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
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:
- Content – frame content in integrated, interdisciplinary ways organised around central ideas and the study of people and arts
- Process – accelerated curriculum with emphasis on self-directed learning and discovery, variety and choice, metacognition and complex problem solving skills
- Product – encourage working on real problems that require information transformation and results in unique products for real audiences
- 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
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
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
- 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.