Gifted Learners

Tukuna kia rere

Teaching thinking- Ka hua te whakaaro, ka hua te kōrero

Thinking is one of the Key competencies of the New Zealand Curriculum (NZC) and it is an essential part of teaching and learning. Gifted learners thrive in an environment in which thinking is valued and developed deliberately through a variety of approaches in a variety of contexts.

The teaching of thinking in New Zealand kura/school/ECE settings/Kāhui Ako is sometimes focused on particular tools (e.g., de Bono’s thinking hats), skills (e.g., critical thinking or problem solving), dispositions (e.g., Costa’s Habits of Mind) or a thinking framework/taxonomy (e.g., SOLO [structure of observed learning outcomes] or Blooms). Gardner’s Multiple Intelligences are sometimes used to enable learners to consider different ways of employing thinking skills. A kura/school/ECE setting-wide understanding of the associated language of thinking can benefit metacognition throughout the learning community, including among parents/whānau. The teaching of thinking is supported by many books, programmes and packages, as well as regular sharing by educators via social media and in professional learning groups.

Philosophy for Children (P4C) enhances metacognition (thinking about thinking) in the classroom, as well as providing opportunities to use a range of types of thinking. There are regular opportunities for teachers in New Zealand to be trained to use P4C strategies and excellent resources are available to support classroom practice.

Another commonly employed approach is to teach specific ways of thinking within the context of inquiry or an exploration of global issues. Future Problem Solving and Enviroschools provide learners with authentic learning opportunities to select and use appropriate thinking tools and skills, and to demonstrate high levels of various types of thinking. Robyn Boswell (2011) Director of Future Problem Solving (NZ), describes three types of thinking that may be used by participants in this international programme:

  • critical thinking: focusing, affirmative judgement, staying open to ideas, looking for possibilities, planning
  • creative thinking: generating ideas, fluency, flexibility, originality, elaboration, curiosity, complexity, risk taking, imagination
  • caring thinking: valuational (values, attitudes, right and wrong), affective (choices, feelings, right and wrong), active (acting on beliefs, taking action), normative (attitude, perspective).

Authentic ‘social action’ is a logical consequence of facilitating caring thinking. Social action can be located within the classroom, the community, or be part of a global concern. It can be incorporated into any curriculum learning area or be the integrating factor in interdisciplinary curriculum design. Kura/school/ECE settings/Kāhui Ako need to be aware of the global concerns that affect learners and give them opportunities to explore these concerns.

The Deloitte Millennial Survey 2017 found that millennials (broadly defined as people reaching young adulthood in the early 21st century) felt they had more influence when provided with opportunities to be involved with ‘good causes’ at the local level. No doubt, GenZ (those currently aged 18 or younger), armed with strong information technology skills and the ability to think creatively, can be similarly empowered by social action.

The creative arts provide learners with an outlet for creativity and a way of developing creative thinking skills. The universal human use of metaphorical thinking underpins many of the creative arts and enables new ways of expression and communication.

Arts disciplines offer learners unique opportunities

"Te toi whakairo, ka ihiihi, ka wehiwehi,
ka aweawe te ao katoa.
The arts are powerful forms of expression that recognise, value, and contribute to the unique bicultural and multicultural character of Aotearoa New Zealand, enriching the lives of all New Zealanders. The arts have their own distinct languages that use both verbal and non-verbal conventions, mediated by selected processes and technologies. Through movement, sound, and image, the arts transform people’s creative ideas into expressive works that communicate layered meanings."

New Zealand Curriculum: the Arts

The arts

"People were nicer to me when I was in the arts. I experienced extreme racism in small-town New Zealand. Racism which really went away when I got into the arts."

Cliff Curtis, actor.

Cultural backgrounds can influence the way a student thinks:

Thinking occurs within a particular cognitive schema—a pattern that shapes how people seek and process information, the assumptions they make, and the guiding principles they apply to consider and solve problems. Because our habits of mind are influenced by our cultural and historical circumstances, the decision-making strategies that we seek to promote in students reflect our own culture. These schemata are not necessarily universal models that apply across all ethnic and cultural groups (Kim & Park, 2000; Paul, 1993).

In our bicultural country, we need to understand the ways of thinking encompassed by Te Ao Māori. Māori archetypes, mythologies, history, values and storytelling differ from those of other cultures. Te Ao Māori needs to be understood and visible in every aspect of the life of a kura/school/ECE setting, and honoured as a way of being in the world.

Increasing migration to New Zealand by people from all over the world means that a diversity of cognitive schemata exists in our communities. Teachers and school leaders need to acknowledge there is more than one way of thinking, more than one worldview. Learners over the age of 14 can participate in a global study (British council: Schools online) that explores the different values and frames of thinking around the world. Participating in this study could acknowledge and celebrate the diversity of experience (and therefore thinking) within the classroom.

Warp drive

"We have warp drive capability. Yes. But where can warp drive take us?"

Anji, Star Trek Insurrection

Good thinking is the result of good teaching

"Every day thinking, like ordinary walking, is a natural performance we all pick up. But good thinking, like running the l00-yard dash, is a technical performance ... Sprinters have to be taught how to run the 100-yard dash; good thinking is the result of good teaching, which includes much practice."

David Perkins, Howard University


Jan-Marie Kellow (2017) describes thinking dispositions as attitudes, character traits and inclinations (deep currents directing our thinking behaviour). They are the link between skills and action and are cultivated by personal example (modelling), cultivating activities (specific activities; e.g., inquiry research) and dealing with dispositions explicitly.

Examples of dispositions are Costa’s Habits of Mind and Facione’s critical thinking dispositions. Many sets of values developed by kura/school/ECE setting communities to guide curriculum decisions are aimed at cultivating thinking dispositions.


There are many frameworks of thinking, including Bloom’s taxonomy, the SOLO taxonomy (to be sufficiently challenged, gifted learners need to be working mainly within the higher order thinking levels), de Bono’s lateral and parallel thinking tools, Gardner’s theory of multiple intelligences, the SAMR (substitution, augmentation, modification and redefinition) model, the Paul-Elder model of critical thinking, Kaplan's Framework for Depth and Complexity and many inquiry models.