What is giftedness?

Giftedness refers to "cognitive (intellectual) superiority (not necessarily of genius calibre), creativity, and motivation in combination and of sufficient magnitude to set the child apart from the vast majority of age peers and make it possible for her or him to contribute something of particular value to society." (Hallahan, Kauffman, & Pullen, 2009, p. 534)

What are some characteristics of gifted children?

Highly curious

Physically and mentally involved

May have outlandish ideas

Prefers adult company

Usually observant and critical

What are some learning difficulties gifted children face?

Poor attention due to boredom

Lack of persistence on tasks which do not interest them

Possible disinterest in organization

Poor development of moral judgment and social skills

May struggle with authority

Difficulty in following routines

May be perfectionists who apply unreasonably high standards

What are some strategies to include gifted children?

Understand the child - family background / problems

Explicit instruction in social skills

Proximity control through manipulating classroom seating

Educate peers on the importance of tolerance and acceptance of difference

Building rapport and fostering bonds between gifted children and their peers

Teacher to role model positive behavior and attitude

Differentiation in teaching methods for gifted children

Implement peer-tutoring and buddies

Relate academic content to real-life

Individualize goal-setting


“If a man does not keep pace with his companions, perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer. Let him step to the music which he hears, however measured or far away.”

~Henry David Thoreau


General Definition:

Giftedness refers to "cognitive (intellectual) superiority (not necessarily of genius calibre), creativity, and motivation in combination and of sufficient magnitude to set the child apart from the vast majority of age peers and make it possible for her or him to contribute something of particular value to society." (Hallahan, Kauffman, & Pullen, 2009, p. 534)

Range of Conditions:

Subject to societal context – Each culture defines giftedness in its own image, in terms of the abilities that the culture values. From a society’s definition of giftedness, we learn something about the culture such as its values and lifestyles. Here, the exceptional person often is defined by both individual ability and societal needs. (Kirk, Gallagher, Coleman, & Anastasiow, 2009, p. 286)

Reasons for ‘giftedness’ labelling - We have to come to terms with the concepts of gift and talent and the reasons for identifying individuals with gifts or talents before we can develop the definition of 'giftedness'. Any definition is shaped largely by the beliefs of the surrounding culture as to what is most useful or necessary for its survival. "Giftedness is defined, not discovered" (Hallahan, Kauffman, & Pullen, 2009, p. 531). Students with special gifts excel in some way compared to other students of the same age. There is little agreement about the definition and school systems have widely differing practices regarding the education of students with special gifts and talents. Giftedness or talentedness, like intellectual disability, is whatever we choose to make it.

Subject to change, not fixed - Today, most experts in educating those with special gifts and talents suggest that giftedness refers to superior abilities in specific areas of performance, which may be exhibited under certain circumstances. Even though giftedness is believed to be a remarkable ability to do something that society values, it’s not an inherent, immutable trait that a person necessarily carries for life. Moreover, having a special gift at one thing doesn’t mean that a person is good at everything. People get extraordinarily good at something only be developing their ability to do that particular thing. (Hallahan, Kauffman, & Pullen, 2009, p. 531-535)


There is a difference between a child who is bright and a gifted child. Juxtaposition is as follows:

Bright Child

Knows the answer

Is interested

Is Attentive

Has good ideas

Works hard

Answers the question

Top group

Listens with interest

Learns with ease

6-8 repetitions for mastery

Understands ideas

Enjoys peers

Grasps the meaning

Completes assignments

Is receptive

Copies accurately

Enjoys school

Absorbs information


Good memorizer

Prefers straightforward presentation

Is alert

Is pleased with own learning

Gifted Learner

Asks the questions

Is highly curious

Physically and mentally involved

Has wild, silly ideas

Plays around, yet tests well

Discusses in detail, elaborates

Beyond the group

Shows strong feelings and opinions

Already knows the answer

1-2 repetitions for mastery

Constructs abstractions

Prefers adults

Draws inferences

Initiates projects

Is intense

Creates a new design

Enjoys learning

Manipulates learning


Good guesser

Thrives on complexity

Is keenly observant

Is keenly critical

(Taken from Challenge Magazine, by Janet Szabos)

Causes of (Dis)ability:

Giftedness in children is often confused with that of ADHD. The characteristics exhibited might be similar but the reasons for the symptoms are different. Gifted learners typically display similar characteristics because they are too advanced for the subject matter. This creates problems for the typical teacher in a ‘one-size-fits-all’ school system. Juxtaposition is as follows:

Gifted learner (Silverman, 1993)

Poor attention - often due to boredom, daydreaming

Lack of persistence on tasks that seem irrelevant

Task completion often reliant on personal interests

Often appears bored during discussions

Possible disinterest in organization

Moral judgment and social skills lags behind intellectual development

Intensity possibly leading to struggles with authority

Frequently high activity

Questions rules, directions

ADHD (DSM-IV*, 1994)

Difficulty with sustained attention, daydreaming

Failure to concentrate unless in one-to-one

Failure to complete independent activities

Ability to listen attentively seems diminished

Messy, disorganized environment

Impulsivity, poor judgment in situations

Problems adhering to rules for regulating behavior

Activity level often heightened

Trouble following directions

Main factors that contribute to giftedness is the same as those that foster any type of behaviour, whether typical or exceptional (Hallahan, Kauffman & Pullen, 2009):

  1. Genetic and other biological factors, such as neurological functioning and nutrition
  2. Social factors, such as family, school, the peer group, and community

We are all combinations of the influences of our genetic inheritances and social and physical environments. Genetic differences in abilities apply within various ethnic groups and social classes, not between them.

The general impact of the special need or disability on a student in terms of development and learning:

5 developmental concerns (Steinberg, 1985)

  1. Identity
  2. Autonomy
  3. Intimacy
  4. Sexuality
  5. Achievement

These 5 concerns interact with one another and are not only applicable to gifted students. However, there are specific situations when a gifted student may faces challenges in the development of these 5 elements. A gifted student may face a "forced-choice dilemma" if they feel that their need to be accepted by their peers conflict with their wish to excel academically or otherwise (Gross, 1989). If the gifted student has a greater desire to excel in various achievements, itmay result in the sacrifice of their want for intimacy with peers and friends. Conversely, a greater need for intimacy may result in attempts to stifle achievements so as to better fit in with their peers.

Learning concerns (Werts, Culatta, & Tompkins, 2007)

Students who are gifted, are in many ways, like all other students in facing problems that are emotional or physical. However, there are some special problems and learning concerns that their talents bring. These students are often impatient with the routines of regular classroom life and thus rote exercises are often met with resistance and non-compliance. In general, it is difficult for some of these students to conform to routine. Moreover, their self-evaluations may lead them toward perfectionism and they may apply unreasonably high standards to both their own efforts and to others in their environment.

General learning characteristics of a gifted student

  1. The ability to ask reflective and probing, sometimes provocative, questions.
  2. The capacity to see and create patterns and relationships in their field of special ability.
  3. Can become deeply absorbed
  4. Unusually fast rate of learning
  5. Reasons at a level more usually found in a student some years older
  6. Extremely well developed memory
  7. Dislike of slow-paced work.
  8. Many gifted students have a preference for independent work.
  9. It is unusual for a gifted student to have only one area of high ability.
  10. Driven, domineering and aloof


Hallahan, D. P., Kauffman, J. M., & Pullen, P. C. (2009). Chapter 15: Learners with Special Gifts and Talents . In D. P. Hallahan, J. M. Kauffman, & P. C. Pullen, Exceptional Learners: An Introduction to Special Education (11th Ed.) (pp. 528-560). Boston: Pearson .

Kirk, S., Gallagher, J. J., Coleman, M. R., & Anastasiow, N. (2009). Chapter 9: Children Who Have Gifts and Talents . In S. Kirk, J. J. Gallagher, M. R. Coleman, & N. Anastasiow, Educating Exceptional Children (12th Ed.) (pp. 285-320). Belmont, CA: Wadsworth.

Werts, M. G., Culatta, R. A., & Tompkins, J. R. (2007). Chapter 12: Students Who Are Gifted and Talented . In M. G. Werts, R. A. Culatta, & J. R. Tompkins, Fundamentals of Special Education: What Every Teacher Needs to Know (3rd Ed.) (pp. 370-400). Upper Saddle River, New Jersey : Pearson .

Silverman, David (1993). Qualitative Research, Method and Practice. Cambridge University Press, New York.

* Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, American Psychiatric Association (Current version is DSM-IV-TR)

Matching activity link

Strategies to include differing learners

Social inclusion strategies:

At the individual level

  1. Understanding the child, his/her background and significant events in his/her life
    • It was important that Miss Lim had made the first step to engage Teck Seng and attempt to understand the reasons behind his mood swings and poor quality of work. It would be prudent for Miss Lim to investigate further about Teck Seng's background and significant events in his life from other teachers and his parents. This would make it easier to understand the issues that Teck Seng is facing now.
  2. Home-School Collaboration
    • Besides finding out information about Teck Seng from his parents, Miss Lim could take the opportunity to set up a framework for collaboration with the parents. This will allow for timely updates from Miss Lim to the parents and vice versa about any improvements/deterioration of Teck Seng's behavior/standard of work.
  3. Individual Counselling
  • Teck Seng: Miss Lim should spend time to have individual counselling with Teck Seng whenever it is needed. If she is uncertain of how to deal with the student, she should expediate the step to rope in the school counselor to help.
  1. Explicit instruction in social skills
    1. Proximity control
    • For students who has behavioural problems, such as Teck Seng. Miss Lim can adopt proximity control by sitting him nearer to her so that she can better monitor him.
  2. Encouraging independence and self-regulation
    • This should be a long term goal which encompasses all the above strategies so that Teck Seng can display good behavior independently. By working with all the other stakeholders, including parents and other teachers, Miss Lim can help to extend the

At the whole class level

  1. Being responsible for the well-being of all in the community
    • Miss Lim should inform the class that everyone is responsible for the well-being of all in the classroom. Therefore, no bullying such as the what Teck Seng experienced would be tolerated. Miss Lim must ensure that any such acts must be swiftly dealt with.
  2. Developing tolerance and respect for differences
  3. Building relationships
  4. Instruction in social and interpersonal skills
  5. "Helping" Ethic
  6. Peer support and peer management of a child with special needs
  7. Behaviour management system
  • Miss Lim should make her expectations and rules clear. Teck Seng should be made aware that his should follow the school's rules about attire and hair-style. He has to know that he should not disturb the teacher or classmates during lesson. This does not apply only to Teck Seng, but the whole class as well.
  1. Teachers as role models
  2. Seizing "teaching moments"

Academic inclusion strategies

  1. Structured or direct instructions
    • As Miss Lim is teaching social studies, she can teach Teck Seng general skills which are relevant for other humanities subject like literature and history. Examples would be research techniques, answering skills for source-based or essay questions and essay-writing skills. This would help to increase Teck Seng's ability to handle these subjects and not feel entirely overwhelmed by their requirements.
  2. Modelling skills taught
    • In conjunction with the first strategy, Miss Lim should model the skills which she will be teaching by using examples to demonstrate the applications.
  3. Focus on strengths
  • Teck Seng: Miss Lim should focus on Teck Seng's strengths by motivating him when he do well in something. Miss Lim could also create extra opportunities for Teck Seng to showcase his talents. This could be in the form of mini-projects or assignments which can further develop his talents in a particular area. Miss Lim can perhaps talk to the mathematics teacher first about this since Teck Seng seems to show aptitude and interest for this subject.
  1. Individualised goal-setting
  • Teck Seng: In conjunction with the "focus on strength", Miss Lim could suggest to other teachers to set individualised goals for Teck Seng. There can be multiple goals which can be introduced gradually. For example, One possible goal would be to finish work on time. This was because Teck Seng had often complained that he didn't have enough time to complete his work. Teachers should discuss with Teck Seng why he wasn't able to finish work on time and help him overcome the distractions and worries which plagued him.
  1. Feedback and encouragement
  • Miss Lim should should be aware of this essential element. This is because feedback allows Teck Seng to know his progress so that he is able to work on areas which requires more effort. Encouragement regardless of the nature of the feedback is important to build Teck Seng's Self-esteem and ensure that he is too discouraged by the feedback to veer off the path of progress.
  1. Differentiation
    • Provide special activities such as independent study with advanced texts, or access to computer programs or other activities that can replace drills. Extend his learning in depth and detail, stress higher order thinking skills and be interdisciplinary for him to view a subject from different perspectives.
    • Provide an opportunity for the student to actually investigate real problems through suitable means of inquiry and to bring his or her findings to bear on realistic audiences. Carefully designed programs over an extended period of time can make a positive difference in the academic and social performance of underachievers (Kirk et al., 2009)
  2. Relating academic learning to real life
  3. Modification of instructional materials
  4. Cooperative learning
  5. Peer-tutoring and buddies
    • Miss Lim can implement a buddy-system in the class. This would allow weaker students to have a partner to discuss and consult with. Students such as Teck Seng can benefit from this as he is not so strong in Literature and History. On the other hand, Teck Seng can help his buddy in mathematics. This system can also improve the social skills of students as it provides another avenue for social interaction.