Why Is Gifted And Talented Education So Important?

  • Kids

St Catherine’s introduces its first high potential learners’ class. Guest post by Elizabeth Worsley, Head of St Catherine’s Junior School.

I know the term ‘gifted and talented’ has been bandied about for a long time and conjures many different emotions. Some people are excited by it because they feel that their child may be gifted in some way. Others may feel that it involves exclusion or elitism. Today we use the term ‘high potential learners’ (HPL) for these students. Curious, I engaged in research to better understand the basis behind gifted and talented or HPL education and why it is so important. It turned out that my ideas and conceptions were based on opinion and were mostly incorrect. I was astounded that I had previously closed my mind to the idea. I became intrigued by how I could play a part in encouraging the learning of those students who don’t necessarily shine in traditional testing.

We introduced our first HPL class at St Catherine’s in the junior school this year. This class is an exciting addition to the junior school and has led to questions about the need for gifted and talented education. When asked why we need to address HPL education, I say that it is not just about addressing this style of learning; it is to ensure that we cater for the needs of all students. If a student was struggling with reading or spelling, we would put a plan in place to assist them. This may require one-on-one or small group intervention. Teachers recognise the necessity of catering to different needs within the classroom. We endeavour to look at each student’s individual talents, interests and learning needs. Differentiation is an essential part of our planning for every lesson.

But why create a class for gifted and talented students? The research behind HPL is extensive and compelling. Françoys Gagné is probably the most prominent and well-known researcher in this area. As a professor of psychology, he dedicated his career to gifted and talented research and discovery. What Gagné’s research tells us is that gifted and talented students are not necessarily the students who are achieving the highest results. Rather, they may be underachieving in the classroom due to several factors. They might not be trying very hard and yet are still achieving reasonable results. They may be unmotivated as they are not interested or engaged in what they are doing. Or, the method of teaching and learning is not stimulating and does not suit how that student learns.

Dr Joseph Renzulli, a psychologist specialising in gifted education, recognises that there are three characteristics evident in gifted and talented students: creativity, task commitment and above-average ability. Renzulli states that it is when all three of these characteristics are present that giftedness takes place.

St Catherine’s participated in a recent Australian study which found that many gifted and talented students were ‘coasting’ in class. The study also found that when these students were grouped together with ‘like-minded’ students, they were more likely to achieve their potential. The truly interesting part of this study was that when gifted and talented students were grouped together, it enhanced the learning of all students. 

The idea that all our students could benefit from grouping our HPL students in one class is exciting. By taking our HPL students and grouping them in one class, all our students have the opportunity to foster and progress their learning.

Gifted and talented education is important, as is education for all levels of academic ability. Ensuring that all students are catered for and lessons are differentiated remains a priority and a challenge for teachers. It is a difficult task but certainly a compelling one.

Elizabeth Worsley
Head of St Catherine's Junior School


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