Giftedness appears in many different ways for different students. Definitions of giftedness are, at best, attempts to explain facets of human abilities and performances. The definition of giftedness selected for DoDEA schools is:
Gifted learners are children and youth with outstanding talent who perform or show the potential for performing at remarkably high levels of accomplishment when compared with others of their age, experience, or environment. (U.S. Department of Education, 1993).
DoDEA educators serve over 88,000 students in 16 districts and 211 schools. Within our student population are some youngsters whose potential or performance is so remarkable that we need to recognize who they are and consider what resources we have to help them find and meet challenges in their daily lives at school.
DoDEA is committed to providing an educational program in which each student may grow to be fulfilled, productive, and contributing member of society. It is this commitment that guides us to establishing provisions for gifted learners. Rather than a focus on who should receive a generic label of gifted, our mission is to locate students who give evidence of a need for gifted education services at a particular time in particular areas so that they may find challenges in their learning activities.
Gifted students are found at all grades and in many different areas. Students reveal their giftedness through indicators that they are developmentally out of sync with their age peers. They are learning faster; they are exploring more deeply. In some respects, their learning needs are not a good match to the standard curriculum. We identify them so that we can make adjustments in their school program to match their needs.
At times behaviors of gifted youngsters may be problematic. The Queensland Association for Gifted Talented Children Inc. has provided an interesting list of general characteristics of gifted children and possible problems associated with those characteristics.
Schools make adjustments for gifted students in a variety of ways. Certain students may require academic acceleration or specific changes in curricular areas. Gifted students may need the support of a mentor, the expertise of an artist, or the guidance of a counselor. Currently, DoDEA educators are helping to develop new standards and recommendations for gifted education service models, K-12. Upon completion of this work, all schools will receive guidelines for gifted education services in DoDEA schools.
In our schools, we are able to service only a portion of the potential gifts of our students. For example, we may have children who are prodigies in swimming or navigation, but we have a very limited ability to provide services matched to these areas. On the other hand, our academic program is the core of our mission, and, as such, provides a wide arena for differentiating learning experiences.
How many of our students need gifted education services? That is an important question that has no clear answer. We have no quotas for identifying students. We must consider what areas of giftedness we recognize and service in our school programs. We also must consider to what degree any individual student is in need of changes in his/her education program and in what areas. Certainly all students benefit from enrichment experiences in our schools without gifted education services. Some students will find very few challenges in school and the corresponding satisfaction of a challenge met.
Giftedness must be placed in a context. In DoDEA schools, students with remarkable potential or performance are identified for intellectual ability or in academic or artistic performance. Consequently, a decision to identify a student for gifted education services is based on the degree of strength demonstrated by the student and the degree of need for changes in the student's school program.