Tuesday, 30 September 2014

"How are you challenging your gifted and talented pupils?" isn't theright question.

Gagné defines giftedness as "the possession and use of untrained and spontaneously expressed superior natural abilities" and talent as "the superior mastery of systematically developed abilities (or skills) and knowledge".  In both cases, Gagné  is talking about people who fall in the top 10% of their age peers. The Oxford dictionary provides a less clear distinction: talented is "having a natural aptitude or skill"  while gifted is "having exceptional talent or natural ability".  In essence the terms are interchangeable, perhaps both implying some natural quality, although to be gifted seems higher up the scale ("exceptional") and less "trainable", if we take Gagné's definition.  

So on that basis and assuming an even spread of Gagné's 10% of giftedness and talent throughout the world, the top 10% of readers and writers in your class - let's say the three pupils who form the ablest half of your highest ability group in English - might be gifted and talented.  But what if talent is not evenly spread? You might ask yourself how those three pupils might compare in reading/writing ability on a local, regional or national level.  Are they gifted and talented, or are they just the most able 10% of a class that in general is operating below local/regional/national expectations?  In this case, shouldn't your energies be focused on raising the attainment of all?

How about other gifts and talents?  How are you challenging pupils who have superior mastery of or superior natural abilities in sewing, or keepy uppy, or Super Mario?  Have you tested all your pupils for their mastery of these gifts and/or talents, or are we just talking about literacy and numeracy when we refer to gifted and talented children?

And just suppose talent is fostered or encouraged by children's experiences outside school, through the systematic support of parents and carers.  And just suppose some parents and carers are better able to provide this systematic support?  Could that be a possibility? Let's take literacy, for example.  The American Psychological Association notes that parents from low socioeconomic status (SES) communities are less likely to provide a positive literacy environment and less likely to read with their children.  This is about socioeconomic class.  The children of parents of higher SES (measured by education, income and occupation) are more likely to get the support at home that leads to the label gifted and talented.  Potentially, schools are more likely to label middle class children gifted and talented.*

And then, how about this scenario.  What if children from higher SES backgrounds with a richer literacy experience at home and who, let's say, get taken to concerts and galleries and theatres by their parents and carers, are rewarded for their giftedness and talent at school with additional book clubs, reading opportunities and concert, gallery and theatre visits.

I'll leave you to work out what the right questions are.

*Read Malcolm Gladwell's Outliers for other examples of how the identification of giftedness and talent is distorted by factors such as when and where you're born.

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