Making a Difference – A School Policy for Exceptionally Able/Gifted Students

At #gtie on Sunday 18th November, we discussed “Gifted and Talented Policy Choices for Schools”. We are extremely grateful to the specialist educators from around the globe who support us on a regular basis by sharing their experience, expertise and enthusiasm. For this chat, we had contributors from the Netherlands, Australia and the USA.

In very brief summary, it was agreed that, for gifted students, greater teacher awareness is vital so that these students can be recognised and their specific needs, both academic and social/emotional, addressed. For this goal to be effectively reached, a school policy is important. Teachers’ attitude to gifted education is mixed, but becoming more positive where policies exist. A national mandate would go a long way to making gifted education “normal”, as it should be.

The broad conclusion reached was that methods and approaches to teaching and learning which have been the mainstays of gifted education for years, are now being widely advocated as desirable for all students. These include independent learning and problem- based learning (ofter referred to as PBL). This approach changes the culture within a school and makes learning engaging for everyone; student and teacher alike. It raises all boats.

Two Tweets which sum things up nicely are:

  • GT students just need support and for their limits to be removed. Waiting to learn isn’t fair to any kid, anytime, anywhere. Ever. (Krissy Venosdale, specialist G&T teacher, Missouri)
  • I think G&T make very clear what’s lacking in education in general – GT suffer the most maybe. (Minka Dumont, specialist teacher, G&T coordinator and policy-maker, Amsterdam)
To see the full discussion with suggestions for how G&T students can best be supported, here is a “cleaned-up” transcript. The main contributors were:
  • @peter_lydon Peter Lydon, #gtie host, teacher in Dublin, Ireland.
  • @Frazzlld Catherine Riordan, parent in Wicklow, Ireland.
  • @minka_dumont Minka Dumont, teacher and G&T coordinator in Amsterdam, Netherlands.
  • @sboswellhyde Sam Boswell, teacher and G&T coordinator in Perth, Western Australia.
  • @tbbrwn Toby Brown, teacher in Oklahoma, USA.
  • @celinabrennan Celina Brennan, teacher in Washington State, USA.
  • @ktvee Krissy Venosdale, teacher in Missouri, USA.
  • @cybraryman1 Jerry Blumengarten, Retired teacher in Florida, USA

Schools in Ireland as a rule, have NO provision of any kind for exceptionally able/gifted children…starting point…What do parents want for their gifted children- starting from the ground up?

@Frazzlld  I want my children to be accepted for what and who they are, and their quirkiness recognised for what it is.

@tbbrwn: Recognition of ability plus appropriate academic challenges.

@sboswellhyde: Our parents tell us they want rigour, extension & engagement; just finished action research cycle, and renewed planning docs.

@Frazzlld: Oh, you are SO far ahead of us!!

So, schools need Continuing Professional Development (CPD) in giftedness?

@Frazzlld  Without a doubt. Otherwise there is a risk of “misdiagnosis”.

Ok…So I suppose a good place to start is with schools having a policy.

Very few schools in Ireland – I mean VERY FEW schools have a policy – in whole or in part. Here are two schools of which I know which have a policy, but that’s it.

@Frazzlld: Both primary…

 What do you think the minimum provision should be?

@cathydalton: For them to be facilitated in reaching their full potential.

@Frazzlld: When starting from zero, step 1 is understanding giftedness, so kids feel accepted/belong. Classroom provision comes next in my opinion.

So after recognition – what provision should/ could/ ought/ would be nice to be made?

@boswellhyde: Differentiate the learning to meet needs of individuals; it’s our mandate.

Very little training here in differentiation in training colleges, I understand – theory but no technique.

@Frazzlld: G&T kids need to be stretched so they have same chance as others to learn study skills, for a start.

What form should provision take – differentiation within mixed ability, cluster groups, streaming, pull out…..?

@tbbrwn: Ideally it would be multiple forms of identification, teacher Ed prep, + admin & parent support.

Hold on there Toby, still getting my head around ‘what if we have a policy’…!!!!!

@sboswellhyde Provision should ideally be suited to school context; we have clustered delivery across state & tailoring occurs. Choice!

‏@sboswellhyde We have a stream of Gifted & Talented (G&T) centrally-tested students who are catered for as a discrete group; after hours works for state debating!

So, Australia tests all students or those just referred?

@sboswellhyde Everyone who sits the test gets an opportunity to enter the program.

@sboswellhyde top up tests each year to fill seats/ gaps & encourage those identified to have a go!

Is there a mandate that all Australian schools should provide or is it up to schools?

@sboswellhyde: Arts, Media, Engineering, Languages, Fine Arts – whole range. Then there’s one specially selective SCHOOL. Seen as desirable.

For profoundly gifted?

@sboswellhyde: They tend to gravitate toward Perth Modern School – It’s selective- and abilities can potentially be catered for.

The Netherlands has training in giftedness for teachers, is that correct?

@minka_dumont: Yes, correct, several options even…

Is there a mandated provision from govt. or can schools decide to have a policy or not?

@minka_dumont: Govt invests in national initiatives for identification and provision, but no mandate for policies, no.

So, govt clearly supports the idea.

And is that all teachers or just those that choose it?

@minka_dumont: It’s school Boards that choose it for a cluster of schools – or also individual teachers. The topic is quite hot these days though.

@tbbrwn: Should really be nationwide…either GT is promoted or not. That said, we can’t get our states to agree in the US.

@Frazzlld: Ireland is small enough that we should be able to have a National policy…!

Or certainly a national mandate that schools – which are mixed ability – at least look for G&T children.

@Frazzlld: Yeah, mandate is what I meant. But with that, I think some schools would follow and then others would have to. It would be great if the Irish govt came out in clear support of G&T recognition and provision. Would put it up to schools!

@Frazzlld: I like the idea of  Schoolwide Cluster Grouping  But, could it work in Ireland?

Yup..been looking.

@minka_dumont:  Policy should start with the definition of the group the policy is for. Top 2% or a broader approach.

I think top 5 – I could be stretched to top 10 using cluster grouping.

@sboswellhyde: Our state testing identifies top 5%; parallel selection then occurs inside school to cater for those which Teachers identify.

@sboswellhyde: Extension provides choice & range of opportunity: debating, thinking skills, Canberra tour, Olympiads.

@sboswellhyde: The Thinking Science Program from University of Western Australia is very good & promotes Teachers learning with Students.

How do teachers react to gifted policy – or is it just normal?

@sboswellhyde:  Varies; some thrive, others are deniers – hard to sway! Drill & kill mentality anathema.

@minka_dumont: Whole range of reactions – but nowadays MUCH more good will than, say, 5 yrs ago.

@tbbrwn: Should be just normal. We in higher Education need to do better at that.

Do you think G&T raises all boats or just G&T?

@tbbrwn: It raises all boats and promotes creativity, challenges among Teachers
and Students alike.

A happy school is a school that challenges everyone-students, teachers, management and parents to be best they can be for kids.

Who makes sure schools have G&T provision if they say they have?

@minka_dumont: I think G/T make very clear what’s lacking in education in general-GT suffer the most maybe.

Worth pasting that Tweet all over town!

So a G&T policy really allows for an valuable education that benefits everyone.

What content would make for a worthwhile G&T policy?

Should schools just enrich existing curriculum or go further?

@Minka_dumont: I’m a big fan of the Schoolwide Enrichment Model – Renzulli

@tbbrwn: Real-world, Problem Based Learning (PBL) is a good start for instruction.

Should school emphasise STEM for gifted or broader enrichment?

@Frazzlld: I would say broader. Humanities Education Serves as a Toolbox for Life 

@celinabrennan: ..With infusion of the arts…

@Tbbrwn: Steam! Need to include arts & writing.

Right with you Toby-Science and tech without humanities is training, not education. Sadly, geography and history were abolished from core of Junior Cycle reform.

@sboswellhyde: Loving also, the movement towards personal learning – student ownership, direction & self-actualising intent.

Talking my language Sam!

In this case, isn’t there a strong argument for Individual Education Plans (IEP)?

@Frazzlld: In an ideal world…!

@tbbrwn: Technology is making it possible.

@Frazzlld: I believe Educate Together hope to introduce IEPs for all students

So, all Ed Together schools need is some G&T teacher training.

@celinabrennan: Individual learning plans are a current goal of mine for all students…

Do you use a rubric for this or another tool?

@celinabrennan: I’m trying to develop one; currently we meet students where they are within Common Core State Standards (CCSS), set individual goals and conference weekly to adjust their plan.

So, real student-centred education.

@celinabrennan: Yes-definitely student-centered- I have found it essential for students to gather their own evidence towards goals & to articulate their own progress.

@tbbrwn: Still loads of work to do IEPs for all. But laudable, worthwhile goal! Technology helps!

@celinabrennan: I think, first and foremost, we need to put plans in student’s hands.

G&T students are the ultimate independent learners.

@ceinabrennan: Yes, but a growth mindset much be in place first, and confidence built, to establish true independent and authentic self-assessment.

@Frazzlld: But not always of what are expected to learn!

@minla_dumont: But to start-provision for G&T should include drastic UNschooling – rediscover curiosity and interest.

@sboswellhyde: Technology is just a tool, not a driver of change in education; more great opportunities to harness social networking for G&T: People to people International

Seems ‘asking’ for a policy is infra dig – schools should be inclusive, welcoming for those who like to learn.

@ktvee: Definitely need personalized learning for all; inquiry could drive all kids; workbooks need to be boxed up. Real learning = real growth.

@celinabrennan: Which leads to retention and authentic connections… Personalization is so necessary!

@cybraryman1: My Self-Directed Learning and Individualized Learning Programs pages.

Does it cost much to fund school policy?

@sboswellhyde: I get $20 000 per year for programme delivery; 50 students, but I also have time allocation from central. Money is spent on enrichment.

ok…that’s enormous funding!

@minka_dumont: I help schools set up and implement G&T policy – am paid by local politics – so no costs for schools.

Oh wow – that would be SO great here. Imagine that.

It’s clear that G&T provision lifts standards across the board.

@ktvee: It’s ironic that schools are now talking about self-directed learning that’s been in gifted books for years; just need it in action.

Being a G&T teacher really makes you up your game.

@sboswellhyde: Yes! And lifts the school culture – game changer. Love these learners 🙂

@ktvee: GT students just need support and for their limits to be removed. Waiting to learn isn’t fair to any kid, anytime, anywhere. Ever.

What are the implications for G&T students if schools/govt. don’t have a policy?

@ktvee: No policy, it’s simple. Kids get cheated out of a chance to learn and grown. Unless it’s personal to someone in charge.

I guess that creates certain emotional and social issues for child and school.

@ktvee: I sooo want to take a year to teach in a reg.classroom and PROVE that with inquiry and PBL, every kid can be engaged and learn.

@celinabrennan: Collecting evidence for you right now 🙂

@sboswellhyde: We had a chance at our school – 3 years with M.schooling structure & term projects for all delivered by teams. I wrote the tasks! Fun

@minka_dumont: I have thought the same thing! A rising tide does raise all ships!!

@ktvee: Yep, because lowering the tide just grounds some of the ships and they rot… like unused minds. 🙁

@ktvee: I just want kids to love learning everyday, they way they love G&T pull out day; it’s only right.

@celinabrennan: I passionately agree with you. The depth of thinking, sparkle in eyes, endless collaboration – should be an opportunity for all.

@minka_dumont Yeah! Sail! Go with the wind – and find ways to go against it. No anchor! No holds bound! Free to Flow

Coming to a close – any final thought on G&T policy for schools?

@Frazzlld: We have a long way to go, but so much to gain. G&T policies are a no-brainer. They will benefit everyone.

@sboswellhyde: Inclusivity is crucial – see G&T as special needs & provide for them!

@celinabrennan: Always find a way to educate parents and provide resources to support them and their child; we must advocate for our students.

@sboswellhyde: Western Australia Department of Education G&T section.

Sample school policy for Irish schools here. This would need to be tweaked to individual circumstances but it’s a good starting point. If your school is interested in developing a policy and has any questions on this sample, or any other, please email Peter Lydon

by Peter Lydon & Catherine Riordan