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One Size does not fit all

Child-centred education is at the centre of primary education and many schools claim to have a ‘gifted and talented’ learning program, but do they really have a program that caters for the different needs of gifted children? Because of the wide range of schools offering programs it has always remained a mystery to me why the notion of catering for individuals according to their needs can cause so much controversy and that adopting a genuinely differentiated curriculum for gifted students has been such a long time in coming.

Child-centred education is about catering for individuals. The original Latin word for education means to pull something out, it does not mean to put something in. Revisiting the meaning of child-centred in primary education is long overdue. We know that active, concrete learning is essential for young children who need purpose and direction. The current primary school legacy has traditionally focussed on ‘hands on’ education without always thinking through a ‘minds on’ approach to learning. Such a legacy has failed to serve our gifted primary students.

One size does not fit all – ask your school if they have:

  1. Designed a gifted curriculum for all gifted students and a radically different curriculum to cater for accelerated exceptionally and profoundly gifted students.

  2. Differentiated the curriculum for gifted students in mainstream classrooms; matching learning needs to appropriate learning experiences.

  3. Unique learning experiences that cater for the needs of gifted students at different stages in their schooling and in all subjects

  4. Created an open learning environment where children interact with different age groups, where diversity is celebrated.

Instead of offering rich, vibrant learning experiences, all too often, schools offer over simplified learning and use syllabus outcomes as an excuse to limit what children are offered in classrooms. The current political push for performance indicators in primary education makes nonsense of offering a broad education and is far too limiting for any learner. When I train staff, I ask them to keep an image of galloping horses in their heads when they are designing curriculum for gifted students. Galloping horses are free, with the wind rushing through their manes, the wide, open environment in full view, no speeding fines imposed and no reins.

This is why it is vital to train staff in the designing ,planning and delivery of a gifted curriculum, not only for accelerated students but also for gifted students in mainstream classrooms. We need a different curriculum for gifted students because they learn quicker, in more depth and often have vast and varied interests. Ask your school what training they have provided for staff to be able to design a differentiated curriculum that can meet the needs of all students?

Dumbing down our kids’ conversations and limiting the ability to question is a problem in most classrooms. My observations have revealed that the general level of questioning in classrooms is well below the majority of children’s developmental level and also what parents expect of them at home. In addition, the teachers held the monopoly over the right to ask questions and seemed to think that the reason for asking a question was to ascertain what a student already knew. Socrates said that the strength of curiosity lies within the confrontation of a question with another question. In other words, we should be teaching children to ask better questions and to think for themselves.

My vision for schools is of places where children can construct new knowledge and not merely regurgitate existing knowledge. We need to evaluate all teaching practices in a school and commonly held myths of good practice that are not serving gifted students well. In particular, we need a complete overhaul of expectations in the early years, Kindergarten to Year Two. Gifted students in this stage of their schooling are often badly served by the lack of rigour and the low expectations in their classrooms.

My experience shows that that within a few weeks of entering school, Kindergarten children were playing a game of ‘guess what’s in my teacher’s head’. What was happening to our gifted five year olds if they were learning how to conform to their peer group so readily? Highly gifted students can learn to conceal their gifts to blend in with their peer group and this behaviour has a serious effect on their academic performance.

Everyone knows that you come to kindergarten to learn to read but what if you can already read? A staggering percentage of students in a major study of children with an I.Q of 160+ were altering their reading habits within the first month of starting school. they were dumbing down their own learning. This should sound warning bells to all teachers and educational leaders.

The challenge for educators is to narrow the gap between the rhetoric and the reality. It is easy to say that learning for gifted students is differentiated but what does this mean in reality? To differentiate the curriculum is to present endless challenges. It is demanding and requires staff who are rigorous in their own thinking, comfortable to take risks, to help students with their search for meaning and above all, understand their students.

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