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Including the Gifted: Professionals Praise Plan

Including the Gifted: Professionals Praise Learning Support Plan

Specialist educators in gifted education have been waiting over a decade for the government’s promise of giftedness being identified and provided for as a special educational need. In 2005, the National Administration Guidelines mandated all schools in New Zealand to respond to giftedness as a special need, yet research and ERO reviews consistently showed that schools were failing to do so.

Research in New Zealand, last funded by the Ministry in 2004, showed a strong preference for working with gifted students in their regular classrooms, yet, their learning progress has likely been stifled by low expectations, set by assessment systems like National Standards and lack of opportunity to work with like-minded peers, due to funding cuts for specialist programmes.

The Draft Disability and Learning Support Action Plan, released on Friday, could change this situation for gifted learners through universal screening for giftedness, which would contribute to a central database.

Dr. Nadine Ballam, co-chair of The Professional Association for Gifted Education, and a Senior Lecturer at the University of Waikato, explains that, “The Ministry has not collected data on gifted students, making it difficult for teachers to monitor and track their progress, and impossible for researchers to state with any certainty how many of our students in New Zealand classrooms are gifted.”

The Draft Plan includes gifted students in its proposed overhaul of a school system that is not fully inclusive. “This plan proposes a step change that will place New Zealand amongst a small number of countries, like Scotland, that acknowledge the special needs of gifted students, as part of a fully inclusive education system,” says Massey University’s Dean, Research, Tracy Riley, who is serving as Secretary of the World Council for Gifted and Talented Children.

Teachers in all classrooms engage with gifted students, who have abilities and qualities beyond those of other kids, in academic, creative, social, cultural and physical domains. Research shows that most gifted learners are identified formally by teachers in schools, but, as Dr. Ballam explains, “Most teacher education programs and professional learning do not include specialist knowledge on gifted characteristics - like advanced knowledge, rapid pace of learning, deep concern for social issues, and a quirky humour- and without this knowledge, it is likely teachers will not identify giftedness.”

“We are pleased that the Ministry intends to grow teacher capability to identify and provide for giftedness, and, hopeful, that will include advanced opportunities for in-depth teacher learning,” says giftEDnz co-chair and doctoral student researcher, Justine Hughes, who is actively creating an online community of practice using social media.

The association is supporting its members, who are professionals in gifted education working in all sectors, as teachers, school leaders, researchers, and educational psychologists, to share evidence-based practices, research and policies, to inform the consultation process which closes on 31 October. Through social media, Ms Hughes, says, “We are facilitating online chats on Twitter, information sharing and discussions on Facebook around key themes to inform our member submissions, and launching a new, fully interactive website this month.”

Associate Professor Riley says, “Along with a sense of optimism, this is a great time for critical discussion and debate amongst professionals. In my 22 year career as an academic in this field, the debate around whether we should include gifted in special education or not has never been resolved. Perhaps now is the time to include our gifted.”

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