Nurturing the potential of gifted and talented students

It is an exciting time in education as we aim to prepare our students for life in a rapidly changing society. 21st century schools are going through evolutionary processes where traditional teaching and learning principles of content driven, teacher-directed curriculums, are undergoing radical changes as schools adopt technological and thinking-driven cultures. These new cultures lead to thinking students and ultimately thinking futures – the embodiment of what gifted and talented students desire and need in education. This is emphasised by Shavinina, (2009) in her reflections of what we, as educators, need to be striving for in gifted and talented education and that is: “education being not as knowledge transfer but as development of people’s intellectual and creative abilities and that the quality of education should focus attention on the actualization on development of its citizens intellectual and creative resources.” (p.1191)

This constitutes a powerful calling to educators of gifted and talented students when designing curriculum options. As educators, we need to embrace the challenges in using the breadth and depth of enrichment and extension options, so we maximise the potential of our gifted and talented students for the future and ‘what can be’.

Characteristics of gifted and talented children

Gifted and talented children comprise unique characteristics and needs which are fundamental in moulding the building blocks of good extension and enrichment options.

Silverman, (1993), Gross, Macleod & Pretorius, (2007), VanTassel-Baska, (1998) and Hall, (1983), highlight many characteristics and needs that gifted and talented students display, such as: intellectual curiosity, rapid learning rate, analytical thinking, divergent thinking and creativity, heightened levels of curiosity, wide variety of interests, and independence.

Silverman, (1993) highlights that these characteristics and needs can vary because of the differing nature which exists in intellectual levels, specific abilities and degree of mental activity. Being conversant with and possessing a rich understanding of the characteristics and needs of gifted and talented learners is integral in the process of appropriate and effective curriculum design. Thus, informing and matching the learning experiences appropriate to the individual needs of the gifted learner in accordance with their level of talent area and interests.

Essentially there are three fundamental differences in gifted learners, which Van Tassel-Baska (1988) identifies as:

  • the capacity to learn at faster rates.
  • the capacity to find, solve and act on problems more readily.
  • the capacity to manipulate abstract ideas and make connections.
    (Cited in Gross, Macleod & Pretorius, 2007, p.11)

What do gifted and talented children need that differs from the regular curriculum?

Whilst gifted children differ within their characteristics and needs, a rich and suitably designed curriculum must emphasise time for in-depth exploration, manipulation of ideas and questions requiring higher-order thinking and acceleration options where applicable. Suitable and appropriate extension and enrichment must contain a degree of quality and quantity in the breadth and depth of learning experiences. It must contain curriculum design, that is a right and proper fit for each individual or groups of students who warrant enrichment and extension options to maximise learning experiences and explore potential.

Enrichment and extension programs must offer a plethora of opportunities that are suitably created for students to open the door upon their learning and exposes gifted students to ‘the world’ and all it has to offer.

Opportunities must include:

  • The pursuit of individual interests.
  • Open-ended tasks, projects which incorporate multidisciplinary units of work, higher-levels of problem solving with links to experts and global issues.
  • Foreign studies.
  • Advanced programs and individual programs in all subject areas.
  • The opportunity to compact and/or set their own curriculum and accelerate their learning in their own time and pace.
  • The ability to move beyond the core curriculum.
  • Advanced research skills.
  • Presentation of work using multiple sources and the presentation of findings in a multitude of ways.
  • Flexibility in learning and the ability to direct their own learning.
  • Have mentors and learning that involves real, creative and critical thinking which gives intellectual growth, stimulation, rigor, innovation and challenging learning.

Appropriate extension and enrichment involves appropriate content, process, product and learning environment modifications, that include faster pacing, more variety, open-endedness, greater complexity, transformation, real problems and audiences, (Maker, 2004). It should transform the role of a student from a ‘learner of lessons to one of first-hand enquirers’. In other words, good enrichment becomes a ‘learning centered pedagogy’. (Renzulli & Reis p.1221, 2009).

Enrichment in practice

St Andrew’s Anglican College, in Peregian Springs on the Sunshine Coast, is a school that values all opportunities to fully embrace the breadth and depth of enrichment and extension options, for their students to maximise the potential of gifted and talented students.

In recognising the importance of this area the school has two highly qualified Gifted and Talented specialist teachers in both Primary and Secondary, both with a master’s degree in Gifted and Talented Education. Students are provided with many opportunities including: Primary Extension Withdrawal Program in English and Mathematics, Acceleration and Grade Skip options, Extension classes in Secondary, Individual Education Programs, Mentorships and many amazing programs such as Tournament of Minds, Future Problem Solving, Community Problem Solving, da Vinci Decathlon, Robotics, Australian Mathematics Competition, Mathematical Olympiads, Gifted and Talented camps and specialised days, Writing Competitions, Aspiring Authors, Kidpreneur, Australian STEM Video Game Challenge, Academy Conferences, Days of Excellence, University Programs … the list goes on.

St Andrew’s Anglican College also caters for the gifts and talents of their students through innovative programs such as Walker Learning, Innovation and Enterprise, Enrichment classes and the provision of Talent Development Programs.

Ultimately it is important for all schools to be active in truly nurturing the potential of all gifted and talented students, now and for the future.

By Jillian Green, Head of Thinking Skills
Extension and Enrichment Coordinator at St Andrew’s Anglican College and Director of Kids College Queensland.

Written by kidsonthecoast

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