There are various social understandings of giftedness that influence the way the term is used, but it can be used broadly to refer to individuals who demonstrate high ability across a wide range of learning areas, or narrowly to refer to high ability in specific learning domains. Gifted and talented individuals are found across all social groups, irrespective of culture, ethnicity, socioeconomic status, and physical and cognitive learning differences. A useful definition of giftedness for schools uses the term ‘gifted’ to refer to the potentialto perform highly in one or more domains when compared with same-aged peers, while ‘talent’ refers to actual performance of exceptional ability.
Teachers are likely to encounter a number of gifted and talented students during their careers. In New Zealand, the Ministry of Education promotes a multidimensional view of giftedness and talent but does not provide a national definition. It is important for schools and teachers to develop shared understandings of giftedness and talent to support consistent school-wide approaches to identifying and providing for gifted and talented students. Where gifted students are not identified or are not given specific programmes of study that meet their academic needs, they are at risk of achieving not only below their potential but also below the level of lower ability peers.
There is a growing body of evidence to demonstrate that gifted students need differentiated programmes involving appropriate levels of challenge in order to meet their potential and be successful at school. Research also demonstrates that gifted students benefit from being taught by teachers with specialist training in gifted education and from the opportunity to work with other gifted students. There is also researchconducted in New Zealand schools that confirms that many teachers feel unable to confidently recognise and appropriately provide for gifted learners.
While specialist training in gifted education is recommended, there are a number of strategies and approaches that can be employed in schools and individual classrooms to support gifted and talented students. Developing shared school-wide understandings of the terms ‘gifted’ and ‘talented’, and using multiple methods of assessment to identify giftedness are an excellent place to start. It is also important to give careful consideration to the kinds of specialist programmes that are offered, as a single ‘gifted’ programme will not serve the needs of all gifted students. In the classroom, pre-assessing prior knowledge and offering high-ability students the most difficult problems or tasks first will help teachers to identify gifted students and gain an idea of how to design appropriate tasks and programmes. Gifted students often have areas or subjects of particular interest, so teachers can leverage these high-interest areas to get gifted students engaged in their schoolwork. It is also important to encourage gifted students to take responsible risks, as they are often perfectionists and may be reluctant to try new activities or explore new content areas.
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