Understanding Gifted Learners

You may know a child with the ability to solve complex math equations in their head, name every country in the world in alphabetical order, or play Beethoven’s Für Elise better than anyone you’ve ever heard. Gifted children can take us by surprise in unique and impressive ways. Let’s begin by exploring current definitions and conceptualizations of giftedness.

There is no “one size fits all” approach to understanding gifted learners.

Today, the term “giftedness” is generally accepted to include a wide range of attributes, from the traditional intellectual measures to interpersonal abilities (BC Ministry of Education, 2016). The National Association for Gifted Children describes gifted individuals as those who demonstrate outstanding levels of aptitude or competence in one or more domains which include any structured area of activity with its own symbol system (mathematics, music, language) and/or set of sensorimotor skills (painting, dance, sports) (NAGC, 2016). Many theorists have also tried to explain giftedness through developing their own models. 

Joseph Renzulli’s Three-Ring Model (1986)

A well-known theory in gifted education that describes giftedness as an interaction of three core attributes: Above-Average Ability, Creativity, and Task-Commitment, where all three must be present in order to be considered gifted. A major strength of this theory is the ability to generalize to a wide range of domains (Miller, 2012).

Robert J. Sternberg’s Triarchic Theory of Intelligence (1985)

This theoretical model holds unique conceptualizations of intelligence to explain giftedness. The three types of intelligences are analytic, creative, and practical. This theory has generated a great amount of interest because it presents the idea of different “patterns” of giftedness. Therefore, a student may have extreme intelligence in one, two, or all three areas depending on their strengths and weaknesses (Miller, 2012).

Howard Gardner’s Theory of Multiple Intelligences (1983)

Gardner’s theory states there are at least seven types of “intelligences” that people use to understand and perceive the world.

  • Linguistic: The ability to use words effectively both orally and in writing
  • Logical-Mathematical: The ability to use numbers effectively and to see logical relationships and patterns
  • Spatial: The ability to visualize and to orient oneself in the world
  • Bodily, Kinesthetic: The ability to use one’s body to express ideas; to make things with hands; and to develop physical skills
  • Musical: The capacity to perceive, discriminate, transform and express musical forms
  • Interpersonal Intelligence: The ability to perceive and make distinctions in the moods, intentions, motivations and feelings of other people
  • Intrapersonal Intelligence: Self-knowledge and the ability to act adaptively on the basis of that knowledge

(BC Ministry of Education, 2016)

Differentiated Model of Giftedness and Talent

A more recent and comprehensive conceptualization is Gagne’s Differentiated Model of Giftedness and Talent (DMGT). Gagné believes that all talents are developed from natural abilities through learning influenced by inner and outer catalysts (Miller, 2012). Let’s take a look!