Brilliant Behaviors

Finding Bright and Gifted Students With Brilliant Behaviors

Historically, testing has been the most common lens used to inspect students’ potential. Today, concerns regarding the use of many tests with students from culturally and economically diverse backgrounds has reduced confidence and reliance on them.[112] More contemporary approaches that respect this diversity can be supported by using the Tools provided here.

Students indicate their need for more challenge in a variety of ways, some more direct than others. Some students demand, some ask and some have to be found.  This section provides guidance for stimulating students’ potentials during classroom activities.  It includes alternate formats of a tool, the Brilliant Behaviors checklist, for observing students to assess the nature and extent of those behaviors during that activity.

Students should be observed for signs of the Brilliant Behaviors while they are engaged in their strongest subject(s), their passions. Students’ greatest academic strengths are the areas in which there is the greatest need for curriculum differentiation.

This list of Brilliant Behaviors focuses attention on 13 observable characteristics which will directly help teachers challenge students in their areas of strength. Many other, longer lists of behavior characteristics are available for use in identification procedures (for example, Clark, 1997; Martinson, 1974; Renzulli, Smith, White, Callahan, & Hartman, 1976). The Brilliant Behaviors list is not meant to be exhaustive. It includes only those behavior characteristics which will be the keys to determining the curriculum differentiation strategies most appropriate for each student. See the section Matching Strategies to Strengths for the Tools (the Guides) used to do this.

The Brilliant Behaviors and descriptions are based on a list developed by Kanevsky, Maker, Nielson and Rogers (1994) which first appeared in Maker & Nielson’s Curriculum Development and Teaching Strategies for Gifted Learners (2nd edition). That list was an adaptation of the traits, aptitudes and behaviors Frasier and Passow[113] felt contributed to giftedness. All of these authors sought behaviors that would appear in many cultures, in girls as well as boys, in students with strengths in any subject area or type of intelligence, and in “meek or macho” students. In other words, the list is intended to be sensitive to brilliance in students of different cultural backgrounds, genders, subject areas and temperaments.

Alternate Formats

You will find seven versions of the Brilliant Behaviors in this chapter. Each is used to collect similar information but in different contexts and by different observers (teachers, or parents, or student self-observations). Offering different observers the same lenses to view students in different settings and activities provides consistency in the observations. This facilitates later conversations among the observers and decision-makers when everyone has been looking for the same things.


Although the Brilliant Behaviors can be used for referral, nomination or assessment, they are not intended to be the sole means of identifying or labeling gifted students. For that task, other information must be collected and considered (student products and portfolios, test scores, etc.). There is no cutoff score or minimum number of behaviors that must be found; one is sufficient to move on with the process of differentiating curriculum.

The data from these Tools can complement tests scores or avoid the need for them depending upon the decision to be made. If no official “gifted” designation is needed, just transfer information collected from the Brilliant Behaviors to the Guide for Selecting Differentiation Strategies to continue with the curriculum differentiation process without labeling.

If official designation is necessary for access to alternative services and placements, one or more versions of the Brilliant Behaviors can be used to collect data to use in the identification process. The individuals involved in making this determination should meet prior to collecting data to make some crucial decisions:

  • What services and placements are available?
  • What sorts of students will benefit most from these opportunities?
  • How many students can be accommodated?

The answers to these questions will shape the answer to efforts to the even more complex problem of finding students. Once they are resolved the big problem can be addressed: How can these students be found?

A solution to the last question will involve Tools, the data they collect and a process to apply criteria for selection to these data so decisions and placements can be made. The Tools, data and decisions must locate the students best suited to the types of programming to be offered. Different possibilities include self-paced individual projects, creative problem solving groups, or differentiated curricular experiences in the regular classroom. One or more of these options would be appropriate for some students and inappropriate for others.

Before undertaking data collection, the individuals involved should understand the role each kind of information will play in the final decision. Individuals involved in the process also need a clear understanding of their roles in data collection, decision-making and program planning. Timelines for data collection, meetings and decision-making should also be clear to all participants in the process including students, parents and teachers.