Marla Olmstead is 4 years old in the lead picture of this article…it may seem improbable but here is a direct example of what, as a school we may (if we’re lucky!) be presented with.
Here is a second picture
The talent of Marla was firstly observed at home when she was simply given painting materials…however this could have just as easily been first noticed in a school environment – so what can we do?
In response to part 1 of this article many people have asked what did we do as a school with regard to the boy who showed talent as a runner?
When presented with children who are gifted or talented, as a teacher and as a school we have to make a decision as to the best way forward. This will, of course be done in conjunction with the child’s parents – but in many cases parents will look to us, as the professionals to both give a lead and also advice on the best ways to proceed.
In the case of the talented runner – yes I could give him as much practice as possible in school; however the prowess of other children was not sufficient to “extend” his talents. In consultation with his parents we contacted Bedford Athletics Club and arranged for him to go for a trial period to work with their coaches.
I am pleased to say that following this trial period they were delighted to accept him into the Club and he continues to improve and impress to this day – I shall certainly be looking out for him as a talent for the future!
Schools can only provide so much….
Its simply a fact…Schools as organisations are geared to function around the norm in their capability to educate pupils. Schools also possess the structures to educate those pupils whose abilities run above and below this “norm” level but only within set limits.
As we focus in this article on gifted and talented children, just how able are schools to cope with children presenting these sorts of ability which, to be honest, is (when apparent) often far outside the schools remit and capability?
The core subjects
Here are my thoughts on the adaptability of schools towards Gifted children in these areas.
English – Although you will, from time to time come across children who are excellent at story writing / poetry and similar creative elements, I think that it is possible to encourage, guide and challenge these abilities within a school setting.
Maths – There are children who are excellent at maths and for the most part schools will be able to cope with this either within class or by including a child within higher level groups (naturally this has other associated considerations that must be considered). But what if we run out of options and have an extremely gifted and able mathematician? It may not happen often but there are examples of this.
Science – I am going to include Science here in the core subjects. Science presents a different combination of skills and I would venture to say that these are mostly learnt and not generally presented as a “gift”. However we may find a particular child who is both able, enthusiastic and has an increased understanding of scientific concepts and principals. Again, as with English, I am of the opinion that this can be developed, encouraged and provided with sufficient challenge within Primary schools.
Talented Children – the Creative Arts / P.E / Computers
As I mentioned in part 1 of this article – there are 2 different situations we may meet:
- Children that are already identified as gifted or talented
- Children that show specific abilities in response to events or activities that occur in our classrooms or school.
Again let me emphasise that we are specifically referring to gifted and talented children whose abilities are far in excess of the normal ability spread and much higher than children who might be “good” at some area or other.
So how can a school practically manage to extend, challenge and stimulate children who have these sorts of needs?
- The schools “gifted and talented” coordinator must be involved in supporting both the teacher and the pupil – either directly or through recommended programmes of study / even possible withdrawal programmes.
- Parents must be involved in any discussions and decisions made at every stage
- There may be a need to refer to outside agencies.
Referring for outside help
It is just a plain and simple fact that in many cases, for children of this level of ability; the school will not be able to cope sufficiently. Schools then have a decision to make….
- Do we simply continue to provide our own “additional” support which may be inadequate in its achievements.
- Do we actively work to identify and involve outside agencies to help or even provide fully the needed support and guidance for this child / family.
My own personal recommendation is to involve outside agencies if the expertise is not available within the school.
- Local Authority advisors – this should be your first place of contact
- Secondary school specialist staff can observe and advise.
- Outside Clubs and organisations.
Basically we are looking for some form of opportunity for the children within which they can fulfil their potential in that particular area.
The obvious 1st steps beyond school / L.A provision are:
- Discuss things with the parents and ask their permission to make enquiries outside of school
- Find and consult with Advisors, Clubs, organisations and any specialists the “observed” talents of the particular child
- This initial aim is to be able to have the child assessed by someone who can make valued judgements as to ability and talent.
Having received a positive assessment…
To be quite honest the school, and possibly you as the teacher in particular are acting as facilitator in this case. Having had a positive assessment and recognition of a gifted and talented child then the next steps are to identify the way forward. Again in discussion with parents you must get permission to approach agencies and organisations to discuss possible links. (at this stage parents may wish to follow up on this on their own…which is great!)
These may ideally follow from the assessment source (as in the case of the runner) and this then completes the circle so to speak. But it may be that for other creative or sporting talents you are having to carry out quite a bit of investigative work in order to pinpoint developmental assistance. In many cases this may have to be done through your own efforts (with of course the support of the parents) – although support from school would be of course appreciated!
Identifying older children as having unrecognised or ignored abilities, gifts and talents is always a sad occurrence, for it represents a waste of earlier opportunities.
In Part 3 I will consider the sorts of support that may be available and the difficulties that may arise.