Gifted Learners

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Key components of effective support for gifted learners

This website is structured around the five key components described in Gifted and Talented Students: Meeting Their Needs in New Zealand Schools (2012).

How to navigate this website

Emeritus Professor Roger Moltzen provides a commentary for readers to easily understand how information is located in this website. Roger is well regarded for his contribution to research and advocacy in gifted education in Aotearoa New Zealand and internationally.

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Last year the University of Waikato, Institute of Professional Learning was contracted by the Ministry of Education to review, and latterly revise, the gifted and talented community on Te Kete Ipurangi or TKI.

The review started with an expert advisory group reviewing the existing website and making recommendations that would sharpen its focus and enhance its effectiveness.

While acknowledging the value of much of what existed, the advisory group was of the view that it contained too much material and that the site suffered from trying to cater to too many audiences. There was unanimous agreement across the group that the primary focus should be teachers, schools, kura and early childhood education settings. It was also agreed that the most appropriate framework to guide the development of the new website was the publication Gifted and Talented Students: Meeting their Needs in New Zealand Schools. This guide, commonly referred to as the Gifted and Talented Handbook was first published by the Ministry of Education in 2000, and updated as an online resource in 2011.

Consistent with the Handbook, the website gives primacy to New Zealand perspectives, but still acknowledges international research and evidence of best practice. Foundational to a New Zealand perspective, is an honouring of Te Tiriti o Waitangi and a commitment to culturally responsive practices that put students at the heart of teaching and learning, and to curriculum and approaches that engage and challenge each and every learner.

The 5 rings used in the handbook (Concept, Characteristics, Identification, Programmes and Self review) have been built upon and modified in the website. The 5 rings have been renamed and are consolidated to three tabs on the web site: ‘Define and Identify’, ‘Design and Implement’ and ‘Responsive Practice’.

Key components of the website

Roger Moltzen explains the intent of each of the three sections ‘define and identify’, ‘design and implement’ and ‘responsive practice’

The website reflects the high level of autonomy and independence that New Zealand schools, kura and early childhood settings enjoy. This means both the Handbook and the website offer guidance rather than direction. It could be argued that this places gifted and talented students at risk, as we know from repeated research findings that to the uninformed, this group are often viewed as those most likely to make it on their own and thus a low priority when it comes to considering any special provision. However, it is important to remember that, while there exists considerable flexibility in how giftedness and talent is defined and how learning and teaching for this group is designed and delivered, dedicated provisions for gifted and talented learners is ‘not’ optional but in fact, is mandated as part of New Zealand’s National Administration Guidelines.

As noted earlier, the website is divided into three broad sections. There is a logical sequence and progression to the sections and the sub sections and schools, kura and early childhood settings starting out would be well advised to work as a staff and community through these in the order presented.

The first section Define and Identify looks at concepts and definitions of giftedness and talent; characteristic of gifted and talented learners, and approaches to identifying behaviours considered to characterise these learners. For me, there are three important principles embodied in this section. The first is a recognition that giftedness and talent is culturally constructed and how it is defined can shift over time and differ from one context to another. The second principle is an acknowledgement of the developmental nature of giftedness and talent and the fact that special abilities emerge at different times and under different circumstances. This signals the importance of identification as an ongoing rather than as a single point in time practice as well as providing multiple and diverse opportunities for learners to demonstrate exceptional ability.

And thirdly, the individuality of gifted and talented learners is emphasised and while sets of characteristics associated with giftedness and talent are presented, these should never be viewed as prescriptive profiles. Within this group, there are those who may not immediately present as having exceptional or potential ability, including those who also have a disability or special need, those whose profound ability or social and emotional development makes peer relationships extremely challenging, and those whose creative abilities tend to marginalise them, particularly in contexts where conformity is highly valued.

Section 2 – Design and Implement looks at responsive learning environments and again, while some of the principles transcend educational contexts, how these are developed into practice may differ from one school/kura/early childhood context to another. In New Zealand we have three curriculum documents; Te Whariki, Te Marautanga and The New Zealand Curriculum that when interpreted appropriately, lends itself to differentiation for gifted and talented learners.

Section 3 - Responsive practice looks at ways in which ākonga/students can be supported in practice, for example, through personalised learning plans, also looks at tracking achievement and progress and successful transitions. This section introduces specific approaches and strategies which reflect effective practice in meeting the needs of gifted and talented learners

One of the most neglected areas in gifted and talented education seems to be the evaluation of programmes and provisions. Schools, kura and early childhood settings are encouraged to commit to a process of systematic review and improvement rather than ad hoc and intuitive processes or approaches.

Finally, this website should be reviewed as a work in progress. All those that have given of their time to contribute to its development have done so with the end goal of contributing to improved educational experiences for our gifted and talented learners. While the website provides guidance, teachers would be well advised to explore resources and advice beyond what exists here. The country has many accredited and experienced gifted and talented professional development facilitators available to support schools in their quest for excellence in gifted and talented education.

No reira tena koutou, tena koutou, tena koutou katoa.