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It is now accepted that the gifted and talented are not simply those with high intelligence. The gifted and talented represent a wide range of students with many different abilities, now viewed in terms of multiple intelligences. There are hundreds of definitions of the term 'gifted and talented'. Generally speaking, they can be classified as conservative, liberal or contemporary:

  • Conservative definitions are usually based on a single criterion, such as intelligence, and identification is based on a high IQ score. These definitions usually limit giftedness and talent to a small percentage of the school population (for example, 1–3 percent)
  • Liberal definitions, on the other hand, are based on a broad range of criteria. They adopt an inclusive approach that accepts a fairly high percentage (for example, 10–15 percent) of the school population as having special abilities
  • Contemporary definitions tend to avoid stating any specific percentage of the school population as being gifted or talented because schools differ so much in their interpretation of variables associated with the concept.

Several definitions view behaviours as central to the concept. Here, it is the characteristics and behaviours of people that illustrate the giftedness and talent, for example, in Gifted is, as gifted does (Hill, 1977).

New Zealand perspectives

New Zealand is a multicultural society with a wide range of ethnic groups. The concept of giftedness and talent that belongs to a particular cultural group is shaped by its beliefs, values, attitudes, and customs. The concept varies from culture to culture. It also varies over time. Bevan-Brown (1996) suggests that concepts of special abilities for Māori should be viewed as holistic in nature, reflecting Māori values, customs, and beliefs. Māori have their own interpretations, which should be understood in their relationship to Māori culture: they tend to expect these abilities and qualities to be used in the service of others.

Influential studies

Some important definitions have affected attitudes to giftedness and talent over the last three decades. Following is a discussion of several of the most influential studies:

  • The Marland Report (1972) This report was presented to the United States Office of Education and had a significant impact on gifted education. It contained the first truly multi-category definition.
  • Renzulli (1978)
    Renzulli developed a definition of giftedness based on the interaction between three basic clusters of human traits:
    • above-average ability
    • a high level of task commitment
    • a high level of creativity.

Renzulli and Reis (1985) claim that gifted and talented children "...are those possessing or capable of developing this composite set of traits and applying them to any potentially valuable area of human performance" (page 28). They emphasise that such children "...require a wide variety of educational opportunities and services that are not ordinarily provided through regular instructional programs" (p. 28).

Gagné (1995, 2008) noted that there was continuing confusion between the terms ‘gifted’ and ‘talented’ and developed a model to differentiate between the two. He defined giftedness as a naturally occurring ability, while the outward expression of that ability he labelled talent. His DMGT (Differentiated Model of Giftedness and Talent) details the personal and environmental factors that may support, or hinder, the development of an individual’s gifts into specific talents.

Related readings

Conceptions of giftedness in a global, modern world: Where are we at in Aotearoa New Zealand, 2012?