Sunday, 7 July 2013

Gifted & Talented: Failing & Troubled.

Hello! First and foremost, I'd like to apologise for not posting on this blog for nearly six months; it's been a hard year so far plagued with illness and misfortune and it's left my confidence re. teaching at a bit of a low. However, in the last few weeks, I've felt my spark returning after securing a new job and having so many supporters coming out of the woodwork. It's been a fantastic few weeks and I'm super excited about September now!

Earlier this year, I was asked to represent my department in terms of the school's Gifted & Talented provision. I'll be honest, what with everything that's gone on this year, it slipped further and further down my To Do list. However, I have been conducting research and have found it to be a fascinating subject. It is startling how little provision appears to be properly in place for these children and how little we understand them as individuals and their needs.

The bottom line is that we, as educators, do not understand what it means to make strong provision for gifted and talented children. Firstly, it is important to recognise that 'gifted' is generally a term attached to those who are academically accomplished, whereas 'talented' refers to those who are musically, physically and creatively able. However, whilst these terms have been used to describe whole groups of children who fit into these categories, it is hugely important to note that these children are all individuals and cannot be provided for under generic policies. Ofsted state that, in terms of gifted and talented educating, the best schools are those who create personalised provision for students' needs and who develop a unique policy to handle this. They also comment that a significant number of schools are not only coming up with generic policies which are just bastardised from either the LEA or other local schools, but that it would seem the vast majority of educators are completely unaware of WHAT a gifted and talented child is, and HOW to provide for them.

There are a number of fallacies concerning the G&T child which teachers tend to fall for, myself included. The main one being that these children will succeed and learn regardless of what input the teacher makes. That's not to say that we aren't trying because of course we are, but it is also our responsibility to ensure that every child reaches their potential. We are exceptional at making sure that the lowest end of students' needs is being met but it seems that many schools are failing to do that for the top end of students. Whilst it is fair to say that the gifted child can absorb learning from nearly anywhere - one document going so far as to say they get it even from the air - but the simple fact remains that this does not mean that they are able to fully reach their potential without the guidance and support of teachers, like every other child in the classroom. If they were, we'd be out of a job - it's not just about the passing on of knowledge; it's about supporting students to learn to learn as well. It is fair to say that these children will do well, most of the time, but they cannot possibly reach their full potential and therein lies the difference.

Another is the idea that gifted and talented children will come from 'nice' families where education is prized and personal development is encouraged. However, in this day and age where we rely heavily on data analysis and damning reports like the Fischer Family Trust, it is important to recognise that not every intelligent person has come from superior beginnings. One example which really caught my attention was Lisa Simpson: she is both gifted and talented - her academic achievements are astounding and her musical talent borders on the prodigious and yet she comes from a family where her father is of low intelligence, her mother lacks real life experience, and her siblings don't display any greater than average intelligence; even her school provision is extremely poor. However, she endeavours to prosper nonetheless. Not all gifted children will be able to do this; many will lack the confidence to even recognise their strengths and often their behaviour can suffer in school as a result. They are often bored, restless, restricted and frustrated by the confines of the curriculum. Ken Robinson cites the example of the little girl whose school felt had ADHD but, with some support, grew up to become one of the world's greatest ballerinas - her energy was because she had a physical intelligence (Gardner) and it wasn't being catered to.

In short, schools are massively missing out on working with these kids whose abilities can actively help to raise results across the board; if the teacher is tapping into their talent and challenging the whole class as a result, then it's not just the G&T kids who benefit. Many schools currently have G&T school trips and see this as their main provision whereas, in practice, these kids need constant reinforcement in every lesson of every day.

I'll be working really hard to improve my own practice now that I've made this realisation. I've always attempted to do my best for the brighter kids but I see where my failings have been now. I'll be posting updates about mine and the kids' progress on here. I'm hoping that I'll be updating more often again too; lots of new, exciting things on the horizon!!

Thanks for reading!

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