Ministry of Education

Gifted Learners

Tukuna kia rere

Gifted Aotearoa

Gifted Aotearoa is a national Network of Expertise established to improve the quality of education offered to young gifted New Zealanders. Gifted Aotearoa is funded by the Ministry of Education, providing support to principals, management, teachers, Gifted Education Co-ordinators, LSCs, SENCOs and RTLBs in New Zealand Primary and Secondary schools through sharing professional expertise, growing local networks, nurturing local leadership and developing professional pathways.

Gifted Aotearoa is a collaborative project delivered by the New Zealand Centre for Gifted Education, REACH Education Consultancy, and the New Zealand Association for Gifted Children.

To find out more about how you can benefit from Gifted Aotearoa or to register for the network, visit GiftedAotearoa

Waka Ama Specialist Support Q & A

Waka Ama offers New Zealand educators the opportunity to submit questions, challenges or concerns about how to support gifted learners. Questions are answered by one of our gifted education specialists and are shared below for all educators to benefit.

Q 1: My 5 year old has been at school for 3 months and there are a couple of areas that his teachers need support with. He has been a self-taught reader from around 3 years old. His teachers have tested him up to level 22 but are a bit perplexed as he often rushes through, skips and skims parts of the text and doesn’t fully engage with the comprehension questions. They have suggested putting him at level 15, then trying to address these issues. I’m not sure that is the best option. What would you suggest is the best approach to this? He also appears to be ambidextrous and is a reluctant writer as he sees it ‘doesn’t look right’ and wants to make it perfect. What are the best ways to support him with this? His teachers are also noticing quite a bit of non-compliance.

The issues you raise regarding reading and writing are not uncommon with young gifted children. Flexibility, choice, working with the child where the child is at, and ensuring that the essence of literacy is nurtured are the underlying principles for meeting their needs. Processes need to be adapted to suit the child and the teacher.

Answering comprehension questions is a learned skill so it’s unsurprising that a new entrant is flummoxed by this. Sitting alongside a reader and chatting about the text, rather than running records, would be a preferable way to gauge comprehension. Skimming and scanning is what capable readers do naturally so this is more likely a reflection of capabilities rather than difficulties and it’s unlikely this would be a ‘problem to fix’ in a self-taught reader. I would encourage you to advocate for sticking with instruction at as high a level as possible. It is likely that this will be in a different classroom as there would be very few new entrants reading at Level 22. Boredom in reading ‘under-age’ material is toxic.

Things to do for capable young readers include supporting the child in finding and following reading interests and making friends with school and local librarians, and lots and lots of talking about books. Nothing will kill a love of reading faster than strict adherence to prescribed strategies and processes. Comprehension is far richer when children are permitted to choose material that engages them. Material at the lower level suggested may not engage him. Offering a choice of books at different levels may give a better guide. Better still, invite him to bring what he’s reading at home. The teacher can use that to gauge reading level and then choose a level appropriately. If he likes non-fiction, try using that – his choice of book again.

With regard to writing, we want children to see themselves as writers. This may require the teacher to step back a bit from any prescribed process and help him to record ideas so he can get that excitement from seeing his stories in written form. Scribe for him or use apps to help, e.g., a dictation app. The physical mechanics of writing can be developed when he is ready. Spend some time developing the love of sharing his stories and ideas first. Keep a watch over any potential fine motor skills issues that may present a problem. Let him write about what he wants to write about – choice is just as important here as it is with reading.

Remove pressure to get technical things right. Those things will come in time – if they are overemphasised, the mechanical and technical things may kill any love of writing before it has a chance to develop. For many gifted children, the physical act of writing is laborious and frustrating - they just want to share their ideas and their minds work so much faster than their hands at 5!

Non-compliance is likely to be related to ability to connect with same-age peers and not just linked to the frustrations of reading and writing expectations/limitations. As much as possible, gifted children, including new entrants, need to be clustered with other children of similar abilities and interests. This will be influenced by school policy so it may be worth checking this.

Answered by Sue Barriball (edited for publication)

Q 2: I have been given the opportunity to comment on the school policy for one of my children, as it is currently being reviewed by the board. Do you have, or could you point me in the right direction to some well-formulated New Zealand school policies in this area, by way of comparison?

[This reply is in response to the specific policy in question, but will give other educators support in developing and/or reviewing their own policies.]

It’s great that the school actually HAS a policy - not all schools do!

The term “Advanced Abilities” is used presumably in an effort to avoid the word “gifted”, and that is understandable – “gifted” still is suspected by many people of being a synonym for “privileged”. If we’re not using gifted, I would prefer the term “exceptional abilities” as being a little stronger, but “advanced” is not wrong. I’d say “exceptional” relates more to the inherent nature of those abilities while “advanced” suggests development which may not in fact have happened.

Definition: Moving to the document itself, first of all it doesn’t include any definition. What do teachers at your school understand is meant by “gifted”? That’s a point which MUST be clarified. Does the definition in people’s minds reflect the diversity of areas in which giftedness can be demonstrated, or do they think it applies only to academic ability? Does the definition reflect the cultural and socio-economic make-up of the school? Will a child from a low income family be recognised, or a child from one of your ethnic communities? Will a twice-exceptional child be recognised? Most importantly, does the definition recognise that giftedness creates different learning and developmental needs? Do all teachers in the school share the same understanding of what is meant by “gifted”? There is reference in the guidelines to giftedness emerging in different areas of learning and performance, and that’s good and necessary, but it doesn't touch on what giftedness actually means in terms of its impact on the child’s perceptions and responses and how the child is perceived by others. In terms of finding a definition, the one I’ve written about in the Oz Journal article might interest you (see link below), but for general school use you probably need something simpler, such as Cathie Harrison's one from her book on giftedness in early childhood:

A gifted child is one who performs, or who has the ability to perform, at a level significantly beyond his or her chronologically-aged peers, and whose unique abilities and characteristics require special provisions and social and emotional support from the family, community and educational context.

Purposes: Fine as far as they go, but I'm not sure that this involves recognition of the different social and emotional needs gifted children have. Good to see words like “enrich” and “challenge” in there however. It’s interesting to consider whether that means the same thing as monitoring progress and achievement.

Guidelines: The first statement is a good statement of intent, and it’s pleasing to see that the word “needs” is used here and to see that emotional and social needs are to be addressed. Recognition of the NAGs is very relevant - NAG 1 c (iii) and d relate specifically to gifted learners and of course they are now mentioned specifically in the new Disability and Learning Support Action Plan.


  • Teacher-made tests are not generally regarded as a reliable or useful guide unless the teacher has a well-informed understanding of what they are looking for. It certainly should not be first on the list.
  • In-class teacher observation also depends not only on teacher knowledge but teacher understanding and values. Does the school provide any authentic research-based guidance for such observation?
  • Records of progress and achievement: what exactly does this refer to? Does it include, for instance, off-level testing? How are these records used to help with identifying underachieving gifted, or what other measures are used for this?
  • Work samples - a definite yes! But provide for teachers conferring with each other on this, because it does involve qualitative judgement.
  • Conferencing with teachers – I’m assuming this means child with teacher. Good!
  • Discussions with parents – it’s good that this is included but it should surely be higher up the list. Parent information should be highly valued and should always be part of the identification process. Shouldn't we also say parents/whanau?
  • Self-analysis through goal setting and review - interesting. I’d love to know more about how the school envisages this happening, especially with the very young.

It’s not that all this is wrong - on the contrary, at least it acknowledges, if only by implication, that identification can draw on a wide range of sources. That’s essential. But it seems to me to be in the wrong order, and in the absence of a definition, there are no clear criteria to guide teachers. Where are references to cultural indicators, norm-based assessment tools, research-based rating scales or additional information such as a psychologist’s report or evidence of external achievement, e.g., winning an interschool art competition?

And another relevant question: will every teacher be expected to know how to assemble and interpret all these different kinds of information, or will someone have oversight? And will that person have access to in-depth training? Or is this answered by reference to a nomination and screening process? Thus, overall, lots that are good, but I would suggest there’s a need for a definition and for some re-vamping of the identification process.

Answered by Rosemary Cathcart (edited for publication)

Supporting documents:

Developing a School Policy.

PDF, 199.73 KB

What should our gifted policy include.

PDF, 148.80 KB

Q 3: I am leading Gifted and Talented this year. I am a novice at this and would like to know where I should start with this for our school.

A first step for you is to find out what is already in place in your school. Does the school have a preferred definition, any existing identification process or any existing programme? Are any records being kept of who has been identified and what has been put in place for them? As your own knowledge builds, you will want to review all this information to see whether any part needs updating, but meanwhile you will at least have something in place for those children. If there is nothing at all - well, you have a clean slate! In that case, I would suggest that you spend the first few months just concentrating on developing your own knowledge about systems and strategies for working with gifted learners.

There are some resources you can immediately access. The first thing I would suggest is that you go to and get yourself registered on the tki mailing list. Explore further on that site, and you will find a range of helpful advice and suggestions, including reference to the Ministry's official handbook, Gifted and Talented Students: Meeting Their Needs in New Zealand Schools. There are two New Zealand associations that you can join which deal with this topic, the teachers' association, giftEDnz and the parents' association, the NZ Assn for Gifted Children. You'll see the range of activities they offer on their websites, and the NZAGC also publishes a useful magazine, Tall Poppies, and an academic journal, Apex. In addition, I would strongly suggest that you consider undertaking some PLD in this field, preferably in a mentored situation. Working with gifted learners is different from working in the regular classroom, and you do need some in-depth knowledge about the very different ways in which they perceive and respond to what they experience to guide you on working with them and in supporting your colleagues. TKI’s Professional Learning and Development page has information about a number of PLD providers in the field of gifted education.

Answered by Rosemary Cathcart (edited for publication)

Q 4: I am setting up a register of gifted learners for my school. Do you have any advice around identifying gifted students and ways to cater to them in your school?

First of all, I have attached some information below on registers for you which may be helpful if you are just in the process of setting one up.

With regard to identification, the first thing I would suggest is that you go to gifted tki and get yourself registered on the tki mailing list. Explore further on that site, and you will find a range of helpful advice and suggestions, including some advice relating to identification on the Define and Identify pages. You’ll also find the Ministry’s handbook, _Gifted and Talented Students: Meeting Their Needs in New Zealand Schools. _

You might also want to consider some more-in-depth PLD especially suited for someone taking on that coordination role who wants to understand the very different perceptions and responses of gifted learners and the practical strategies for dealing with those differences. TKI’s Professional Learning and Development page has information about a number of PLD providers in the field of gifted education. There are two New Zealand associations that you can join which deal with this topic, the teachers’ association, giftEDnz and the parents' association, the NZ Assn for Gifted Children You'll see the range of activities they offer on their websites, and the NZAGC also publishes a useful magazine, Tall Poppies, and an academic journal, Apex.

Answered by Rosemary Cathcart (edited for publication)

Supporting documents:

Creating your gifted register.

PDF, 84.51 KB

Using your .gifted register.

PDF, 72.83 KB

Q5. How do I get teachers to use Ed Psych reports and get them passed on by parents? How do I support 2E students based on these reports? How do I get teachers to focus on 2E students’ strengths, not just their weaknesses?

Confidentiality Many schools do not pass on the information from Educational Psychologist reports due to their confidential nature. As part of the enrolment process, Senior Leaders are able to put in a tick box that says “We give approval for information from any educational psychologist reports to be shared with appropriate teachers/leadership/education professionals working with my child”. This means that you can freely share the information – which is actually what parents want.

Expectancy x Value = Motivation

Teachers will use Ed Psych reports if they can understand them and find the information valuable. For many teachers the wording and complexity of the report is confusing especially if it is the first time that they have encountered it. To support teachers, it is recommended that the Gifted Coordinator simplify down the information to a one page summary which outlines strengths and strategies to focus on strengths, weaknesses and strategies to manage weaknesses. A table format is recommended. This summary is then linked/uploaded to the student management system.

This should be completed in conjunction with whānau to ensure that there is a partnership of strategies and consistent expectations.

Answered by Brooke Trenwith (edited for publication)

Q6. How do support 2E boys with things like self-regulation and managing impulsivity?

The ‘traditional’ way of working with these students is to withdraw them from an area that they are good at (e.g. maths) to give them extra support where they are struggling (e.g. writing). The rationale behind this is that they will not ‘lose out’ and will even out their abilities. However, this strategy often results in low self-esteem which leads to misbehaviour in the classroom.

Schools need to take a “focus on strengths, manage the weaknesses” approach to supporting these children.
E.g. they continue to move forward in maths and do not miss any (this is where they build their self-efficacy). If there is a withdrawal group, then they choose which area they miss or it is done during an area that they are ‘average’ in. To manage the weakness of writing, they are allowed to record their story before they write it down. This allows them to focus on what they want to say in the story. When they have finished they play back the recording a few words at a time, listen – write; listen – write… this allows them to focus solely on the writing rather than trying to think of what to say at the same time.

Managing impulsivity

A good clip to start discussion is Managing Impulsivity Some of these resources could also be of use: Managing Impulses Resource Site

Impulsivity can also be a sign of psychomotor intensity.

For impulsive boys, the following strategies can support the regular classroom teacher:

  • Standing desks

  • Allowing appropriate times for movement/release of energy

  • Wobble/wiggle chairs

  • More competition

  • Building self-regulation

When the child is calm, work together to create a learning contract for what happens when they get angry/too impulsive. Talk to them about what calms them down e.g. reading in a tent in the classroom or being allowed to sit outside. Help the child to recognise the symptoms of when self-regulation is required (e.g. tickle in tummy, flutter in chest, getting hot etc) and show them how to place an exit card on the desk of the teacher when this happens. This card means that they can go and do the planned action above.

Recommended reading:

Brophy, J. (2010). Motivating students to learn (3rd ed.). New York, NY: Routledge.

Delisle, J. & Galbraith, J. (2002). When gifted kids don’t have all the answers: How to meet their social and emotional needs. Minneapolis, MN: Free Spirit Publishing.

Piechowski, M. (2006). Mellow out, they say: If only I could. Intensities of the young and bright. Madison, Wisconsin: Yunasa Books.

St. George, A., & Riley, T. (2008). Motivation and learning: Can I do it? Do I want to do it? In A. St. George, S. Brown, & J. O’Neill (Eds.), Facing the big questions in teaching: Purpose, power and learning (pp. 144-154). Melbourne, VIC: Cengage Learning.

Trail, B.A. (2011). Twice-Exceptional children: Understanding, teaching and counselling gifted students. Waco, TX: Prufock Press.

Answered by Brooke Trenwith (edited for publication)

Q7: At what age should we stop using visual timetables?

Visual timetables are an important element of any inclusive classroom. There is no age limit for who uses these and they are effective for all learners. It is recommended that all teachers use them, especially with twice-exceptional students. For tips on visual timetables go to: visual timetables

Answered by Brooke Trenwith (edited for publication)

Q 8: Is it an issue that gifted boys want to hang around with adults rather than their peers?

Often gifted children want adult company rather than their peers. This is often due to asynchronous development. Do give the child opportunities to spend time with adults but ensure that this is negotiated, e.g, not every lunchtime.

Here are some tips for helping gifted learners make friends.

It can also be helpful to use the child as a leader with lower levels in this situation (e.g. going down to read to younger children or helping teach PE in a lower level). This supports the validation of the child’s strengths and also helps build their self-efficacy. This in turn can support their peer relationships as they build confidence. Again, ensure that this is negotiated – gifted children don’t come to school to teach others all day.

Answered by Brooke Trenwith (edited for publication)

Q9: What is the difference between a gifted programme and enrichment?

In very basic terms, a gifted programme should meet Passow’s criteria:

  • Could every child do it?

  • Would every child want to do it?

  • Should every child to do it?

If the answer is yes to any of these questions then it is not a gifted programme.

Gifted programmes need to meet the individual learning, social and emotional needs of that particular child. This is best achieved through a Personalised Learning Plan and while it does sometimes include withdrawal, the majority is done through differentiation in their regular classroom. Please see the attached Differentiation Toolbox for support on qualitative classroom differentiation.

Answered by Brooke Trenwith (edited for publication)

Differentiation toolbox.

PDF, 1.67 MB


How do you respond to a parent who believes their child is not being challenged enough, even though you offer them a differentiated programme with extension activities, and are doing all you can to share your time to support all the children in your class?

Sounds like it is an issue of intent vs impact. You are intending to be more challenging but it may be missing the mark despite your good intentions.

What data are you basing the differentiation on? E.g. if it is a maths PAT and they are Stanine 9 for their age level then you have hit the ceiling of the test and need to above level test. You are looking for around Stanine 6 to ensure challenge in the work.

I have worked with a Year 4 who, after above level testing, got Stanine 9 on the Year 10 PAT. Even though the teacher was doing their best to differentiate Year 4 Stanine 9 work, they were not in the “Goldilocks Zone” (or the zone of proximal development; not too easy, not too hard). So their good intent was not having an impact.

Parents talking about their kids needing more challenge is not a criticism of the teacher, it just means that parents and teachers need to work together to identify the learning, social and emotional needs and find strategies to meet these (which, I agree is massive with the number of kids in the class). One of the easiest ways to differentiate is to give two choices of work to the whole class and then offer “if you want to do it differently, come and see me”. This shares power in a culturally responsive way and allows the student to develop agency.