In a webinar with The Education Hub, Justine Munro and Madelaine Armstrong-Willcocks explored what is important and what works in gifted education, and shared insights from their work with the New Zealand Centre for Gifted Education.
While there are many different definitions of giftedness, the New Zealand Centre for Gifted Education defines giftedness as a form of neurodiversity or a neurological difference. The NZCGE regards gifted students as those who have innate high abilities coupled with particular personal qualities (which arise from the high abilities and include things like emotional sensitivity, high empathy, a sense of justice and fairness, and a desire for autonomy, as well as culturally specific or bound qualities like leadership, connection to lineage, humility, or an intense sense of whanaungatanga). Giftedness is seen in different domains, including the intellectual, creative, social and cultural, and physical domains. There is a difference between having strengths and talents, and being gifted.
Gifted students are:
- Intense: they are voracious, intellectually intense learners, often with a powerful memory, who might be described as over-thinkers (although gifted learners don’t see it as over-thinking), and can have intense emotions and empathy
- Asynchronous: in other words, they are out of step with their same age peers, but also out of step with themselves (for example, their intellectual ability outstrips their ability to regulate their emotions or their physical abilities)
- Exceptional: they are statistically exceptional (probably 5-10% of the population), and 30% also have additional exceptionality (such as autism, dyslexia, or sensory differences)
Achievement is not the same as giftedness. Gifted students require support and nurturing, and a significant percentage of them will underachieve if not given specialist learning support. Gifted students commonly think faster and more deeply, make more connections, and are more abstract and complex thinkers than their peers. Rather than ignoring them, assuming they will be fine, or expecting them to fit into pre-designed offerings for gifted students, it is important to capitalise on and build from their strengths, rather than targeting any deficits, and to find out what gifted students’ needs are by attending closely to their strengths and differences. Start with the individual student, and design, adapt, and update programmes to suit them.