Gifted and talented students in schools

Dr John Hope (Associate Dean International Programmes, Faculty of Education) presented ‘Gifted and Talented Students in Schools’ at a recent Combining Parenting and a Career Seminar hosted by the University’s Equity Office.

John opened his presentation by differentiating between 'gifted' and 'talented'. Following Gagne’s theory, he defined 'gifted' as a natural ability or innate aptitude which is then developed into 'talent' or unusually high achievement. John explained how gifted and talented students can exhibit any of the following characteristics: in the top 10% at school, have a high IQ (130+), gain outstanding achievements, demonstrate exceptional wisdom, are highly creative, and/or who have a tendency to be behaviourally difficult.

However, as John elucidated, definitions and research on gifted and talented children are largely based on westernised concepts and values.

'Given that a culture’s concept of giftedness is influenced by its beliefs, values, concepts and attitudes, a single definition is unrealistic.' Indeed, John further noted, attempts to create a singular definition can marginalise groups such as gifted Māori children because the Māori concept of giftedness is often non-academic and focuses on humanistic qualities that reflect their customs, values and beliefs.

John recommended a 'multi-method' approach to ascertain whether a child is gifted and talented. Such an approach encourages parents to be aware of how their children respond to certain situations, and to seek out and listen to the opinions of others – including teachers, psychologists and other parents. He explained how some parents want to identify whether their child is gifted and talented so they can best meet their child’s learning needs at home and at school. However, some parents want confirmation of their children’s giftedness for the wrong reasons. “The identification of a gifted and talented child is a means to an end; to benefit the child, not the ego of the parent,” advised John.

He referred to a 2008 Education Review Office (ERO) report which found that 54% of schools lacked effective processes for identifying gifted and talented students. Only 5% of schools were 'highly inclusive' of their gifted and talented students. “There is a lack of special needs funding to support gifted and talented students, unless they exhibit severe behaviour problems,” John said.

John ended his presentation with advice for parents who are choosing a school for gifted and talented children. He suggested that parents visit the school’s website and request copies of the school’s ERO reports and policies on Gifted and Talented students. He also recommended enquiring about the school’s gifted and talented identification strategies and visiting schools to observe their gifted and talented programmes in action.