Get to Know The 5 Domains of Giftedness

Definitions of giftedness are necessary to provide a framework for school programs and services.  But how can you put a standard on something that, by definition deviates from the norm?  You really couldn’t call kids gifted if they’re all incredibly capable in the same way, could you?  

Spontaneous Capabilities

University of Quebec psychology researcher Francoys Gagné, Ph.D. describes giftedness as “the possession and use of untrained and spontaneously expressed natural abilities (called aptitudes or gifts) in at least one ability domain to a degree that places a child among the top ten percent of his or her age peers.”  

Very broad, as it should be.  But it’s really the idea of “spontaneously expressed natural abilities” that’s key here. These are not abilities that are learned or studied, but they can vary in focus area.  In fact, most gifted people exhibit natural abilities in one area – or maybe a few – but very rarely across subject areas.  It’s actually more likely for gifted people to have a supreme ability in a subject along with a major deficiency in others.  So, for example, a gifted scientist may not have the same mastery over language.

Domains of Intelligence

If you suspect that your children might be gifted, you’re probably beginning to wonder what your children’s elementary teacher and the school system will make of their abilities. And when it comes time for Individualized Education Programs (IEPs) and for testing, you’ll begin to hear words like “domains of intelligence”.

We all know people who are really smart in some ways and really not in other ways. To expand the idea of intelligence, The United States Office of Education has designated five domains of giftedness or talent. But what exactly is a domain?

We probably think of giftedness in educational areas such as math skills, art skills, science skills, or writing skills, but when you talk to the school system, they won’t be talking subject areas – they will be talking about domains. The NAGC’s definition is that “domains include any structured area of activity with its own symbol system (e.g., mathematics, music, language) and/or set of sensorimotor skills (e.g., painting, dance, sports).”

Here’s how they break it down:

  • Intellectual Ability Domain (aka “The Brain”) Intellectually gifted kids tend to spend a lot time thinking around a problem and thinking in analogies or concepts. They have a very high level of concentration and memorizing ability, and easily sort out the irrelevant information in a situation. The intellectually gifted child simply loves learning and craves new content all the time. They develop thinking skills much faster than their peers . . . not kidding about that 10% of the population thing.    
  • Specific Academic Ability Domain (aka The “Specialist”) These youngsters also have an unusual ability to conceptualize and memorize material, but in a very specific subject area. They also spend a lot of time thinking before they work on a problem. And they crave, crave, crave more content in the subject they love. Curiously, these children tend toward lack of overall confidence, probably because their skill areas develop unevenly.
  • Creative-Productive Thinking Domain (aka “The Creative Spirit”) In contrast, the creatively gifted children seem to have lots of self-esteem and also an inclination towards risk-taking. They like to literally shape their environment. Desks, tables, and such will be moved around to accommodate a creative problem being solved.  Children like this will have a high tolerance for ambiguity and messy, complex problems. Their creativity shows in their ability to find solutions from many different angles of a situation.
  • Leadership and Psycho-Social Domain (aka “The Social Leader”) If you’ve noticed that your children have an unusual ability to plan backwards from a goal, breaking down sequential goals, they may be gifted in this domain. Along with this, there may be an ability to pick out similarities or differences in a complex field of information. While still having a drive to master an area of learning, they are also even-tempered and accepting.
  • Visual and Performing Arts Domain (aka “The Artist Extraordinaire”) The same types of intense drive to learn and master are in these children, but it is focused on an artistic skill. Their interests are not wide-ranging – it’s all about the art. There will be lots of ability to focus and practice skills, despite difficult environments. This child tends toward lots of self-assessment and has apprehension that the art talent will disappear.

A Variety of Tests

A wide range of tests have been developed along with these new, expanded ideas of just exactly what giftedness is. Schools use a combination of objective and subjective measures to determine giftedness. Some might be familiar, like the SAT tests for objective IQ, and some not, like the Renzulli Scales of the behavioral characteristics of “superior students.” All the tests and scales are divided into gifts and/or talents. Generally, one objective and one subjective test in each domain is enough to assess your child’s gifts and talents.

When to Test?

Many school systems will not test for giftedness until 3rd grade, even though research suggests that giftedness can be identified in kids under 18 months old. In a study conducted by Gogel, McCumsey and Hewitt (1985), nearly half of the 1,039 parents of identified gifted children suspected that their children were gifted before their toddlers were two years old. The optimum time for testing has been determined to be between the ages of 4 and 9.

Do you feel that you have a gifted child?  What domain do they fall under, and do you plan to test?

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