To the true heroes and heroines of Gifted Awareness Week

Guest blogger Rosemary Cathcart is well known to the gifted education community in New Zealand. Rosemary was the founder of the One Day School, and is the director of REACH Education.

I’d like to dedicate my post for Gifted Awareness Week to parents – to the countless Mums and Dads who struggle so hard on behalf of their little ones, who so often encounter disbelief and put-downs, and who are so rarely the focus of our attention and praise.

FromRosemaryCIt’s continuously fascinating but not an easy job, being the parent of a little mind and imagination running on supercharge. There’s the endless search for knowledge (“Mummy, where does time come from?” “Um – I’ll tell you tomorrow”), the unexpected forays into scientific investigation (“But you said Santa’s reindeers stayed on the roof so I just climbed up to look for their hoof-prints”), and that biological mystery, the complete mismatch between parent and child sleeping requirements. And that’s before they even start school, let alone hit adolescence….

But it’s when parents encounter the rest of the world that life can become very hard. Other parents, neighbours, sometimes even one’s own relatives, can find your parenting experience so far outside their own that they reject it as exaggerating, boastful, wishful thinking, believing yourself or your child to be “superior” to others, and so on. Such attitudes from others are deeply undermining to parent confidence. Add to that the hurt a parent feels for their child when that happy little person at home is the one always left standing alone on the fringe of the group. Not all parents of gifted children experience this, but for those who do, it’s daunting, to say the very least.

And then along comes school. Surely, parents think, teachers will understand. They’ll welcome a child who can already read, has got maths concepts, loves to learn. There is much more likelihood today than there was even twenty years ago that that’s exactly what will happen. But we are a long way from completely winning that battle yet – that’s why we still need Gifted Awareness Week!

But here’s the point. Parents never give up.  Despite disparaging put-downs from other parents, despite the doubts raised about one’s own parenting skills, despite the hurt felt on behalf of one’s child, despite the indifference, sometimes even hostility, of some teachers, despite the lack of teacher training in this field, despite learning programmes and assessment systems which make no real provision for their children, parents never give up. Without parents, we would not have the New Zealand Association for Gifted Children and all that that body has done on behalf of this country’s gifted children. It was a parent who first brought a Minister of the Crown to One Day School, and we got the first Ministry Advisory Group as a result. It was highly articulate parents who packed an election meeting at the George Parkyn Centre, and we got a Ministerial Working Party with many positive outcomes. Individually, sometimes very alone, and collectively, parents make a difference.

So in this Gifted Awareness Week for 2015, let us celebrate the work of those unsung heroes and heroines, the parents, who continue so courageously to support their own child and then the children of others as we strive for caring, understanding and equitable provision for our gifted children.

#NZGAW Blog TourImage Credit: Cathcart Family.

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Guest Blogger, Hon. Chris Hipkins

I am excited to have another political blog in the 2015 #NZGAW Blog Tour so soon. This one comes from Chris Hipkins, who is Member of Parliament for Rimutaka and holder of the Education Portfolio for Labour. Thank you, Chris.Chris_Hipkins_2

In the 1930s, Labour’s first Minister of Education, and subsequent Prime Minister, the Rt Hon Peter Fraser set out a vision for education that is as relevant today as it was then:

“The government’s objective, broadly expressed, is that all persons, whatever their level of ability, whether they live in town or country, have a right as citizens to a free education of the kind for which they are best fitted and to the fullest extent of their powers.”

Fraser realised that we’re all unique, we have different talents and abilities, and we are all entitled to a quality public education that caters for that.

Too many of the contemporary debates about education presume that we’re all the same, that every child will learn the same things at the same times, and that the role of the education system is to turn out ‘standardised’ job-ready workers.

We need to take a far wider and more encompassing view of the role our education system can play than that. Education transforms lives. A great education can be the difference between a life of disadvantage and a life of happiness and prosperity.

By focussing our entire education system on ensuring that every child jumps over an arbitrary set of standards at a particular age the current government are selling our kids short.

Any child who isn’t achieving to their full potential is under achieving, and that means that gifted kids who are well ahead of the class could still be “under-achievers” if they aren’t being challenged and extended.

The Labour Party recognises the great diversity that exists within our education system. We want every child to be supported to achieve their individual and unique potential. We don’t need to spend more time constantly assessing and measuring, we know what needs to be done, let’s get on and do it.

Labour will re-establish the Gifted and Talented Advisory Board to advise on best practice and advocate on behalf of gifted kids. They will be given a ring-fenced budget for research and will be supported by a dedicated unit within the Ministry of Education.

We will also ring-fence funding for specific professional development programmes for teachers that are aimed at better supporting the needs of gifted learners, and we will restore funding for specific programmes like MindPlus.

Labour has a proven track record when it comes to supporting programmes for gifted and talented students, and we intend to pick up where we left off.

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Guest Blogger, Hon. Tracey Martin

Our first political blog in the 2015 #NZGAW Blog Tour comes from Tracey Martin, whose many hats include Member of Parliament and holder of the Education Portfolio for New Zealand First. Thank you, Tracey.

TraceyMartinMPGifted and Talented is part of common education speak these days. But what does it actually mean? For me, for New Zealand First, what does Gifted and Talented inside of education mean?

We believe that every child is talented. A talent is something that one does well and often we do it well without even thinking about it. Take me for example – one of the most common statements to my parents during my school years was – “She certainly has the gift of the gab!” So talking has always been my talent. For a good number of those school years it may not have been recognised as a positive talent but it is in many ways this talent that got me to where I am today – a Member of Parliament for New Zealand First. That and a natural resilience.

So if every child is talented is the current education system geared up to recognise and support that talent?

If we agree that every child is talented, at something, then at the end of their formative years they should walk away knowing that they have a talent – talking, running, art, reading, math – it doesn’t really matter what as long as they feel pride in knowing it exists. A talent in one area can compensate for a struggle in another.

But then you have some children, some students, NZAGC reports 5 in 100, who are gifted. Sometimes it just doesn’t feel much like a gift going on some of the conversations I have had with gifted students and their parents. Much of this negativity is created by an inability of schools to appropriately identify and then deliver for these students.

For some time New Zealand First has been concerned that the Ministry of Education does not require nor collect data around the numbers of students who schools have identified as being in the top academic band or who have been identified as Gifted. Combine this with the narrowing of the curriculum to a focus on numeracy and literacy and the removal of the “well above” target in National Standards leads us to conclude only one thing. We have to conclude that this government doesn’t understand that it has a responsibility to commit to raising the achievement of students at both ends of the learning continuum, i.e., special needs and gifted and talented.

Often, because these students are literate and numerate with committed parents, the universal attitude can be dismissive with a “they will be fine” response when concerns are raised. But as research has shown us often these students are not fine. They are lonely. They are frustrated. They give up on formal education and act out to gain attention. What a loss to us as a nation that these children are not being assisted to reach their full potential.

New Zealand First believes early identification is key to assisting these children and their families become the best they can be. That is why we want to work with educators and families to establish a pilot programme, in partnership with the early childhood education sector, for the collection and analysis of school entry baseline evidence to target staffing and resourcing to meet both support and extension on a needs basis.

But just to identify is not enough. How will we continue to deliver and engage these students, both the gifted and the talented, in their academic lives?

We believe that the only way to truly deliver for these students is to establish tagged funding for student extension and enrichment. And this would be alongside the establishment of nationwide teacher professional development and funding support for high ability and gifted students.

This tagged funding could be used to release specific teachers to create personalised programmes for specific students. It could be used to fund onsite academies such as Science Academies, Performing Acts Academies, Maths, English, Sporting – where each area of gift or talent can be nourished and grown.

But more than that we would like to look at establishing Primary and Secondary Scholarships to cover costs such as MindPlus. If the Ministry of Education can dual fund secondary students to attend both high school and trade academies why is this not possible much earlier in the educational journey and why is it not available to gifted students?

The theme for Gifted Awareness Week this year is “changing the way you see us”. I hope that we don’t – my wish for each gifted and talented child is that “we see you” as you are. That we see you and challenge you and nurture you in the specific ways you need to be your best. I have hope that in the not too distant future, with the right policy settings, that this is not only possible it will become the norm.

#NZGAW Blog TourImage Credit: New Zealand First.

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Creativity and Recreativity

Creativity is a buzzword, both in business and in education. This kind of alignment of school and workplace values doesn’t happen as often as a novice might expect, so it is definitely a situation which educators should make the most of. But before we increase the focus on creativity in the classroom, we need to know what it means. In a recent #gtchat on Twitter, we discussed creative thinking, and I defined it as follows:

Creative thinking means generation, synthesis or refinement of ideas in ways which are unusual or interesting.

This was generally well received, and the generation of new and refined ideas and solutions is a key aspect of progress in any field. Students should all have the opportunity to learn about this kind of creative thinking, and to practise it often and well. Gifted students can go further, developing an understanding of what creative practice means within their domains of interest, as well as exploring which ways of approaching their work enhance their own creative productivity the most.

This kind of creativity, however, is definitely work. Often, it is the aspect of our work we love the most, but it is still work. The most perfectionistic and driven of our gifted children routinely work until they are very tired. In the interests of promoting self-care and work-life balance, I believe it is important to make time for “recreativity” in the classroom, too.

Creativity as recreation, because the work of rebuilding ourselves and our energy matters, too!

Creativity as recreation, because the work of rebuilding ourselves and our energy matters, too!

By recreativity, I mean hands on and joyful creation of “stuff”, whether original or not, in a way which may involve some learning, but is primarily lots of fun. Recreation. This kind of creativity relaxes children and recharges their batteries, ready for the next lot of serious learning.  Gifted children have a reputation for intensity, and while intensities often empower, they can also overwhelm. We could worry about this, of course, and pathologise it, but short breaks in the goal-driven intensity of our classrooms are often sufficient to keep the children’s personal intensities manifesting in positive ways.

So please provide all the opportunities for creativity you can in your classroom, but balance it with a little recreativity as well. What’s more, if you are reading this as a gifted adult and sense the need for a little recreativity of your own, make sure to check out Brilliant Chaos, a Facebook group where creativity and recreativity are shared

#NZGAW Blog TourImage Credit: The polyhedron construction image is by Flickr member Derek Bruff, and has attribution and noncommercial licenses.

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What the Tui Tells Me


A former student is not finding writing easy at present. However, he is an amazing young advocate for gifted education, and for many other good causes, so he wrote the words above, and he was pretty sure they wouldn’t be good enough. I have asked his permission to share them anyway, because I feel that these words are a profound metaphor for dual exceptionality.

This is what the tui tells me:

Twice exceptional (2e) students seldom experience the classroom as a place of relevance, acceptance or belonging.

Twice exceptional students see what they have to offer as being as out of place as birdsong in a classroom.

However, what twice exceptional students do have to offer will always be something we have no hesitation in admiring in an appropriate environment. Who among us does not enjoy birdsong outdoors?

The tui is such an apt choice for the metaphor. The sound of the word (which is just like 2e, for overseas readers) makes it work at first, but we can dig deeper.

In the video above, if you watch the tui singing, you will probably notice its beak moving silently at times. It is still singing! It can sing notes which most of us cannot appreciate, because they are beyond our range. This reminds me that we must gather data from many sources to appreciate just what our twice exceptional students can do. Our usual range of observations is likely to let us down. It is worth noting that this tui’s family can hear all the notes he sings.

A tui is also an excellent mimic. They have been known to copy referees’ whistles, telephones, the sounds of power tools, and the songs of other birds. While this has great entertainment value, we probably love tui best of all when they are just being tui, and singing tui songs. Do we send this same message to our 2e students, or do we require them to mimic other students in our classrooms, while failing to value their true selves?

Have you ever watched tui fly? The straight line, which we are told the crow flies, holds little interest for them. When tui fly for fun, they are iridescent, aerobatic speed machines. They take risks, wheel and dive, and experience flight to the fullest. Do we stand beside our 2e students as they aspire to lives which embody this kind of vibrant fullness?

It’s high time we did.

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Credits: The tui image is the work of a former student who chooses not be named. The embedded video is by Tony Palmer.

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Chalk, Cheese, and a Connected Community of Learners.

ShareWriteEvery Friday evening, my working week ends on a high note. On Fridays, I chat with the GO Storymakers. This is an amazing group of young people, some of whom I have known for a number of years, despite having never met them. One of my puzzles of practice as a teacher is just why this group gels so well. I have chosen to write about this because creating online courses is now becoming commonplace, but I believe that creating real communities of online learners is still a rarity.

I have shared this group, more than any of my other online groups of students, with another teacher, Wendy. I am increasingly convinced that having done so is part of the key to this group’s success. Wendy and I, you see, manage to be kindred spirits as well as being chalk and cheese. Our strengths are different and complimentary, but our philosophy of education is very much the same. Our long-standing Storymakers have seen us pop in and out of each other’s chat sessions and have brief collegial conversations with each other.

In doing so, we have modelled online sharing of work and friendship, and being the people we are, we have each been open about the ways in which the other has inspired us, right there in chat with our students. When we acknowledged the inspiration of each other’s different approach, we found a very authentic way to give our students permission to think divergently and to value differences.

We modelled seeking feedback, too, by asking each other to check over work we had produced for the students. “Why is that good teaching?” you may ask. We showed that having a go, however imperfect, is a necessary first step to getting the job done on time, even when one’s brave first attempt is visible to a peer. We also showed that seeking feedback to allow refinement is a positive action, not a form of defeat, and is just as normal and natural online as it is face-to-face.

Even though Wendy is not currently working with the Storymakers, she is still part of the GO whanau, and we still benefit enormously from the collaborative culture created by the team teaching which included her wonderful work. Thank you, Wendy Van Belle!

The GO Storymakers also have a community of parents. Parents do not always attend chats, but there is a virtual “open door”, so if they are near their child at the computer, they don’t need to pretend not to be there. Their constant warm support, their creative contributions to our conversations, and the excellent questions they ask at times, all help to enrich our virtual community of learners. Thank you, parents!

However, the Storymakers themselves never cease to amaze me. As individuals, they are creative. They show sustained commitment to their creativity, with several having been with us for a number of years. They trust each other sufficiently to take risks in their writing (or their story creation in other media). They acknowledge each other freely as sources of inspiration. They are unfailingly welcoming to the efforts of others, whether young and inexperienced, or having a bad writer’s block day. But somehow the whole is even greater than the sum of the parts. They have a creative synergy together which is subtly different from the ways in which they are individually creative. I have the privilege, every week, of seeing the interplay of these two kinds of creativity, and I love it. Thank you, GO Storymakers!

Online community is important for the adults who nurture gifted children too, so I will finish by acknowledging the #gtchat community on Twitter and the members of my Facebook group, Mary’s Gifted Contacts. These groups have sometimes confirmed and sometimes challenged my understandings of creativity and giftedness. They have shared everything from personal accounts to informative new research, bringing ideas from different nations and different paradigms. They are my Personal Learning Network, and have modelled many aspects of virtual community to me, in ways which have in turn benefitted my students. Thank you, PLN!

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Image Credit: The connected learners image is my own work.

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My Mind is Full of Stars

Hamilton MindPlus students were asked to express, in very few words, what gifted children want from teachers, and what they value as learners. What they wrote was the high point of my day, and I hope you’ll love it just as much.

You’ve come to the right place to find chantable slogans for Gifted Awareness Week:
Top teacher time makes tons of fun. Hamish.
Gifted kids want to learn, learn, learn. Niamh.
Gifted kids, gifted kids, need fun teachers. Conor.
Gifted kids like to learn, explore, do. Hamish.
Learners want fun school, please, please, please! Jackson.

Today I learnt that I took the wrong courses in my teacher education, because…
Better teachers always read your mind. Nisha.

Gifted children have some inspiring advice for teachers:
Teach us, but do it right. Isobel.
Gifted students have great expectations – reach them. Leia.
My mind is a lion. Tame it. Isobel.
Leave my mind undomesticated, open and free. Thoughts are endless. Leia.
My mind is full of stars. Make constellations. Isobel.

Gifted children know about the very best teachers:
Our minds are like races. Teachers help us win. Leia.
Good teachers make students go “WOW!!” Jackson.
Teachers excite children with fantastic, brilliant ideas. Niamh.
Gifted kids say, “Cool! Some awesome teachers!” Finn.
Awesome teachers know how to make learning fun. Conor.
Gifted kids’ mums are often their best teachers. Bethan.
Good teachers create chances to make friends. Seb.

Gifted children love to question:
Who taught the sun to be bright? Leia.

Gifted children value fun, challenge and acceptance:
Gifted kids want to feel challenged. By Isobel.
Learning to draw is my favourite new challenge. Seb.
Awesome gifted kids need gifted brains. Nisha.
Gifted kids just really like maths. Bethan.
Learners want excellent learning, and some really yay, yay, yay, fun school. Finn.
Gifted kids want to feel accepted. By Isobel.

And gifted children can write poetic paradox, too:
The universe is a fraction of the mind. Leia.

#NZGAW Blog TourImage Credit: The Jewel Box Cluster image is by the European Southern Observatory, via Wikimedia Commons, and has an attribution license.

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The silencing of the other


Do we avoid becoming the other?

Guest blogger Bexology2 confronts haunting issues about giftedness and difference.

I’m in the middle of my PhD. It’s not about giftedness or even anything to do with education, but rather it centres on urban poverty and food insecurity. I’m reading George Herbert Mead and Mary Douglas and David Sibley and Georg Simmell. I’m thinking around Mead’s notions of ‘the generalised other’ and how we apply them to the poor, considering how Douglas showcases our construction of ‘the other’ as dirty and unclean, learning that Sibley identifies numerous ways in which space and place are utilised in order to exclude, and all these ideas combine in our society today in a variety of ways that work to ostracise and dehumanise and dismiss those who are different.

And we, the gifted, are different. We see the world through unique lenses; we ask too many difficult questions; we refuse to accept pat answers; we persist in challenging the status quo. The world needs people like us to push past what is and to reveal what could be. The world need us to continue to provoke, to ask, to think in new and creative ways, to demand that our society can and does improve in multiple ways.

And yet, it is our very difference that sees us ‘othered’ and ostracised and made fun of and demeaned and dismissed.

I’m not sure what the answer is, or even if there is one. I’m two score years into my three score years and ten, and I’m only just now feeling comfortable in my own skin, including identifying as being gifted. My children too are gifted, but I’m not yet comfortable outing them as such. I know the pain of being the ‘other’ and it’s not a pain that I want to inflict on my (or any!) child. Instead I patiently advocate for their needs, support more vocal voices than mine, and quietly hope that we will become a more inclusive, compassionate society that values each and every one of us for who are, not how well we ‘fit in’ in our desperate attempts to avoid becoming the other.

#NZGAW Blog TourImage Credit: The “other” image is by Flickr member Tyler Wilson, and has attribution, non-commercial and share alike licenses.

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Becoming a Learning Detective

You might need to become a learning detective!

You might need to become a learning detective!

Some of the gifted children I have taught seem to be ‘knowledge detectives’. Not only do they detect new knowledge, but these children seem to do so with a kind of stealth which an undercover cop would be proud of. Parents typically tell me that they have no idea where these children learn what they know, but they certainly know it isn’t coming from them.

“She just soaks up information like a little sponge.”


“He seems to attract information by magnetism.”

Over the years, I have learnt that the more adamant the parent is that the child does not learn from them, the more likely it is that an unspoken second message is also being sent. The second message is a little more concerning than the first. If anyone ever said it out loud, this is what it would be:

“I am quite sure my child isn’t learning from me, because whenever I try to teach anything, my gifted child seems unable or unwilling to learn.”

This situation is both puzzling and distressing for parents. Once the child enters the school system, it is likely that this child is not going to learn the material the school teachers have on offer, either. However, the child will keep learning all sorts of other things, seemingly by stealth.

A typical explanation is that this child is highly selective, even spoilt, and only learns what he or she wants to learn. However, I am fortunate enough to work with a negotiable curriculum. There is a time in each learning session when I can give children permission to learn exactly what they want to learn, and yet these same children are at first unable to use that opportunity to their advantage. I have become convinced that these children do not learn by stealth. They learn by accident. They don’t know when they are learning, or how they learn best, and they cannot decide to learn something and then settle to their task, no matter how interested they are in the subject matter. When they do learn, they learn very well, but the process is not within their control.

The response then, to our “knowledge detectives,” is to become learning detectives. As parents and teachers, we need to become very aware of all the different things which learning can look like, so that we can spot the merest hint of those learning behaviours in these children. Then we need to communicate what we see to the child.

“I can see how your eyes light up when you watch science videos like this one. You are paying close attention and thinking hard. That’s an excellent learning behaviour.”

“I saw how you took that apart, put it back together, and tried it again. You were evaluating the smoothness of the wheel motion, and you made lots of adjustments until you were satisfied with the result. You are teaching yourself a lot about how things work.”

“Look at your book. It’s getting quite worn around the edges. That’s because you have been willing to read it again and again. I bet you learnt a lot that way.”

Some parents also take photographs or videos of their child involved in learning behaviours. Some save fragments of writing, as these children are often reluctant writers, and also write down some of the stories their children tell them orally. In this way, they chronicle their child’s learning journey, creating a body of evidence that learning is occurring which they can discuss with their child. Teachers can and must do some similar things, to the extent which their busy workload allows.

Once we can detect the child’s learning, and can show them some evidence, learning doesn’t need to be a highly effective accident any more. It becomes a set of behaviours which can be recognised, understood, and soon also controlled by the child.

Gifted Awareness Week begins next Monday, on the 15th of June. If you find your child’s learning hard to detect, I challenge you to capture some evidence of learning behaviour this Gifted Awareness Week, and to use that evidence to celebrate his or her learning. Maybe you’d even like to blog about it.

 #NZGAW Blog TourImage Credit: The detective image is by Flickr member olarte.ollie and has attribution and share alike licenses.

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Announcing the #NZGAW Blog Tour, 2015


Let’s make that “Oh yes!!! Here come the bloggers.”

A week from today, we’ll be starting the 5th #NZGAW Blog Tour. Can you believe it? And we do so with grateful thanks to everyone who has ever supported this event, as a blogger, a reader, a commenter, or a sharer of blog posts. Just in case you don’t know what this event is all about, there is some information below. The New Zealand Gifted Awareness Week Blog Tour is an opportunity for you to have your say about being or supporting a gifted child, about gifted education, about support or the lack of it from government, or about the way forward as you see it. Most people write opinion pieces, often as a call to action. One or two have written poems. Some share their research. Young people sometimes share experiences, encouraging others to seek out similar opportunities. Members of Parliament have always contributed in varying numbers, and at least one of them reads a selection of the blogs each year. You’ll probably be able to tell which one, if you read the political posts. If you’d like to contribute this year, here’s what you need to do:

  1. Communicate your intention to participate to Mary St George.
  2. Write something new, especially for the #NZGAW Blog Tour.
  3. Choose a picture which you own or can legally use. Insert this near the top of your post. This is important because most of our readers arrive via Facebook, and pictures make posts more visible on Facebook.
  4. Also use the #NZGAW Blog Tour logo, but put that near the bottom of your post. Otherwise it will appear on Facebook, where our most loyal readers will think, “I don’t need to read that one. I’ve seen it before.”
  5. Publish your post, on your own blog or by emailing it to me, on the day we agree on.
  6. Enjoy your moment of fame, and support other bloggers in theirs, especially the children who contribute.

Please note that no post which shows disrespect to others in gifted education will be linked to the #NZGAW homepage, even if you have a prior agreement to contribute, or if you add the #NZGAW Blog Tour logo. Past blog tours can be visited at the links below:

Thanks in advance for your support of our gifted kids. by participating in whatever way you can.

#NZGAW Blog TourImage credit: The “Here come the bloggers” image is by Flickr member Brett Lider, and has attribution and share alike licenses.

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