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Mind the Gap

The recent scoping report by consultants MartinJenkins, commissioned by Gifted Kids (now New Zealand Centre for Gifted Education) identified a series of ‘gaps’ in service delivery for gifted children in New Zealand’s schools (read more here: These thoughts are echoed by the shared Position Statement from the New Zealand Centre for Gifted Education, giftEDNZ and the NZAGC.

When thinking about gaps in relation to the education of gifted, one springs to my mind immediately – the gap between potential and achievement in our gifted children. This gap saddens and angers me. To see gifted children languishing in the 'above standard' zone, perhaps a year above their chronological age, is simply wrong.  
While giftedness is not an automatic ticket to high achievement but our gifted children absolutely and undoubtedly have the ability to achieve at exceptional levels, many years above their chronological age.

If they aren’t doing this, we must stop and think very, very carefully about why.

Reis (1998) identified a relationship between unchallenging or inappropriate curriculum in underachievement, and Whitmore (1989) found a leading cause of under-achievement to be “Environments that do not nurture their gifts and may even discourage high achievement” (Whitmore, 1989). More simply put, gifted children may not be working to their potential because they are not being given educational opportunities that propel them towards that potential.

There’s a lot of chalk-face talk about enrichment and lateral extension as provisions for gifted children. Despite many good intentions, I remain unconvinced that these piece-meal, ‘around the edges’ approaches are anywhere near sufficient to close the gap.
A bigger picture view of what our gifted students need is required here – one that has genuine intellectual challenge at the core of any provision for gifted students.  Intellectually challenging content, tasks and processes can be developed for all gifted students, at any ages, and across and within all curriculum areas.  Challenging strength based programming allows gifted children to really work towards their potential.

The other common chalk-face conversation is about the limits placed upon us as teachers by the New Zealand Curriculum and National Standards. Here I echo Sue Barriball's concerns about raising the ire of my colleagures, those in my profession, one that I have worked in for 20 years, but... I think blaming the limits of our curriculum or National Standards is an easy ‘out’. There is plenty of scope within both for us as teachers to develop genuinely intellectually challenging programmes for our gifted children from school entry onwards.  Let’s be more creative, more adventurous, more ambitious as we create and negotiate curriculum pathways that challenge our students, and start to close the gap.
As teachers, are we brave enough?

Reis, S. M. (1998). Underachievement for some—Dropping out with dignity for others. Communicator, 29(1), 1, 19–24.
Smutney, J. (2004). Meeting the needs of gifted underachievers – individually! 2e Newsletter. Available here: Printer Friendly Version
Whitmore, J. R. (1989). Re-examining the concept of underachievement. Understanding Our Gifted 2(1) 10-12.

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