What Is Really Intellectual Giftedness?

Characteristics and keys to detect a student with abilities well above average.

Research in the area of ​​intellectual giftedness has historically been rather scarce, so this phenomenon today continues to be a field to study and understand at a necessarily deeper level.

Contributions of United States origin make a distinction between the concepts “supergifted” (gifted in all subjects), “gifted (IQ over 130)” and “talented” (high abilities in a specific subject). More specifically, the American Department of Education indicates six criteria to be met by the student in order to be considered as intellectually gifted:

  1. Possess general academic excellence.
  2. Have specific skills.
  3. Have a type of producer thinking.
  4. Good  leadership skills.
  5. Present a talent in the visual and physical arts.
  6. A superior psychomotor ability.

Thus, the exact definition of what would be a gifted student for this group would correspond to the ability of boys or girls with great precociousness in general development or in the development of specific skills.

The facets of intellectual giftedness

Among the characteristics for which this class of students stand out, three areas are distinguished: behavior (they remain very active and show great interest in their surroundings, their understanding of the environment is very high and they have high concentration  and  memory capacities  ), physical characteristics (an attractive physiognomy and a greater probability of using glasses to correct vision are hypothesized) and social adaptation (they show greater maturity, greater independence and their social relationships are usually satisfactory in cases of up to a limit of IQ 150, being the opposite for children with higher quotients; in addition, they tend to show more emotional stability,  empathy, are interested in leisure activities of an intellectual nature and their sense of humor is highly ironic and twisted).

Discrimination of the gifted student

As problems associated with intellectual giftedness, it is possible to differentiate between the so-called Internal or External Dysynchrony Syndrome and the Negative Pygmalion Effect. The first refers to an alteration in synchronization with regard to intellectual, social, affective and motor development. Within this particularity, internal dyssynchrony is included (which can be intellectual-motor, related to language, and reasoning capacity or in the affective-intellectual area) and social dyssynchrony (both in the school and in the family environment).

On the other hand, the Pygmalion Effect is usually associated with cases of unidentified giftedness in which figures from the family and / or school environment give low expectations to the student’s school performance, which provoke an attitude of conformity and low effort on the part of the child, combined with a feeling of guilt about his precociousness that fuels the decline in his school results.

Typologies of intellectual giftedness

Research has found a great heterogeneity in the aspects that characterize gifted subjects, greater than the points they have in common. Thus, a first way to categorize this group of individuals is related to their level of creativity.

1. Creative Gifted

On the one hand, the gifted creatives stand out for having a highly developed sense of humor, a powerful nonconformity and differentiation from others. Its main characteristics are associated with a greater capacity in the fluidity of ideas, originality, ability to abstract, taking unusual perspectives and imaginative capacity.

2. Gifted by IQ

On the other hand, the gifted can stand out for their IQ level, and not so much for their creative ability. In this second group are the subjects who present approximately an IQ of 140, and it is possible to discriminate between gifted of privileged means (characterized by a high critical spirit, nonconformity, impatience, although they also enjoy adequate self-esteem and positive self-  confidence ), gifted of disadvantaged environment (more conformist, intensely emotionally sensitive, usually worried about failure and dependent on ethical and moral values) and the gifted who present extreme precocity (they are related to personality alterations and  obsessive or psychotic psychopathology , so who tend to be marginalized, socially misfit and misunderstood individuals).

How to Identify the Gifted Student

Various authors have made different lists of the defining aspects of people with high IQ, very applicable in the detection of gifted students.

For example, the contributions of Joseph Renzulli from the Research Institute for the Education of Gifted Students indicate that there are three criteria that must be taken into account when qualifying a subject as gifted:

  • An above-average intellectual capacity
  • A high degree of dedication to tasks
  • High levels of creativity.
  • It is also usual to associate these young people with great leadership skills and high artistic and psychomotor skills. But they are not the only characteristics related to giftedness.

The characteristics of the gifted

The particularities that have been exposed as defining a gifted subject, such as creativity, dedication to the tasks to be performed or an intelligence coefficient that really reflects the intellectual capacity of the individual free of strange variables, are very difficult to evaluate.

Even so, a consensus has been reached to include some aspects as indicators of intellectual giftedness, whose presence is found in a high proportion of the cases studied.

Thus, from the family and school environment, the figures of the child’s environment can observe the following qualitative and quantitative parameters: the use of language (large vocabulary and high complexity of sentences), the type of questions that it poses (unusual, original) , the elaborate way of communicating their own ideas, the ability to design strategies to solve tasks, the innovative use of common materials, the breadth and depth of their knowledge, the marked tendency to collect and have many hobbies (especially intellectual), and a constant and highly critical attitude.

Psychopedagogical intervention in gifted students

Despite the fact that there are widespread beliefs about what type of intervention is more appropriate for this group of students, it seems to be proven as the most effective measure the fact of dispensing a treatment of inclusion of these subjects in the usual school environment shared by the rest of students.

For this reason, segregation and comprehensive modification of the academic curriculum or the need to be tutored by a teacher with a specific professional profile must be avoided. More specifically, the following psychopedagogical strategies are proposed in intervention with gifted children:

Application of the academic curriculum

It must be established individually for each gifted subject (depending on their particularities), indicating what type of help they will need both quantitatively and qualitatively and if this will be informal or will require formal changes in the educational program. Facilitation of stimulating activities should be sought at the level of self-knowledge and hetero-knowledge of the students and opportunities for parents to better understand the characteristics of their children.


This intervention refers to the substitution of an academic course to be carried out by the student for a more advanced one. This resource has the advantage that it allows a more stimulating environment to be adapted to the student, although it is true that the maturity and capacity of the gifted student is not equitable in all areas, so they may feel inferior to their peers in the advanced course and , thus, increase the promotion of competitive attitudes among children.

The support classroom

In this case, there is a specialist teaching team specifically assigned to determine what type of support this type of student needs. Gifted children are instructed in a segregated way from their usual peers, establishing a new group of high capacities in which the development of skills and interest in the various areas of learning are worked on. The main drawback is that it can facilitate the appearance of rejection by colleagues who do not have high intellectual abilities.

The usual classroom

This strategy is based on the development of learning within the student’s home classroom, which shares the same treatment as the rest of the class. The advantage of this methodology lies in the fact that students do not perceive discrimination or preferences, they also learn to adapt and normalize the fact that the learning process occurs naturally in a heterogeneous way. The main disadvantage resides in the diminished motivation that gifted students can suffer if they do not receive sufficient stimulation.

Curriculum extension projects

To apply this strategy, you must pay attention and analyze the type of specific abilities that the student presents, the areas of interest, the style of their learning, the condensation (individualized adaptation of the curriculum), the evaluation of the product or activity carried out, the proportion of stimulating complementary activities (conferences, exhibitions, fairs, etc).

Family support

Family collaboration is essential since they can facilitate the teaching task and the emotional stability of the student, avoiding demotivation or rejection by their classmates. Parents have a greater understanding of their child’s needs and can complement the need for school stimulation at home. For this reason , communication between both parties is essential, since it will allow the teaching team to also provide them with certain appropriate educational guidelines regarding the treatment offered to the child at home relative to avoiding comparisons, excessive demands, acceptance of their particularities, etc.

Teaching and training of concrete intellectual skills

For a greater enrichment of the acquired content, the training of the following skills can facilitate learning and motivation for it.  

The information and data received can be worked on in aspects such as sequencing, comparison, classification, cause-effect relationship, drawing up lists of attributes, carrying out logical reasoning, planning and executing projects, valuing ideas and perspectives, detection and bug fixes, mainly.

Bibliographic references:

  • Acereda, A. and Sastre, S. (1998). Giftedness Madrid: Synthesis.
  • Alonso, JA, Renzulli, JS, Benito, Y. (2003). International Gifted Handbook. Madrid: EOS.
  • Álvarez González, B. (2000): High-ability students. Educational identification and intervention. Madrid: Bruño.
  • Coriat, AR (1990): Gifted children. Barcelona: Herder.
  • Renzulli, J. (1994): “Development of talent in schools. Practical program for enrichment of total school performance ”, in school BENITO, Y. Through (coor.): The psychoeducational intervention and research model in gifted students. Salamanca: Amaru Ediciones.

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