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 Lynda Garrett’s Address to the Political Panel

 Lynda Garrett
Senior Lecturer, Faculty of Education, University of Auckland

Many thanks to Lynda for allowing us to share her words, prepared for the 2014 Gifted Awareness Week Political Panel, on the giftEDnz blog.

LyndaIn my work as a teacher educator with a special interest in gifted education, I have the privilege of being able to spend time out in schools. What I am going to say next is not so much about teachers and schools, as it is about the present education system and government policy, or lack thereof.

The reality in the NZ context is that the majority of provision for gifted and talented students happens in the regular classroom context. As a direct consequence, ALL teachers are teachers of the gifted.

I see some wonderfully resourced and responsive programme options for gifted and talented students happening within regular classrooms, and as withdrawal enrichment and accelerated opportunities within schools. But I don’t see them happening consistently.

I see brilliant teachers who have benefited from professional development opportunities or further study in gifted education, but I don’t see them in EVERY school, or within all classrooms.

I see some primary and secondary schools with counsellors who are qualified to work alongside gifted and talented students and their families, but I don’t see them nearly enough.

So WHY are these particular examples not evidenced as a matter of course throughout the country? Why is it that a 12 year old student, gifted in mathematics, can be working on a programme in Year 8 that is accelerated to meet his needs to the extent that he is nearly through the secondary school Maths curriculum? And yet in another school, I see similarly able students with glazed over eyes whose ‘wheels are literally spinning on the spot’ through a mismatch between their abilities and provided learning opportunities.

Gifted education in New Zealand has progressed positively in many respects over the last 14 years in particular, and Ministry initiatives introduced from 2000-2008 have certainly contributed to progress. No initiative has been more significant than the change to the National Administration Guideline (NAG 1 c iii) in 2005, whereby schools were required to demonstrate how they provide for their gifted and talented learners. Suddenly, all schools needed to consider how they define gifted and talented learners in their respective school communities, how they identify and respond to student abilities and needs, and how they evaluate the programmes that are initiated. Those considerations are required to be actualised as coherent school-wide policies and practices.

My personal challenge to the politicians here tonight would be to say NOW is the time to come out from ‘behind’ this NAG and resource gifted education adequately in all schools. Targeted funding for gifted education within the current special needs funding allocation would be a GREAT way to start! It’s all very well to mandate what schools must do, but a mandate without adequate and on-going support will never achieve the required results across ALL schools. I would also like you to consider ‘resurrecting ‘ two proposed initiatives that never gained traction back in 2002; firstly that all pre-service teacher education programmes contain a compulsory paper in gifted education, and finally, that professional development in gifted education be included for other professionals working with gifted and talented students and their families.

Gifted learners ARE priority learners and they deserve to be prioritised in your education policies.



Did you know?

The following “Did you know?” questions were prepared by Rose Blackett of NZAGC, Tracy Riley of giftEDnz, and Deb Clark of the New Zealand Centre for Gifted Education, for Gifted Awareness Week 2014.

DidYouKnowDid you know?
Approximately $330 million is spent on special education in NZ each year. Gifted education is allocated around $1.2 million per annum. Is that what you call equity?

Did you know?
Based on a conservative expectation that 5% of the population is gifted and talented, at least 24,000 school-aged children and youth could be identified in New Zealand.

Did you know?
There is NO targeted funding or resources allocated for early childhood and tertiary education for gifted learners in New Zealand.

Did you know?
The last time the Ministry of Education’s Gifted and Talented Advisory Group was invited to meet with Ministry representatives was in 2011.

Did you know?
There are 250 special needs teaching awards in New Zealand. None of them are allocated to postgraduate students specializing in gifted and talented education.

Did you know?
The most common method of identification of gifted learners is by teachers using standardized assessment, yet, the majority of teachers do not have specialist professional learning and development in gifted and talented education, therefore don’t know how to do so.

Did you know?
The National Administration Guidelines direct schools to identify and provide for gifted and talented learners.

Did you know?
There are no professional development and learning contracts for gifted education in Maori immersion and bilingual schools.

Did you know?
Many twice-exceptional students have been refused examination assistance in recent years.

Did you know?
The PISA results show that there has been a decrease over time in the proportion of New Zealand students achieving at the highest levels:
• Top performing readers decreased from 19 per cent to 14 per cent (between 2000–2012).
• Top performing science students decreased from 18 per cent to 13 per cent (between 2006–2012).
• Top performing mathematics students decreased from 21 per cent to 15 per cent (between 2003–2012).
Whilst New Zealand’s ‘future talent pool’ is still higher than average, the declining proportion of students in the top performing group is a concerning trend.

Did you know?
Priority learners are Maori, Pasifika, and those with learning needs – but not gifted and talented.

Did you know?
Funding for gifted and talented was first made available by Government in 2001 and was cut in half in 2009.

Did you know?
Recommendations made to the Ministry of Education by the Gifted and Talented Policy Advisory Group in 2010 were accepted but not all have been enacted.

Did you know?
Less than 3% of postgraduate students enrolled in the Ministry of Education contracted Specialist Teaching Programme are studying gifted and talented education.

Did you know?
The Governor General of NZ, Sir Jerry Mateparae, stated, “Talent, or having a gift, alone does not ensure success. It’s been said that the world is full of talented failures.” Is this what we want as an outcome of the NZ education system?

Did you know?
Equity, Excellence, Everywhere, Everyday, Everyone is the mantra of the Ministry of Education. How does this apply to gifted learners, and how are our schools supposed to achieve this for gifted learners, when the funding for gifted and talented is less than 0.5% of the funding for special education?

Did you know?
Accelerated learning, as conceptualised by the Ministry of Education, is designed for learners who are below or well-below National Standards; whereas the Ministry’s own TKI gifted and talented website states: Academic acceleration is generally regarded as “proceeding through the stages of schooling at a pace faster than usual”. How do these two things marry?

Did you know?
New Zealand’s leading provider of specialized gifted education, The New Zealand Centre for Gifted Education, receives no funding from the government – despite the fact that it provides 1000+ students from mainstream schools with 1/5 of their education each year.

Did you know?
There is no compulsion for pre-service teacher training providers to include gifted and talented education in their course options.

Did you know?
Despite the fact that giftedness is not bound by gender, culture or socio-economic standing, we have principals in New Zealand Schools who say they have no gifted children in their school. If this doesn’t show a need for more professional development in this area, what does?



An exciting announcement

 Rose Blackett

President of NZAGC, Director of SENG

In my capacity as president of NZAGC and as a director on the Supporting Emotional Needs of the Gifted (SENG) board, it is my pleasure to announce the appointment of Tracy Riley to the SENG Editorial Board. This is a timely appointment as it is Gifted Awareness Week in NZ. Tracy has been an editor of APEX the NZ Journal for Gifted Education for some years now. She is one of the current NZ delegates on The World Council for Gifted and Talented Children (WCGTC) and was a keynote speaker at the WCGTC 20th Biennial World Conference in August 2013. Tracy chairs the PhD Committee at Massey University where she is an Associate Professor. Please join me in congratulating Tracy on this accomplishment.


Stepping up a gear – or 10!

 Anna Meuli
Board Member, giftEDnz

ARS ELECTRONICA FESTIVAL 2011: origin - wie alles begann

I attended the Political Panel on Gifted Education in Wellington this week as part of my commitment to raising the awareness of the needs of gifted learners and hoping that this event might play a key role in effecting positive outcomes for gifted learners within our education setting. While looking forward to hearing from the politicians and having an opportunity to ask direct questions and create relationship connections, I also couldn’t help but bring along a pervasive sense of frustration with the pace of change for gifted learners in New Zealand. I do acknowledge that there have been some important changes over the past 15-20 years with the establishment and growth of national and regional advocacy and service groups, the provision of a small (in the scale of PLD) amount of professional learning and development for schools, the development of resources for schools, some national research, a national review of schools’ practice, and the very important amendment to the National Administration Guidelines which included gifted and talented learners as a group of learners with special learning needs. Sounds really impressive, doesn’t it? You could be forgiven for expecting significant change as a result. Yet, government funding for gifted education has radically reduced, research to date tells us that there has only been minimal change in school practice toward effective practice for gifted learners, and stories of frustration, disengagement, and underachievement continue to flood in from students, parents and from empathetic educators.

I am left wondering why the change that I seek to see is so difficult to achieve and it is this sense of exasperation that I was feeling when I attended the political panel. Will these politicians say anything that resonates and is meaningful, thoughtful, and that would bring about the kind of change I am looking for? I wanted to raise a question on what I see to be one of the significant underlying problems that impedes efforts to create significant and sustained change. “Why is it that so many people continue to be either unaware of or misunderstand the specific needs and experiences of gifted learners in our schools? And what might they be able to do to make a difference to that scenario?”

From my perspective, I believe that we have this situation for a number of reasons that relate to our ability to capture and document need, and our ability and strategies to communicate that need. While schools are required to identify and provide for gifted and talented learners, they are not required to report data on the achievement, progress and engagement of those learners. I recall reading an article by a school principal in the USA who had reported that, while tracking progress of all the students in her school, they discovered that their gifted students were making the least progress.1 I recall thinking, and have often thought since, why are we not required to gather this kind of data? I suspect that the scenario would be very similar here. Access to this kind of national data would really help to communicate need. Secondly, I remember reading the Masters Thesis of a New Zealand educator who was interested in better understanding why so many boys who had obvious exceptional ability in English were underachieving in English.2 While her intent was to better understand the phenomenon that was troubling her, I couldn’t help but notice another disturbing detail, which was that she was able to identify 10 students who very clearly fitted this criterion. I started to do some math, considering what the national picture would be like for gifted boys in our secondary schools. In both these instances the research was small scale. What we need is national data to help get a picture of need.

New Zealand is a small country and to date we have had a range of individual providers working in isolation. One of the politicians drew attention to the fact that there is greater power in numbers. Very recently we have seen a change in this scenario, with the merger of the Gifted Education Centre and Gifted Kids to form the New Zealand Centre for Gifted Education and a collaborative effort made between the New Zealand Centre, giftEDnz and the New Zealand Association for Gifted Children. I am looking forward to greater collaboration across the sector and as a result a more powerful voice that others are more willing to listen to.

And what did the politicians say, I can hear you saying? There were two take home messages for me – firstly, that we need to consider who we communicate with, and how and when we communicate, and secondly, that there is power in numbers. So let’s aim to get some decent national data on need and develop a strong and national plan for the delivery of that information. Step away from the small isolated bits of the story and collect all the bits so we can see the big picture. Then we can step it up that gear to bring about systemic change and gain real traction.

1Clark, L. (2005) Gifted and Growing. Educational Leadership, November, Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development. Pp56-60

2Blake, A. (2009). Gifted boys in English : uncovering underachievement : a thesis presented in partial fulfilment of the requirements for the degree of Master of Education at Massey University, Hokowhitu, Palmerston North, New Zealand.

Photo Credit: CC BY-NC-ND Ars Electronica.


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Coming this way – 2014 National Conference in Gifted Education in NELSON

 Leanne Pressman
Ignited Conference Committee


A combined team of enthusiastic professionals from giftEDnz and Nelson/Tasman region’s Ministry of Inspiration have been busy stoking the fire and fanning the flames for the upcoming national conference named – Ignited: Gifted Education In Action! We have speakers who are passionate about their chosen topics and want to encourage educators of all kinds from across the country to come to the conference. These speakers will positively light your imagination on fire!

We had our first planning meeting about the national conference in mid-2013 and immediately we saw the opportunity to make this a stand-out educators’ conference, incorporating the very best from three years of MOI’s INSPIRE conferences with the high calibre academic, teacher and student-led presentations that giftEDnz is well-known for at its national events.

Many of us are familiar with the work that giftEDnz does as a national organization, advocating for, networking with, supporting and leading gifted education research and practices, but you may not be as familiar with Ministry of Inspiration (MOI). MOI is a grass-roots organisation in the Nelson/Tasman region that recognises and develops our highly able and motivated students by providing local events, opportunities, and recognition and leadership development. Over the last three years, MOI has held annual INSPIRE conferences for youth, yearly academic quiz nights for three different school-age groups’ launched a national underwater robotics programme called NZ Aquabots, and mentored student activities like academic camps and weekend workshops on various topics.

These two dynamic groups have joined forces for Ignited: Gifted Education In Action, in Nelson on 14th and 15th November, 2014.

Headlining the event are June Maker, Professor of Special Education in the Department of Disability and Psychoeducational Studies at the University of Arizona in the United States and famous for her Maker Model of Differentiation for Gifted Learners; Professor Roger Moltzen, Professor and Dean of Education at the University of Waikato and well-respected for his research in psychology and the education of gifted individuals in New Zealand. Professor Moltzen is this year’s honoured recipient of the giftEDnz Te Manu Kotuku Award. Rounding out the headliners is the fabulously creative duo from Two Bit Circus, who develop spectacular productions with the goal to inspire, engage, and reinvent the way people play. Two Bit Circus will give a special Thursday night, 13th November, ‘technological feast for the scientific senses’ that is open to the public free of charge and introduced by Dr Tracy Riley, associate professor at Massey University. Plus wrapping up the conference line-up is a plethora of the very best educators and researchers from around the country to present their expertise and latest findings in gifted education.

Ignited’s format will allow participants to select from a smorgasbord of different topics for four sessions per day which include a variety of learning environments, from round table discussions to workshops to research presentations. Participants will choose from top presenters primarily from the STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts & Society, and Maths) topic areas. We are excited that Ignited’s workshops will include some of the “best of” sessions from all three of the student INSPIRE conferences with cross-topic classes like “Technology of Warfare” for History, Technology and Philosophy; “Truss Your Imagination” for Maths, Art and practical building and design skills; special MOI workshops from NZ Aquabots (special appearance by the 2014 NZ team, Tima Ruku, who won the international competition in the USA for best presentation!); and lots more to help foster gifted learner confidence and leadership.

Be sure that you get your tickets, or encourage your child’s teacher/school to attend this great opportunity to get their inspiration ‘Ignited’ with new ideas and practical, applicable tools to use right away in the classroom.

Mark your calendar for Ignited: Gifted Education In Action in Nelson on November 14th and 15th, and a special free public lecture on Thursday November 13th.


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Where are the gifted learners in “Inclusive education”?

Louise Tapper
Board Member, GiftEDnz


Inclusion has such a positive ring to it. It is a ‘feel good’ word, a warm fuzzy – as opposed to its opposite, exclusion. I am sure that our young (and sometimes not so young) teachers don’t go into teaching to ‘exclude’ any of the children in their classrooms. On the contrary, it is my experience that teacher trainees have the highest of ideals when they set foot inside our teacher education institutions. They want to make a difference in children’s lives, to be that other significant person, along with a parent, who helps to guide their charges along the right course, to make sure that all children in their classes are catered for and supported – and yes, included. And these trainees are looking to their teacher educators to provide them with the knowledge to do so.

So why am I beginning to feel increasingly uncomfortable that when courses at teacher education institutions have words such as ‘Inclusive’ or ‘Diversity’ or ‘children with special learning needs’ in their prescriptions, these same courses frequently do not actually include anything about the special learning needs of gifted and talented students? It seems that ‘Inclusive Education’ increasingly means ‘including students with special educational needs’, as long as those ‘special educational needs’ are aligned to some kind of disability. Of course, it could be argued that all students have special educational needs at some time or other in their educational experiences. It is certainly vital that all students are included to the extent that they are provided with appropriate educational opportunities and support. However, it is also realistic to recognise that some of our students, such as those with disabilities, are ‘priority learners’ and that for them inclusion (to the extent that their needs are being appropriately met) in the activities of a mainstream classroom is not always as straightforward as it is for other students. Thus, it is equitable that there is a raft of courses at teacher education institutions in areas around supporting children with learning, behavioural and physical disabilities.

But as this Gifted Awareness Week campaign emphasises, gifted learners are priority learners too. Gifted learners have special educational needs. Ways of catering for the special educational needs of gifted learners should be included in teacher education courses, both at pre-service and post-service level. I have been informed by programme directors, when I asked, that the philosophical stance of the inclusion framework means not specifying courses aimed at a designated area of disability or ability because such areas are included under ‘inclusive education’. Yet I find a plethora of specific courses on dyslexia, the autism spectrum, challenging behaviours, at risk readers, supporting students from different cultural backgrounds and very, very few on gifted learners. And the prescription provided for ‘Inclusive Education’ courses at teacher education institutions is commonly along the lines of “supporting the inclusion of children and adults with disabilities in mainstream educational and community settings”. Or the rhetoric for ‘Inclusive Education’ is around developing “the knowledge and skills in supporting the academic and social development of students with diverse learning needs” but then there are no courses available that align with this principle to support the diverse learning needs of gifted children.

Where are the gifted and talented learners in courses on ‘Inclusive Education’? I think that this group of learners with special educational needs are too often missing in action within the inclusion framework. Further, courses on Literacy and Numeracy for teacher trainees seem to frequently have a focus on learners who are struggling in these areas. But is there a course section included on the high ability reader? On the exceptional mathematician?

I am concerned that gifted learners are in fact being excluded in such courses and therefore teacher trainees are ill prepared to support – and thus, include – gifted and talented learners in their classes when they begin teaching.

The inclusive philosophy is an admirable one, and I support it in theory, but in practice I suggest that many teacher education providers need to self-evaluate their own inclusive polices when they structure their courses. They should include ways that prepare teacher trainees to provide professional learning and support for gifted learners too – before providers can rightly say that the needs of all learners are being addressed at both the pre-service and post-service training level.

Note: My personal observations of teacher education providers are couched in general terms and I am not referring to any one particular institution. It is an overall assumption I am making about the lack of coverage from the majority of New Zealand providers. I accept that there is variable provision nationally.

Photo credit: Louise Tapper.


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Where’s the G in the five e factors?

Tracy Riley
Chairperson, giftEDnz

Excellence and equity, everyone, everywhere, everyday.

These ‘e factors’ were written across brightly coloured Ministry of Education displays at the 2014 Festival of Education events. These five e factors are important for all learners in New Zealand’s education system – from young children to tertiary learners. This includes our gifted and talented learners.

It’s exciting to imagine excellent outcomes for gifted learners, given equitable access to an appropriate education, no matter their ethnicity, gender, learning, behaviour or physical challenges, or diverse, maybe even quirky, passions. Everyday, everywhere would translate for gifted students having their needs met daily in a variety of responsive environments using a continuum of provisions, whether in the big city or rural countryside of New Zealand

Equity and excellence are not unfamiliar concepts to me (and many other advocates for gifted and talented). At the turn of the century, I was “confronting the dilemmas and celebrating the possibilities” of equity with excellence. It is interesting to revisit my thinking then, in light of some aspects of the current state of play for gifted and talented education in New Zealand – and to discover that little has changed.

Expect success, but remember that achieving success for all students does not equate to the same results for all students. How does a system that acknowledges students performing above a standard – but not well above – differentiate results for those capable of excellence?

Accommodate diversity and find strengths in all students. How do curricular interventions focused on ‘accelerating’ learning for those struggling in literacy and numeracy accommodate and progress strengths in the arts, technologies, cultural qualities, sciences, creativity, leadership and physical skills?

Set high expectations for all students, as teachers, parents, the New Zealand community. How can falling rankings within the top scores for international testing results be ignored in the race to lift the tail of underachievement? As one blogger concludes “New Zealand is another country that, in tackling more serious problems with the ‘long tail’, should not take its eye off the ball at the top.”

Provide resources which make the curriculum ‘work’ by matching those to individual students’ strengths and needs. How can approximately $1.2 million per annum allocated to some professional development for some schools – not targeted funding to schools or for the development of specialist teachers – be adequate resources for gifted education?

Challenge all students, allowing each one to experience the gains in self-esteem and confidence reaped from the mastery of ‘difficult’ tasks. Are we closing the gap by increasing the tail and pushing the bottom up, when we could be raising the ceiling?

Upon reflecting on the lack of progress towards equity, I have concluded that we can only reach these goals by ensuring excellence. I stand by the statements I made in 2000:

· All students are individuals who have gifts and talents to be discovered and nurtured, not just deficiencies and weaknesses to remediate. Our gifted and talented students should not be viewed as ‘The Gifted,’ but as individuals with special abilities to be cultivated.

· All students have the chance to interact with others of their choice. Gifted and talented students should spend time each day with others of similar abilities or interests.

· All students have opportunities to discover and investigate areas of great interest and to become competent in those areas. This means our gifted and talented students are not simply consumers of knowledge, but producers of knowledge ­because they can be.

· All students are allowed – in fact expected – to work at their level of ability. For gifted and talented students this means we must actively seek to match the level and pace of instruction to their abilities.

· All students receive support, guidance, and facilitation to maximise their potential. This translates into providing gifted and talented students with teachers who are understanding, caring, and supportive of their special intellectual, physical, social, and emotional needs.

Excellence and equity, everyone, everywhere, everyday.

Is this what we want? Or would excellence with equity ensure the g factor in our aspirational goals for education in New Zealand? In order to achieve excellence with equity, advocates for gifted and talented learners require national leadership from our Government and Ministry of Education and we require shared leadership and greater collaboration in gifted and talented education. Gifted Awareness Week provides opportunities to push for Government and Ministry support and to test our abilities to work together with a shared voice, seeking excellence with equity for our gifted and talented children and youth.

Photo credit: Tracy Riley.


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Why are we so nervous about parents?

Sue Barriball, Board Member, giftEDnz
Associate Principal, NZ Centre for Gifted Education: Gifted Kids


Research tells us that parents are excellent identifiers of giftedness in their children. Analysis by the Gifted Development Centre in Colorado found that “84% of 1,000 children whose parents felt that they exhibited 3/4 of the traits in our Characteristics of Giftedness Scale tested in the superior or gifted range. Over 95% demonstrated giftedness in at least one area, but were asynchronous in their development, and their weaknesses depressed their composite IQ scores.” (Linda Silverman, 2009)1Yet far too many parents still have a very difficult time being heard by teachers when it comes to addressing their child’s giftedness.

Recently, I have had two teachers tell me that including children in a gifted enrichment group at the request of their parents was ‘pandering to the parents,’ even though both of these children had been formally assessed as gifted by educational psychologists.

So, my burning question is “Why are we so nervous about parents?” Why do we hesitate to ask the people who know the most about their children for guidance? Or worse, we don’t just hesitate to ask questions ourselves, we reject parents who ask us for help.

As a parent of gifted kids who is also a teacher, I cringe remembering how hard it was to pop my head above the battlements and broach the ‘g’ word with my kids’ teachers. More often than not, I was patronised and fobbed off, and my experience and knowledge as a specialist gifted educator counted for nothing in my own dealings with teachers. On the rare occasion a teacher seemed to hear me, promises would be made but rarely kept. I can only imagine how much harder it must be for the parent who doesn’t have the knowledge or skill to navigate the jargon and the system.

So, at the risk of ostracising a good number of the profession I have been proud to be a member of for over 30 years, it’s time we got off our high horses and reached out to parents of gifted kids. It’s time to listen, to really listen to their concerns, their fears, their insights, and their deep hope that ‘the system’ will be a positive experience for their much-loved child.

To the two teachers who did just that for two of my kids, thank you from the bottom of my heart. To the others – when did it cease to be important to for every child to have an education fitted to their needs, and who said my gifted children’s right to learn something new every day was less important than other children’s? To all teachers, my impassioned plea is this: listen to parents, value their insights into their children, feel honoured that they trust you enough to seek your help and expertise and recognise just how hard it is to take that step, keep them ‘in the loop,’ and don’t assume you know it all when it comes to working with gifted children. That parent might just be your best ally in getting the best out of a gifted child!

1 Retrieved 9 June 2014

Photo credit: The nervous pencil tapping photo by Rennett Stowe has an attribution license.


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Potential? Whose potential?

Louise Tapper, Board Member, giftEDnz
Lecturer and Doctoral Candidate, University of Canterbury


As parents and teachers we often find ourselves talking about supporting gifted and talented learners in terms of helping them to ‘reach their potential’. But when they don’t reach their ‘potential’, we call that ‘underachieving’. This idea of reaching their potential extends into the kinds of choices we expect these bright young adolescents might make about future careers or their pathways when they leave school. It is probably true to say that most parents and teachers of gifted and talented students would have high expectations for these young people. And there is nothing wrong with that!

This was certainly borne out by the comments from the parents in my research study who were open about their wish to see their gifted child fulfil his or her ‘potential’. As one parent very honestly said to me in reference to her son, “He won’t be happy if he’s washing cars for the rest of his life”. I also found that the student participants themselves harboured aspirations of challenging career pathways. These included aiming to be a nuclear medical physicist, a journalist, a palaeontologist, to gain PhD qualifications and to represent New Zealand at hockey. These could all be said to be high achieving goals. Are these the kind of aims that would ‘fulfil their potential’?

What I think we need to be aware of is that not all gifted and talented students will aspire to the kind of future goals that parents and teachers might see as ‘fulfilling their potential’.
In an interesting study Willard-Holt (2008) found that gifted females who chose to be teachers were constantly being given messages that they were underachieving because of their choice of career. The expectation was that they had the ability to choose what were seen as higher status careers and teaching was not considered in this line. One young woman was told by her teachers and relatives that, “You have so much potential – why are you doing that? You could be doing, I don’t know, brain surgery or whatever” (p. 320). There are two concerning factors to the findings of this research – one, that teaching as a career choice is seen as a ‘lesser profession’, and secondly, that gifted and talented young women are being burdened with the label of ‘underachievers’ because others are making judgements about this nebulous concept of ‘potential’.

It might be the case that educators and other adults hold elitist views in respect of the future pathways for our most able students. Do we expect them to be the doctors, lawyers, professors or the one that is often trotted out – the leaders of our society – when for many these are not the goals they have for themselves? Such expectations can be based on value judgements that are generally those of adults. I think it is unreasonable to burden these young adolescents with others’ expectations of high achievement, which may not necessarily correlate with theirs. And we shouldn’t then label the failure to reach these expectations, their presumed ‘potential’, as ‘underachievement’.

Let’s just keep thinking about the way we use the discourse of ‘reaching your potential’ for gifted and talented students.


Article cited:

Willard-Holt, C. (2008). “You could be doing brain surgery”: Gifted girls becoming teachers. Gifted Child Quarterly, 52(4), 313-325.

Photo Credit: The photo of an emerging shoot is by The Cookiemonster, and has attribution and sharealike licenses.

Listening to learners

Tracy Riley, Chairperson, giftEDnz
Associate Professor, Massey University


“I didn’t really want to be different,” is how a young gifted woman who spoke at our 2013 Annual General Meeting described her response to being assessed as having dyslexia – as a primary school student. However, at the end of her presentation to over 80 teachers, during which she described her challenges with mathematics and rote learning, offset by amazing skills of organisation, leadership and verbal communication, this Year 12 student concluded:

“I know I can work hard because I have been working hard my whole life. Because I am different I know it is okay. You can’t let it define you.”

She went on to explain that every dyslexic student will have something they are good at – e.g., she believes her vocabulary is strong because she had to have some way to get her message across. She went to great lengths to explain that every dyslexic child is different and most teachers are not dyslexic! Not surprisingly, she did not find being told by teachers, “I know how you feel” a very helpful approach.

Here are some more of her practical tips for teachers, many of which the literature in our field would support:

  1. Develop a learner profile that starts with their strengths, followed by difficulties and ways they will be assisted in their learning.
  2. Mark written work based on content, not spelling.
  3. If a reader-writer is available, ensure consistency by using the same one, so a relationship of understanding and trust can be developed.
  4. Ensure there is someone in the school who the student can talk with about their concerns, challenges, triumphs, and so on.
  5. Provide lecture notes or power point presentations to the students.
  6. Talk to the student to find out about what works and what doesn’t work. Try to understand the student’s learning style and ways of learning.
  7. Keep homework to a set amount of time. She explained that it takes her a lot longer than most students to complete the homework and it was helpful to be given a timeframe.
  8. Find ways to get around things and solve problems.
  9. Allow the student to use a calculator.
  10. Provide opportunities for discussion, especially in maths.

It is not uncommon not to want to be different, just as this young girl felt at the beginning of her story. But as she has shown, by understanding her own individual differences, she is able to articulate and share these with professionals to help us learn. It is through student voices that we hear the call for responsiveness to their individual differences. Are you listening?

Image credit: CC-BY-SA James Vaughan.

A change of style

Mary St George, Board Member, giftEDnz
Lead Teacher, Gifted Online


For most of the year, the way I teach is inspired by the models, methods and curriculum ideas at the core of our beliefs about differentiation, personalisation and ownership of learning, and I love it. The kids are awesome, the ideas are awesome, the parents are awesome, and we just won’t mention the workload. However, for one or two weeks of each year, I teach graphics online, and I’ve found it needs a change of style.

In GO Graphic I don’t do holistic and integrated. I don’t do conceptual underpinnings. I don’t work hard to be the “guide on the side”. I teach nothing but the skills, and I give the children time to learn them. I started out by supplying instructions on just a few techniques and inviting children to experiment and discover others. I found that even with quite a few tips to get them started, most learners wanted more information before they felt confident enough to experiment, so I have added more screenshots and instructional videos during each course. At this point, I could probably be fairly accused of using the frightfully unfashionable “transmission model”, but I’m not apologising.

As we all know, there are risks in teaching via the transmission model. The mere mention of it inspires images of cookie cutter children turning out cookie cutter products of cookie cutter learning. But that is not what happens when I’m teaching graphics. Maybe it’s the medium. Teaching online can be a little like herding cats. Maybe it’s the content. Graphics can be of particular interest to creative thinkers, who quite often do not have cookie cutter conformity in their repertoires. Maybe it is that the children I teach and I have all been exposed to so much child-directed learning that the transmission model doesn’t threaten our individuality much at all – hopefully we have a culture of diverse products of learning which survives when the input is the same.

Most children’s prior experience of graphics is with Microsoft Paint. They are suddenly exposed to tools which look similar but work differently. There is plenty of challenge, but soon also plenty of success. “Flow states” happen, as learners create art near the shifting boundaries of their skill levels. Flow states are supposed to be when learners lose track of time, but they also seem to create teacher time. Time to observe who is learning what, and how.

Some learners work through all the instructions, step by step. Some carefully observe each example given, and then look for things to change to make the work their own. Some take in one or two instructions, get a sense for where this may be heading, and suddenly they are on a roll, working for hours and surprising me with their wonderful results. Some ignore everything, achieve all they can through trial and error, and are then happily surprised by a little feedback which will make the next experiment so much easier. Some learn better by asking questions about the work of their peers than from any of the materials I have carefully prepared. Some get Mum or Dad learning too, and capture the co-operative learning power of family.

A sustained burst of learning a single set of creative skills is now a novelty to many New Zealand children, with National Standards having increased the focus on literacy and numeracy, often at the expense of other curriculum areas. I would argue that creative skills often provide a fresh focus to be literate and numerate about, and that novelty increases engagement in the classroom.

Bringing a pure skills focus to a unit of creative learning is also becoming unusual for New Zealand teachers, especially teachers of the gifted. We are used to weaving many layers of complexity, meaning and connectedness into our planning, and monitoring many dimensions of our students’ output. When we declutter our our focus, different students shine, and it is very easy to analyse what has enabled the success of these particular students. This information is empowering for the students and the teacher, and may be transferable to other learning experiences.

I feel quite buoyed up by my temporary change of teaching style over the past week. It is exciting to work differently and get different results, and then to reflect on the benefits of each approach. I remember one of my textbooks in my pre-service training (probably Reading in Junior Classes), which said that the best approach to teaching reading was a combination of approaches. I am coming to believe that the best approach to teaching the gifted is also a combination of approaches. A brief change of teaching style away from the techniques we believe to be current best practice is not always a mistake. Sometimes it is just what is needed to help different students to engage, and for teachers to learn more about exactly how our learners are learning.

Image Credit: Image made for the purpose of teaching graphics, by Mary St George.

Choosing your battles

Sue Breen, Board Member, giftEDnz
National Director, The Gifted Education Centre.


As Gifted Awareness 2013 comes to a close I am spending some time reflecting.
I wonder how many lives we (as those working and living ‘gifted’) have changed during this week.

How many families are more comfortable using the ‘gifted’ word?

How many of our gifted children and youth are standing taller and feeling their skin is a better fit because one person’s interaction with them showed they understood or had a better understanding of who they were?

Perhaps that is enough for this one week.
For many this is a huge step forward. They may feel the impact of this week will sustain them for a long time to come.

Making a difference – one child, one family at at time is important.
I have been doing this for many, many years and I know that there are huge numbers of dedicated people doing this all over NZ. (Indeed, all over the globe.)

If all that each of us do is make a difference to one person at at time – consistently – the net result will be enormous.

Is this enough?
Unfortunately – the answer is ‘no’! Some battles are ‘bigger picture’ items. (The war itself.)

For one week every year we come together and try, as a larger voice, to make a bigger difference.

Gifted Awareness Week planning and implementation is time consuming and often puts us out of our comfort zone.
How many of us are comfortable talking to media, approaching celebrities , approaching businesses, friends, family, colleagues to help us spread the word, to attend our events, to help us in many ways?

(Everything we plan seems to take time away from the precious time we need in supporting our gifted children and the programmes we have in place.)

We still need to make the effort.

The Government:
Have we made a difference with any of our MPs this week?
Please let us know of any that appear more informed and/or more sympathetic.
Perhaps those MPs who have heard our message more than once over the years may be gaining a little more understanding.
Perhaps those MPs who heard the message from more than one source during this week are a little more informed.

The Gifted-Awareness-Week-squeaky-wheel could be having more effect within Parliament than we realise. I really hope so. I have to assume we ARE making a difference.

The Ministry of Education:
Have we made a difference within our Ministry of Education?
Often we make giant steps forward with one person in the Ministry – and find they are no longer there.

For any of the staff within the Ministry who have anything at all to do with making decisions – or informing those who make the decisions – regarding our gifted students (or the prioritising and distribution of any funds allocated to catering for their needs) and who are more informed after this week – please, please try to retain your portfolio for a little longer than your predecessors.

People within the Ministry of Education with absolutely any (however slight) connection to giftedness within your brief:
We love to talk to you.
We love that you gain understanding.
We commiserate with each other as you move on and a whole new group of people, with completely different titles (and roles within the Ministry of Education) begin the process of listening and understanding – from the beginning – again!

The Media:
Have we made a difference to your view of the gifted child?
Do you still see gifted children as advantaged, coming from wealth and having pushy parents hovering over them – or are you more informed?

For me:
For most of the year my role is very rewarding – especially at the ‘grass roots’ level. I see positive change happening – especially with the families and the organisations I am involved with. (Small steps – but many, many of them.)

Now that Gifted Awareness Week is over I will be spending the next 50 weeks ‘in the thick of it’ with gifted children, their families and the organisations that support them.

That is my ‘battleground’.

However, someone needs to keep their eye on the complete war – with all of the myriad of battlefields!

Do YOU have a role to play in the war of understanding of, and equity for, our gifted children?

If so, giftEDnz needs you.


Photo credit: The water fight photo by Alvin Trusty is licensed CC-BY-NC-SA.


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“Smart Kids” – Kiwi kids’ perspectives

Sue Barriball, Board Member, giftEDnz
Associate Principal, Gifted Kids

Some years ago I read “Smart Kids”, an American book where gifted kids of various ages were asked questions about growing up gifted. I wondered what the responses to those same questions would be from a group of gifted children in New Zealand. When prompted for my class to ‘do our bit’ to raise awareness about gifted children during Gifted Awareness Week, the time seemed right to find out – and thus, this blog post was born.

Some context first – I teach a group of 11 gifted children, aged from 9 to 12 years, for Gifted Kids, a withdrawal programme in New Zealand. My class is comprised of eight boys and three girls (which begs the question, “Where are the gifted girls?,” but that’s a topic for another blog!), from a range of ethnicities and socio-economic backgrounds, and drawn from surrounding schools. We spend one day a week together, exploring our talents, probing abstract and complex ‘big ideas’, developing our tool box of skills for learning, embracing challenges and evolving our understanding of giftedness and what it means for us as individuals and for our world. After some initial discussion on what the word ‘gifted’ means, I invited students to think about what they wished people understood about gifted children and then to comment on whichever of the questions below interested them. One student chose to write her own paragraph instead of answering questions and her response is also shown.


So, what did a group of Kiwi gifted kids think about those questions the kids in the USA answered back in the early 2000s?


The most important thing for me is being able to fit in with my class. It’s not important to me whether people think I’m smart or not. Boy, 10

For me, the most important thing about being gifted is having fun with my learning. If you can’t have fun while you are learning, you can’t learn well.
What other people think of me is the least important thing – you have to push through the names you get called and things like that and get on with life. Boy, 11

The most important thing for me is to enjoy what I am doing. If I don’t, it is really hard to get going again. The least important thing to me is not being at the same level of thinking as others. I’m OK with being on a different level. Girl, 10

I think having a teacher who realizes that I’m not good at everything is the most important thing for me. What people think of me doesn’t matter. Girl, 11

Being able to see the world in a different way is the most important thing about being gifted. Being very, very good at alliteration is the least important! Boy, 11


Teachers expect that you should be good at everything. Boy, 9

Teachers do treat gifted students differently. We do our work, then get more of the same but at a more complex level. Boy, 10

I think teachers expect me to be perfect in the area I am strong in. Girl, 11

My teacher always looks at me for answers when she asks a question. It can be embarrassing! Girl, 10


Finding and keeping friends is definitely the biggest challenge for me. My school friends don’t understand me much. Boy, 11

Sometimes people don’t like me. Boy, 9

My biggest challenge is to explain my ideas out loud. I find it really hard to speak in front of a group of people – my mind goes blank, even though there are lots of ideas buzzing around in my mind. Girl, 10

Trying to keep your grades up while you’re trying to fit in. Boy, 11

My biggest challenge is writing work down. I’ve got lots of ideas in my head but can’t write them down, e.g. this answer could be longer, but I don’t like writing! Boy, 10

I get in trouble lots for saying what I think, so that’s a challenge. Boy, 9


A teacher who understands your strengths as well as your weaknesses. Girl, 10

Someone that understands me. Boy, 10

A teacher who understands your feelings as well as your strengths and weaknesses. Boy, 11

I think a good ‘gifted’ teacher is someone who is patient, can cope with wild imaginations and actually likes kids who think differently. They don’t make me do stuff I already know again and again. Girl, 11


Yes. I usually don’t get work finished at school because my mind goes off in a different direction and I think about something else that’s interesting to me. I’m supposed to be listening but I’m thinking about how I can build something. Boy, 9

My friend, who is also gifted, was accused of being critical when he was trying to express himself creatively. I think being a creative thinker can definitely get in the way at school! Boy, 11

Yes – that’s why I don’t show my creativity at school! Boy, 11


I wish people understood that giftedness is not all about being perfect. Some people can be gifted and have disabilities. Girl, 10

Gifted children don’t know everything and aren’t good at everything. Girl, 11

I wish people understood that we are still kids and we make mistakes and do silly things sometimes. And when we do, please don’t use that as evidence that we can’t be gifted! Boy, 12


One student’s view: The trouble with being gifted
The trouble with being gifted is that people expect us to be absolutely brilliant at everything. I mean I am good at reading, writing, English, art and most math but I am really bad at my times tables and nearly every teacher has expected me to be good at everything. Another problem is that I am very creative and very independent but some of my teachers purposely put me in a group with people who need help with things. I prefer to work alone than help other people because I am not learning then. And some teachers expect my work to be perfect. NO!

I also have trouble with my friends who believe that I would rather spend lunch in the library than playing a giant game of ‘hunter’. So I mainly spend lunches wandering around the school alone. My parents are good to me because they treat me the same as my brother and sister but let my creative mind run free. I think they had a bit of practice on my older brother! I love going to my Gifted Kids class each week because I am challenged each day and in different ways.
Girl, age 10.


Some themes emerge for me as I read through my students’ comments – difficulties with finding and making friends, their sense that they are expected to do well at everything and, underlying the comments, a sense that some do not feel their giftedness is valued. I realize they are a small sample of gifted children, but this doesn’t make their perspective any less relevant or important. It is in our hands as teachers to change the school experiences of these children. With a thirst to learn and a need to be challenged, gifted children, like all students, have a right to be valued for their abilities and their person and to have their educational needs met. It’s a privilege and a responsibility – will we rise to it?

Original photos supplied by the author.


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The challenges embedded in “Managing Self”

Anna Meuli, giftEDnz Board Member
Associate Principal, Gifted Kids

Being organised and ready for learning, setting goals, managing impulsivity, reflecting on learning, using a diary, these are all examples of some of the ways that students currently engage with this key competency in schools. Some time ago I challenged myself to dig deeper into this key competency to explore a more comprehensive relevance for gifted learners. Whilst reading some of the background material available on the key competencies I came across these quotes. They particularly resonated with me and I could see a direct application to gifted learners.

Managing self is not just about being self-disciplined and well organised. It implies a deep self-knowledge of oneself as a person and a learner, and an ability to use that knowledge for different types of learning tasks, as well as in broader aspects of life.”

This competency emphasises students developing autonomy as learners-the process of finding out who they are in relation to others, how they learn, how their ideas and skills change over time, and why they think act and interact the way they do.”

Students need help to detect motivational and emotional blocks, and to understand why they behave the way they do, and the similarities and differences with other people”.

(Hipkins, Roberts & Bolstad, 2007).

It is this notion of deep self-knowledge that captured me the most. I could see huge value in gifted learners learning about giftedness, exploring their unique approaches to learning, friendships, and life, sharing the joys and challenges with others along the way. As a result, at Gifted Kids, we developed a curriculum component devoted to personal development. Our students (as you would have seen from some of the other blogs from our staff) learn specifically about giftedness, learning about the theories of others, unpacking the behavioural characteristics, exploring related concepts such as perfectionism, intensity, and asynchrony, developing an insight along the way into themselves as a gifted learner. This self-knowledge allows our students to better understand why they think act and interact the way they do, their similarities and differences with other people, and motivational and emotional blocks to learning.

The second part of this key competency to capture me was the potential for goal setting that could come from a developing deep self-knowledge. To understand oneself well is one thing, but to be empowered to do awesome things as a result of this self-knowledge is another. So at Gifted Kids, in the process of learning about their giftedness, our students are encouraged to set talent development goals, develop plans for in-depth passion projects, access specialist support, plan for depth and complexity, take on challenges, go the distance, share their work with appropriate audiences and support each other with the challenges along the way. This is the “in-depth and overtime” development that is often missing and that yields outstanding results.

I’ve seen huge changes in some of our students as a result of being supported to better understand themselves as gifted learners and to act on that knowledge. I’ll share with you an example which some of you may be familiar, and which exemplifies the outcomes of honing this key competency through Gifted Education.

Meet Hana
“When I first started Gifted Kids, I had been really shy in class. I hid myself behind a mask, and always tried to act ‘normal’, to fit in. I didn’t understand my tendencies to over-excite. I wasn’t sure of who I was and what I was capable of. I wouldn’t add my ideas in class discussions. I wouldn’t put my hand up and answer questions that knew the answer to. But when I joined Gifted Kids and was in a comfortable and supportive environment I began to open up. I stepped out from behind my mask. I was encouraged to explore my passions and was supported to see how far I could go with them. I am now comfortable in my own skin. I openly express myself sharing my opinion in class discussions and have an understanding of my passions and what I am capable of. I understand better my over-excitabilities. Now that I understand who I am, I value myself as a human being. I’m not so concerned with what other people think of me and I enjoy being me.”

(Hana, 2012, workshop presentation at GiftEDnz conference)

And how has this benefitted her learning, achievement and goal setting? Well, just read some excerpts from a Fairfax article printed about her and her work in 2012.

In 2011 Hana was so moved by a documentary about Hutt Hospital surgeon Professor Swee Tan and his cancer research that she decided to raise money for the work. “When I saw it, it really inspired me”, Hana said. “I wanted to do something that would get big money for him, to help him get the research done. Mum said, ‘Well why don’t you write a book?’ and at first it was a crazy idea, but I liked it.” Hana had some experience at fundraising, holding a garage sale at age 8 to raise more than $2000 to prevent the mistreatment of elephants in captivity in Thailand.

Because Prof Tan was so busy, Hana found it hard to pin him down – but eventually persuaded him to come to talk to her class at Gifted Kids. While he was there, she pitched her book idea. Though he had requests from authors to write his biography, Prof Tan said he had turned them down because he thought he was too young. But he couldn’t say no to Hana’s request of a story for young adults. “She asked me the question, then she said, ‘Look into my eyes,’ and I blinked, I couldn’t turn her down. She is an exceptional girl, isn’t she, she really has a plan.”

The writing was time-consuming, taking much longer than the three weeks Hana anticipated. “It was a bit hard, like trying to write the book after school and then going to school the next day. It would be much easier staying at home the whole time.”

Although it is “surreal” thinking that she will be an author, Hana isn’t sure she will pursue writing as a career. “For five minutes I want to be a farmer, for some minutes I want to be a fashion designer, a scientist, a doctor, there are so many things I want to do. All I know is whatever field I choose when I get old, I want to make a difference to the people around me.”

Michelle Duff, Andrew Gorrie / Fairfax NZ

Here is a link to a Close Up item on Hana’s book.


 Chess – A new game plan for looking at Māori giftedness

 Karen (Sunny) Bush, Board Member, giftEDnz
Director, Tairawhiti REAP Gifted and Talented Education


A game of chess with Reuben Whaitiri, Riverdale School, Turanga-Gisborne GATE Cluster.

Matariki, the Māori New Year, is now upon us and as New Zealanders, we are also about to mark the winter solstice. This dual point of reference in the calendar year means the stars play an important part in both cultures and could not be a more perfect time to celebrate Gifted Awareness Week. Matariki is the Māori name for a small constellation of stars appearing in the June sky, low on the North-Eastern horizon. While Matariki symbolises the end of harvest for the season, it is also about beginnings and moving forward into a new celestial cycle. So it really is timely, that as Māori look upwards to the heavens above and give thanks, educators throughout Aotearoa-New Zealand give thought to a new challenge for this special week in our gifted education year. How can we all do better to connect Māori children to their own extra-ordinary cultural giftedness?

Here in Tairawhiti, there has been a new development to highlight the link between Maori culture and giftedness to the world. The stars of the New Zealand film industry have come to Gisborne to make a movie about a recently-deceased chess champion, Genesis Potini. An outstanding and gifted chess player since a young boy, Genesis was well known locally not only for his prowess in this game, but because of the comfort chess gave him as a sufferer of Bipolar Disorder. The documentary (2003), Dark Horse, showed how his high intelligence and ability for logical thinking helped him cope with his mental illness. The latest film may well take the lid off manic depression to perhaps suggest that the healing powers in chess are a remedy to ease symptoms of the twice exceptional nature of giftedness.

This movie-making enterprise has certainly put chess in the limelight and added a sparkle to the lives of young Māori chess players from Riverdale School in Gisborne, who have been lucky enough to star in the film. The so-called ‘game of kings’ has taken centre stage within the local primary school community. Children throughout the entire region are practising hard for the Chess Challenge Tournament. Tairawhiti REAP (Rural Education Activities Programme) is currently organising a Chess Roadshow to travel “up the coast” with two experts to teach its intricacies to students from the Pūmanawa Cluster. The interplay with chess and giftedness does throw up a pertinent question for those of us working in the field. Is chess a viable option for making a stronger link between Māori students and their natural abilities?

To find out some general information to ground this question, a quick skim of the New Zealand research base has revealed very little. There does not, on first appearances, appear to be anything concrete to show a correlation between being gifted at chess and Māori in identity. Yet there is certainly ample information out on the worldwide web about the power chess brings to the development of thinking skills. Notably, chess is seen as a game for all. Its rounded appeal is such that it is seen to have benefits for both gifted children and recreational-playing adults from all walks of life. Internationally, chess is held in high esteem and became recognised as an official sport in 1999 by the International Olympic Committee. There are now six million registered contestants throughout the world with countless more unregistered players (Dauvergne, 2000).

The intellectual athleticism of chess is acknowledged by educationalists the world over. Chess makes one of the most important contributions to the field of education (Artise, 1993). All advocate for the advantages this mental muscularity provides. “Chess is an exercise of infinite possibilities for the mind, one which develops mental abilities used throughout life: concentration, critical thinking, abstract reasoning, problem solving, pattern recognition, strategic planning, creativity, analysis, synthesis and evaluation” (Celone, 2001, p. 7). Chess clearly is a game conducive to giftedness.

There is certainly evidence from research studies over the last 40 years to suggest that there is a connection between playing chess and intelligence. This poses a small problem, though. It is hard to work out whether you need to have a reasonably high IQ, in the first place, to be good at chess, or whether chess has the potency to be a tool to increase cognitive capability. Celone (2001) argues that children can shine in chess because native gifts are the dominant factor and asserts that the facility to think logically is an inborn quality. This view has obvious similarities with Gagne’s theory (1985) that giftedness involves innate abilities or untrained aptitudes. Perhaps highly intelligent children are born with the precocity to pick up chess easily and then, with practice, this skill becomes an accomplished adult talent.

Regardless of the IQ factor, there seems to be universal support for the belief that the type of thinking needed for chess is closely related to inherent mathematical ability. Milat (1997) holds that in countries where chess is offered widely in schools, students readily recognise complex patterns and consequently excel in maths. Much research indicates that the key links between maths and chess are logic and problem solving, with a dollop of creativity thrown in for good measure. The game appears to strengthen the neurological pathways of the brain and improve the memory. A good chess player, like a good problem solver, has acquired a vast number of interrelated schemata (Horgan, 1988).

Whether chess actually can make gifted students smarter is a matter of debate, but this proposition has certainly inspired many researchers in recent times. Dyck (2003) extolled that chess may well be the key to strengthening the thinking skills of 21st century students. Historical studies from many countries in the 1970’s onwards do point to chess improving spatial and numerical skills as happened in Zaire (Frank, 1974). A Belgium doctoral study (Christiaen, 1974-1976), using Piaget’s tests for cognitive development, found that chess players were more advanced intellectually than the control group. The well known and very large Learning to Think Project in Venezuela (1979-1983) discovered that there was a significant increase in most students’ IQ scores after only 4.5 months of systematically studying chess. In the USA, Ferguson’s research (1979-1983) with gifted students showed that after spending 60-64 hours playing chess over 32 weeks, they had made most significant progress in critical and creative thinking.

Yet another important study (1990-1992) to confirm the values of chess was in New Brunswick, Canada. By integrating chess into the traditional mathematics curriculum, the average problem solving score increased from 62% to 81%. Participation in primary school chess exploded in New Brunswick at this time. In 1989, 120 students played in the provincial chess championship, whereas three years later, over 19,000 children competed! Furthermore, Province of Quebec, where the programme was first introduced, went on to have the highest maths’ grades in the entire of Canada. Chess has certainly been an enabler for improving cognitive thinking throughout the world. Where gifted students were concerned, these studies showed that the positive results were magnified and their attributes in maths significantly enhanced.

While the international studies affirm the elevating power of chess, no research was forthcoming for the New Zealand education scene. There is no doubt that chess is a feature of various gifted education programmes throughout the country. The many regional tournaments testify to the enthusiasm for this mind sport. Locally, here in Gisborne, one intriguing development has come to light. Māori boys seem to have inborn affinity for the game – in fact, they are not just competent at chess, but quite brilliant! As a young protégé, Genesis Potini was a shining example of this discovery. This claim is backed up by anecdotal evidence, and an unproven theory that many Māori boys are gifted at playing chess. Over the past seven years or so, the Turanga-Gisborne GATE programme has put a strong focus on chess to expose students to the higher order thinking skills inherent within the game’s strategies. Interestingly, the results from our local competitions have shown time and again, it is our Māori boys who excel at chess. They not only go on to succeed at the large out-of-the region competitions, but more importantly, they are on the winners’ podium in national tournaments too. So the question must be asked: Why are Māori boys naturally good at chess?

To provide an answer, it must be emphasised that these suggestions are subjective without any hard evidence to substantiate thinking. Anecdotally (according to educationalists and Māori chess experts), there are several premises behind this untested theory:

· The traditional culture for Māori peoples was founded on the need to grow strong memory skills so that history, tikanga values and community wisdom can be handed down through the generations. The recital of whakapapa was the oral-based presentation for learned genealogy. Singing of moteatea (chants and waiata) ensured the passing on of legends so essential to the Māori worldview. Men’s kapa haka and mau rākau were based on remembering set dance patterns in sequence. Importantly, no written medium for cultural knowledge meant that these stories had to be clearly “visualised” in the mind for ready recall.

· The heavens and stargazing have played a paramount part in historic Māori culture. Navigating by the stars enabled Māori Tipuna (ancestors) to sail across the ocean to safely arrive on the shores of Ᾱotearoa. This knowledge of the navigation through astronomy was considered a form of giftedness. It was seen as a science for plotting and following one course to another by determining the position of a moving waka (Webber, 2012).

· In pre-European days, when the warrior culture for young Māori men was predominant, great value was attached to the planning of battle tactics and working out how these would look in reality. The training was a warlike sport combining aggression and competition.

· The art of playing a traditional Māori board game called Mū Torere. It involved two players moving coloured stones on eight end-points of a star formation. The objective of this “star” game was to block the opponent’s pieces and allowed gifted competitors to “see” over 40 moves ahead. Mū Torere required concentration for logical thinking, problem solving and prediction.

It is probably fair to say that these points of significance do seem to provide a traditional foundation for Māori adroitness at the art of chess. They give us something tangible to show how the customary Māori way of life may link to a cultural construct of giftedness. Intriguingly, this giftedness may well be not only cultural in context, but marked by masculinity. Chess is a game of conflicts where players try their best to overwhelm and exasperate each other. This aggressive component may be one of the reasons for the gender difference in favour of males (Aciego et al, 2012).

Within this indigenous framework, the stand out feature is the innate ability of boys to think ahead along with their sharp visual sense of prediction. This heightened visual-spatial ability represents a natural intelligence that is culturally valued. The inherent cultural trait for spatial giftedness is extremely important for the education of Māori males. Theorists postulate that high spatial ability underpins creative breakthroughs in mathematics and that the spatially gifted are advantaged by being able to process information simultaneously, rather than sequentially (Diezmann & Watters, 2002). It is not too big a step to suggest that if Māori boys display a genetic predisposition for distinction in chess, then they could well become excellent mathematicians. Chess could be the hook and the catalyst for profiling this culturally-endowed giftedness.

In the spirit of Gifted Awareness Week, the challenge now is to use the new beginnings of Matariki and come up with an innovative strategy starring Māori boys gifted at chess – checkmate!



Celone, J. (2001). Educational Technologies. Retrieved 12 June, 2013 from

Photo credit: The photo of Reuben Whaitiri playing chess was supplied by Sunny Bush.


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Planning with pictures

Mary St George, Board Member, giftEDnz
Lead Teacher, Gifted Online

Your unit plan for your mixed ability class is not complete until you have added a few novel tasks or quirky questions for your most able thinkers. However, in the real world, a teacher’s creative energy for planning may be all used up before any differentiation for the gifted is done. That’s why I am sharing a “quick and dirty” technique which I often use when my internal planning batteries have gone flat and my creativity has evaporated. You’ll need five things.

  1. A concrete noun related to your topic.
  2. An abstract noun. If you use conceptual themes, this noun should be your theme, or have a clear relationship to it. If not, choose an abstract noun that feels a bit learning-related, but waste no effort connecting it to the topic. That will probably happen by itself.
  3. A comfortable environment.
  4. The beverage of your choice.
  5. An image search engine.

First, sit in your comfortable environment and test the quality of your beverage of choice. Next, browse to your image search engine and enter both your chosen nouns.
Then scroll through the results at a reasonable pace until you have seen several things which puzzle you and at least a couple which make you laugh.

For me, that is usually all it takes. Sometimes I have to vary my search terms a little, but soon I will find myself marvelling at the creativity of artists and photographers, at the diversity of technology, and at the beauty of nature. My mind will be making many different connections between the pictures, the search terms, the learners I have in mind, and the unit of study as a whole. I will have questions and activities pop into my mind which I could refine to use within a highly prescriptive planning framework or in a school with a more flexible approach to classroom delivery of curriculum.

For example, I have made a Google image search for ocean communication. Many classes study the ocean, so that is my topic word. I chose communication for three reasons: communication is a widely used conceptual theme in schools, it has a clear relationship with the Key Competencies, and I didn’t have any fixed ideas about how communication “should” relate to oceans. I like to stay open to tangents, because I find a novel way of thinking about a topic is so motivating for gifted learners.

The Google thumbnail images which I see are out of context, and I sometimes do not know whether I am looking at reality or photoshopping, so my mind makes its own spontaneous connections between ideas, and the result is often a question:

Yes, this is stream of consciousness stuff, and slightly unhinged. However, this rapid and fairly effortless process gives me a lot of raw material to work with. I find it more productive than trying to think of ways to add complexity, connections and abstractions using only willpower and logic.

Among my thoughts about the ocean communication images, I have scope already for technological investigations and biological investigations. I have springboards for imaginative thinking, factual discoveries, and cultural comparisons. I am slightly perturbed by the cool starfish photo, so may have an ethical question about doing strange things with sea creatures for the sake of art… unless I find out that starfish are a lot more mobile than I realised.

I can now find out more about any image that interests me by visiting its webpage, and I sometimes do. However, I may decide to pursue an idea which has arisen by taking a group of pictures at face value but does not rely on the background information for those images.

A deep sea crab investigates a tool with which humans are investigating crabs. Is this communication?

A deep sea crab investigates a tool with which humans are investigating crabs. Is this communication?

For instance, inspired by the map of shipping routes, the message in a bottle, and the crab above, I may have children think about the range of ways in which the breadth or depth of the ocean has been a barrier to the transfer of information, and how our solutions to the problem have changed (or could change) over time. I do not need to know whether it was really a message or a stick in that bottle to move ahead with my planning. While most children might be finding five fun facts about crabs, my gifted students may be invited to explore ways in which scientists have approached the problem of finding facts about deep sea crabs; perhaps incorporating change over time, and adding their own creative solutions.

I can now consider the finer details of my planning requirements, applying a model for differentiation, selecting scaffolds for thinking skills, and locating resources for children’s gathering of information and creation of learning products.

The image search is not an end in itself. The more we come to understand the principles of differentiation, the better we will be able to work with the ideas generated by the stream of pictures we find. However, I recommend the picture search for the times when your understanding of curriculum differentiation is not bringing you any fresh ideas to work with.

Image credit: The deep sea crab image is by Neptune Canada, and is licensed CC-BY-NC-SA


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Let’s not ‘throw out the baby with the bathwater’

Louise Tapper, Board Member, giftEDnz
Lecturer and Doctoral Candidate, University of Canterbury


Streaming, along with acceleration, is one of those emotive topics that always catches the attention of the public and the media. When some new study is released that could add fuel to the debate, this challenges us to think about our views on the practice, particularly in relation to the group of students we support, our gifted and talented children. To that end, research from Hornby, Witte and Mitchell (2011) from the University of Canterbury, on ability grouping in intermediate and secondary schools has recently attracted attention. Headlines such as “Ability Grouping Ineffective and Detrimental”, and “Ditch Classroom Streaming” screamed out at us from the pages of our newspapers and on www.stuff and the like. Opponents of the practice, such as Professor Hornby, the lead researcher, got to have their say, citing copious international research that shows the disadvantages of streaming, or tracking, as it is sometimes called.

And Hornby and co are right; there is plenty of research to show that streaming, or for that matter any kind of ability grouping, is not a perfect system for all students. As James Borland and his guest editors in the Special Issue of the Roeper Review on Ability Grouping (2002) noted:

If one is determined to find research evidence that ability grouping is educationally ineffective and socially inequitable, one can easily find it.

Equally, there is plenty of research in support of the practice; research which maintains that ability grouping, and in particular, streaming, is the magic remedy for some groups who have previously been under-served in their education history, gifted children among them.

As with any research, (because you can’t ever cover everything in one study!) there were several limitations that jumped out at me from the Hornby et al paper that I challenge. Firstly, opinions on the practice of streaming were solely gathered from the principals in the Intermediate and secondary schools and not from any other group. The perceived disadvantages to the practice were picked up by the media reports – of course! – but the study results also showed several perceived advantages, such as for gifted and talented pupils and pupils with special educational needs. Further, out of the nine intermediate schools surveyed, two principals said there were no disadvantages to ability grouping practices (p.94). So based on such data, streaming is detrimental to all students and should be abolished??? Mmmmm? Really?

To be fair, the researchers did note that “it would also be useful to investigate the views of pupils, teachers, parents and Ministry of Education officials on this topic” (p.95). I am not so sure about the last group nominated here, (why this group??) but I do believe that the most valid research on streaming needs to come from data collected from the students themselves; after all, they are the ones who have experienced, or are experiencing the practice. Secondly, their parents have shared these lived experiences with their children and have valuable opinions. And, yes, teachers too!

To back this view up, here are some comments from the young gifted adolescent participants involved in my doctoral research project, and their parents, to give a flavour of what the practice of streaming has meant for them.

And then the thing I loved about Iona was I found people that were smarter than me. At primary school there, well there was a couple of people maybe who were like, you know, but they just – it seemed to bother them that I came top in lots of things, ah most things, and then like at Iona there were people smarter than me and it was great cos I was with all the smart people together kind of thing, like all of us working together instead of one particular person being picked on.

Hm, no, that was one of the good aspects of it, because everyone was quite competitive and yeah, it made you work harder I think.

And she was actually in a class with kids who were just like her. You know, a little bit crazy and a little bit eccentric and all their really special interests and those children sort of gel.(Parent)

There were, of course, those who did not feel comfortable in a streamed class, because not all gifted students are alike in their understandings about what works for them!

He, um, was not happy about getting into an extension class because he felt that, um, all his friends, all his other friends, they didn’t and he didn’t want to be, like, the one and only, and he didn’t want to get that name, a nerdy name. That’s what he was concerned about. (Parent)

I think we have to be careful with the emotive hyperbole that is often attached to the debate over forms of ability grouping, such as streaming. Do we have to have an either/or approach to streaming, for example? Do we really believe in an educational philosophy which supports the premise that if a practice does not serve one section of the student population then we need to take it away from the group of students whom it does benefit? Surely this is egalitarianism gone crazy? Is ‘ditching’ something like streaming, (which does seem to work well both academically and socially for many of our gifted students), because the needs of other students are not being served well by the practice, the answer to providing equality of educational opportunity? Or would it not be more equitable to find other ways to meet the needs of those who are not benefiting and continue with streaming for the students who are thriving?

I am perfectly willing to note that some streaming practices need improving. Complaints from opponents that top stream classes get the ‘best teachers’, that there is no opportunity for fluidity between streamed classes in schools (for students to move from one class to another), that selection processes into streamed classes are often flawed and can be biased against some minority cultural groups, are all valid. However, I contend that solutions to these issues are quite straight forward with the right approach from knowledgeable educators. Streaming is but one form of ability grouping but if it is done well it is a viable and beneficial option for many students, including our gifted and talented children. The bath water might need to be cleaned up a bit but the baby itself is doing OK. Ditch streaming? Why on earth would we want to throw out this baby with the bath water?


Article cited:

Hornby, G., Witte, C., & Mitchell, D. (2011). Policies and practices of ability grouping in New Zealand intermediate schools. Support for Learning, 26 (3), 92-96

Photo credit: The photo of the baby is by fairuz othman, and has an attribution license.


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24/7 challenge

Tracy Riley, Chairperson, giftEDnz
Associate Professor, Massey University

24-7 Challenge

This upcoming week, 17 -23 June, is Gifted Awareness Week in New Zealand – 7 days for challenging people’s perceptions of and responses to gifted and talented people of all ages.

Giftedness may mean different things to different people, and what is challenging for some may not be for others. What is certain is that being gifted doesn’t go away. It may change in its presentation, depending on context, who’s around, or the mood of the day. But 24/7, the traits and characteristics associated with giftedness are present. That is a child, teenager or adult is gifted and talented twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week.

24/7 is an interesting concept, with its roots in commerce and industry and, typically, referring to a 24/7 service. Like giftedness, these services are non-stop and round the clock; ATM machines, supermarkets, petrol stations, call centres, and hospitals provide customers and consumers with their goods and services. In fact, some services are 24/7/52: twenty-four hours seven days fifty two weeks. Ask any parent of a highly gifted child about their experiences, and, I can guarantee the 24/7/52 label applies!

What this means for us as professionals is that we need to remember that giftedness isn’t only present during school hours. Behaviours associated with special abilities and qualities may present themselves in different ways in different contexts, including after school on the sports field, on the weekend at the marae, at bedtime while Nana reads a story, during Sunday church services, on Tuesday in their one day a week programme, or busking on the street corner Saturday morning. Therefore, our identification needs to be inclusive of parents and whanau, community providers, church leaders, sport coaches, and private providers of gifted education. Gathering the many different perspectives of giftedness will provide a more complete picture of giftedness and talent.

Similarly, our responses to these behaviours should be inclusive. It is important that as teachers and gifted and talented coordinators, we are aware of and have access to information about the many services and resources available in our communities, locally, regionally and nationally, as well as virtually (or online). Importantly, understanding the identification and related differentiated services provided within and beyond the school is critical – whether the service is a 5/1 (that is five hours one day a week programme) or a 24/3 (twenty-four hours three days a week holiday camp)!

Like identification, we also need to consider the continuum of provisions, recognizing the importance of a range of opportunities, beginning in the regular classroom across the school and into the community. No one approach works, and it is important professionals work together, with parents, communities, and providers, to put together a comprehensive programme, driven by the individual learner’s strengths, interests, passions and, of course, needs. This requires good communication, relationship building, leadership, openness and understanding, respect, flexibility, and, like most good things, time.

But, 24/7 is not always what it appears to be, is not without controversy, and, in fact, can be illegal (enforced with trading laws, often notoriously broken!). Sometimes 24/7 means only a website is always available or there is limited partial service after certain hours or on certain days. Workers’ rights have been questioned, with people having to adapt their lives to schedules that may limit their personal opportunities, choices and development. Being on call 24/7 or available to work at all times has been referred to as “collective mania” by journalist, Martin Kettle: “The more I hear the phrase I think there is a madness afoot.” He describes 24/7 as a living hell. In today’s world, where gym bunnies can do their squats at 2am, Kettle also writes about employment , in a 24/7 world, that becomes an end in itself, rather than a means to an end. The rat race ensues, and like all races, there are winners and losers.

Do our perceptions of and responses to giftedness work in these same ways? Are teachers sometimes fooled by behaviours that might indicate giftedness but are really something else all together? Or could the behavior thought to be naughty, fidgety, awkward, unusual, or even slow, really an indicator of exceptionally advanced abilities? If a child shows abilities in one setting or with one teacher or in one subject, are they still gifted? Do we, as teachers, expect our gifted and talented learners to adapt to schedules, curricula, assessment and peer groups that limit their opportunities for learning, narrow their choices, and, ultimately, stunt their development? Has the collective mania – a madness we see on educational policies that ignore our gifted learners and a Tall Poppy Syndrome that lops off those who strive above others – taken hold on us? Do we ignore Government mandates for identifying and providing for gifted learners or bend the rules to conform to mantras of limited funding, not enough time, limited professional development, and lack of Ministry of Education commitment and priority? Has education of gifted and talented students become an end – an end of learning that is?

Most importantly, when we recognize these perceptions and responses – in ourselves or others – do we change them?

During Gifted Awareness Week 2013, I challenge all professionals who work with gifted and talented children, young people and adults, to step back and reflect upon our own practices. How do you perceive giftedness and how do you respond? That is my 24/7 challenge for you!

Image credit: The 24/7 image is an original Image by Hannah Lock, 2013.


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