Schools need bet­ter path­ways for tal­ented kids

The Sunday Times - - News - JOSH ZIM­MER­MAN

SOME of the State’s best and bright­est stu­dents are bored and dis­en­gaged be­cause schools are fail­ing to iden­tify and fos­ter their tal­ents early enough, ac­cord­ing to an Edith Cowan Univer­sity ed­u­ca­tion ex­pert.

Re­search fel­low Eileen Slater said schools should be look­ing out for the char­ac­ter­is­tics of gifted chil­dren from the first day they walk into a class­room, or they risked fail­ing to help them reach their full po­ten­tial.

“Much of the de­bate around our ed­u­ca­tion sys­tem is fo­cused on how we best pro­vide for stu­dents who are strug­gling,” she said.

“But lit­tle at­ten­tion is paid to stu­dents who per­form or have the po­ten­tial to per­form bet­ter than their peers.”

About 10 per cent of school chil­dren are in­tel­lec­tu­ally gifted, but in WA there is no for­mal iden­ti­fi­ca­tion process un­til Pri­mary Ex­ten­sion and Chal­lenge Pro­gram (PEAC) test­ing in Year 4.

“Most pub­lic pri­mary schools don’t of­fer any­thing for gifted stu­dents un­til PEAC starts in Year 5,” Dr Slater said.

“Even then, PEAC is only two to three hours per week which is, one, too late and, two, not what I would call a ther­a­peu­tic dose of ex­po­sure to like-minded chil­dren.

“There needs to be a lot more on of­fer a lot ear­lier.”

Dr Slater said gifted stu­dents quickly “switched off” when not chal­lenged and were of­ten mis­tak­enly viewed as dis­rup­tive or trou­ble­mak­ers by teach­ers.

She pointed to Melville Pri­mary as one of few pri­mary schools in the pub­lic or pri­vate sec­tor proac­tively iden­ti­fy­ing and cater­ing to its bright­est stu­dents

Teach­ers at the school from kinder­garten on­wards are drilled on the char­ac­ter­is­tics of ex­cep­tion­ally bright stu­dents and how they might man­i­fest in both a pos­i­tive and neg­a­tive way.

For in­stance, a child with higher or­ders of in­tel­lec­tual cu­rios­ity may have a ten­dency to re­sist direc­tion and ask em­bar­rass­ing ques­tions, while an ad­vanced prob­lem­solver can be ma­nip­u­la­tive and dom­i­neer­ing to­wards their peers.

The school has be­come par­tic­u­larly adept at iden­ti­fy­ing so-called “twice-ex­cep­tional” stu­dents — those who are in­tel­lec­tu­ally gifted but also have a learn­ing im­ped­i­ment like dys­lexia or ADHD that can mask their abil­ity — and now reg­u­larly at­tracts chil­dren from pri­vate schools and out­side its catch­ment.

Learn­ing sup­port co-or­di­na­tor Jane Nolan is tasked with run­ning the school’s iden­ti­fi­ca­tion and en­gage­ment pro­grams for gifted kids.

“Of­ten par­ents will cry tears of re­lief when they are hav­ing an in­ter­view with us about their child be­cause for the first time they feel un­der­stood,” she said.

Once iden­ti­fied, Melville Pri­mary em­ploys a range of strate­gies to cater for its gifted stu­dents, in­clud­ing clus­ter­ing groups of them in mixed-abil­ity class­rooms, sub­ject ex­ten­sion and even year skip­ping where nec­es­sary.

Dr Slater said she was de­vel­op­ing a new screen­ing process to start in Year 1 and had been look­ing for schools to im­ple­ment it, in­clud­ing ques­tion­naires for par­ents and teach­ers as well as achieve­ment test­ing.

“We are cur­rently in the re­cruit­ment process look­ing for schools will­ing to come on board to make sure the screen­ing process is a valid and re­li­able mea­sures of gift­ed­ness,” she said.

High achiev­ers: Melville Pri­mary School stu­dents James Car­roll, 10, and Caitlin O'Neill, 6 with prin­ci­pal Betty McNeill and learn­ing sup­port co-or­di­na­tor Jane Nolan. Pic­ture: Justin Ben­son-Cooper

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