Guest blogger, Associate Professor Tracy Riley of Massey University, is all for busting a few myths.
Who You Gonna’ Call? MythBusters!
Today I feel like I need to get out my mythbuster suit and be a super heroine! Is there some sort of myth-bubble blowing type of machine out there generating all sorts of, well, how shall I describe it … allegory, fabrication, fiction, or illusion about gifted and talented learners? I need a proton-pack, a hand-held wand connected to a backpack-sized particle accelerator.
A Proton Pack is not a toy. – Dr Egon Spengler, Ghostbusters
Advocates for gifted and talented education need a strong evidence base upon which to bust the myths we are faced with every day. You will be familiar with the myths about gifted and talented learners being the crème de la crème, able to achieve and succeed without intervention, every parent’s dream.
Today I have been battling against the idea that gifted and talented learners are not a priority (or perhaps even included) in our Government’s educational focus:
… lifting achievement across the education system and, in particular, addressing system failure of learners who are Māori, Pasifika, have special education needs, and/or are from low socio-economic backgrounds (The Hon Hekia Parata, 2012)
It seems to me that if the aim is to raise student achievement, surely, we must recognise that gifted and talented learners may in fact be amongst those underachieving?
Wouldn’t the strengths based approaches in gifted and talented education which identify broad and wide ranging abilities and qualities in all learners, including Māori, Pasifika and special needs, as advocated by the Ministry of Education (2000), go some way towards the aim of raising student achievement?
There are several myths and misunderstandings being perpetuated in this current way of thinking:
- All gifted and talented learners achieve in the New Zealand schooling system.
- To be gifted and talented is limited to narrow concepts of ability.
- Māori and Pasifika children cannot possibly be gifted and talented.
- To be gifted and talented means one cannot also have disabilities, and, similarly, to have a disability means one cannot be gifted and talented.
- Gifted and talented education is the concern of a small handful of specialist teachers, not all educators.
Until gifted and talented students, regardless of culture, are a priority in New Zealand, and data is collected by the Ministry of Education about their identification and provisions, we won’t be able to provide the statistics – the sort of categorical, league table evidence this Government so desires – to change these myths!
There’s something very important I forgot to tell you! Don’t cross the streams… It would be bad… Try to imagine all life as you know it stopping instantaneously and every molecule in your body exploding at the speed of light. – Dr Egon Spengler
Perhaps the only way to accelerate progress for gifted and talented learners is to collect the evidence ourselves. Nearly a decade ago, a Massey University research team conducted a nationwide study on the extent and nature of identification and provisions for gifted and talented learners. This research showed a growing awareness of the need to provide for gifted and talented learners, but a huge need for growth and development in terms of identification and provisions.
Yesterday a replication of that study was launched, in hopes of determining areas of progress over the last decade, as well as areas in need of further development (see the Massey University website). Results will be released early next year and ready for sharing with our international colleagues and friends at the 2013 World Council Conference. More importantly, it is hoped this research can inform policy and practice in New Zealand. The survey probes:
- Coordination of gifted and talented provisions
- Identification across all areas of ability
- Provisions across a continuum of opportunities beginning in all classrooms, schoolwide, and in the community
- Policies and procedures
- Enablers, barriers, and developments in the field
Wow, it’s getting crowded in there and these readings point to something big on the horizon. – Dr Egon Spengler
This research may go some way towards mythbusting, but how it is shared will be important in addressing the other issues we face:
- There is a lack of empirical research in New Zealand investigating practices with gifted and talented students.
- While this is growing and developing, the dissemination of research is hindered, I believe, by a lack of opportunity and “know how” – developed systematically by mentors – for emerging researchers.
- Access to research is often restricted by teachers’ time and skills – how does one read and interpret research or resolve contradictions between or across research findings?
- What criteria or standards do we use for judging practices for gifted and talented students in New Zealand? What are we looking for? How do we make decisions about adopting or adapting – or even dismissing! – identification and provisions in gifted and talented education?
I think research does have a role to play in shifting practices for more equitable opportunities and outcomes for our gifted and talented learners, and busting those myths. We each have a role to play in shaping practices through facilitating, disseminating, and supporting research, in its broadest sense. I believe with research we can bust some myths! And, furthermore, that through research we can leave an indelible mark upon the professionals who work with and support gifted and talented learners.
I ain’t afraid of no myth! Are you?