Gifted and talented students in Australia – resources and services

Gifted and talented children are characterised by outstanding abilities and potential for high performance. The realisation of these talents however requires differentiated educational intervention and support. With 10% of the student population estimated to be gifted (Gagné, 2015), gifted students can be found in most classrooms. However, in the Australian school system, an estimated 50% of gifted students typically remain unidentified and underachieving, with up to 40% preliminary dropping out (Parliament of Victoria, Education and Training Committee, 2012).

This post provides information on how to identify gifted students, recognise their strengths and needs, and respond with responsive curriculum differentiation and teaching strategies.

Identifying Outstanding Student Potential

“High potential will not be realised if it is not identified or if it goes unrecognized”
Merrotsy, P. (2015, p.256).

The identification of gifted students can be heavily biased by race, socio-economic background and gender (Bousnakis, et al. 2012; Coleman & Shah-Coltrane, 2015). Often, bright students who stand out as “teacher pleasers” are misidentified as gifted, while gifted students become either invisible or show challenging behaviours (Merrotsy, 2015). Gifted students are generally identified by performance in academic achievement tests (e.g. Scholastic Aptitude Test) and cognitive tests (i.e. WISC-V, Stanford-Binet 5). A more integrated approach, such as the ‘Coolabah Dynamic Assessment’ (see Resources GERRIC Module 4, Specialisation), is recommended to identify gifted underperformers (Bousnakis, et al. 2012).

Look out for the following typical characteristics in gifted students:

  • Strong reasoning, knowledge retention and fast processing skills
  • Large vocabulary (sometimes multilingual) and advanced reading interests
  • Ask many questions and display broad knowledge and original, often unusual, thinking
  • Heightened emotional sensitivity, advanced ethical and existential reasoning
  • Discrepant achievement pattern across subjects and between school/after school activities
  • Question authority and can be uncooperative, stubborn, cynical and frustrated
  • Can be disorganised, absent minded, and show low interest in detail

Recognising Students Strengths and Needs

Giftedness is characterised by asynchronous development of chronological, mental and emotional age. Heightened intelligence is just one dimension of gifted children. Dabrowski further mentions the common heightened sensitivities and intense behaviours (Alias, et al. 2013).

Recognise the following strengths and needs of your GS :

  • Intellect – drive to want to learn vs. relentless questioning, the need to understand
  • Psychomotor – increased psychomotor awareness vs. need to engage hands, move body
  • Sensory – susceptibility to touch, sound, smell, light vs. overstimulation
  • Imagination – creativity, making connections vs. need to test unusual approaches
  • Emotions – feeling deeply, moral awareness vs. overwhelmed and existentialist angst

Common barriers to the intellectual and psychological well-being of gifted students include a lack of trust in the educational system and teachers, social pressure from family and peers to blend in (‘forced-choice dilemma’), and disengagement. Often gifted students abilities and needs are not recognised, or only within the context of special learning, social, emotional and behavioural difficulties (invisible and twice exceptional gifted students) (Merrotsy, 2015). The development of a positive, multidimensional self concept is often at the heart of gifted education, in order to develop self-efficacy, engagement and persistence (see Resources SENG webinars).

Educational Intervention Strategies

Appropriate educational intervention is required to support gifted students in developing their potential (Gagne´, 2015, Fig. 1). These include the provision of a challenging, enriched and differentiated curriculum, and a supportive learning environment. Maker’s (2005) updated recommendations on gifted education differentiate four dimensions of curriculum modifications:

  1. Content – frame content in integrated, interdisciplinary ways organised around central ideas and the study of people and arts
  2. Process – accelerated curriculum with emphasis on self-directed learning and discovery, variety and choice, metacognition and complex problem solving skills
  3. Product – encourage working on real problems that require information transformation and results in unique products for real audiences
  4. Environment – provide learning environments rich in resources, encouraging difference vs. conformity, independent vs. teacher-centred learning, physical and psychological flexibility

Online resources for teaching gifted and talented students in Australia

GERRIC – Gifted Education Professional Development Packages for Teachers

Six age-differentiated modules by the Gifted Education Research and Resource Centre, University of New South Wales, including on identification, social and emotional development, underachievement, curriculum differentiation and developing programs and provisions for gifted children

SENG – Supporting the Emotional Needs of the Gifted Webinars

A resource of 90-minute webinars on addressing the emotional needs of GS (for purchase)

Australian Curriculum – Student diversity/ Gifted and talented students Overview

The Australian Curriculum (v8.3) official resource on gifted students including curriculum differentiation, personalised learning example and State and Territory Resources

AAEGT – Resources for teachers

The Australian Association for the Education of the Gifted and Talented resource list for teachers including a link to the “Night of Notables”, a widely-used program catering for gifted children

References

  • Alias, A., Rahman, S., Majid, R. A., & Yassin, S. F. M. (2013). Dabrowski’s overexcitabilities profile among gifted students. Asian Social Science, 9(16), 120-
  • Bousnakis, M., Burns, T., Donnan, L., Hopper, S., Mugavero, G., & Rogers, K. B. (2011). Achievement Integrated Model: Interventions for Gifted Indigenous Underachievers. Giftedness From An Indigenous Perspective 11, 43-77
  • Coleman, M. R., & Shah-Coltrane, S. (2015). Children of Promise: Dr. James Gallagher’s Thoughts on Underrepresentation within Gifted Education. Journal for the Education of the Gifted, 38(1), 70-76.
  • Gagné, F. (2015). Academic talent development programs: a best practices model. Asia Pacific Education Review, 16(2), 281-295.
  • Maker, C. J. (2005). The DISCOVER Project: Improving assessment and curriculum for diverse gifted learners. National Research Center on the Gifted and Talented, University of Connecticut.
  • Merrotsy, P. (2015). Supporting outstanding learners. In A. Ashman (Ed.), Education for inclusion and diversity (pp. 233-264). Pearson Australia.
  • Parliament of Victoria, Education and Training Committee. (2012). Inquiry into the education of gifted and talented students. Parliamentary paper No.108 Session 2010–2012. Victorian Government Printer.

‘Embedding Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Perspectives in Schools’ and the Australian Curriculum

This post first describes the aims and content of the cross-curriculum priority ‘Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander histories and cultures‘ in the Australian Curriculum. It then explores how the Queensland Government framework ‘Embedding Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Perspectives in Schools‘ (EATSIPS) can assist teaching and learning in this space.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Histories and Cultures

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander histories and cultures‘ is one of three cross-curriculum priorities of the Australian Curriculum taught through the subjects disciplines. The cross-curriculum priorities were nominated and adopted by the Council of Education ministers translating the Melbourne Declaration on Educational Goals for Young Australians for the new Australian Curriculum. The aim of this cross-curriculum priority is to include Indigenous Australian perspectives and knowledge into all disciplines where relevant and applicable. On the one hand, this is to help Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students to see themselves better reflected in the national curriculum and become more engaged and empowered in their education. The other important objective is for all Australian students to participate in a process of reconciliation, by developing a deeper understanding of, and more respect for, Indigenous Australian Peoples, cultures, knowledges, beliefs and languages.

Implementing the cross-curriculum priority, there is some Indigenous content prescribed in the curriculum in the format of subject-specific year-level content descriptors, in particular in Humanities and Social Sciences (i.e. HaSS Foundation ACHASSK016, Year 1 ACHASSK032, Year 2 ACHASSK049, Year 3 ACHASSK062, ACHASSK064, ACHASSK066, Year 4 ACHASSK083, ACHASSK086, ACHASSK089, Year 5 ACHASSI099, ACHASSK107, ACHASSK112, Year 6 ACHASSK135, a Depth Study in History Year 10, Geography Year 7 ACHGK041, Year 8 ACHGK049, Year 10 ACHGK072, Civics and Citizenship Year 8 ACHCK064, ACHCK066, and Year 10 ACHCK093, and Economics and Business Year 8 ACHEK028), as well as one content descriptor for every year-level band in all the Arts (increasing to two content descriptors in Secondary School).

However, there are no content descriptor referencing this cross-curriculum priority in English (except for Year 8 ACELT1806), Mathematics, Science, Technologies, Health and Physical Education! In LOTE, there is an optional provision for separate first language, language revival and second language learner pathways for Aboriginal Languages and Torres Strait Islander Languages, and there are Options content descriptors in the Year 9-10 Work Studies. Objectively, the Indigenous cross-curriculum priority is therefore hardly a compulsory part of the core curriculum. However, within all subjects including Mathematics and Science most year levels provide at least one meaningful link and examples to the cross-curriculum priority in one or more elaborations of one or more content descriptors. These elaborations are optional, so teachers can choose whether or not to take up these opportunities to include the cross-curriculum priority in their teaching and learning units. In conclusion, by following the Australian Curriculum schools and classroom teachers are very much on their own in deciding whether or not to include the Indigenous cross-curriculum priority content into their lessons beyond the HaSS and Arts lessons.

The Australian Curriculum icon for Cross-curriculum priority Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander histories and cultures

Embedding Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Perspectives (EATSIPS)

The ‘Embedding Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Perspectives’ (EATSIPS) is a framework initiated by the Queensland Government Reconciliation Action Plan in 2009-2012, with the aim to close the gap between non-Indigenous and Indigenous students’ achievements. The framework comprises three components:

  1. personal reflections
  2. classroom ethos, and
  3. whole-school ethos.

Explicit links to the national curriculum are drawn in four action areas:

  1. curriculum and pedagogy
  2. community engagement
  3. organisational environment, and
  4. professional and personal accountabilities.

In appendix 2, EATS lists strategies for teachers to implement a culturally-appropriate curriculum, and to make the best use of opportunities towards embedding Indigenous knowledges and perspectives in the planning, delivery, assessment, moderation, reporting and evaluation processes. A particularly useful tool to develop measurable goals and gage success in terms of its implementation is a checklist with defined targets. For example, in the curriculum and pedagogy section, the vision includes:

  • culturally appropriate curriculum units connecting to the local area and histories, where possible making Indigenous knowledges and perspectives explicit
  • catering for all learning styles and backgrounds in curriculum delivery and pedagogy
  • celebrating local Indigenous stories, oral traditions and languages
  • critically reviewing teaching and learning resources (e.g. for authenticity, balanced representation, accuracy, exclusion of sacred content), and
  • sharing successes with the community

The Queensland Government EATSIPS framework

Conclusion

In conclusion, the EATSIPS framework provides schools and teachers with practical advice and guidelines towards implementing the opportunities that the Australian Curriculum cross-curriculum priority ‘Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander histories and cultures‘ provides. EATSIPS further extends the curriculum by taking a more holistic approach towards developing culturally-appropriate personal, class and whole-school approaches towards teaching about and for Australian Indigenous Peoples.

EATSIPS implementation checklist with targets

Pedagogical issues related to teaching EAL/D in mainstream classes – annotated bibliography

Australian society is culturally and linguistically diverse, with languages other than English spoken in many homes and communities across the country. As a result, significant numbers of students enter the schooling system learning English as an additional language or dialect (EAL/D). Together with all other students, they are required to develop advanced language and literacy skills to fully participate in the curriculum and engage in increasingly higher-order thinking. The educational goals for Australian students as outlined in the Melbourne Declaration on Educational Goals for Young Australians (Barr et al. 2008) underline the role of teachers in addressing the needs of EAL/D students by requiring all schools to promote equity and excellence, and to empower all students to become successful learners as well as confident, creative, active and informed individuals. The Australian Council of TESOL Associations’ (ACTA) EAL/D elaborations of the Australian Professional Standards for Teachers highlight how pedagogies informed by the needs of EAL/D students play into all three domains of the teaching profession (ACTA, 2015).

Therefore, a review of recent theoretical and empirical research on pedagogical issues as relating to teaching EAL in Australian mainstream classrooms is essential to inform teachers with a better framework and best practices to address EAL/D students’ needs. In the following annotated bibliography I selected and reviewed five important journal articles on this topic:

Dobinson, T. J., & Buchori, S. (2016). Catering for EAL/D students’ language needs in mainstream classes: Early childhood teachers’ perspectives and practices in one Australian setting. Australian Journal of Teacher Education, 41(2), 32–52.

Toni Dobinson, a lecturer with the School of Education at Curtin University, and Sylvia Buchori present a qualitative case study on selected Australian primary teachers’ knowledge and perspectives on catering for EAL/D students in mainstream classes. Reviewing relevant literature, the authors develop the argument that EAL/D students require specific guidance and support in academic subject- matter language acquisition. This includes structured implicit and explicit learning opportunities, appropriate “linguistically responsive” pedagogies (p.35), a multi-lingual mainstream literacy education inclusive of home languages, and teachers that serve language needs rather than act as “teachers of content” (p.36). The research part is based on interviews and class observations of four teachers and illustrates obstacles and well-intended but contra-productive pedagogical pitfalls. These include a lack of meaningful home language provision, strong beliefs on the benefits of monolingual classrooms, linguistically uninformed instruction, exclusive and deficit-focused ability grouping, and little explicit English language scaffolding. As solutions, the authors recommend teaching EAL/D- informed pedagogies to pre-service teachers and increased collaboration between mainstream ‘content teachers’ and specialist EAL/D teachers in the development of unit plans and differentiation strategies. The paper provides useful insights into the practical challenges faced by Australian primary school teachers in addressing EAL/D students’ needs. The authors demonstrate how specific knowledge on how to teach English as a new language is important and illustrate what can go wrong.

While not providing much practical pedagogical advice per se, their conclusion that a change in mindset away from content knowledge-only teachers towards discipline-knowledge and literacy teachers is convincing, and can inform our pedagogical practice in many Australian primary schools.

Gibbons, P. (2008). ‘It was taught good and I learned a lot’: Intellectual practices and ESL learners in the middle years. Australian Journal of Language and Literacy, 31(2), 155–173.

In this much-cited paper, Pauline Gibbons, Adjunct Professor at the University of New South Wales with extensive professional experience teaching and lecturing on EAL/D, makes the case for ‘high challenge, high support’ pedagogies for EAL/D students. She recommends combining an intellectually challenging curriculum with language scaffolding, which is essential to develop academic language and literacy across the curriculum. Based on collaborative research between university staff and primary school teachers in New South Wales, Gibbons sets out to define both the characteristics of intellectually challenging mainstream classrooms and the needs of EAL/D students. Challenging classrooms provide opportunities for students to engage in higher-order thinking with discipline-specific key ideas and concepts. This helps to transfer learned information to new contexts through inquiry-based learning, and to construct individual understanding through active participation and substantive conversations. For EAL/D students, information-transfer exercises, such as accessing and producing meaning from multiple sources of texts, are important but linguistically demanding. Gibbons offers pedagogical advice on how to create a supportive environment for EAL/D students, i.e.:

  • providing students with authentic contexts for collaborative inquiries and problem solving
  • explicit whole text-embedded teacher modelling of registers and genres, and
  • creating opportunities for EAL/D students to practice and contribute, because “[s]tudents learn […] about language in the context of using language” (p.171).

Gibbons provides a useful framework for teaching EAL/D in mainstream classes by highlighting the benefits of pedagogies that provide high cognitive challenges and high levels of differentiated support for all learners. Her approach to focus on EAL/D students’ potential provides a critical non-deficit perspective. While focusing on the bigger picture, however little practical advice and scaffolding strategies on EAL/D are forwarded.

Hammond, J. (2012). Hope and challenge in The Australian Curriculum: Implications for EAL students and their teachers. Australian Journal of Language and Literacy, 35(2), 223-240.

Jennifer Hammond, Director of the former Centre for Language and Literacy, University of Technology Sydney, investigates the Australian Curriculum (AC) from the perspective of how EAL/D students’ needs are explicitly and implicitly recognised, and how specific EAL/D pedagogical approaches are positioned. Hammond first outlines the needs of EAL/D students in relation to the curriculum:

  1. knowledge about language, literacy and language development, i.e. mastery of academic language registers and discipline-specific literacy,
  2. intellectual challenge and ‘deep knowledge’ through high teacher expectations for all students,
  3. planning and implementation of support programs providing required language scaffolding.

Hammond next summarises the hopes and concerns in the AC v3 for EAL/D students and teachers. Hopes are in the rejection of alternative/simplified curricula for EAL/D students, instead targeting equity through high intellectual challenge in mainstream education. A concern is that equity through challenge only works if teachers provide EAL/D students with targeted language and literacy support to access all areas of the curriculum, placing the onus on discipline teachers to also act as language teachers and scaffold for EAL/D students. This responsibility was not made explicit in AC v3, where the development of explicit knowledge about language is primarily placed in English. In the AC v8, literacy is more prominent and as a ‘general capability’ at the core of the national curriculum that needs to be addressed in all learning areas, making pedagogical knowledge around teaching language and literacy an important professional development area for many teachers.

Hammond’s critical review has been influential in emphasising literacy across all areas of the curriculum in later versions of the Australian Curriculum. It also sets the scene for discussing the roles teachers need to fill, and consequently the pedagogies teachers need to explicitly teach language and literacy skills in all learning areas.

Michell, M., & Sharpe, T. (2005). Collective instructional scaffolding in English as a Second Language classrooms. Prospect: An Australian Journal of TESOL, 20(1), 31–58.

This paper complements Hammond and Gibbons’ widely cited paper (2005) based on the same collaborative ESL scaffolding action research project. Michell, writing as Senior Education Officer with DET NSW, develops a contextual, multi-modal model of instructional scaffolding to address linguistic and cultural needs of EAL/D students in mainstream classrooms. The model is grounded in socio-cultural theories incorporating both intellectual (task-enabling support) and social semiotic (language-mediated co-regulation) perspectives, and is informed by the analysis of authentic classroom practice. The intellectual aspect involves instructional scaffolding along the zone of proximal development trajectory, managing task complexity and focus to cognitively challenge the student to learn, while providing the support required. Along this trajectory, support evolves from more explicit modelling towards guidance and allowing the student to take more control. The social semiotic aspect focuses on interactional dialogue providing students with the emotional support to fully participate and persevere, as well as opportunities to advance academic thinking and expression. The analysis of observed instructional scaffolding provides detailed insight into how lead teachers apply and inform the theoretical framework, including the resources they routinely draw on. The authors summarise the contextual pre-requisites for scaffolding.

The paper contributes to the investigation of EAL/D pedagogies by providing a comprehensive and detailed model of scaffolding, informed and illustrated by classroom observations. The promoted approach of collective instructional EAL/D scaffolding is particularly informative and useful in the context of inclusive mainstream school settings in Australia. The paper complements the “network model of scaffolding” approach by Hammond and Gibbons (2005), which highlights scaffolding micro- and macro-level teacher choices.

Windle, J., & Miller, J. (2012). Approaches to teaching low literacy refugee-background students. Australian Journal of Language and Literacy, 35(3), 317-333.

Joel Windle and Jenny Miller, senior researchers at the Faculty of Education, Monash University, investigate the rate of implementation of recent EAL/D pedagogy frameworks by teachers in Victorian secondary schools that receive funding for low-literacy refugee-background (LLRB) students. They look at the explicit teaching of academic language, using students’ prior knowledge and the careful sequencing of learning through phases. Refugee students are an important category of EAL/D students who often lack literacy skills in their first language and have little prior experience of western education. The authors categorise EAL/D pedagogies into five broad categories each with examples of relevant strategies:

  1. scaffolding learners
  2. attention to comprehensible input
  3. direct and explicit teaching of language
  4. focus on metacognitive skills and strategies
  5. focus on critical and creative skills.

The sixty-one teacher participants reported on their routine implementation of those strategies. Accordingly, teachers were more likely to engage in strategies that demanded an active role of themselves (teacher-focused activities) rather than providing students with opportunities to practise language through student inquiries and content generation. Also, scaffolding at the level of genre or text-type features is rarely implemented, in particularly in learning areas other than English. The authors conclude that teacher professional development activities need to focus more on building student autonomy through peer-supported practice, as well as on language and literacy scaffolding in learning areas other than English.

While the authors make LLRB students a focus of their inquiry, little insight is provided on pedagogies that might particularly benefit this EAL/D category. Instead, the paper investigates how teachers of these students draw on a range of general EAL/D strategies. Despite this limitation, the paper is included for its useful tabular overview of recent language and literacy strategies and the ranking by teachers.

Summary

The starting point for this annotated bibliography is Hammond’s 2012 review of the Australian Curriculum as the national framework and space in which EAL/D support in mainstream classrooms takes place. It informs on the legitimacy of EAL/D pedagogies and emphasises the importance of making teaching of language and literacy more explicit in all discipline areas. Indeed, changes to the curriculum since 2012 indicate that prescriptive content knowledge made space for more student-centred pedagogies and an emphasis on literacy, including phonics and phonemic awareness in English (Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority, 2016). These changes directly address her voiced concerns and needs of EAL/D students.

The curriculum developments are in line with Gibbons’ (2008) call for ‘high challenge, high support’ pedagogies that combine an intellectually challenging curriculum with language scaffolding for EAL/D students, and with Dobinson and Buchori’s (2016) advise for all subject area teachers to develop discipline literacy pedagogies and work more closely with EAL/D specialists. It is Windle and Miller (2012) that provide insights into EAL/D pedagogies and strategies practised by Australian teachers. Their tabular overview of recent EAL/D language and literacy strategies is a useful starting point to investigate EAL/D pedagogies in more detail, and it creates awareness around strategies currently undervalued in practice and possible reasons why.

Against this background and insight into the Australian landscape of EAL/D pedagogies, Michell and Sharpe’s (2005) detailed model of scaffolding, informed and illustrated by classroom observations, adds critical detail and practical examples. Their focus on collective instructional EAL/D scaffolding is particularly useful in the context of the inclusive mainstream classrooms in which teaching EAL/D takes place in Australia. However, it is important to note that their model is only one among other competing and complementing approaches, as highlighted by Hammond and Gibbons “network model of scaffolding” (2005) in the same volume.