This week, I would like to focus my attention on gifted students. Currently, in Australia, studies higlight that gifted students are not performing to their full potential. The following article delves deeper into why this is, and explores what action scholars believe needs to be taken, in order for them to reach their full potential.

Focus on Achievement Potential NOT Achievement Gaps

“Gifted students are not performing to their potential. Whilst education in Australia continues to focus on bridging the achievement gap at the expense of pushing down the needs of gifted students, Australia’s PISA world rankings will continue to plunge”. (Thomson, De Bortoli et al. 2013). Gifted Education has encountered many road blocks to its successful implementation in Australia. This is despite empirical research to the contrary. Myths and misconceptions regarding gifted students’ learning needs continue to abound in Australian schools. Rather than, ‘closing the achievement gap by pushing down the top’ we could in fact raise the bar for all learners and aim for all students to realise their achievement potential, as long as we understand their specific learning needs.

Myths and Misconceptions

Francois Gane seminal work indicates that stereotypical views held by some teachers and parents, propagate views such as these, “very few are actually good in everything they do” and do little to bring insights into gifted students’ needs. Other myths relate to the homogeneity of gifted students, which, when learning about gifted students’ learning needs is quite the contrary. By far, the key influencer in student achievement potential is in the hands of a teacher. However, it is not just any teacher. Carmen’s research (2011), tells us, teachers whose experiences of teaching gifted students and who had received training in gifted education, or who merely embraced an interest in gifted education, are those that have positive impact on learning outcomes for gifted students.

Redressing Underachievement

Nonetheless, having definitions and a common language about gifted learners is not the entire answer to addressing underachievement in our gifted students. We need to find a way to identify them. Betts and Neihart (2010) devised a means of doing just that. They developed profiles that bring additional information for educators and school administrators to consider when identifying gifted underachievers and providing for their specific learning needs. In a sense, it is akin to ‘panning for gold’. Betts and Neihart’s analogy goes straight to the core of the issues relating to gifted education. We cannot provide effective programming for gifted students if we do not know what to look for. Moreover, we certainly cannot assist them achieve their potential, if we do not have insight into what those needs may be.

Without intervention, many gifted students could too fall victims to an achievement gap, and consequently, we lose the opportunity to nurture the talent development in our country, not to mention the benefits the potential contributions they could have made on a global level.

This is an outcome that has impact for individual students, their schools, the nation and the broader global community. It also could well be one of the causes of our sliding PISA rakings given our top students are either falling behind or sadly simply plateauing.

Talent Development and Creativity

Talent development, lies at much of the heart of research undertaken in gifted education over the past few decades.

Pirto (2013) questions the need for testing and leads us to question, “Why not embed these skills when planning curriculum for all learners? Surely, if we do this, we not only open opportunities for our gifted students, but we open the door for lifting all learners to reach their potential and expectation.” Hattie and others suggest, creative problem solving and inclusion of authentic real-world problems foster and promote creativity. This helps students think in unique ways and provides them strategies for thinking outside the square and way beyond the sights we currently set for our educational aspirations expressly for our gifted students.

Awareness, Adaptation and Advocacy

While the rhetoric surrounding education in Australia focuses on bridging the achievement gap, it will continue to overlook the needs of gifted students. However, we can realign the focus for our country, by shifting our collective thinking surrounding the needs of gifted learners. Gifted education.

If we cast our attention away from closing the achievement gap to aiming for the upper limits of achievement potential, the benefits for improved learning development, for all students is feasible.

This vision for the future is tantalisingly close for all Australian students and teachers, however, it necessitates change. It demands, the provision of time for professional dialogue around, gifted education, so awareness of their needs and the interventions they require are provided. It means dispelling long held myths and misconceptions, with the facts provided in empirical research and teacher training.

Mrs Elka Gaensler, Head of Learning Plus and Education Support