The National Association for Gifted Children (2019) defines gifted students as those with intelligence and/or achievement test scores significantly above the norm. Students can be identified as gifted in a number of domains including intelligence, mathematics, English, science, social studies, creativity, art, and/or leadership. The Marland Report (1972) estimates that up to 5% of U.S. students are gifted in at least one domain. Children who are gifted have unique academic, social, and emotional needs. They often look at the world and approach learning with a variety of unique perspectives.
It’s important to understand the characteristics of gifted students as many times these characteristics are misunderstood and even diagnosed as a learning disability (USC Rossier, 2014). Some of the more common characteristics of profoundly gifted children include (listed in alphabetical order):
- Ability to see things from a variety of perspectives – Gifted students often find unique ways to view a situation or problem. They use their creativity and abstract thinking skills to find unique perspectives and solutions to problems, even when there is an easier way to go about solving. Stories of gifted students developing their own mathematical techniques, languages, and games are not uncommon.
- Advanced language skills – Gifted students often enjoy talking to adults over their same-aged peers due to their advanced language skills. They may have a more advanced vocabulary and ability to use more precise language to represent their thoughts. Additionally, they may speak very quickly because they have so many thoughts in their head that they just have to get out and share. Allowing gifted students opportunities to regularly connect with their intellectual peers and adults will help to hone their language skills.
- Critical of self and others – Gifted students are often labeled as critical of others or even themselves. Because of their advanced abilities to understand a variety of topics at a rapid pace, they can often be less tolerant of others who are not able to do the same. In a typical classroom, the teacher is trying to meet the needs of most of the students, which often leaves the advanced students to move forward on their own, or worse, to be told to sit and wait until the class catches up with them. Gifted students have an insatiable desire to learn so their constant questions or pleas to increase the pace of learning can be seen as trying to dominate the classroom or may even manifest as a lack of understanding and tolerance for others who have different learning needs.
- Early and rapid learning - One of the most common characteristics of gifted students is their ability to learn things early and rapidly. Many gifted students have excellent memorization skills, which aids in their ability to connect previous knowledge with new information, thus accelerating their acquisition of new concepts. They can assimilate new information, even on complex topics, at a dizzying pace. This often makes them appear to be off-task or uninterested in traditional classroom learning, which may go at a pace that is too slow to keep them intellectually stimulated.
- Intellectual curiosity – Gifted students are not satisfied with simply hearing that something is a known truth, they have an insatiable desire to understand why something is true. High quality gifted education nurtures intellectual curiosity by offering authentic opportunities for discovery and experiential learning thus allowing gifted students to uncover truths for themselves. Intellectual curiosity can be misconstrued as challenging authority as students constantly question teachers and mentors. It’s essential that educators continue to foster intellectual curiosity because once it is squashed it can be extinguished forever.
- Overexcitability – First identified by Dabroski (1972), overexcitabilities are a heightened response to a variety of stimuli. Overexcitabilities can be psychomotor (physical movement), sensual (related to the five senses), intellectual, imaginational, or emotional. There are many merits to profoundly gifted overexcitabilities and these should be emphasized so students learn to appreciate and harness their unique abilities.
- Perfectionism – Gifted students often hold themselves to a very high standard. In some cases they believe that they should excel in everything they do. This can lead to frustration when they don’t earn a perfect grade or excel in extra-curricular activities. Providing meaningful opportunities to challenge gifted students without high consequences for not achieving perfection will help them learn to value authentic learning and growing over being perfect. This is one of the most common exceptionally gifted characteristics.
- Persistence – Gifted students are often persistent in their pursuit of knowledge or in their beliefs. They can become quickly absorbed in topics and go down proverbial rabbit holes in an attempt to satisfy their insatiable curiosity. Any parent who has tried to get a gifted student to “let it go” knows that this can be difficult.
- Quirky and/or keen sense of humor – Gifted students often have an advanced sense of humor and can appear frustrated with peers who may find base or bodily humor entertaining. Gifted students are more likely to enjoy punny humor or sarcasm, types of humor that are more adult-like. Students at the Davidson Academy’s Online campus have a chat conversation dedicated to puns that has been actively running for three years.
- Strong empathy and sense of justice – Gifted students often have a difficult time processing real or perceived injustices and they feel deeply for those around them. They understand equity and fairness on a personal level and often struggle with others who don’t. This may make them seem asocial at times as they struggle to work in heterogeneous groups where the academic load may be unfairly placed on their shoulders or there are social issues related to lack of inclusion or bullying. They are often trying to support others who they believe are being left out and this can also manifest as a deep, caring relationship for a pet or animals in general. Occasionally, this can also manifest itself as high or even unreasonable expectations for themselves.
As evidenced by the plethora of ways that profound giftedness presents in children, gifted students have diverse and unique educational needs (Marland, 1972). Gifted learners are more open to new learning experiences than their peers and often develop abstract reasoning earlier (Gallagher, 2009). Since giftedness can be honed and developed, “there is an immense loss to both the nation and the gifted individuals themselves” if their abilities and talents are not fully developed (Jolly & Robins, 2016, p. 140). A high quality gifted education builds on the strengths of the profoundly gifted traits of gifted students while identifying, supporting, and nurturing students as individuals.
- Dabrowski, K. (1972). Psychoneurosis is not an illness. Gryf.
- Gallagher, S. A. (2009). Designed to fit: Educational implications of gifted adolescents’ cognitive development. In F. Dixon (Ed.).
- Programs and services for gifted secondary students (pp. 3-20). Prufrock Press.
- Jolly, J. L., & Robins, J. H. (2016). After the Marland Report. Journal for the Education of the Gifted, 39(2), 132-150.
- Marland, S. P. (1972). Education of the gifted and talented: Report to the Congress of the United States by the U.S. Commissioner of
- Education and background papers submitted to the U.S. Office of Education. (Government Documents, Y4.L 11/2: G36). U.S. Government Printing Office.
- National Association for Gifted Children. (2019). What is giftedness?.
- USC Rossier. (2014, March 21). How to identify a gifted student.
School for Profoundly Gifted Children
In 2006, the Davidson Academy’s Reno campus opened as the first free public school of its kind for profoundly gifted middle and high school students. Unlike traditional school settings, the Academy’s classes group students by ability rather than age. In 2016, a fully accredited online campus was added to the Davidson Academy’s offerings for the 2017-2018 academic year. To attend either option, students should score in the 99.9th percentile on accepted intelligence and/or achievement tests; perform at a required academic level; exhibit intellectual and academic achievement; demonstrate motivation, social and emotional maturity, and an overall readiness for a fast-paced educational environment.
- Gifted Traits and Characteristics (Davidson Gifted Blog)
- Common Characteristics of Gifted Individuals (NAGC)
- Gifted Characteristics (American Mensa)
- Frequently Asked Questions: Profoundly Gifted Students & Gifted Education