Characteristics of high-ability

There are several characteristics associated with each domain of high-ability. These may be related to student learning or their social-emotional development.

A student doesn't need to have all characteristics to be considered high-ability. Different high-ability students will present with different combinations of traits.

The more traits that are present, the more likely the student is to be a high-ability learner. These lists of characteristics should be used as a guide only. Different cultural groups may show characteristics of high-ability in different or unexpected ways.

The intellectual domain

Students with high-ability in this domain may show the following learning characteristics:

  • early achievement of developmental milestones (early years students)
  • capacity to learn new material quickly (1-2 repetitions)
  • advanced capacity to remember what they have learnt (reducing the need for repetition)
  • advanced abstract and critical thinking skills
  • an extensive vocabulary
  • an ability to reason well
  • curiosity
  • a vivid imagination
  • advanced ability with numbers
  • a wide range of intellectual and academic interests
  • a tendency to become absorbed in work they find interesting
  • an ability to ask reflective, probing and provocative (older students) questions
  • a dislike of slow-paced work
  • a preference for independent work or for working with like-ability peers.

They may also show the following social-emotional characteristics:

  • the need to learn and feel pride in academic achievements may be at odds with the need to be accepted by peers
  • emotional intensity
  • an unusual ability to empathise with the feelings of other students or adults
  • an unusually well-developed sense of justice and fairness
  • an unusually mature sense of humour
  • often prefer the companionship of older students
  • may develop a strong attachment to one or two close friends
  • may have difficulty deciding on a career choice
  • can exhibit perfectionist tendencies
  • non-conformity
  • early development of self-concept and an awareness of being different (early years).

In this short video, the HAPL from Brauer College describes the school's different processes used to identify high-ability. He points to data and passion in the first instance, but on some occasions, it will be through teachers taking notice of the learning characteristics of students.


The physical domain

Students with high-ability in this domain may show the following characteristics that may affect learning:

  • advanced gross motor skills
  • advanced fine motor skills
  • early awareness of left and right
  • high levels of physical energy.

High-ability in this domain is not currently associated with any social-emotional characteristics in the research.

The creative domain

Students with high-ability in this domain may show the following learning characteristics:

  • advanced visual memory
  • highly developed imagination (tendency to daydream)
  • flexibility of thinking
  • advanced creative problem solving
  • advanced creative thinking
  • enjoyment of role-play
  • advanced skill at drawing, painting or other artistic forms.

They may also show the following social-emotional characteristics:

  • non-conformity
  • elaborate creative and imaginative play (early years)
  • risk-taking.

In this short video, an art teacher from Brauer College reflects on how her school supports students who exhibit characteristics of high-ability in the creative domain.


The social domain

Students with high-ability in this domain may show the following learning characteristics:

  • a preference for working with others
  • a desire to take on positions of leadership
  • advanced moral reasoning and judgement.

They may also show the following social-emotional characteristics:

  • perceptiveness
  • highly developed empathy
  • highly developed sense of loyalty
  • advanced social skills
  • advanced intra-personal skills.

In this short video, a year 5/6 teacher reflects on the ways he supports a student who exhibits the characteristics of high-ability in the social domain.



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