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Celebrate giftedness – but what does it really mean? By Louise Tapper.

Celebrate giftedness – but what does it really mean?

What does giftedness really mean? CC BY Mary St George.

As we near the end of Gifted Awareness Week I wonder if we should be thinking about what we really mean when we talk about the concept of ‘giftedness’ here in Aotearoa New Zealand? The debate has certainly been raging internationally with NAGC releasing a new definition recently (see http://www.nagc.org/uploadedFiles/About_NAGC/Redefining%20Giftedness%20for%20a%20New%20Century.pdf).

It seems to me that many of the teachers in our schools and centres, those who are charged with writing the policies, with developing the programmes, with identifying the students who take part in these programmes, yes, those ‘at the coalface’, are still struggling with the concept itself. In New Zealand, policy makers have adopted a laissez-faire approach towards developing any kind of single definition of giftedness. However, Don McAlpine, in his chapter in McAlpine and Moltzen (2004) does remind us that:

“Discussions on the nature of giftedness and talent are at the very heart of gifted education. Parameters of giftedness determine who will be identified as gifted and what the nature of programmes will be that cater for their learning needs. The interrelationship between concept, characteristics, identification and programming is crucial to the understanding of gifted education.” (p.59)

So basically he is saying that you should probably never start on identification or programming without a sound understanding of what you and your school and community understand the concept of giftedness to be about.

ERO’s 2008 review expected that “…the school’s definition of giftedness and talent reflected the context and values of the school community, was multi-categorical, incorporated Maori concepts, incorporated multi-cultural concepts and was grounded in sound research and theory” but in the ERO review report only 5% of schools were found to be working from “highly inclusive and appropriate conceptualisations”. So it would seem that uncertainty does reign!

I wonder if when we use too broad and inclusive a conception, this can cause confusion for teachers who are left with little to support them, especially in terms of professional development that involves current “research and theory”. It is difficult for teachers to develop a conceptual framework to guide their pedagogical practices without such support.

I wonder if too often we miss the first step, the chance to debate and discuss conceptualisations of giftedness, and rush on to the next one – the one that understandably worries many teachers – identification.

I wonder if this, in turn, can be driven by compliance issues - the need to fill in the spaces on the Gifted Register, to be ready for the next ERO visit, to justify identification criteria to a parent community? And in doing so do we in turn rely on what I call ‘identification crutches’ – NCEA results, National Standards, PATs, generic checklists, entrance test results without really understanding the conceptual framework around which we base the identification process?

There is no doubt that we have some strong foundation principles in New Zealand on which to base our conceptions - the clear support for a multi-categorical understanding of giftedness, the recognition of a developmentalist approach that identifies potential as well as performance, and the understanding that giftedness is apparent across all societal groups and is in relation to what is valued by a particular culture.

But I argue that teachers need the opportunity to expand on these foundation principles within the context of their own schools, centres and communities and under the guidance of professionals with the research and pedagogical background to lead debate and discussion. It all comes back to PLD, doesn’t it? Support teachers to get that first step right and those next steps – identification and programming – might just be easier to take!


McAlpine, D. (2004). What do we mean by gifted and talented? Concepts and definitions. In D. McAlpine & R. Moltzen (Eds.), Gifted and Talented: New Zealand Perspectives (2nd ed., pp. 33-66). Palmerston North: Kanuka Grove Press.

Education Review Office. (2008). Schools' provisions for gifted and talented students. Wellington: Education Review Office.

This post is part of the #NZGAW Blog Tour.


#NZGAW Blog Tour



An organisation for anyone with a professional interest in gifted and talented education.