Who decides what giftedness is?

WCGTC logoNew Zealand may have lost a World Conference on Gifted and Talented Children, but Kentucky and technology has kept those of us unable to attend this one very well connected. It was just like being there ‘in person’ (ahem, she coughs), as I listened with passion to Roland Perrson’s Keynote address –

“Who decides what giftedness is? On the dilemma of researching and educating the gifted mind.”

So much better to hear his words, than to have to wait for the printed versions later.

To me, the biggest take-home (even though I am already at home!) had to be –

  1. We in leadership need to adapt more to the traits of our gifted scholars, those of risk-taking, setting things straight, not being afraid to challenge the status quo, question established traditions (some ideas from Winner, 1996) and challenge current knowledge monopolies, if we are to make a difference.

Are we ready to become more like those we advocate for? Or are we there already, and people find it hard to work with and accept our passionate personality type?

This last question also relates to the second ‘take-home’ from his address.

  1. To be in a place of influence, people must first adopt, conform and prove loyal to the dominant knowledge monopolies and their influential leaders; their allegiance must be proven before they are rewarded. Many of our gifted would find the sort of compromise needed an almost insurmountable challenge, given their traits identified in number 1 above!

This gets to the very heart of the acceptance of giftedness and following on from this, the funding of education provisions that will promote it. I agree with Roland, that their potential contribution to the global economy, to solving global problems, and meeting their own specific needs are important.  I love his comment, with regard to new threats in synthetic biology, nanotechnology, machine intelligence, and manipulation of genetic structure (Bostrum, in press):

“Will this human error become human terror?”

Roland (from Sweden) identified two problems that cause gifted education to suffer with problems of theory, implementation, and worldwide recognition, namely:

  1. Dogmatism ( a closed mind, characterised by stubborn refusal to acknowledge truth; a wilful irrationality leading to unsound thinking; something that can contribute tremendously to survival), and
  2. Frequent failure to recognise human nature (and take it into account in research and application).

Roland makes a great case for why this is so (you will have to listen to his speech here) but I want to look at the ability of creative gifted people to compromise, or work within the status quo.

I believe policy makers may want the ‘intellectual profit’ from our gifted population, but only if they can fit into their predetermined goals. Roland reminded us that Galileo was imprisoned for his scholarly opposition, and today the same sorts of ‘opposing scholars’ (read here, our creative gifted individuals) might also be viewed with antagonism if they are not conforming to societal expectations. As Roland reminds us, gifted often refuse to accept that which does not conform to their own logic, conviction, or insight. Their conclusions often don’t coincide with the dominant knowledge economies and therefore they may experience challenges with cooperation or eventually, continued employment. If this is the case, I wonder if there is a ceiling placed on funding ‘general education’ for the gifted and talented, but avenues outside this that government can selectively fund to promote their own ideologies.

This shouldn’t be, and probably hints at scepticism. But, Roland’s address also hinted at scepticism and Big Brother tactics, and I think realistically, we need to consider everything that might be causing a disjunction for our gifted and talented. We need to BE the change our gifted population needs; we need to encourage them to know this themselves and be their own best advocates. But, we will make more inroads if we can work with the system than fight against it. Roland spoke of Clickenbeard (2007) encouraging educators to increasingly emphasise the economic benefits of their work when interacting with policy makers to be listened to.

Funding in industry follows economic benefits – in the absence of any other form of economic benefit analysis in education, we now have National Standards! As educators, we need to be accountable for our work with the children – scary as it might sound to some. Others who have worked outside of education know only too well what accountability looks like. It is a reasonable expectation that we will be measured against some sort of goal. We would be listened to better if we were offering targets for our gifted education goals to be measured against, not just rebelling against the pre-set standards. Pro-activeness, like shown in our recent Gifted Awareness campaign is a great step forward. Encouraging our gifted students to advocate for themselves is huge!

Roland Persson started with the question, “Who decides what giftedness is?” The New Zealand Education Ministry has left that to us, to every community, to decide it for themselves. Let’s keep the momentum rolling and support those members of our gifted education organisations, advisory services, special interest groups, public and private organisations, and anyone like me, who just simply believes in gifted education and wants to see the best for our gifted kids, so they cope well into their gifted adulthood.

Roll on Odense in 2015! Saving my pennies already.


Bostrom,  N.  (2013).  Existential  risk  prevention  as  global  priority.  Global  Policy,  in  press.

Perrson, R.S. (2013). Who decides what giftedness is? On the dilemma of researching and educating the gifted mind. Keynote address at the 20th World Conference of Gifted and Talented Children, 10-14 August, 2013, Louisville, Kentucky, USA.

Winner,  E.  (1996).  Gifted  children.  Myths  and  realities.  New  York:  Basic  Books.

What all teachers in regular classrooms can do for the gifted … # 1

gifted education blog
Making learning different and meaningful for all.

Teachers often think they just haven’t got time to differentiate the curriculum for gifted students. They may not use these exact words, but they look at all the other things they have to report on each week, and doing something extra on top of that for a small minority is beyond them. Besides, if they don’t really have training in teaching gifted students, what should they do?

Here are a few things that could be done in the regular classroom that would help gifted students and not hinder the rest of the class along the way. And it won’t take too much extra time, but will probably save you much stress and time in the long term. It is the start of an ongoing set of ideas especially helpful when getting started with meeting the needs of gifted children in the regular classroom.

  1. Accept there are gifted students, even if you don’t know what they should look like. If a parent tells you their child is gifted, it is usually not out of pride or bragging. It is because they have lived 24/7 with this child for their entire life, and they know there is something different about the way they think and do life. Being accepted as they are is one of the best things you can do for a gifted student, and it doesn’t take you any time at all, short of a thank you or a smile when parents offer you advice that might help you with their child.
  2. Think about what sort of investigations could be done at a deeper level right at the planning stage. This is the time you should be thinking about your gifted students, not just when they finish early or start to cause you challenges in the classroom lessons. Just as you have to think about ESOL or physical disabilities when you are planning, so you should consider how what you are planning will affect the child who might already know what you are planning to introduce to everyone in your classroom.
  3. Use labels  and practices that will not alienate your gifted child from their peers. If you say “Extra for experts” you imply that only those who complete the task at hand are experts, and worthy of a greater challenge. Gifted students are worthy of a challenge all the time, as is every student in the classroom. If they already know what is being taught, they should not have to repeat it just to earn an extra challenge. Try finding out what level each child is at before you start a topic; pretest, or maybe challenge them with the “Five most difficult first” strategy. If anyone is already familiar with the difficult level, then they should have an advanced level made available to them, or something that will challenge them to apply this knowledge in a new way.
  4. Choice is paramount for gifted students. This involves being flexible in what you will accept as an outcome that displays what the student has learned. It might be negotiated individually with the gifted student, or be part of a whole class choice system. Having a variety of products based on learning preferences, or Bloom’s taxonomy, or The Six Thinking Hats, or allowing a different context for a standard problem will accommodate the needs of gifted students to work on meaningful tasks that they are passionate about.
  5. Have a variety of question starters at all levels of thinking displayed prominently in the classroom to provide the opportunity to “differentiate on the spot” when challenged by a student needing something extra “now”. Ask the student to reword a topic with a particular question starter, or decide it yourself.   Useful starters are … In what ways could you…? Thinking about this from the …’s point of view, how else could you …? Show how many different ways it might be possible to …? From your experience, how has this helped you …? If you are not very creative, ask someone else in the school who is, or brainstorm some good question starters at your next syndicate or staff meeting.
  6. Ask your gifted students what they are interested in – it could be Antarctica, Roald Dahl books, Science Fiction, trains, aliens, or anything that they can sit and learn about for hours. Try to incorporate these passions into the curriculum they do at least once a term. Ask them a question about it at least once a week. Give them a smile at least once a day, especially when you see them reading or hear them talking about their favourite topic.

Try these six ideas out over the next few weeks, or whenever the time is appropriate, and let me know how you get on.

Mother’s Day 2013

Yes – we love our Mothers here in New Zealand. Out come the chocolates…the brunches…the special dinners…the flowers! Well, for some of us, anyway. I have to say I was very blessed with my family taking me to lunch – even if I did have to pay for my son, who yet again, had lost his EftPos card!

Yeah … Right!!! So the Tui commercial says!

Mothers have had the grace given to them to birth and nurture and bring forth into the world. What an awesome privilege. And it is not only our biological mothers I am referring to here. There are many wonderful women who have not had the pleasure of giving birth to their own children, but who, in many other ways, have helped in the raising of young people. Do we really, I mean, Really! appreciate our mothers? Continue reading “Mother’s Day 2013”

Global Scaremongering

We have had a wonderfully hot summer in New Zealand, since Christmas. Yes, I realise it has hurt many who depend on the rainfall to keep drought conditions at bay, but it could have been worse if we didn’t have the last two wet months of 2012; I think a lot have forgotten that.

The media have had a field day with our long, hot summer, again offering doom and gloom and prophecies of the negative effects of the planet warming. The earliest mention of global warming I have come across is from a newspaper published the year I was born, 1959, which was found in the wall cavity of an old bungalow I was renovating with my husband in 2004. It talked then of the dire consequences we were to experience then, that are yet to take place to the full extent they predicted half a century ago. Continue reading “Global Scaremongering”

Light No Fires!!

Cooking over an open fire in the village

I laughed the other night when I deciphered from a Samoan tv news article that there was a total fire ban in Samoa. I mean – what are the people supposed to do? Most village people cook their food over an open fire! What would a total fire ban be, if you were still allowed to light a fire for cooking? Too many questions. But, I still see umu smoke rising on a Sunday, so I guess they are not going hungry.

But the reason for the fire ban is obvious – there is a drought here. Water is scarce, especially on Savaii, and parts of Upolu. Our own area, up in the Aleisa hills overlooking Apia, that gets its fair share of rain clouds, has had poor water supply since we have been here – and that is nearly four months now. We were told there would be a new sub-main down our road once the budgets had been approved, because they were out of 2″ pipes until after the new financial year started in August. Well, hello, it’s October, and no sign of our pipe yet!

We started with connecting into a half inch PVC pipe supplying the non-resident neighbour – who occasionally filled the water tanks for the cattle. Being downhill from us, it meant we could go without water for a day as he called by in the morning to turn the tap on, and returned later in the evening to turn it off – if we were lucky. But that was in the deal, so we got a few water barrels and made do with what we had.

When this even dried up for days because of the narrow pipe,  we tapped into the other neighbour’s 3/4 inch pipe and had a more regular supply. That became infrequent as the water authority turned the pressure down during the early part of the week, needing us to buy a pump just to get it up to the header tanks on the roof. It was always available at least once during the week to get the whites ready for church on Sundays – so we made sure to build our higher usage around the days the water flowed.

Somehow I have managed to produce a crop of over 500 tomatoes and 25 sweetcorn off the land, and beans coming out our ears! Another crop of tomatoes that made very poor growth to start with have now leaped into life with more regular watering. The pineapples continue to grow despite the lack of water, as do the staple crops of taro and taamu.

So, I will light no fires, as I am told to do. (Except my gas cooker and mossie zappers, right?) But I will still see smoke arising from around the village next Sunday, as always.



Gifted Awareness Week New Zealand

This week coming New Zealand is hosting its annual Gifted Awareness Week – a time when we hope to reach more eyes and ears in an effort to alert the general population to this special group of people in our community – the “gifted”. In many ways they have been prone to losing the use of their gifts or having their uniqueness shunned through general ignorance of those around them. Continue reading “Gifted Awareness Week New Zealand”

The 5.75 Questions You’ve Been Avoiding – by Michael Bungay Stanier

This got me thinking – it was just an interlude that started to challenge my ‘procrastinating’ personality. Watch the short video – The 5.75 Questions You’ve Been Avoiding – by Michael Bungay Stanier and ask yourself if the .75 question is numbered correctly! Is it only worth .75, or should it really have been entitled the “5 and 100 questions”? Continue reading “The 5.75 Questions You’ve Been Avoiding – by Michael Bungay Stanier”

Questioning … the art of encouraging thinking

Often teachers feel overwhelmed at the thought of trying to meet the needs of all the different students in their classroom. They think they have to have 26 different plans – one for each child in the class. I don’t think even our super-human teachers could carry that on for too long.

The ministry wants us to personalise the learning for each of the students. Continue reading “Questioning … the art of encouraging thinking”