There are so many myths about giftedness, gifted learners and gifted education in general that it's sometimes hard to know where to start, so I'm going to start with a very personal post which is all about my journey in gifted education - and it may just surprise some people.
WHAT I BELIEVED
When I was training to be a teacher in the late 1990s, we received very little in the way of learning about any aspect of gifted education. In fact, the common mantra seemed to be in line with the image below and we were taught to believe that we could meet all of our learners' varying needs in our own classrooms and learning environments. Honestly, do a search of this message and it's everywhere - even on coffee mugs! And it still persists today. Did I also believe this? Absolutely I did!
The word 'differentiation' became the catch-cry through which we could ensure that all learners' needs were met. This is great and does work to a certain extent, as long as there has been extensive professional learning and development (PLD) around it. How many of us can honestly say that we have received that?
I spent a lot of time learning about differentiation in my own time. My learners and I always planned our learning together - at the beginning using the old separate curriculum documents and later on when the revised New Zealand Curriculum came out in 2007. My learners were engaged, owned their learning and, according to the data and my observations, they were all progressing very well and thriving in the learning environment. Something was still bugging me though about the learners I could see who were standing out for so many different and unique reasons. Something wasn't gelling with me in my observations.
Yes, I was extending those students who stood out in a traditional academic way, but this was always enrichment at the same level - it wasn't acceleration which is still a bone of contention in education circles. (For more information on this, click here). I started to question whether this was actually extending them at all - or challenging them enough. I also started to notice as a new teacher that there were students who amazed me with their thinking and their creativity who didn't really fit the mould of being academically talented - we didn't use the word gifted because, as in the photo above, this was not really something that existed according to the powers that be. The belief that you always took all learners horizontally across the curriculum level, never to the next level, was so strongly entrenched that you didn't really question it - until you could see that learners were switching off. And what of the learners who were not in the so-called academically talented group - how were they being extended and was it really all about how successful you were in what was valued the most?
Habits of Mind was always a foundation of learning in my classrooms from Day 1 and I started to question what I was doing the more we engaged with the concepts in this philosophy. The more discussions we had, the more certain learners outside the traditional realm of what was judged to be talented, stood out. I needed to make sure that I was meeting their needs. I continued to question my practice and my beliefs around the word and concept of 'gifted'.
In the early 2000s I was fortunate enough to teach in an intermediate school that had a withdrawal programme for learners identified as gifted. This was really the start of me questioning my practice - why did we need a withdrawal programme when my classroom environment should be enough? What was I not able to do in the classroom? The more I experienced what was happening in this programme and the more open I was to learning, and the more I could see how much this programme meant to the learners involved, how it was changing their attitude to school and learning. The most important knowledge - I could see how powerful this programme was, how powerful and important it was for learners to be able to connect with like minds. You can read about this in the Aotearoa New Zealand context here. I began to learn from the learners about what worked for them. I also learned so much from the teachers who were leading the programme. My practice and thinking started to change dramatically and I wanted to know and learn more.
In the mid-2000s I was lucky enough to attend a session on gifted education with one of the authors of the paper in the previous link. This was run by the now New Zealand Centre for Gifted Education. While I had started to read and learn about gifted education, I still had the residual of the mindset that "I'm a qualified teacher and I should be able to meet all learners' needs in my classroom." These sessions opened my eyes even further and raised my awareness to the point where there was no way I wasn't going to start questioning what we were doing to meet the needs of our gifted learners - and gifted learners absolutely do exist and they are often not your academic stand-outs. If you want to read more on this, check out "Gifted Children Do Exist - Here's What Happens When We Deny It."
|From: Not So Formulaic|
It was also about this time that the concept of Student Voice was gaining traction. I had always planned with my learners but how much voice did they actually have and were they just being compliant or were they really engaged and owning their learning? There were so many questions I had around this, especially as I began to question my beliefs around giftedness.
I read Clarity in the Classroom and this was a real turning point, particularly in using the power of student voice to change my practice.
Being honest and reflective in our practice and acknowledging that we can't meet all of our learners' individual needs in our learning environments without adaptation and flexibility is not a sign of weakness or failure as a teacher - it's a sign of strength and reflection and it shows strong advocacy for our learners, particularly as we find the best way to meet their needs. It shows that we understand their individual needs and will do whatever it takes to meet those needs. It is always, always about our learners.
- Challenge your thinking around giftedness and gifted education - it's a matter of equity for our learners. Gifted learners matter as much as those who have learning difficulties - in fact some of our gifted learners can be found in these groups - they are our twice- or multi-exceptional learners.
- Join in discussions and join groups focused on gifted education and be open to ideas and conversations. You could join Gifted and Talented Teachers (NZ) which is the group I started.
- Be aware of the research and other publications out there. Giftedness is backed by evidence. It is not elitist or the domain of 'pushy parents.'
- Have a look at some of the ways you can celebrate your gifted students - not just this week but throughout the year. Some ideas can be found here, and here.
- Know what to look for - identification is key to their success and engagement as learners.
- Be open to using STEAM, Passion Projects, Problem/Project Based Learning and Genius Hour as ways to meet the needs of your gifted students.
- Understand what true differentiation looks like and how it can be used to meet learners' needs.
- Know that our gifted students need depth and complexity.
Above all... be open to the ideas and evidence that gifted learners exist and it's a matter of equity that their needs are met. Don't be afraid to be a Lone Nut or First Follower...