.  One significant indication of giftedness might be the child who literally teaches himself to read, with little or no adult intervention or help.
    • Has an advanced vocabulary and verbal ability for his chronological age.
    • Has an outstanding memory.  Possesses lots of information and can process it in sophisticated ways.
    • Learns some things very easily with little help from others.  May display a “rage to master” what he studies.
    • Operates on higher levels of thinking than his age peers.  Is comfortable with abstract and complex thinking tasks.
    • Demonstrates ability to work with abstract ideas.  Needs a minimum of concrete experiences for complete understanding.
    • Perceives subtle cause-and-effect relationships.
    • Sees patterns, relationships, and connections that others don’t.
    • Comes up with “better ways” for doing things.  Suggests them to peers, teachers, and other adults—not always in positive, helpful ways.
    • Prefers complex and challenging tasks to “basic” work.  May change simple tasks or directions to more complex ones to keep himself interested.
    • Transfers concepts and learning to new situations.  Sees connections between apparently unconnected ideas and activities.  Makes intuitive leaps toward understanding without necessarily being able to explain how he got there.
    • Wants to share all he knows.  Loves to know and give reasons for everything.
    • Is curious about many things and asks endless questions.  Each answer leads to another question.
    • Is a keen and alert observer. Doesn’t miss a thing.
    • Is very intense.  May be extremely emotional and excitable.  Gets totally absorbed in activities and thoughts; may be reluctant to move from one subject area to another; may insist on mastering one thing before starting another.  May experience periods of such fierce concentration that he is literally unaware of what is going on around him.
    • Has many, and sometimes unusual, interests, hobbies, and collections.  May have a passionate interest that has lasted for many years, such as dinosaurs.
    • Is strongly motivated to do things that interest him in his own way.  Loves working independently; may prefer to work alone.  Enjoys making discoveries on his own and solving problems in his own way.
    • Has a very high energy level.  Seems to require very little sleep, but actually has a hard time calming down and going to sleep because he’s so busy thinking, planning, problem-solving, and creating.
    • Is sensitive to beauty and other people’s feelings, emotions, and expectations.
    • Has an advanced sense of justice, morality, and fairness.  Is aware of and empathetic about global issues that most of his age peers aren’t interested in; can conceptualize solutions to such problems when quite young.
    • Has a sophisticated sense of humor.
    • Likes to be in charge.  May be a natural leader.

    Behavior, Motivation, and Attitude Problems
    Gifted kids get frustrated when they are having to "practice" something they already know. The personality type determines whether that frustration is bottled up because of self-control (still not good) or whether it comes out as misbehavior. There is some work that has been done on negative expressions of gifted traits. It's a sketchy area though because it can give teachers the wrong impression...they start nominating children with misbehaviors who don't have academic strengths. Provided the student DOES have academic strengths, it may be important to consider negative expression of gifted traits. 

    As with all good things, there are challenges associated with having outstanding talents.  These challenges are often perceived as behavior, motivation, or attitude problems.  The gifted child whose learning needs are not met in school might:

    • Resist doing the work, or work in a sloppy, careless manner.
    • Get frustrated with the pace of the class and what he perceives as inactivity or lack of noticeable progress.
    • Rebel against routine and predictability.
    • Ask embarrassing questions; demand good reasons for why things are done a certain way.
    • Resist taking direction or orders.
    • Daydream.
    • Monopolize class discussions.
    • Become bossy with his peers and teachers.
    • Become intolerant of imperfection in himself and in others.
    • Become super-sensitive to any form of criticism; cry easily.
    • Refuse to conform.
    • Resist cooperative learning.
    • Act out or disturb others.
    • Become the “class clown.”
    • Become impatient when he’s not called on to recite or respond; blurt out answers without raising his hand.

    Maureen Neihart, Psy D
    I used to think of giftedness as intelligence. Now I know that giftedness is more than intelligence. It’s a way of being in the world. You can be smart and not be gifted. I think it’s possible to have an IQ of 130 and not be gifted. I’m less sure about 145. Giftedness is a way of responding to what goes on around you and within you. There are affective as well as cognitive components. I’m not sure you can separate the two. There seem to be common personality characteristics among people who achieve at very high levels, but you can have those personality characteristics and NOT achieve at very high levels, too. I’m saying that giftedness seems to require both - who you are and what you do. We do a lousy job in general education of paying attention to these psychosocial factors. There’s too much emphasis on achievement without providing the psychological supports needed to get there. We tend to demand and abandon.

    Francoys Gagné, Distinguished Scholar
    There is a clear distinction between giftedness and talent. The term giftedness designates the possession and use of untrained and spontaneously expressed natural abilities (called aptitudes or gifts) in at least one ability domain to a degree that places a child among the top 10% of his or her age peers. By contrast, the term talent designates the superior mastery of systematically developed abilities (or skills) and knowledge in at least one field of human activity to a degree that places a child's achievement within the upper 10% of age-peers who are active in that field or fields. His model presents five aptitude domains: intellectual, creative, socio-affective, sensorimotor and "others" (e.g. extrasensory perception). These natural abilities, which have a clear genetic substratum, can be observed in every task children are confronted with in the course of their schooling. (Gagné, F., 1985)


    The U.S. Department of Education, Marland Report (1972):
    Students, children, or youth who give evidence of high achievement capability in areas such as intellectual, creative, artistic, or leadership capacity, or in specific academic fields, and who need services and activities not ordinarily provided by the school in order to fully develop those capabilities. Children capable of high performance include those with demonstrated achievement and/or potential ability in any of the areas, singly or in combination.

    (Criticized as being limiting and of promoting elitism:  80% of experts agree to include: general intellectual ability, specific academic aptitude, creative or productive thinking, visual and performing arts; 50% of experts agree to include: leadership ability/social adeptness, psychomotor ability)

    Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act of 1981:
    Funds may be used for special programs to identify, encourage, and meet the special educational needs of children who give evidence of high performance capability in areas such as intellectual, creative, artistic, leadership capacity, or specific academic fields, and who require services or activities not ordinarily provided by the school in order to fully develop such capabilities.

    Regulations for the Educational Security Act of 1984: 
    A student, identified by various measures, who demonstrates actual or potential high performance capability in the fields of mathematics, science, foreign languages, or computer learning. (Note: Schools will operationally define giftedness based on the needs of society - different value systems will lead to different definitions.)

    No Child Left Behind Act of 2001:
    The term “gifted and talented” when used with respect to students, children, or youth, means those who give evidence of high achievement capability in areas such as intellectual, creative, artistic, or leadership capacity, or in specific academic fields, and who need services or activities not ordinarily provided by the school in order to fully develop those capabilities. 

    Jacob Javits Gifted and Talented Students Educational Act (funded 1988-2011):
    "The term gifted and talented student means children and youths who give evidence of higher performance capability in such areas as intellectual, creative, artistic, or leadership capacity, or in specific academic fields, and who require services or activities not ordinarily provided by the schools in order to develop such capabilities fully."