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Identifying Gifted Children: Giftedness Identification Checklist

Updated on April 1, 2012

Characteristics of Gifted and Talented Learners

While gifted checklists are inherently biased and overwhelmingly inaccurate, a list of common, unbiased, and accurate characteristics can be summed up in only seven potential attributes that focus on IQ rather than personality. Any student who receives even a single checkmark on any of these attributes might be a solid candidate for gifted testing. Note the single qualifier, in bold, for each of these attributes:

When interested in a topic:

_____ Needs fewer repetitions to learn concepts, sometimes as few as 1 to 3

_____ Test achievement is higher than average regardless of test preparation

_____ Solves complex issues in an abstract or overly simplified yet accurate way

_____ Creates or understands complex, abstract humor

_____ Has the distinct ability to use knowledge rather than merely memorize it

_____ Retains more learned information than the majority of peers

_____ Makes unusual, accurate associations between ideas that are unrelated

Identifying Gifted and Talented Children

It is easy to spot a gifted child in the regular classroom, if that’s who you are trying to identify. All too often, the problem is that teachers try to identify the best behaved students, the hardest workers, or the highest achieving students when asked to identify potentially gifted children. As any gifted teacher can tell you, these aren’t necessarily the gifted students. Gifted students are easy to spot once preconceived notions are dropped, and students are viewed in their entirety.

High achievement, gifted characteristic checklists, and teacher recommendations may or may not serve as important identifiers. Instead of relying on generalized data, teachers must look between the lines and look at the student as a person rather than a statistic. Should any teacher truly believe that every gifted student is a high achiever or that every gifted child can be identified based on a checklist? Does a teacher’s recommendation for gifted services always act as an accurate gifted identification?

Gifted or High Achievers

If you can’t rely on a gifted characteristics checklist, high student achievement, or a teacher recommendation, how do you identify potentially gifted students? The first step is to look at the potential for achievement. We’ve all seen students who work hard and succeed in school but lack a gifted identification. These students are often teacher pleasers, hard workers. They will likely be successful in most regular classrooms, but they do not necessarily have the natural ability or thought processes that gifted students truly possess. Unfortunately, these students are often the students being identified as potential candidates for gifted instruction or gifted testing by many teachers. When alternate pathways, other than gifted testing, are permitted, many of these students find their way into gifted classes where they may not belong. This diminishes the value of instruction for truly gifted children and places wrongly placed children in a difficult, sink-or-swim position that is truly both unfortunate and unfair. Misidentifying gifted children is a lose-lose situation that benefits nobody. Overlooking gifted students because they do not fit a preconceived set of patterns is equally troublesome.

Gifted and Talented Underachievers

Regardless of what gifted checklists indicate, gifted students are not necessarily high achievers. They certainly possess the potential to be at the top of their class in their areas of talent, but they may or may not have the drive to do so. Consequently, grades often have little to do with identifying potential gifted candidates. Instead, one has to look at the potential to do well. In order to identify potentially gifted students, on has to look at achievement potential, regardless of motivation, attitude, effort, or interest. This requires more than merely filling out a gifted checklist or looking at a student’s grades. Teachers must get to know students and interact with them in order to identify talents, some of which are often veiled by a lack of study habits, a difficult home life, or other factors. Identifying potentially gifted students has more to do with students than statistics. Once students are identified as potential candidates, test results, statistics, and data often take over and finish the identification process.

Assumed Gifted and Talented Characteristics

After reading this, one might assume that gifted checklist identifiers, high academic achievement, and teacher recommendations should not even be considered. On the contrary, each of these should be considered but with a very large grain of salt. Gifted students are easy to spot, if that’s who you are trying to find. While gifted checklist identifiers don’t work as a single identification tool, they can be helpful. While achievement and grade data doesn’t necessarily indicate giftedness, it can provide clues about potential. For example, a gifted student might have a very low grade in one subject, but their test scores may be extremely high. Data must be thoroughly examined. Work completion, good behavior, strong motivation, and high achievement are certainly characteristics that must be considered when a teacher is trying to identify potential candidates for gifted testing, but these characteristics are also a double-edged sword. So many teachers overlook gifted students in favor of students who test positive for these character traits.

If the checklist is long enough, the majority of children will be identified as a potentially gifted student. Most gifted checklists include stereotyped character traits of gifted children that do little to truly identify them. This is a highly abbreviated list of some of the most common characteristics associated with gifted children:

. . .Is an avid reader

In reality, this characteristic has more to do with the student’s quality of education, support at home, or interest in a topic than it does giftedness.

. . . Is secure emotionally

Many, many gifted children are not emotionally secure. In fact, many gifted characteristics lists indicate that gifted children may be insecure, overly focused on fairness, or highly emotional about topics that interest them.

. . .Needs little outside control - applies self discipline

Many gifted children lack self discipline. These are often the overlooked yet gifted children.

. . .Makes good grades in most subjects

Gifted dropout rates are often higher than those associated with the general population. Grades may or may not reflect giftedness. Grades are typically a better reflection of effort, completion of work, and interest.

. . .Uses a lot of commonsense

On one hand, gifted checklists indicate that gifted students use a lot of commonsense. On the other hand, we consistently hear about the crazy, absentminded things gifted people do. Both attributes often make an appearance on gifted checklists. How can you take a checklist seriously when it so blatantly contradicts itself?

Giftedness Identification Conclusion

It is easy to spot gifted children in the regular classroom. They’re the students who have the ability to do more, regardless of how well or how poorly they are currently performing. They’re the students who often have the potential to learn quicker or the ability to see solutions quicker. They’re the students who need gifted instruction in order to maximize their talents.

The only way to identify these potentially gifted students is to ignore preconceived, stereotyped views that are associated with gifted children and focus solely on selecting children who possess an enhanced learning potential. No gifted checklist, including the one at the top of this site, can take the place of this kind of dedicated effort.

How do you identify potentially gifted children for testing?

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    • SandyMcCollum profile image

      SandyMcCollum 5 years ago

      THANK YOU VERY MUCH!! I have been saying those lists aren't accurate for years. My son, who was judged as learning disabled by teachers for most of his school years, is an expert that the military cannot do without. I can't say what exactly he does, but he works with the Marine Corps several months per year, doing a job that not many can do, and it comes easy to him. He's "gifted" at that activity and now he prospers from it.

      Great write here, thanks a bunch. It's useful information.

    • kthix10 profile image

      kthix10 5 years ago from IL

      Great points, as the mother of a gifted child and teacher of gifted children it is important to note the differences of high achievers and truly gifted children. My son is entering public school next year and we already have all of his testing done so that the school can not deny his needs.

    • rebekahELLE profile image

      rebekahELLE 5 years ago from Tampa Bay

      This is a very helpful, informative article for parents and teachers. And you're so right with your concluding remarks. I work in early childhood and can spot them at an early age. For a teacher, it's always exciting to have a 'potentially' gifted child in a class. They are able to perceive and comprehend almost without any effort. It's really rather amazing and a true privilege to work with these children. I'm also the mother of one, and I couldn't be more proud of what he has been able to achieve.

    • Dolores Monet profile image

      Dolores Monet 5 years ago from East Coast, United States

      Interesting look at identifying gifted children. The only problem I saw with gifted ed was that it just meant more homework.

    • arizonataylor profile image

      arizonataylor 5 years ago from Arizona

      Gifted classes shouldn’t be about more work. They should be about quicker pacing and higher conceptualization. When additional work is assigned, gifted classes tend to get a bad reputation, and students tend to burn out quicker.

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