Guest blogger Sara Meadows, from the New Zealand Centre for Gifted Education, explores the need for learning opportunities beyond the regular classroom setting.
Gifted Awareness Week – time to find, and use, your inner strength, speed and agility in the cause of supporting gifted learners. However, remember to also access your endurance, for it is not just during this week alone that your abilities will be needed. What will count most is your stamina in your efforts to advocate for, and create the educational and political changes necessary for, gifted learners to thrive. Herewith an equity tale, which may help others to understand why we are keen advocates for fairness and aptness in education, in particular with regards to suitable provisions for gifted learners.
Imagine a Kiwi kid who demonstrates great physical strength, speed, agility or endurance. He or she probably plays in their top school team, and is taught and mentored by the most experienced and dedicated coach available. This coach works to maximise the development of each player’s individual knowledge and skill set, as well as to foster the whole team’s ability to work effectively as a group. Within that team there may be one or two players with extraordinary ability. They train and compete as part of rep teams, with even more skilled and passionate coaches. Depending on their responses to such opportunities, some will go on to play for a national team, noted, applauded, maybe even headlined.
Now, imagine a Kiwi kid who demonstrates great intellectual strength, speed, agility or endurance. If the child is a strong or speedy learner, (and lucky), a teacher or parent may recognise these abilities and work to ensure the child receives enough support and challenge to assist in their development. If unlucky, such ‘muscular’ or ‘energetic’ abilities will remain hidden or atrophy with lack of use.
If the child has the misfortune to be an enduring or agile learner, he or she is likely to be labelled ‘obsessive’, ‘disobedient’, ‘naughty’, or at the very least, ‘cheeky’ or ‘weird’. These gifted children may apparently fail to listen to instructions, or refuse to move on to a new task at the set time, so engrossed in their learning are they. They may argue with peers, or question the status quo or received wisdom, including that of the teacher or school, heaven help them. Many will be never be recognised as intellectually enduring or agile, let alone supported to make active and positive use of such skills.
Most children with a high level of physical aptitude will have their abilities recognised. They will receive opportunities to extend their skills within a group of similarly able students. They will be trained by top tutors in their codes. They will be taught, mentored, challenged, cajoled, supported and encouraged to do their best. And, when they do achieve highly, their talent and performance successes will be recognised with awards, and, more importantly, with public accolades and mana. Hooray!
By contrast, few intellectually-able children will experience this level of support and celebration. Most will be all alone in a mixed ability class, unable to jump, weight-lift, throw, kick, stretch or run to their ability level intellectually, without looking, or being labelled, a misfit or annoying, by their peers or teachers. It will be easier and safer to simply pretend that their strength, speed, endurance or agility is not there, or perhaps to channel that strength and energy into other areas, acceptable or otherwise.
If they are lucky, they will be identified as gifted, as having great potential, (although this is much more difficult to do than with physical abilities). If they are very lucky, they will get to play in a top team, or, more likely, a semi-mixed team, with a small group of gifted students clustered within a regular class. They may or may not have a keen, knowledgeable, skilled teacher as their coach.
However, chances are that such students will never get to play as part of an intellectual rep team. There are such specialist classes available in New Zealand, some face-to-face, some online, but they are not government-funded, so very few of the 5-10% of children who are deemed intellectually-gifted can access them. And without playing at rep level, chances are very slim that these gifted students will manage to retain, let alone develop their knowledge and skills by themselves to the point of being able to play at the national or international level. After all, even a solitary, long-distance runner needs hydration, support, advice on technique and some true competition to achieve a personal best, let alone a win on the track.
How is it we can understand that naturally strong, speedy, agile or enduring athletes will never achieve what they are capable of, if their only experience is playing in an all-abilities, mixed school team, yet we cannot see the parallel with the naturally strong, speedy, agile or enduring learner?
As well as receiving reasonable in-school provision and support, the physically-gifted access outside funding, clubs, training facilities, tutors, coaches, and mentors in developing their abilities to the maximum. The intellectually-gifted, without substantial financial outlay, can only access what schools provide. Unless huge, even the best school cannot offer the equivalent of an intellectual rep or national team, with accompanying specialist teachers, equipment and facilities. In-school provision is essential, but it is also insufficient to meeting all the specialist needs of the 5-10% of children who are gifted.
There is no threat to most of us that some naturally-able people, given the appropriate opportunities, experiences and support, will turn out to be amazing artists, musicians, and sportspeople. We support, admire and applaud their gifts and the talented outcomes of such gifts.
It is time we also accepted that there is no threat to us that some other naturally-able people, given appropriate opportunities, experiences and support, will turn out to be the most amazing thinkers, humanitarians, scientists, writers, mathematicians and inventors. Can we not also support, admire and applaud their gifts and the talented outcomes of these gifts?
Gifted sportspeople provide us with entertaining short-term excitement and performance. Yet gifted intellectuals have the potential to provide us with the strongest (buildings, bridges, laws etc.), fastest (trains, computers, rescues etc.), most agile (solutions of all kinds) and surely the most enduring human achievements imaginable. For our own sakes, (putting aside the need for gifted education for gifted children’s own sakes, another whole story entirely), let’s doggedly and determinedly use our own strength, speed, agility and endurance to lobby educators, politicians and the media on behalf of our special needs gifted learners.
Photo Credit: Image of girl athlete by Flickr member raibaimrheintal. This image has attribution and non-commercial licenses.
Find other #NZGAW Blog Tour posts at ultranet.giftededucation.org.nz/WebSpace/1104/.
You can contribute to gifted awareness by reading, writing or sharing posts. Please also consider talking to a parent, a teacher, a school board member or a principal about giftedness. If at all possible, write to your Member of Parliament.