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Gifted Education:
Common Characteristics of Gifted Children


THAT EXPLAINs Gifted children

Abstract Thinking

Advanced Learning


Early Reading

Intense Interests



Sense of Humor


Verbal Ability

Part one (of four) of a meta-analysis ranking of the world's 37 greatest geniuses, child prodigies, and thinkers ever said to have had an IQ of 200 or above, with a countdown to the #1 all-time smartest person ever:


Jacob Barnett 2011
He may be just 12 years old, but Jacob Barnett is already enrolled in College and ... excelling. Barnett was diagnosed with Asperger's Syndrome at the age of 3, but is now happily studying doctorate-level astrophysics at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis. He is said to be functioning at genius levels in mathematics, and the university wants to make him a paid researcher after this semester-he already has employment offers from prestigious international research centers, and his professors and parents say, 'there is no doubt he will be able to achieve, great things.'

Penny Van Deur: Gifted Reasoning and Advanced Intelligence

The Australian Association for the Education of the Gifted and Talented Intelligence test orientations to identify giftedness suggest that gifted learners are those who answer quickly a number of types of complex questions.
Speeding these children through the education system as quickly as possible might meet their needs. If we view giftedness as speed of mental processing we will accelerate in subjects and year levels. I believe there is a place for this.
However, if we believe that gifted children think differently from non-gifted children we will be lead to diagnose needs and provide a qualitatively different curriculum.

In this paper I will discuss the following questions:

1. How do gifted children think or reason differently?
2. Is advanced intelligence actually superior mental
3. What are the implications of gifted reasoning and advanced intelligence for a school-wide approach to educating gifted children?

Gifted reasoning and mental models

In 1995 John Langrehr outlined better thinkers as those who:

1. quickly sense patterns in information
2. are motivated and have positive dispositions to ask themselves relevant questions about these patterns in order to understand them.
3. Are good at constructing clear mental maps or schemas that summarise and compare new patterns with related ones already stored in memory.
4. Form connections with stored concepts to related concepts or bits of information also in memory.
5. Think flexibly about new possibilities.
6. Thrive on questions and problems and have a range of possible answers rather than one correct one.

Better thinkers then possess; a rich thinking network which can activate many ideas in search for solutions to problems. Reasoners may be regarded as people solving problems (Evans, 1983).

In 1995 I carried out a study into children's problem solving. The twenty five participants were all in Year 5. They were presented with a construction problem of constructing a robotic shopping trolley from a number of odd pieces. During the problem solving each child thought aloud. The sessions were recorded and transcribed. One gifted child showed an outstanding approach to, and ability in, the problem-solving situation. She checked the instructions, questioned herself, proposed ideas, revised these ideas then moved to another cognitive dimension which I have termed meta-mental modelling (meta-modelling is outlined generally by Perner, 1993). She meta-modelled a trolley being controlled by a remote control and tested out the functions it could perform as she revised her mental model of the robotic shopping trolley.

This process may also be termed creativity. Oxman-Michell (1992) defined critical thinking as creativity where the emphasis shifts to the process of defining and re-defining a task, including its goals, as unexpected discoveries while sensitive choices are made in a recursive rather than linear process. Creative thinking can be seen to be metaphoric in that it involves thinking of one thing in terms of another. Mental models may be created and compared in such a metaphor.
Mental models have been described as; a representation of something else as being a certain way (Perner, 1983); a representation that makes a concept more accessible by rendering it concrete, perceptual and vivid (Perkins, 1986); schemas based on information from the environment which are constantly being revised as a result of experience (Bjorklund, 1989). Multiple mental models extend the combinations of thought available in thinking and problem solving.
Nickerson ( in Baron and Sternberg, 1987) outlines thinking frames which organise and support thought processes. They help cover when and how actions are to be taken. They are acquired through an explicit representation in the person's mind. Thus, mental models may be seen as a frame which helps a person to see a situation a certain way. A mental model is built in the mind and these models guide a person's expectations and help to interpret and understand the way the world works. Mental models enable an individual to think, reason, imagine the way the world could be and allow them to manipulate, re-order and exchange the elements of models to create new models. Mental models guide understanding and create consciousnes in a person.
Mental models may be employed in the processing of reasoning. They aid our understanding of the world by supplying a framework to guide the selection of relevant information. Questions can enable a student to see some of the mental connections to be made between concepts. The features of concepts can be assembled in mental models which can be questioned, modified and re-assembled through the use of meta-mental models. Alternative points of view can be examined and solutions to problems can be invented by combining and modifying elements of models. Familiar environments can be created by mental models and new environments and happenings can be simulated.
I propose that gifted children have clear, distinctive mental models which are elaborated and may be activated through many paths. Meta-metal models enable mental models to be observed and modified by the child. Meta-mental models may be described as a model of a model (Perner, 1993). In this higher cognitive dimension a representation of the relationship between a model and an object, a model and another model or features within a model can be inspected and reflected on. The internal construction of meta-mental models enables gifted children to consider alternatives, test hypotheses, decide on elements to disregard or include in a model and to make judgements about the validity of their mental models. As gifted children possess a heightened sensitivity to stimuli and are able to construct multiple mental models, it can be seen that the cognitive complexity of meta-models of mental models being formed and operated on entails the formation of myriad neural connections in the brain. This is gifted reasoning. Gifted reasoning is promoted by a multi-disciplinary approach to learning which enables a child to construct multiple mental models to guide understanding within a topic. Studying a topic such as "Insects" in a number of curriculum areas enables a child to gather information, form concepts, connect concepts and manipulate concepts in problem finding and problem solving. Meta-metal models can be employed as the child reasons to answer questions within the topic.

Mental self management

Intelligence may be specified in terms of the external world (the environment), the internal world (the mental processing, which includes mental models and meta-mental models) and the interaction between the two.

Mental self-management mediates between these two worlds. Mental self-management may be implemented to allocate time to tasks, to be flexible in selecting and discarding mental resources to meet the demands of tasks. It may also be described in personality terms as encouraging reflection on complex tasks and impulsivity on simple tasks.
Sternberg and Davidson (1990) outline that:

* gifted children are better at encoding some information while ignoring other information.

* they are better at suppressing irrelevant associations.

* they are better at automatization.

* they may skip strategies within usual sequences.

* they may invent strategies to enable themselves to learn a new skill.

* they can discern that it is important to put more time into global planning in order to facilitate and thereby speed up local planning.

In the study on children's problem solving, the gifted child made observations that showed that she understood her own strengths and weaknesses. She used this understanding of herself to regulate her behaviour so that she did not rush her work. She checked it and she changed perspective if she struck difficulty. When working on the problem it was evident that she questioned herself and suggested ideas to herself. She understood, monitored and controlled her thinking. She was managing her cognitive processes.
Gifted children possess advanced mental self-management but may not choose to use it. Dispositions determine whether mental self-management will be used to access the child's reasoning processes. Lipman (in Baron and Sternberg, 1987) describes attitudes and dispositions as; "an individual's responses to the quality of the social interaction prevalent in a group situation. One either internalises the quality or develops negative attitudes towards it. In a classroom in which there is intellectual co-operation and opinions and explanations for puzzling events and the quest for meanings and the exploration of alternatives, children are motivated to wonder, inquire, be critical, be inventive, and care and love the tools and procedures of inquiry. They acquire-or perhaps re-acquire a need for principles, ideals, reasons and explanations. Without such dispositions, children lack the readiness for sustained cognitive practice, yet it is only through such practice that the readiness is created."
Such dispositions or habits of thinking can be encouraged. However, Resnick (1987) stresses that dispositions for higher order thinking require sustained long term cultivation: they do not emerge from short-term, quick fix interventions.

Lipman suggests the following strategies should be taught to children:

1. Children should be taught to budget time in planning activities. More time can be spent on global planning to organise time to be spent on a number of tasks. Local planning on subtasks can then be given less time.

2. In reading the child can be taught to work out what to read carefully and what not to read carefully.

3. Children can be taught to make an effort to work out the meaning of new words from the context.

4. Train children to make an intelligent selection of an appropriate strategy for solving a problem.

5. Train children to figure out which information is relevant and needs to be used in figuring out a problem.

6. Train children to consider all possibilities and try taking different perspectives on an issue.

7. Train children to capitalise on their strengths and to compensate for their weaknesses.

The teacher has an active role to play in teaching the gifted child to use and improve their mental self-management. The teacher may employ modelling of effective thinking strategies in a social situation; thinking aloud; scaffolding an individual's initially limited performance and reciprocal teaching. The teacher also needs to create an awareness in the child that higher order thinking requires effort on the part of the individual and may involve social risk (Resnick, 1987).

A school wide approach to gifted reasoning and advanced intelligence

A school wide environment which values thinking and independent judgement can encourage gifted children to develop a disposition for reasoning and mental self-management. Knowledge may be used to solve problems, to infer relationships, generalise to new situations and to anticipate consequences. Such an environment will emphasise good learning as involving self-control (Biggs, 1991). It will encourage children to become self-sufficient and reflective in their cognitive processes. Such an environment will employ technology to simulate events by creating computer models which can be operated on, manipulated, experimented with and reflected on, in the same way as mental models are operated on by the reasoner. Maker (1986) argues that in order to justify the provision of a qualitatively different curriculum we must conclude that gifted individuals are qualitatively different. Maker's general outline of an appropriate curriculum for gifted children includes the following recommendations:

1. The curriculum should focus on and be organised to include more elaborate, complex and in depth study of major ideas, problems and themes that integrate knowledge with and across systems of thought.

2. The curriculum should allow students to re-conceptualise existing knowledge and generate new knowledge.

3. The curriculum should explore constantly changing knowledge and information.

4. The curriculum should encourage exposure to selection and use of appropriate and specialised resources.

5. The curriculum should promote self-initiated and self-directed learning and growth.

6. The curriculum should provide for the development of self-understandings.

7. The curriculum should be evaluated in accordance with prior stated principles stressing higher level thinking skills, creativity and excellence in performance and products.

8. The curriculum may encompass enrichment, counselling and acceleration.

Various procedures may be useful as part of a school wide curriculum which may be planned and continued from year to year so that strengths can be developed and weaknesses remediated. Procedures such as DeBono's Six Hats can enable students to think about issues in quite different ways; Gardners's Multiple Intelligences may be used as a question design framework. Thus, these tools may be seen as part of a school wide approach to provide an appropriate curriculum for gifted children. The danger is that these SHIPS methodologies are seen to be the curriculum catering for the needs of gifted children in our schools. Rather, they should be employed in a problem finding and problem solving approach which enables gifted children to increase their knowledge and be able to use it to investigate real problems within a multi-disciplinary framework.
Synectics (Tannenbaum, 1983) may be a useful tool for encouraging gifted reasoning or the creation and use of meta-mental models. Synectics methods use metaphoric techniques to evoke new perspectives and insights. Strategies in synectics include the teacher stating a problem or inviting the students to suggest one; the teacher asking a variety of evocative questions to stimulate metaphoric activity that connects the old and familiar to the new and unknown. An example would be a discussion of war as being like a river. This could lead to creative uses of geographical knowledge in an attempt to understand some of the issues involved in war.
Wood (1988) outlines that children can discover how to regulate their own problem solving by such methods as externalising the processes of self-regulation such as asking questions, reminding oneself to take care, looking for new evidence and trying to view the problem from a different angle. In this way, learning and thinking are more or less skilful attempts to process information in the course of problem-solving. However, the role of the teacher as guide, instructor, mentor and evaluator is crucial.
Children can be encouraged to set learning goals, to analyse tasks, to formulate strategies for overcoming difficulties. A self-questioning problem solving approach to learning teaches children to distribute attention effectively and to control learning strategies.
In the course of problem solving, children can ask themselves these questions and improve on weaknesses noted: 1. What is the problem?
2. What is it all about?
3. What can I do?
4. What steps am I taking?
5. How did I go?
6. What did I learn from this?

Children can be prompted to use a systematic and sequenced reasoning strategy through appropriate self-questioning. It provides them with a framework for thinking that is as important as the specific thinking skills that are employed (Swartz, in Baron and Sternberg, 1987).
A multi-disciplinary approach to learning can encourage gifted children to connect, evaluate and use their knowledge. Teachers have the important task of engaging gifted students in learning activities that lead to desired not maladaptive outcomes. Teachers can teach gifted children effectively by trying to start from the student's perspective and building on strengths while diagnosing weaknesses. Gifted students need to be encouraged to realise that good learning involves effort and self-control. Teachers may assist parents to understand their child's styles of thinking and encourage systematic mental self-management. Teachers can stress to all children the value of engaging in an appropriate curriculum which leads to learning and the recognition of high achievement.
Research into intelligence is showing that gifted children reason differently from other children and are able to manage their learning to an advanced degree. The teacher plays an imporatnt role in encouraging gifted children to manage their own learning most effectively. It should not be assumed that if the gifted child is presented with advanced concepts they will pick them up and oragnise their own learning. Gifted reasoning and advanced intelligence will not be realised if an appropriate disposition is not cultivated. A whole school approach to providing an appropriate curriculum for all learners can encourage children to participate in a social community that values thinking and independent judgements.
As Resnick (1987) says;

"Motivation for learning will be empty if substantive cognitive abilities are not developed and the cognitive abilities will remain unused if the disposition to thinking is not developed".


Anderson, J (1983) The Architecture of Cognition U.S.A: Harvard University Press
Baron, J and Teaching Thinking Skills: Theory and Practice. U.S.A: Sternberg, R (eds) (1987) W H Freeeman and Co
Bjorklund, D (1989) Children's Thinking. U.S.A: Brooks Cole
Biggs, J (ed) (1991) Teaching for Learning. Aust: A.C.E.R.
Evans, J (ed) (1983) Thinking and Reasoning. Great Britain: Routledge and Kegan Paul
Hofstader, D and The Mind's I. Great Britain: Harvest Press Inc
Dennett, D (1981)
Langrehr, J (1995) Why Do We Need Gifted Programs? The Australian Journal of Gifted Education Vol3, No. 1, 1994
Maker, C (1986) Critical Issues in Gifted Education. (Vol.1) U.S.A: Pro.Ed.
Oxman-Michell, W (1992) Critical Thinking and Creativity. Inquiry, Vol.9 No3
Perkins, D (1986) Knowledge as Design. U.S.A: Lawrence Erlbaum Assoc. Pub.
Perner, J (1993) Understanding the Representational Mind. U.S.A MIT Press
Resnick, L (1987) Education and Learning to Think. U.S.A: National Academy Press
Sternberg, R and Conceptions of Giftedness. U.S.A: Cambridge Davidson, J (1990) Uni.Press
Tannenbaum, A (1983) Gifted Children. U.S.A: MacMillan Pub. Co.
Wood, D (1988) How Children Think and Learn. U.K: Basil Blackwell Ltd
[1][Papers] . [2][Topic search] . [3][Stop press]

Last revised April 17 1996.



Gifted Education Conference Papers
[This is a treasure trove of articles! Why Australia is a very good question. Many of the articles discuss the generally negative attitudes Australians have against giving separate education to the gifted.]

[71]Bechervaise N.
.....Gifted Education in a Mulicultural Australia

[72]Browne D., Rockliffe P.
.....Establishing Cluster Groups for Gifted Students

[73]Brunt J.
.....Caring Thinking: The New Intelligence

[74]Chadwick F.
.....Talent Development In Music

[75]Clark Christine
.....Establishing Pathways: Cooperative Program

[76]Caroline Davies
.....Creatology: Brain Science for the 21st Century

[77]Day A.
.....Fusing the talents of indigenous Australians

[78]Diezmann C., Watters J.
.....Difficulties of the Young Gifted Child: A Lesson in History

[79]Dodd J., Menz O.
.....Stewardship: A Concept in Moral Development for Gifted

[80]Dorbis C., Vasilevska S.
.....Cultural Gifts in the 90's and Beyond

[81]Eckhaus P.
.....Communication: its impact on self-esteem and
underachievement in the gifted child

[82][birdup.gif] [83]Evans S.
.....Acceleration: A legitimate Means of Meeting the Needs of
Gifted Children

[84]Farrell J., Kronberg L.
.....Leadership development for the gifted and talented

[85]Farrell J.
.....Understanding Giftedness Through Film

[86]Faulkner A., Lindsey J.
.....Linking Developmental Needs, Motivation and Program Design

[87]Ferguson C., Southern F
.....Young Gifted Students in the School Setting

[88]Forbes-Harper M.
.....Isolated Aboriginal Gifted Program

[89]Forster J.
.....Linking thinking: Making Connections

[90]Gibson K.
.....Recognising Gifted Minority Students

[91]Gibson M., Hatzi C.
.....Statements & Profiles: Programming in Poetry

[92]Hatzi C., Gibson M.
.....Statements & Profiles: Programming in Poetry

[93]Hendrickson L.
.....Phenomenal Talent: The Autistic Kind

[94][birdup.gif] [95]Jewell P.
.....A Reasoning Taxonomy for Gifted Education

[96]Keighley J.
.....Knowledge Development in Gifted Education

[97]Kronberg L., Farrell J.
.....Leadership Development for the Gifted and Talented

[98]Laherty C., Lumins S.
.....Curriculum Provision for Underachieving Gifted Students

[99]Langrehr J.
.....Challenging The Tactical Intelligence Of The Gifted

[100]Lindsey J., Faulkner A.
.....Linking Developmental Needs, Motivation and Program Design

[101]Long P.
.....Fusing Our talents: Let's Include the Students

[102]Lumins S., Laherty C.
.....Curriculum provision for underachieving gifted students

[103]Mackenzie-Sykes L
.....Acceleration: An Expanded Vision

[104]Matison A., Southern D.
.....Upper Primary Acceleration Programs

[105]McMahon S.
.....Linking Parents, Teachers and Bright Kids

[106]Menz O., Dodd J.
.....Stewardship: A Concept in Moral Development for Gifted

[107]Moltzen R.
.....Shaking Off Our Inferiority Complex: Educational Provisions
for the Gifted and Talented In New Zealand

[108]Morrison K.
.....Thinking Skills: Keys to Fusing Talents

[109]Newhouse-Maiden L., Williams J.
.....Teacher excellence, student excellence: a pre-service model

[110][birdup.gif] [111]O'Neil D.,Way M.,Smith M.
.....Giftedness in Disadvantaged Schools

[112]Painter J.
.....Questioning Techniques for Gifted Students

[113]Palavestra G..

[114]Paterson J.,Vialle W.
.....A Culturally Sensitive Education for Gifted Deaf Students

[115]Peters C.

[116]Rockliffe P., Browne D.
.....Establishing Cluster Groups for Gifted Students

[117]Skabe I.
.....The SHIP Program in South Australia

[118]Sherwood M.
.....Preservice teachers' attitudes to and awareness of gifted
learning disabled preschoolers

[119]Smith M., O'Neil D., Way M.
.....Giftedness in Disadvantaged Schools

[120]Southern D., Matison A.
.....Upper Primary Acceleration Programs

[121]Southern F., Ferguson C.
.....Young Gifted Students in the School Setting

[122]Townsend W.
.....We Knew He Was Bright: Parenting a Profoundly Gifted Child

[123][birdup.gif] [124]Williams J., Newhouse-Maiden L.
.....Teacher excellence, student excellence: a pre-service model

[125]Van Deur P.
.....Gifted Reasoning and Advanced Intelligence

[126]Vasilevska S., Dorbis C.
.....Cultural Gifts in the 90's and Beyond

[127]Vialle W., Paterson J.
.....A Culturally Sensitive Education for Gifted Deaf Students

[128]Watters J., Diezmann C.
.....Difficulties of the Young Gifted Child: A Lesson in History

[129]Way M., O'Neil D., Smith M.
.....Giftedness in Disadvantaged Schools

[130]Whitton D.
.....Beyond Bloom