Over the last three decades, the distinction between “giftedness” and “talent” has created an interesting topic of debate in education theories. In general, a definite distinction between the two terms has not been achieved in both language usage and scientific literature. According to Starko and Schack (1989), the American sources of scientific and academic literature support the ambiguity created by the lack of a definite distinction between the two terms. For instance, scientific literature obtained from American sources shows evidence of interchanging use of one or the other term within the same paragraph and with the same meaning. At a superficial level, this may suggest that the two terms are synonyms even in academics. However, the modern scientific literature supports the argument that the two terms are different and have different but related meanings within the context of human development. Several studies and scholars have developed various models to distinguish between giftedness and talent. These models have successfully developed a modern understanding that the two terms are not synonyms. Nevertheless, several researchers in North America such as Richert, Alvino, and McDonnell have argued that the existing definitions are conflicting with each other. Therefore, the education system faces major problems because the definitions are used to determine the students with talents and special gifts and provide education intervention based on the definitions. The purpose of this paper is to revisit the debate and review the models used to distinguish the two terms. Arguably, despite the debate and the difficulty in achieving a common definition for the two terms, “talented” and “giftedness” are not similar in language as well as in academic policies.
The debate on the ‘relationship between gifted and talented’ is an interesting and important topic in the North American education system. The policymaking process in the education sector has attempted to develop methods through which talented and gifted children should be identified and treated in schools. Policymakers attempt to follow one or more of the existing models that attempt to determine a worthy definition and how talented and gifted children should be identified. In North America, scholarly work indicates four major trends of scholarly opinion. First, some models attempted to show that there is no differentiation or distinction between talented and giftedness. Secondly, some scholars argue that there is a conceptual separation between intelligence and other human abilities. Thirdly, some scholarly work indicates the existence of marginal distinctions. Finally, modern models presented by researchers such as Renzuli, Cohn, and Foster have attempted to show the existence of possible distinctions between the two terms. To develop a better and succinct understanding of the debate, it is worth revising the four categories of models that dominate the debate in the US education system.
To begin with, various opponents of the distinction between talented and giftedness have developed an important school of thought, which is by far the most important aspect of the debate. Buescher (1985) argues that there are no proper means of distinguishing talented from giftedness. The author notes that the problem is caused by a lack of accepted definitions of the two terms. In his work, the author argues that the two terms should be used interchangeably because they mean more or less the same thing.
The concept of creativity appears in this debate as shown by Buescher (1985) in which he advocates for dissociation of the concept of creativity from the concept of intelligence. According to this author, intelligence should be separated from other human abilities. In this context, giftedness is associated with intellectual abilities, which include the scholastic ability. On the other hand, the author associates talent with other types of human skills. According to Colangelo and Davis (2002), two modalities of giftedness should be considered when attempting to identify children with talents. First, general intelligence is manifested in intelligence quotient (IQ) scores in the children recognized to have special skills. Secondly, valid tests are used to measure talents. Since this concept was developed, it has attracted wide debate and analysis to determine its worthiness and applicability in the education system. Scholars have expanded the concept by describing the talents as those aspects that are non-IQ test derived. In addition, Buescher (1985) was one of the earliest scholars to present a real-life example of education systems that applied a specific definition. According to this author, the state of Delaware inscribed a law that attempts to differentiate the two terms in which it specifies that gifted children are those individuals who are awarded by nature a high intellectual capacity and have an inherent capacity for attaining high intellectual abilities as well as scholastic achievements. On the other hand, the Delaware law argues that talented children are individuals who demonstrate superior or extraordinary talents, abilities, or aptitudes. In addition, the two definitions attempt to imply a distinction between the inherent and the acquired abilities demonstrated by children. In addition, the definitions show a distinction between performance and capacity. Nevertheless, the major area of debate remains within the differentiation or relationship between intelligence and the other capabilities and abilities.
Some scholarly works dominating the debate in America attempt to present marginal distinctions between “talented” and “giftedness”. In this case, the works of Robeck (1968) and Gowan (1979) are unique in this debate. The two authors have provided some significant models for distinguishing between the two terms in a debatable manner, which has made their models less recognizable by researchers and professionals in the education system. According to Robeck (1968), there is a hierarchical distinction between the two terms in that talented children are those with IQ scores ranging between 130 and 145, while gifted children are those with IQ scores ranging from 145 to 160. The author further argues that the children with IQ scores exceeding 160 are “super gifted”. In his part, Gowan (1979) argues that talented and giftedness responds to nonverbal and verbal creative potentials respectively. Due to the hierarchical aspect of Robeck’s argument, it has remained relatively underused and understudied. In addition, Gowan’s argument is considered less informative and is not applied in any education theory. Nevertheless, the two definition models are important for developing a good understanding of the debate.
Renzulli and Cohn’s models are probably the most important and highly studied arguments that attempt to describe talent and giftedness. Enzulli (1979) puts forward two principal criticisms of the previous models, especially targeting the definitions that were previously proposed by the Office of Education in the 1970s. First, the author argues that motivation is an important variable in describing the two terms. In fact, a large body of research indicates that motivation plays an important role in developing skills and intellectual achievements in children. However, the author notes that the previous definitions fail to consider or even refer to motivation. Secondly, the author argues that the previous definitions used six categories of giftedness but none of them is parallel. Based on these faults, Renzulli develops a new definition of the two terms in which he proposes that three fundamental traits interact in nature. Greater than average ability, motivation and creativity are the major and fundamental psychological traits in humans that make task commitment. The simultaneous presence and interaction of the three traits must be evident for giftedness to be manifested in an individual.
In a similar argument, Cohn (1977) formulated a model for differentiating between the two terms. The model dissociates between talented from giftedness and states that they are distinct concepts. The model breaks down giftedness into the fundamental categories of human abilities- artistic, intellectual, and social abilities. Each of the three categories is further broken down into specific subcategories of human talents.
Several other studies have developed models that attempt to focus on the concept of giftedness in young children as well as adults based on the previous models by Cohn and Renzulli. For instance, Foster (1981) integrated the two models in a simple but effective manner by inserting Cohn’s categories of abilities into Renzulli’s model. In this way, it appears that the levels of performance suggested by Renzulli are hierarchical and are similar to the three major categories suggested by Cohn. Foster’s model is effective in explaining how giftedness should be identified in individuals.
However, these models have also been criticized because they have several assumptions as well as weaknesses. Renzulli’s model presents the problem of identifying creativity as a fundamental aspect of giftedness. For instance, some scholars have argued that aspects of creativity such as originality, ingenuity, and others were used to determine whether a person is creative. Nevertheless, some scholars have argued that these aspects may only show that a person is an agent of change, invention, or transformation rather than creative.
Similarly, Cohn’s model has a major weakness in that it is based on a hierarchical method for breaking down the concept of giftedness into smaller categories of ability domains. For example, it includes a wide range of categories of human talents into each domain of ability identified. In nature, this is sometimes not the case, which means that the model is less applicable in identifying gifted children.
The model developed by Gagne (1991) is perhaps the most effective and widely studied attempt to classify gifted and talented individuals. The model was proposed in the early 1990s to provide a solution to the long debate that had taken more than three decades. The researcher proposed a set of gifts or aptitudes that a developing child develops into specific talents in presence of several external as well as internal aspects known as catalysts. Environmental and personality factors play an important role in ensuring that gifts are turned into talents.
According to the model, giftedness should be considered as the process of translating the innate abilities found in individuals into high-performance talent areas using both interpersonal and environmental catalysts. The model focuses on the role of the catalysts in ensuring that aptitude domains are changed into talents. According to the theory, the need to focus on catalysts arises from the fact that they have a significant impact on developing children.
Using this model, Gagne provided some of the most accepted definitions of the two terms in modern education theories. According to the model, the term “giftedness” should be used about a child’s outstanding potential as well as ability in at least one domain such as creativity, intellectual and socio-effectiveness. On the other hand, the model defines the term “talent” as the outstanding performance in at least one field of human activities. According to Gagne (1991) talent is a product of ability that arises from s person’s learning experience.
Catalysts are the factor that makes an impact on the developing child to determine the type and degree of talents that results from the aptitude domains. In this case, the model argues that such factors as motivation, volition, physical and personality characters are interpersonal catalysts while others like milieu, provisions, and events also affect the developing child and are environmental catalysts.
One of the most important strengths of Gagne’s model is that it attempts to account for the gifted underachievers who may not be able to achieve at some levels corresponding to their abilities. The model suggests some reasons that cause the phenomenon. In addition, the model not only attempts to distinguish giftedness from talented but also shows the relationship between them. The major focus of the model is not to show how different or unique talents are from giftedness, but to show how they are related and what makes individuals with aptitude domains achieve high levels in some areas. The model also encourages policymakers in the education system to identify the individual students who are gifted and attempt to encourage them to develop their aptitude domains into talents. In this case, the most important role of the school, the education system, and other aspects are to act as positive catalysts to ensure that the talents are achieved. Gagne’s model recommends players in the education system ensure that interaction between the individual children and the personal and environmental factors are controlled to ensure that they produce positive outcomes in talent development.
In conclusion, policymakers attempt to follow one or more of the existing models that attempt to determine a worthy definition of the two terms. Scholarly work indicates four major trends of scholarly opinion. Some models attempted to show that there is no differentiation or distinction between talent and giftedness. In addition, some scholars argue that there is a conceptual separation between intelligence and other human abilities. It is also worth noting that some scholarly work indicates the existence of marginal distinctions. Moreover, modern models presented by researchers have attempted to show the existence of possible distinctions between the two terms.
The models developed since the 1970s have attempted to develop a process or way of differentiating between talented and giftedness. A definite distinction between the two terms has not been achieved in both language usage and scientific literature. The American sources of scientific and academic literature support the ambiguity created by the lack of a definite distinction between the two terms. For instance, scientific literature obtained from American sources shows evidence of interchanging use of one or the other term within the same paragraph and with the same meaning. Although most of the earlier models focused on establishing the difference between the two terms, the most important aspect of the debate has turned from finding the differences to finding the possible relationships between the two aspects.
Several researchers in North America have argued that the existing definitions are conflicting with each other. Therefore, the education system faces major problems because the definitions are used to determine the students with talents and special gifts and provide education intervention based on the definitions. In addition, the modern concept attempts to show how the relationship between talent and giftedness can be controlled to ensure that students achieve high performance in at least one area of talent. In this case, Gagne’s model seems to be the most effective as well as applicable compared to the previous models. Nevertheless, the previous models also prove that talents are different from giftedness, which means that the debates against this theory are less effective. Thus, it is worth arguing that despite the debate and the difficulty in achieving a common definition for the two terms, “talented” and “giftedness” is not similar in language as well as in academic policies.
To develop better policies, it is necessary to develop laws that attempt to use the new models in stating how students with talents and special gifts should be identified. The Delaware law is applicable because it differentiates the two terms in which it specifies that gifted children are those individuals who are awarded by nature a high intellectual capacity and have an inherent capacity for attaining high intellectual abilities as well as scholastic achievements.
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