The Art of Strengths Coaching

G is for Giftedness

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Everybody has gifts. They can translate these into doing good work in their chosen field. They may also occasionally do great work. At the same time, this does not mean that everybody is a genius or will automatically do great work.

The whole issue of giftedness has been clouded by many different definitions. Up until recent decades, the term ‘giftedness’ was often applied to people seen as in the top 10% in certain intellectual or artistic activities. As indicated, there was a strong element of ‘competition’, measuring them against other people.

Joseph Renzulli and The
Three-Ring Conception of Giftedness

Joseph Renzulli’s work in the 1970s went beyond the more academic view of giftedness. He talked about Two Kinds of Giftedness. These were:

Schoolhouse giftedness.

Creative-productive giftedness.

Joseph outlines these views in a paper that can be found at the following link.

He then goes on to explain his approach to giftedness.

I would like to point out at the outset that I use the G-word as an adjective rather than a noun. So rather than writing about ‘the gifted,’ my preference is to discuss the development of gifted behaviors or giftedness.

This use of terminology is in no way intended to negate the existence of persons who are at the high end of a continuum in any domain – general intelligence, mathematics, swimming, piano playing – but my preference is to write about a gifted mathematician, a gifted swimmer, or a gifted piano player.

I also make a distinction between potential and performance. Persons can have remarkable potentials for mathematics, swimming, or piano playing, but until that potential is manifested in some type of superior performance I am reluctant to say they have displayed gifted behaviors.

And, of course, our main challenge as educators is to create the conditions that convert potential into performance.

How to translate gifts into good work or even great work? Joseph proposed a three-ring model that involved a person applying

Above Average Ability.


Task Commitment.

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Joseph’s work has been built-on, expanded and complemented by people such as Teresa Amabile and Beth Hennessey. They and many others have helped to shift thinking. One expression of this is in the United States federal definition of gifted and talented students. This is:

The term ‘gifted and talented’ when used in respect to students, children, or youth means students, children, or youth who give evidence of high performance capability in areas such as intellectual, creative, artistic, or leadership capacity, or in specific academic fields, and who require services or activities not ordinarily provided by the school in order to fully develop such capabilities.

This is some way from simple IQ definitions of giftedness.

Multiple Intelligences

Howard Gardner’s work on Multiple Intelligences continued to expand the discussion. His book Frames of Mind, published in 1983, outlined the following intelligences. The final one, Naturalist, was added later.

Interpersonal. (Good with people.)
Intrapersonal. (Good at understanding self.)
Naturalist. (Good at seeing and understanding patterns in nature.)

Thomas Armstrong translated these into various kinds of ‘smarts’. He urges parents and teachers to focus on the specific things that a student likes doing and does well. Writing in his book, In Their Own Way, he explains:

Everyone has (the different) kinds of intelligence in different proportions. Your child may be a great reader but a poor math student, a wonderful drawer but clumsy out on the playing field.

Children can even show a wide range of strengths and weaknesses within one area of intelligence. Your child may write very well but have difficulty with spelling or handwriting, read poorly but be a superb story-teller, play an excellent game of basketball but stumble on the dance floor.

Combining the work of Howard Gardner and Thomas Armstrong, educators have come up with the following map of Multiple Intelligences and Smarts. This can be used to find and build on a student’s strengths.

It can also be used to help them follow their preferred learning styles to tackle subjects they would not normally embrace. This has produced excellent results.

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An academic himself, Gardner anticipated resistance from the academic community. Nevertheless, the concept of Multiple Intelligences has gained ground. The implementation of the concept has, however, been patchy.

Twice Gifted

The terms ‘twice gifted’ or ‘twice exceptional’ have now also entered the vocabulary of those talking about giftedness. This refers to people:

Who show exceptional ability


Who overcome exceptional physical, learning or other difficulties.

These may include, for example, cerebral palsy; visual, hearing and physical impairments; autism; dyslexia or other difficulties.

Some people’s spirit takes them beyond challenges that others would find overwhelming. Such people have a lot to teach us.

The public idea of giftedness has come a long way over the last century. Everybody is born with certain gifts.

It is up to us how we translate these into good work. Sometimes we may also be able to go even further and produce great work.


* Joseph Renzulli.

Here is the link to his professional web site.

Here is the paper that summarises much of his work.

* The Multiple Intelligence Institute.

* Thomas Armstrong.

* Twice Gifted.

Here are links that go to sites that highlight people who are twice gifted.

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