Special Education

Gifted Education - A Resource Guide for Teachers

Who Are Our Gifted Students?

Perceptions of giftedness vary even among gifted education specialists. At one time "gifted" was the term used to describe those students who learned quickly and obtained high scores on IQ tests. While these abilities still contribute to our understanding of giftedness, the findings of many researchers have given us a deeper understanding of intelligence.

Today "giftedness" is generally accepted to include a wide range of attributes, from the traditional intellectual measures to interpersonal abilities.

Howard Gardner and Joe Renzulli are among the researchers who have had considerable impact in recent years on our understanding of giftedness. Gardner's theory of multiple intelligences and Renzulli's three-ring conception of giftedness are useful starting places for classroom teachers attempting to identify gifted behaviour among their students.

The Theory of Multiple Intelligences (Gardner, 1983)

Sidebar - Michael

Gardner's model of intelligence describes capabilities in seven areas. The following summary of these capabilities is drawn from Thomas Armstrong (1994):

  • Linguistic: The ability to use words effectively both orally and in writing (e.g., writer, orator).
  • Logical-Mathematical: The ability to use numbers effectively and to see logical relationships and patterns (e.g., mathematician, scientist, computer programmer).
  • Spatial: The ability to visualize and to orient oneself in the world (e.g., guide, hunter, architect, artist).
  • Bodily, Kinesthetic: The ability to use one's body to express ideas; to make things with hands; and to develop physical skills (e.g., actor, craftsperson, athlete).
  • Musical: The capacity to perceive, discriminate, transform and express musical forms (e.g., composer, musician).
  • Interpersonal Intelligence: The ability to perceive and make distinctions in the moods, intentions, motivations and feelings of other people (e.g., counsellor, political leader).
  • Intrapersonal Intelligence: Self-knowledge and the ability to act adaptively on the basis of that knowledge (e.g., psychotherapist, religious leader).

Sidebar - Chris

Historically, gifted students have been identified by excellence in linguistic or logical-mathematical realms. Students with outstanding abilities in other areas may not have been identified for gifted programming. A broader search for giftedness and a commitment to its development includes all of the intelligences.

According to Gardner, performance within each of the intelligences is developmental. Development may or may not occur at the same rate for all of the intelligences. Gifted students will show patterns of development that exceed their peers in one or several of the intelligences.

The Three-Ring Conception of Giftedness (Renzulli, 1986)

After an extensive analysis of research studies of gifted individuals, Renzulli concluded that giftedness involves the interaction of three sets of characteristics: above average intellectual ability, creativity and task commitment. This interaction may result in giftedness in general performance areas such as mathematics, philosophy, religion or visual arts, or in the performance areas as specific as cartooning, map-making, play-writing, advertising or agricultural research.

Treffinger (1986, p.40) defined the characteristics as follows:

Above Average Intelligence

  • Advanced vocabulary
  • Good memory
  • Learns very quickly and easily
  • Large fund of information
  • Generalizes skilfully
  • Comprehends new ideas easily
  • Makes abstractions easily
  • Perceives similarities, differences, relationships
  • Makes judgments and decisions

Sidebar - Amy


  • Questioning; very curious about many topics
  • Has many ideas (fluent)
  • Sees things in varied ways (flexible)
  • Offers unique or unusual ideas (original)
  • Adds details; makes ideas more interesting (elaborates)
  • Transforms or combines ideas
  • Sees implications or consequences easily
  • Risk-taker; speculates
  • Feels free to disagree
  • Finds subtle humour, paradox or discrepancies

Task Commitment

  • Sets own goals, standards
  • Intense involvement in preferred problems and tasks
  • Enthusiastic about interests and activities
  • Needs little external motivation when pursuing tasks
  • Prefers to concentrate on own interest and projects
  • High level of energy
  • Perseveres; does not give up easily when working
  • Completes, shares products
  • Eager for new projects and challenges
  • Assumes responsibility

Sidebar - The Challenge

Renzulli's three-ring concept of giftedness has helped educators to look for more than intellectual ability in identifying students with potential. We now recognize the importance of creativity. When these two factors are combined with task commitment, there is potential for giftedness.

Task commitment refers to the passion and the perseverance that follows when students are involved in problems, topics and projects of their own interest or choosing, in our outside of the classroom. Gifted students are typically committed to task that are personally meaningful. A lack of commitment to a task assigned by someone else does not necessarily mean the student lacks task commitment. For example, failing to complete classroom assignments is not an appropriate reason to exclude a student form gifted programming. Therefore, educators using task commitment as an indicator of giftedness should do so carefully.

Renzulli (1986), Treffinger (1986) and Feldhusen (1992) suggest that one goal of education is to identify the exceptional strengths, talents and interest of students and to develop programming to help them optimize their potentials. The intent is to develop programming which reflects a student's uniqueness. Areas within school programs that provide opportunities for talent identification and development are shown in the Feldhusen graphic (1992, p14) on page 10.

Gardner's and Renzulli's work illuminates the need to identify student potential in a variety of ways and to develop multiple programming options to meet each student's unique needs.

Classroom Resources

Seven Ways of Knowing: Teaching for Multiple Intelligences (Lazear, 1991)

Seven Ways of Teaching: The Artistry of Teaching with Multiple Intelligences (Lazear, 1991)

Previous | To Table of Contents | Next