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Just What Does Gifted Mean?

Let’s start with the basics: just what does “gifted” mean? Interestingly enough, there is not universal agreement on the definition of this word. Webster’s dictionary, Wikipedia, the National Association for the Gifted and even the federal government each vary in their interpretation of the term. There are, however, some commonalities among these groups. In general it seems to be agreed upon that giftedness involves being set apart from others in some distinguishing way. This typically refers to academic or intellectual abilities, visual or performing arts, or leadership qualities. The word “gift” implies something that is given. Many believe that giftedness is inherited yet the full extent of these gifts may not be realized unless they are nurtured.

In a school setting definitions are often critical because these are what determine who gets special programming and who doesn’t. It is ideal if a school district’s definition is specific yet flexible. For example it would be important to indicate that gifted students are ones who perform above their peers in one or more areas or that they show the potential to perform in this way. This allows for a variety of ways and domains in which students can be identified.

A common myth that some share regarding being gifted is that it indicates exceptional accomplishments in every area of an individual’s life. There are those who seem to excel at everything; we can term these people “intellectually” or “globally” gifted. This however is more of the exception than the rule when it comes to giftedness. It is more likely that someone will display above average capabilities in a more specific domain. For example someone who is particularly adept in math may not have this same success in the language arts and vice versa. Someone may also stand out as having extraordinary gifts in the performing or visual arts or even in areas of leadership and interpersonal skills. These areas do tend to be connected to above average IQ’s but again it is more rare for this high intelligence to permeate every area of a person’s life than it is to affect a specific area of interest and skill.

It is even possible that someone who is gifted in one area can actually struggle in other areas lending more credence to the above-mentioned myth. This is why it is so essential for definitions to make it abundantly clear that giftedness can reveal itself in a variety of domains and it often shows up in only one domain. By understanding this fact, educators and parents can better assess the children in their care and what their needs are. Many children can slip through the cracks unless we’re aware of what we’re looking for. Then we can proceed to foster and develop the gifts we uncover.

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