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Mainstreaming effective gifted education practices

First published in the blog for the World Council for Gifted Education conference 2013:

In the preface to the most recent (3rd) edition of 'Gifted and Talented - New Zealand Perspectives' Joseph Renzulli (p.ix) draws connections between current thinking about education and that espoused by visionary educators in the past. He states: 

"... changes taking place in the post-industrial world have caused us to re-examine some of the historical roots of education set forth by progressive educators who viewed learning as a vehicle to unleash the creative potential of young people and to engender in them a role that leads to the making and shaping of society as well as merely participating in it."
 
Renzulli identifies early leaders such as Rousseau and Pestalozzi along with more recent theorists such as Piaget and Dewey, who proposed that a critical role of education was to fulfill the individual potential of each child by providing an appropriate learning environment. To achieve this, key people in education (primarily teachers) are called upon to make "...accommodations in learning that reflect the broad range of abilities, interests, motivation, learning styles and expression styles that are the essence of uniqueness in individual learners." (p.x)
  
New Zealand educators are no strangers to the concept of industrial and post-industrial educational approaches and the need for a major paradigm shift in education. A recent report produced by Bolstad, Gilbert, McDowall, Bull, Boyd & Hipkins (NZCER) proposes that at least six emerging themes in education need to come together if we are to create a "coherent direction for designing a future-focused education system" (p.15). They are:
1.       Personalising learning.
2.       New views of equity, diversity and inclusivity.
3.       A curriculum that uses knowledge to develop learning capacity.
4.       Rethinking learners' and teachers' roles.
5.       A culture of continuous learning for teachers and educational leaders.
6.       New kinds of partnerships and relationships: Schools no longer siloed from the community.
 
Dr Beeby, one of New Zealand's foremost influencers and the first Director of the New Zealand Council for Educational Research (NZCER) described the highest form of primary education as one that:
1.       Stresses meaning and understanding,
2.       Caters for individual differences,
3.       Uses methods that include problem solving and creativity; internal tests; and relaxed and positive discipline,
4.       Recognises the importance of emotional and aesthetic life as well as the intellectual, 
5.       Develops close links with the community, and
6.       Has suitable buildings and equipment.
(Source: C.E. Beeby, The quality of education in developing countries, Harvard University Press, Cambridge MASS., 1966, p. 72)

Note the similarities:advocates for gifted and talented learners will recognise that personalising learning (i.e. catering for individual differences) is what we have been requesting for ALL children over many years and, when embedded fully in our schools, will serve ALL students well.
 
Earlier this year I attended a conference in Singapore and visited one of six 'Future Schools.' It struck me that the principles underpinning the pedagogical approach of the Principal and teachers at this school were very familiar to me as an educator involved in gifted and talented education, so much so that I asked the Deputy Principal, whom I recognised as a co-delegate at a previous WCGT Conference, if this was intentional. Her response was "Most definitely."  
 
We agreed that it benefits all students to move at their own pace, to have the opportunity to explore areas of interest in depth, to be challenged in their thinking, and to use their special abilities to contribute to their community. The difference for gifted and talented learners is that, along with other considerations related to inner perception and awareness and sensitivities, teachers need to appreciate that the pace will probably be faster, interests may be broader and/or so absorbing that they will pursue them for longer than you might reasonably expect of other learners of a similar age, and they are likely to ask more questions than they will appear to answer.
 
This brings me back to my starting point; Joseph Renzulli.  You will be familiar with his oft-quoted statement about a ‘Rising tide lifting all ships…’ Renzulli’s paper describing the School Enrichment Model reminds us that infusing effective practices into our schools and catering appropriately for gifted and talented learners benefits all students.

Could mainstreaming effective gifted and talented education practices bring about the paradigm shift necessary for all students to thrive as learners? I believe so….