Frequently Asked Questions
There is no simple way of answering this highly complex question. In fact, if you were to consult various books on the subject, you might find about 184 existing, different definitions of giftedness. We can offer a very concise suggestion to explain the concept. A gifted child is one who, in some aspect of human potential and/or achievement, is far more advanced than others of the same chronological age and the same cultural and educational background. This implies that giftedness can be expressed in many different fields, ranging from particular academic subjects, through the performing arts to the sports field.
But giftedness does not refer only to intellectual ability. There are some very significant emotional characteristics that go hand in hand with high intelligence. Most common are extreme sensitivity and intense emotional experiences.
To summarise, giftedness should be understood not as a separate trait in a child, but as a fundamental being of the person and combines high intellectual potential with personality characteristics that are as important in the identification of giftedness as test results or school achievements.
Please don’t equate giftedness with prodigies or genius. Genius is a very rare phenomenon. Its promise may be seen in child prodigies (who are also very rare), but genius is usually only recognised when the adult has produced work or a performance of a standard that is not often found in all of humanity.
At Radford, we prefer not to label children at all. They are seen to have potential or demonstrated high ability in certain fields, but only time will reveal whether or not they develop their potential or abilities to the extent that they can be termed a ‘gifted’ adult.
You might not have suspected any particular ability, but often others may alert you to your child’s potential. Friends, teachers and often grandparents may comment that he or she is advanced in some way, or seems to be able to do things that their children can’t yet do.
Checklists for identifying gifted behaviour are not very accurate. They are misleading because if characteristics such as “asks many questions” and “seems very alert as a baby” are included, many children could be identified as gifted! It is not so much the possessing of a particular attribute that determines high ability. Rather, it is how many signs and how much of a characteristic is shown that makes the difference. There is a fine line between being an intelligent, capable human being (as is the majority of the population) and one with really high potential that we call ‘giftedness’.
However, because the potential for giftedness has to do with a quick rate of development, it helps to compare the mental development of possibly more advanced children with what is considered ‘normal’ for a particular age. The following are some examples to show what is considered advanced for a particular child:
- Early use of advanced vocabulary
- Rapid learning ability
- Retention of a variety of information
- Keen observation and curiosity
- Periods of intense concentration
- Ability to understand complex concepts, perceive relationships and think abstractly
- A broad and changing spectrum of interests
- Strong critical thinking skills and self-criticism
- Signs of unusual talent in music, drawing, rhythms or other art forms
- Advanced ability to play with puzzles, mazes or numbers
- Emotional sensitivity
- Experiencing intense emotions
Common sense should tell us that it takes more than mere extraordinary brainpower to become demonstrably gifted. A generous amount of mental ability is needed but this can, at most, only indicate how well a person may cope with certain tasks. It does not guarantee how well the person will do or foretell in what exact area the person will excel. To realise the potential of a highly efficient brain needs a whole lot of personal characteristics plus an environment that is enriching and full of the right kinds of opportunities.
In short, nature supplies a potentially gifted child with the genetic make-up needed for high ability, while the child’s environment needs to be of a quality that nurtures the spark of giftedness. This does not necessarily mean an environment full of the latest toys and technology. Instead a nurturing environment is characterised by attentive adults who spend time and energy helping the child to discover their world – whether in a city or in a far-off rural area.
An intellectually gifted child is expected to do well at school. Academic tasks are well suited to the child who has a balance of good visual and auditory strengths, excellent memory and reasoning skills.
According to Sylvia Rimm , gifted children are vulnerable to underachievement. Their susceptibility stems from their early childhood home environment as well as from their school experiences. There is certainly nothing in the literature to suggest that underachievement is inherited. It seems that when identifying the causes of underachievement, it is necessary to discover why the child has learned the behaviours associated with underachievement.
Some of the reasons may include:
- A style of learning which is geared to Analytical or lateral thinking so that The child reacts negatively to traditional teaching methods and curricula
- Impatience and irritation with the slower pace of learning experienced in a traditional classroom
- Real stubbornness to conform, cooperate and perform, that develops as a result of a refusal by educators to acknowledge a gifted child’s needs for self-expression, self-fulfilment and productivity
- A real learning problem that may prevent the child from thriving at school.
 Sylvia Rimm. Why bright kids get poor grades: And what you can do about it. New York: Three Rivers Press.
Yes. Many people consider this to be an impossible dichotomy, but gifted children are as vulnerable to learning problems as other children.
A learning problem can be defined as a difficulty with acquiring such skills as reading, writing or numeracy. Other factors may be present that interfere with skill development, such as concentration problems, inability to complete tasks in a given time and general disorganisation.
The roots of such problems may lie in emotional factors (as a result of super sensitivity), preoccupation (a problematic home life), environmental factors (perhaps a school setting that is too unstructured for a particular child) or biological and neurodevelopmental factors. The latter include health problems or inefficiencies in the workings of the brain, which may cause difficulties such as auditory processing problems, a visual perception problem, sequencing problems, and so on.
This means that a superior intelligence does not make a child immune to a learning disability. So a very bright child may also have a learning disability, which is considered present when a child is functioning two or more years below the expected level for his or her age and his or her assessed intellectual potential.
No. Gifted children vary greatly in their abilities, personalities and interests. Each child is an individual with particular strengths and weaknesses, likes and dislikes, idiosyncrasies and flaws. Each should be identified and educated according to their unique merits, accomplishments and potential.
Too many people believe that it is not necessary to design a particular curriculum for gifted learners or to accommodate their educational needs because they are able to cope on their own. Their superior abilities are believed to empower them with special strengths so that they will succeed no matter what schools do. This is a sad untruth. Although many gifted learners may appear to be achieving, we cannot presume that they will actually achieve at a level commensurate with their abilities if left on their own. In a practical sense, the number of underachievers who are referred to professional people for help are a symptom of the need gifted learners have for special attention in school. It has been said that gifted and talented learners are, in fact, disadvantaged and handicapped in the usual school situation.
Some people believe that encouraging children from an early age to become involved in stretching their abilities may result in their performance levelling off. This may be referred to as the ‘early ripe, early rot’ theory of development which is not founded on any reality. In truth, when children of high ability are provided with appropriate education, this phenomenon does not occur. However, when gifted children do not receive the education that they need, their frustrations and discouragement may well be the reason for their failure to live up to early expectations. Without correct, appropriate education, gifted learners may lose much of the advantage they have.
Gifted learners like to feel they are like other learners and do not feel they have been ‘given’ any particular gifts. It seems to surprise many people to hear that most gifted learners do not like being called ‘gifted’. They object to being labelled – particularly when they reach adolescence and need to be accepted by the peer group. They feel normal and thus want to be regarded as their classmates are except perhaps for a tendency to learn differently and to like more or different activities than their friends.
It is assumed worldwide that about 10% – 20% of the population have superior to highly gifted potential in some or other area of human endeavour, within this sector approximately 2% are intellectually gifted. This potential needs careful nurturing to be fully realised.
This is a ‘hot’ topic and deserves a careful answer!
All cultures include individuals who do excel and who have special abilities. Each culture defines giftedness in its own image, in terms of the abilities that the members of that culture value at that time. Because of this, throughout history the meaning of giftedness has shifted according to the interests and pre-conceptions of people using the term. For example, at the height of the Roman Empire a truly gifted man would be expected to conquer other nations whereas a contemporary Roman might aim for the Nobel Peace Prize.
A non-specialised society may focus on the ability to hunt and insist that the most gifted and talented person among them is the one who is the best hunter. There is clear interaction between society’s needs and an individual’s excellence.
However, extraordinary ability and the nurturance of such ability has always been recognised and practiced in all cultural groups. We see this very clearly in our modern world that lays so much emphasis on the identification and nurturing of gifted sportsmen and women.
Set against these truths, is the fact that many societies today are becoming more and more concerned with the notion of equality and democracy and dislike the thought that some are born with certain privileges. One person or group should not be seen to be inherently better or of more value than others. To avoid this, a policy of equality or “the same for everyone” is enforced and high intellectual ability as suggested by the term “gifted” is rejected.
If one upholds the view that giftedness indicates a difference in ability of the mind, then one can argue against this rejection. It is not true that recognising differences is equal to elitism. Recognising the skill of a soccer or piano player is not an indication of the belief that this ability or skill makes the person a better human being than others.
The fact that, for many ages, all cultures and all societies have valued human ability for its potential worth to the culture itself is beyond dispute. The concept of ‘elitism’ that is still associated with the identification of and provision for gifted children in South Africa is a political rather than a social issue.
We have no religious affiliation and do not offer religious instruction – believing that education concerning matters of faith are best left to the parents and families. That said, the variety of cultures dispersed throughout the school do allow for interesting discussion and general education regarding traditions and divergent ethics and beliefs.
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