Identification of Gifted and Talented

This post is part 2 of the outline of my study into catering for students with higher abilities. Although my focus has been on differentiation within the inclusive classroom, it has become obvious that I need to consider the Australian Curriculum and what it states about the importance of student diversity. In light of this, I am also considering the means of providing appropriate programs for these students, and as the title suggests, a process of identification of students.

The Melbourne Declaration on Education in 2008 stated that:

Goal 1: Australian schooling promotes equity and excellence.

Goal 2: All young Australians become successful learners, confident and creative individuals and active and informed citizens.

It is from this that the Australian Curriculum makes comment about Student Diversity.

Gifted and talented students are entitled to rigorous, relevant and engaging learning opportunities drawn from the Australian Curriculum and aligned with their individual learning needs, strengths, interests and goals.

I have come to the conclusion that whilst a differentiated classroom will go some way to helping many of these students, there are some students for whom it is necessary to work individually with. A program which blends support for teachers in providing a differentiated classroom and developing individualised, ‘relevant and engaging’ learning programs for the students is an important part of a school’s provision of a broad education.

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Gathering valid information is important in the process of identifying students who are gifted and talented as opposed to the compliant and hard-working students who get everything done to quality standard. Parents are an important and oft-ignored source of information. It can be easy to dismiss parents as being overly self-promoting but parents do know their children very well because they are constantly comparing their child with others they see. Another step is consulting with teachers by using a checklist. This can be analysed to determine the level of giftedness as observed in the classroom. Students are also a useful point of reference. They can give feedback about others in the class and nominate students for programs, or they can self-nominate. The final mine of information comes from the objective assessments that can be undertaken by students. They are not necessarily definitive but provide an objective guide which can be useful in fine-tuning the identification process and they are also a good starting point in narrowing down the specific areas of giftedness of students.

The Association of Independent Schools in South Australia have a number of useful and important resources to assist schools with the provision of a relevant curriculum for these students.

You can access a free learning module online from the University of NSW through GERRIC. The module booklet also includes identification resources and a comprehensive list of testing tools.

Not all gifted students perform well in the school system – ‘Gifted and Talented Education Module 2’ (Caroline Merrick & Ruth Targett)

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As part of the development of our professional knowledge, our college staff have been granted a day to work on our research project. This is our second full day, along with the staff meetings we have been given to work on our own research. This is a summary of some reading I have undertaken.

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Reading – Chapter 12 ‘Differentiated Instruction’

My major question is, how can differentiation be developed and supported with a school staff to enable students of higher ability to continue to flourish? This has come about because of the developing focus on reducing external classes for gifted and talented students, both through staffing and financial pressures, as well as encouragement that it is actually a preferable way to operate with students identified in this way (in schools taking on the IB PYP I have observed this to be the case).

What Tomlinson has to say in this chapter is that differentiation is “…the adaptations in content, process, product, affect and learning environment in response to student readiness … interests and learning profile … to ensure appropriate challenge and support for the full range of learners in the classroom.”

What the research appears to show is that even short-term differentiation has a positive impact on reading achievement (a Columbia study is cited) across ability levels compared to non-differentiated classrooms. However, Tomlinson states that there is little research which shows how differentiated classroom instruction compares with extension and gifted programs in student achievement. It is probably a given that unless there is a financial will, withdrawal programs for students of higher ability will be an exception rather that a rule.

Students who are ‘ready’ to progress further in their learning may already have the prior knowledge and understandings in relation to the learning intention of the class, or may develop that readiness during the learning time.

Interest based differentiation is the promotion of their own development of questions which are intrinsically motivating for them. For those students with a narrow focus of interest (for example with just football or Minecraft) it is to provide contextual interest such as applying to real life, novelty or connection with past experiences.

The learning profile can include student preferences of learning style or intelligence, gender (although the research tends not to support positive impact for this conclusively) or cultural impacts. It is the innate or external environmental drivers of learning for the student.

Differentiation should be pre-planned and intentional and this is where the difference can be made in schools. Leadership is the main agent to support any change required in teacher practice. There is much that education researchers such as Fullan, Hargreaves and Starratt, among many others, say about fostering long term, positive change in schools. The question leaders should be asking is

What is the actual practice of differentiation in the school? If there is no differentiation, why? Is it because it is not needed, or that staff are not sure how?

Links research by Tomlinson and others:

Differentiating Instruction in response to Student Readiness, Interest, and Learning Profile in Academically Diverse Classrooms

Differentiation of Instruction in Elementary Grades