There are few of us working in gifted education in New Zealand who cannot attribute some part of what we have learnt about teaching the gifted to Rosemary Cathcart. Rosemary founded the George Parkyn Centre (now The Gifted Education Centre), and more recently the REACH Educational Consultancy. We have read Rosemary’s books, we have taught by her REACH model, we have attended her courses and conference, and many of our children have benefited from educational provisions that existed solely or partially because of her work. It is a great privilege, then, to host what I believe is Rosemary’s first ever blog post.
Watching the various questions and comments that have come up on the listservs since Mary and Kate got the ball rolling, one thing that has struck me very forcibly is just how perennial the questions are. They are still very much the same questions that I’ve been hearing from teachers for thirty years. Of course the first reason for that is that they are GOOD questions. They are about things teachers really need to know. It’s very positive that teachers are identifying these key issues.
But if we’re interested in this topic, surely we should be asking, how come it’s STILL necessary for teachers to be asking these same questions? The research knowledge and the experience are out there. How come teachers don’t have it?
Actually we all know the answer to this question. Most teachers still emerge from pre-service training with very limited knowledge of gifted learners (if any), and even once in the classroom, access to comprehensive, research-based professional development is still restricted by both availability and funding, a situation made worse by the abolition of the handful of advisors in this field.
Thus the real challenge for teachers is not the gifted learners themselves, it’s getting good quality advice on how to recognise, understand and cater for them. For far too many teachers, working with gifted learners is still assumed to be difficult, complicated and enormously time-consuming, out of all proportion to their actual numbers in the class, when the reality is that working with these children can be enormous fun, very refreshing, and capable of giving a lift to all one’s planning.
In this Gifted Awareness Week, therefore, let’s take up this challenge and demand better support for advice and professional development related to gifted learners – and also, let’s think a bit about exactly what we’re asking for.
That’s another question that, for me at least, is prompted by reading the messages on the listservs. These are clearly valuable, not least because it’s so uplifting to see just how many people are out there now showing real interest in the welfare of these children. The whole concept of sharing and being part of a network is very rewarding and a dramatic change from the situation as it used to be. The discussions are interesting. However, let’s be realistic too. Some of the answers I’ve seen have been imaginative, exciting and sound in terms of the research, but some other responses, as Pearl Naulder noted, have been worryingly uninformed and sometimes very misleading. Listservs can put people in touch with each other, generate lively and useful discussion, and provide for sharing of ideas. Listservs can’t provide the opportunity for the in-depth reading, thinking and guided practice that should be part of quality professional development and that is necessary to developing the ability to judge the ideas and approaches one may encounter. Both are part of our growth as teachers.
So what could we advocate for? Some suggestions:
- Restoring the advisors but ensuring that there are nationally applied and relevant criteria for their appointment
- Using existing expertise in the field to develop a well-grounded and standardised component for inclusion in pre-service teacher education
- Setting up a quality assurance process accessible by small providers of professional development – at present NZQA is generally too expensive and too time-consuming for any but the major institutions, which means that some providers who in fact have little real expertise are offering workshops and courses of limited or poor value, potentially leading to poor choices by schools
- Some funding support for professional development programmes which can demonstrate merit. Hopefully without being egotistical I can include our own REACH education online course there, on the basis of feedback from teachers who’ve taken it over the past six years: without funding support it’s not easy to reach out and let teachers know that a course like this is available, and it’s not always easy for teachers themselves to afford such programmes.
Meanwhile, let’s keep the listserv debates going!
This photo is cropped from a larger image by Flickr member Flickr.Junkie, and has attribution, non-commercial and share alike licenses.