Education For Gifted And Talented Children Research Paper

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The term ‘gifted’ is used to identify children who are superior in mental ability or very high academic achievers. Generally they are children who learn easily and rapidly, reason or use logic fluently, think well theoretically and abstractly, are advanced in verbal and/or mathematical skills, and retain or remember information exceptionally well. Their cognitive precocity is exhibited in their ability to function mentally at levels far beyond what is typical or normative for their chronological age.

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Intelligence test scores are often used, along with other indicators of ability such as achievement test scores and teacher rating scales, to identify gifted children. While an IQ of 140 or above has often been the cutting level for classification as gifted, following the lead established by Terman (1925) in his study of gifted children, a broad range of IQs from 120 upward have been used in real practice.

The terms ‘talent’ or ‘talented’ have often been used as synonymous with ‘gifts’ or ‘gifted,’ and the phrase ‘gifted and talented’ was, and still is, widely used with little effort to distinguish the two terms. For some practitioners ‘talent’ has been used to denote special ability in the arts while for others it refers both to academic talent (verbal talent, mathematical talent, etc.) and to artistic talent (music, drama, visual art, etc.). Leadership has also often been identified as a form of special talent.

Pioneering research on gifted children began with the work of Lewis Terman at Stanford University in 1920. Using the Stanford–Binet Intelligence Scale that he had developed and published in 1916, he went on to identify 1,000 children with IQs above 135 (most had IQs above 140) who were then on average 12 years of age, and to study their lives in great detail. The first major finding of the study, published in 1925, was that the children overall were not, as commonly thought, a group of social misfits characterized by eccentric behavior, but rather were generally quite normal except for their academic superiority and very good health. While the sample was quite biased in favor of white middle-class families, the findings were widely accepted in educational settings and came to focus educators’ attention on their special need for more high-level and challenging instruction.

Understanding of intelligence and its role in giftedness was enhanced a great deal by the discovery of factors of intelligence and the fact that people have differentiated and unique patterns of cognitive capabilities—numerical, verbal, spatial, fluency—all of which are really components of general intelligence. Later, the same analytical tools of factor analysis were used to show that some aspects of intelligence are quite purely genetically determined (fluid) and others acquired through the interaction of genetic disposition with learning opportunities (crystallized). Thus, reasoning is more closely a fluid aspect of intelligence, whereas mathematical ability may be learned capacity that in turn manifests itself in intelligent behavior.

The componential approach to understanding intelligence and giftedness in a sense ran amok when psychologist Guilford (1950), using new methods of factor analysis, seemingly found hundreds of factors or facets of intelligence. Guilford proposed a ‘structure of intellect’ in which there were three dimensions: content or input on which thinking operates; operation or thinking processes and skills; and products or outcomes of the operations. The model was widely embraced, especially because of its inclusion of divergent thinking as an operation. However, it lost favor in the 1980s and 1990s as Guilford’s factor analysis methods were questioned.

A major conception of human ability and giftedness appeared in Sternberg’s new theory of human intelligence (1985). His componential theory of human intelligence is a cybernetic model that involves selective acquisition of knowledge, complex thinking or processing operations, and the creative production of new knowledge. A first major aspect of intelligence is a set of metacomponents, or cognitive operations, such as recognizing and clarifying problems, designing solution strategies, and judging the solutions. Another aspect is knowledge acquisition components, how we encode, retain, and use knowledge. Finally, there are performance components that are pieces of knowledge or skills needed to perform specific tasks. Sternberg’s theory is now widely recognized in the world of gifted education, but no good test has emerged from Sternberg’s theory and no specific identification of gifted children is carried out in the field of gifted education based on the theory.

1. New Focus On Talent

Publications by Gardner (1983), Bloom (1985), Csikszentmihalyi et al. (1993), and Gagne (1999) have presented new research and theoretical conceptions of specific human abilities, and paved the way for increasing attention among educators to the nature, development, and nurture of youth talents. After five decades of research on intelligence and components or factors of intelligence, Gardner proposed a new theoretical formulation of multiple intelligences that posited seven discrete general abilities: linguistic, logical-mathematical, spatial, musical, bodily-kinesthetic, interpersonal, and intrapersonal. Gardner acknowledged that the list may not be definitive; there may be other intelligences. Furthermore any or all of the seven intelligences might well be broken down into subcomponents. Gardner also acknowledged that calling the seven abilities ‘intelligences’ was somewhat arbitrary and that they might well be called ‘talents’ or ‘abilities.’ Whatever they are called, it is clear that Gardner’s conception of multiple intelligences has had a major impact on school practice in general and gifted education in particular, but not so much in the area of identification of specific intelligences or talents in children as in the area of instruction directed toward development of gifted children’s intelligences or talents.

Bloom carried out research focused on concert pianists and sculptors as representative of the arts, research mathematicians and research neurologists representing cognitive or intellectual fields, and swimmers and tennis players representing athletics. The subjects had all achieved world-class recognition before age 35. From the extensive interviews conducted with 120 subjects Bloom concluded that finding or identifying a child’s talent strength or potential early was essential for the long-range development of the talent, that both parents and teachers play critical roles in supporting the child’s talent development, and that motivational encouragement was essential at each stage of the child’s talent development.

Confirmation of the need to identify specific youth talents as a prelude to nurturing talents came in other research of multipotentiality among the gifted. Specifically it was found that the idea that gifted children have potential for many different fields of achievement was a false conception. Instead, by the time they reach middle school and high school they have a limited range of talent potentials.

Recent research by Csikszentmihalyi et al. (1993) in which they studied talent development among teenagers with special talents in mathematics, science, music, art, and athletics, also concluded that it is essential for long-range talent development that youths’ specific talents be identified as a prelude to the nurture of talents. They also concluded that there is a long-range process of differentiation of youths’ specific talents, and integration of those talents with other personal characteristics to arrive finally at high-level expertise, creative achievement, or occupational fulfillment.

Gagne (1999) proposed that, out of several basic and/original factors of giftedness, specific talents emerge as special forms of aptitude or ability as a result of experiences at home, in school, with peers, and in the broader community surrounding a child. The basic gifts or forms of giftedness are intellectual, creative, socioaffective, sensorimotor, and other unspecified, genetically determined abilities. Gagne concluded that there are six talent fields (academic, technology, arts, leisure activities, athletics, and communications-business) and six aptitude domains (intellectual, creative, socio-affective, personal, sensorimotor, and nonconventional). This author also surveyed students ages 9 to 17 and found 10 talent categories represented among them: academic, artistic, cognitive, creative, communication, athletic-physical, games, language, personal-social, and vocationaltechnical. As talent development relates to and/or is carried out in schools Feldhusen (1999) summarized these conceptions as representing talents in four domains: academic-intellectual, artistic, vocationaltechnical, and interpersonal-social.

In summary, there is an urgent need in the field of gifted education to move on beyond the simple dichotomous conception of youth as ‘gifted’ or ‘ungifted’ to a multi-aptitude or talents view of human abilities. Recent factor analyses of tests of human abilities (Carroll 1993) revealed once more, and more definitively than ever before, that there is a diversity of human abilities, but at the most macro level they can be categorized as general intelligence or g, fluid intelligence, crystallized intelligence, general memory and learning, broad visual perception-space relationsvisualization, auditory perception, cognitive speed, and memory-retrieval ability. These basic human abilities underlie differentially the domains or fields of human talent that grow in youth with the nurturing experiences of homes, parents, peers, school, and the general community in which they live.

2. Identification

The field of gifted education places great stress on the identification process and makes pretense of finding the ‘truly’ or ‘really’ gifted child. Although there is little research verifying or validating identification processes, there is much discussion in the literature on finding gifted children, and also on finding those who are less easily found—such as children from some minority racial groups, physically handicapped children, and youth from culturally impoverished homes. The essential question to be answered, but which is rarely addressed, is the reliability of the process and/or the ratio of false positives and false negatives to a hypothetical total population of gifted children in a community. False positives are those who are incorrectly identified as gifted and who therefore fail to profit from, or do not need, special educational programs. False negatives, the far more serious problem, are those children whose abilities are at the level where need for the program is evident, but they are not identified as gifted and eligible for the program.

Children may be identified for a gifted program using an identification system based on Renzulli’s three-ring conception of giftedness: ability, task commitment, and creativity. While children who are very high achievers are often declared not to be gifted, simply very hard workers, the Renzulli conception recognizes what is called ‘task commitment’ as a major component of giftedness. Task commitment may represent high-level and sustained interest in a field or topic of study as well as readiness to work long and hard at a task.

The other two factors of giftedness—abilities and creativity—constitute quite different areas for assessment. While valid and reliable measures of youth abilities are readily available, assessment of creativity in the identification process is much more tenuous. While the tests developed by Torrance (1981) were designed to measure creative ability, their validity and reliability for the assessment of creativity remain highly questionable.

The best combination of measures for the assessment of youth talents seems to be intelligence tests like the Wechsler Intelligence Scales, that yield scores for information, comprehension, arithmetic, similarities, vocabulary, digit span, picture completion, picture arrangement, block design, puzzle assembly, coding, and mazes as basic aptitudes; or the Differential Aptitude Tests, that yield scores for verbal reasoning, numerical reasoning, abstract reasoning, perceptual speed and accuracy, mechanical reasoning, space relations, spelling, and language usage.

Beyond the basic aptitudes or abilities, standardized school achievement tests offer valuable assessments of talented youths’ precocity or advanced levels of learning, especially when they are administered off level; that is, when advanced forms of the tests are used in relation to a child’s age or grade level. The major standardized achievement tests available in the United States are the Iowa Test of Basic Skills, Stanford Achievement Tests, Metropolitan Achievement Tests, SRA Achievement Series, California Test of Basic Skills, Sequential Tests of Educational Progress, and the Scholastic Aptitude Test. All focus on student achievement in basic school subjects. However, the only test that has been used widely for off-level testing is the Scholastic Aptitude Test that has been widely used in the ubiquitous academic talent searches.

A third and valuable type of assessment is rating scales, most often completed by teachers who have observed children in the classroom over an extended period of time. Widely used are the Scales for Rating The Behavioral Characteristics of Superior Students by Renzulli et al. (1998), and the Purdue Academic Rating Scales by Feldhusen et al. (1997). The Renzulli scales assess learning, motivation, creativity, leadership, artistic ability, musical and dramatic talent, precision and expressiveness in communication, and planning. The Purdue Academic Rating Scales assess competence in mathematics, science, social studies, English, and foreign language learning. It is a misfortune of the field of gifted education that rating scales are often developed locally and used in the identification process without any attention to the validity and reliability of the scales.

A fourth area of assessment for identification is evaluation of student products portfolios, and/or performance ratings by skilled observers. This method of assessment is most appropriate for the several domains of the arts. Winner and Martino (1993) delineated well the early signs and development of giftedness in visual arts and music, and presented a comprehensive inventory of assessment procedures including tests, portfolios, and observation of performance. Clark and Zimmerman (1998) have also studied the nature of artistic talent intensively over several decades, and they summarized their work concluding that the development and assessment of artistic talent is a long-term process, not the one-time evaluation often used by schools to identify academically gifted children. Identification of talent in the arts usually involves not only portfolio evaluation but also day-by-day observational assessment by knowledgeable teachers of students’ work in progress in the art classroom, as is also the case of music teachers and student musicians in the music classroom.

Identification of cognitively gifted and academically talented youth is most often carried out by combining or summarizing the collected data and judging if a child has reached a criterion level for giftedness or talent designation. Schools assume that children who are designated ‘gifted’ need the special educational service offered, but there is little evidence that they profit from it more than they would from remaining in the regular classroom. Research on boredom among gifted youth in school indicates that while many are indeed bored, so also are many youth who are not identified as gifted (Feldhusen and Kroll 1991). However, the same research indicates that the boredom of gifted youth is due mainly to the slow pace and low level of teaching in regular classrooms, while less able youth are simply not interested in much of typical classroom subject matter.

In summary, the identification process for all areas of giftedness and talent should best be viewed as a long-range process of helping children, parents, and teachers come to understand children’s unique aptitudes and talents as a basis for appropriate educational planning and programming. There is probably little value in one-shot designation of children as gifted. A wide variety of tests, observations, and product assessments can be used over time to identify the nature and levels of emerging talent.

3. De Eloping Gifts And Talents

There is no definitive educational plan or program known to be uniquely appropriate for the development of gifted and talented youth. Generally it is assumed that, because of their precocity and capacity to learn faster than children of low or average ability, they need accelerated instruction, at a higher level commensurate with their achievement levels as revealed in the identification process, and at a faster pace. Children with IQs of 120 and higher are generally ready for instruction at advanced levels of the curriculum, and they learn new advanced material much more rapidly than children of low and average ability.

A wide variety of strategies are used to provide appropriate and intensive educational services to gifted and talented students, including:

(a) full-time classes in all subjects at the level of grades K–6;

(b) special classes in particular subjects (e.g., honors);

(c) enrollment part time at a college while in high school or taking college-level courses offered in the high school program (e.g., Advanced Placement);

(d) early admission to elementary school, middle school, high school, or college; and

(e) enrollment in a special school for gifted or talented students at any, several, or all grade levels.

The above options are offered throughout the United States and in some other countries. More common, however, are the following, far less intensive, services:

(a) pullout, resource room, or withdrawal programs in which gifted children work for 3–6 hours a week on creative enrichment, problem solving, and other supplementary activities not in the regular school curriculum;

(b) cluster grouped in an otherwise mixed ability classroom with a teacher trained to do accelerated and enriched learning activities with children in the gifted cluster; and

(c) individualized teaching in a regular mixed ability classroom guided by an individual learning plan for the gifted or talented student.

There is widespread assumption, also, that gifted and talented youth need the social experiences of interaction with peers of similar levels and types of giftedness and/or talent, and that they need higher level models and mentors in their own areas of talent. Peer models serve to motivate talented youth to higher level achievements and often serve as friends for gifted students who are otherwise socially rejected by less able peers.

Mentors and/or achievement models provide gifted and talented youth with blueprints or images of their own potential and ultimate achievements in a talent domain. Mentors are really key educational tools or resources in the education of gifted and talented youth. They teach, they motivate, and they provide emotional support to gifted and talented youth. Haeger and Feldhusen (1989) described a program of mentoring for talented youth at Purdue University, in which university faculty and graduate students served as mentors for special experiences on Saturday mornings. All students who were assigned to mentors were first required to take a Saturday morning course for nine weeks in the subject matter area in which they would have the mentoring experience. Haeger and Feldhusen found that prior background knowledge in the mentoring area was essential for successful mentoring experiences. Pleiss and Feldhusen (1995) carried out an intensive review of the theory and research literature on mentors, role models, and heroes in the lives of gifted and talented students and concluded that there is abundant support for their value in nurturing talent and social development of precocious youth.

Communities vary in their educational resources and attitudes toward gifted and talented youth. The great educational movement for inclusion or heterogeneous grouping of all youth for common educational experiences has spread to countries throughout the world. It has generated opposition to programs and services for gifted and talented youth in many schools. While inclusion may be workable and desirable for students of low and average ability, there is ample evidence that precocious youth who are also fast learners and able to pursue learning at deeper and more abstract levels are best educated in special classes with peers of similar ability and teachers who have been trained to work with the gifted and talented.

4. Summary

Gifted students are those who have superior general intellectual ability as revealed by intelligence and achievement tests and teacher ratings of their classroom performance. Talented students excel in one or more areas, such as science, mathematics, writing, arts, leadership, or technology, and are identified with tests, rating scales, portfolios, and performance ratings. Identification of gifted and talented students is a long-range and continuous process leading to better and better understanding of youths’ talent potentials. Gifts and talents are present in students at varying levels, and thus in planning educational services for them, their levels of ability must be linked to appropriate levels and types of service. There is a wide variety of services available to use in programs for talent development. Intensive and accelerated classes and programs, mentors, and schools focused on particular areas of talent such as mathematics, science, art, music, leadership, or technology serve best to meet the developmental needs of talented youth and to help them achieve their full potential.


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