This episode explores gifted and talented education. Sarah is an assistant principal and classroom teacher. She shares her journey to becoming an Opportunity Class teacher in this episode. Sarah uses a research-based approach, combined with project-based learning, to help her class of high-achieving students reach their goals.
We discussed what it means to be a gifted and talented student, what traits gifted and talented students possess, and Sarah gave some great tips for classroom teachers on differentiating to higher-ability learners in their settings.
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Gifted and Talented Students Full Episode Transcript:
Sarah: My passion, the gifted and talented students, is continuously driven because I can see how, you know, bored or, or frustrated, gifted and talented students can be, sometimes within a mainstream class setting.
Bron: Hello, I’m Bronwyn Brady and this is for the love of teaching. Today. I’m joined by Sarah, who is a passionate and creative educator and administrator from Sydney, new South Wales. Welcome, Sarah.
Sarah: Thank you, Bron. Thank you. Thank you for having me.
How Did You Get Into Gifted and Talented Education?
Bron: It is so cool to have you on the show today. So Sarah, could you start by just telling me a little bit about your current role?
Sarah: Yeah, absolutely. So I hold a permanent classroom teacher position at my current school. Um, and I’ve almost been there for, I think it’s two years now and yep. And I am in a relieving assistant principal role, so that’s coming up to just over a year, which it’s really busy.
Sarah: Um, but I think it’s in my nature to be busy and fast paced and um, yeah, just part of my nature to do so. So you’ve got a lot on your plate balancing those two kind of parts to your career. How much time do you spend doing your classroom teaching work and your administration work as a kind of breakdown? If you were to draw me a little pod shot, what percentage would, uh, we’ll look, I’m really lucky in the sense that I am a classroom teacher Monday to Thursday, so I do have that time on Friday to stop and really focus on the admin side of things and um, chase off on any, anything that I really, you know, that’s sitting on my to do list. And I really try and focus on my class Monday to Thursday, um, to make sure the teaching and learning is just as meaningful if I was a full time classroom teacher.
Sarah: Um, so I guess in terms of a pie chart in the fortnight yeah, I really do look to that day is full on for, for my assistant principal role. Um, and outside of that, it’s a no brainer that I’m, you know, chasing up on things throughout a teaching day. Um, but the admin side of the teaching is just important. Um, you know, as my assistant principal role for sure. Great. Yeah. So does that mean that you job share your classroom with someone else on a Friday? I, I do. I’m very fortunate to have, um, someone wonderful come in on a Friday. Um, and it is a team teaching environment as well, so I’m lucky to have a team teacher who is very honourable, very understanding. Um, and she does a lot of, executive administration as well. Um, she’s recently actually just moved into an assistant assistant principal role herself.
Sarah: So, um, I’m very fortunate to work with someone like minded, and someone that I can bounce my ideas off and you know, she can pick up where I fall off and vice versa. So it’s quite a positive, very lucky. Great. It sounds like you’ve got such a great balance going on there and supportive. Yeah. Oh, definitely, definitely supportive. Um, you know, I, I like to foster a team that’s open to communication, puts their hand up if they’re struggling. And, you know, I like to think that I can do the same with my team. Um, you know, I assert myself and say this isn’t working or I need help in this area and that help is, is given. So I am very lucky and I think it’s important to communicate on both ends, particularly in an assistant principal role, to know that your team can come to you and to know that you have a team that you can go to as well.
Bron: Yeah, definitely. Oh, I just find it really interesting hearing all the different kind of work opportunities there are for teachers and the balance that you can create for yourself and, and no two teaching experiences are exactly alike. So when you say you have been in your current job for two years, does that, how long have you been teaching?
Sarah: So almost five years. Yeah. Yeah. So I was at my previous school, um, which I absolutely enjoyed. And I, um, I worked with, uh, gifted and talented students there and that’s transferred to my new school, which I’m so grateful for. So lucky for. Yeah. Yeah. So that leads me into another question. How did your amazing passion for teaching gifted and talented kids? Now this is quite, it’s quite a funny story because my first day casual teaching, um, and naturally I was very excited and quite nervous and I turned up to the school and I was greeted with the principal of that school.
She was absolutely lovely, welcomed me into the school and, and followed that up by actually saying, now are you, are you sure you’re prepared and you’re ready for this day? And I kind of thought, yes, yes, yes, no, I definitely am. Uh, and she proceeded to say, well, it is, it’s an OC class so are you sure? And of course it was my first casual teaching day, so I said, of course, I’m sure I’m so excited. Let’s do this. Let’s go. And as I’m walking down the corridor with the cane, my hand, I’m thinking to myself, so embarrassing, you know, looking back, what is,
Bron: I was just thinking the exact same thing Sarah.
Sarah: So I will unpack that and that is in a moment. But I’m, you know, I’m about to get to the door and I’m thinking, Oh see she said, you know, it might be challenging.
Sarah: And I’m like OC, sure, out of control, what does this stand for? Anyway, I get into the class and I’m greeted with the most beautiful students. Long story short, we had a fantastic day. The day turned into two weeks on that class, which turned into another two weeks and I very, very quickly found out that it was an opportunity class. So an opportunity class is basically where students in new for sit a test, um, and they are accepted into this class in year five. Um, and they come from all around new South Wales. These students to come to opportunity classes. Um, there is a limited number of them within primary schools. Um, and generally speaking, the rest of the primary school that has OC classes, um, functions, uh, you know, a public school does K to six, that being that other students, uh, come to the school because they fall into the catchment area.
Sarah: Um, so yeah, I guess a local school after I’d been teaching on the opportunity class caught wind of, um, the fact that, you know, I was successful in this class and I, I really enjoyed it. Uh, and I started my teaching career on a gifted and talented class. I’m working closely with an assistant principals, so, um, she demonstrated best practice, which I was so very grateful for because it gave me the ability to, um, you know, ask for feedback and refine my own practice, um, within the world, um, of gifted and talented students. And it was then that I applied for a job that specifically looked for a teacher with experience in gifted and talented. Um, and yeah, I went for interview and got the job and I found out, um, when I got the coal that it was on an opportunity class. So it was quite literally a matter of luck.
Bron: Great. Oh my goodness. That sounds like, yeah, no, it’s really great actually to hear how you came upon this particular role that you fit into so well. And I often hear teachers say it was meant to be for me. And I think that in teaching as in a lot of different careers, as long as you are on a forward path and saying yes to opportunities that crop up in like, like you said, you were like, no, I’ve got this walking down the hallway thinking, well what am I getting into? But it’s just a matter of being open and then things will fall into your lap and look, you’ve ended up in the most perfect place for you. So amazing. Absolutely. So Sarah, I’ve read a lot and I’ve heard a lot in my time teaching about what defines a gifted and talented student. And sorry, there’s a lot of different descriptors of gifted and talented students, but for you, what, what do you think it means to be a gifted and talented students?
How is ‘Gifted and Talented’ defined?
Sarah: So to be a gifted and talented student in, I guess a basic definition is when a student presents with an advanced rate of learning significantly beyond what’s expected of their age. And you know, it is interesting because I think we’ve come to a point in time when there where there is a lot of research around this and something that’s come to the full front quite recently is this ID that we all labelling gifted and talented students and pigeonholing them and then looking to other students and saying, well, you’re in fact not gifted and talented. So the new high-potential gifted education policy that’s quite recently been released actually looks to removing this label and seeking out the potential in all students. Uh, so we’re no longer actually, you know, pigeonholing our class, um, and, and teaching them in that way, but giving them the opportunity to show what they know, um, and move that potential, you know, into gifts and, or talents.
Sarah: Uh, there is a very well known French psychologist, Francois Gagne, and he actually looks to the transformation of, um, and moving them into talents through a developmental process. And I strongly encourage anyone who’s listening to look him up, if you’re not familiar. Um, because he really does explain gifts and talents quite separately and how the transfer of gifts can turn in into talents. And he considers, uh, so many different factors that come into play with, um, you know, chance being one of them or a low socioeconomic status. Uh, what it looks like for a student to be in a different school, you know, school a to school B. We know that schools are very different. Um, and it deals with, you know, family dynamics as well as, uh, the community that the student grows up in. So, um, yeah, I strongly recommend team in terms of reading, reading about giftedness and research. He, um, interestingly, very interestingly also States that, um, within a mainstream classroom, assuming that you’ve got perhaps 30 students, that 10 to 15% of your class could actually be gifted in the intellectual domain. So, you know, and I encourage people, again, to reflect on that and think to that class as to who those three to four students could be and if they been catered for.
Bron: Yeah, that’s right. Because we all know and thank you so much for that amazing description that you gave us. It’s really, it’s really good to get that understanding of what we’re looking for when we’re looking at our students. And then it helps us inform our practice as far as planning, reporting, assessing for those particular kids. And in a time when differentiation is such a buzz word and such a huge important, I mean, it’s not just a buzzword, it actually is really, really valid. Um, why of pedagogy? But, um, D like it’s, it’s real. We’re going to get onto this a little bit later for tips for classroom teachers who have maybe identified those students that are, um, in their top range, highest ability learners. Um, but right now I want to know to some gifted and talented students have any common personality traits that you have noticed, any behaviour patterns or any personality patterns and how do you work with these to bring out the best in those learners?
What are Some Common Traits of Gifted and Talented Students?
Sarah: Yeah. Now this is an interesting one because it’s something that I picked up on through my teachings and through readings. It’s, it’s consolidated and grounded. This thinking, uh, in, in my experiences I’ve found students to be quite reflective, um, and for them to ask quite probing questions. Um, they demonstrate real high ability when engaged. So I use this, you know, thinking of probing questions to stay two steps ahead at all times and you know, easier said than done. Um, but for me to do that extra research into what they’re learning because their wealth of knowledge goes beyond what I know and I let them know that it’s okay, that they know, you know, far more than I do within a specific area. Um, a matter of interest, um, or a specific domain. Um, they have an unusual accelerated rate of learning. And for me in my teaching, this doesn’t mean moving them up and on really quickly and okay, great.
Sarah: Let’s do year eight maths, nine maths, year 10 maths. It’s about expanding that breadth of knowledge. So, um, let’s use math as an example again, uh, as opposed to just mastering strands and sub strands. Actually looking to working mathematically so students can raise an and be fluent within that domain. Um, and they have the ability to do, which is the fantastic thing about this accelerated rate of learning. Um, they have a strong sense of justice. Um, and when I say they, I don’t mean to pigeonhole because you know, our students are very unique, but a common denominator certainly is a strong sense of justice and, and this can look quite different, uh, in social settings and unpacking people’s perceptions, views and emotions. Um, but in a teaching setting, it’s fantastic. Debating views and opinions respectfully and my views, um, uh, constantly challenged. And I think that’s such a beautiful thing that, you know, we can have these friendly debates and conversations, um, to make the learning that much, that much richer.
Sarah: Um, they’ve got a strong sense of humour. Absolutely. They are well beyond their years . And in terms of humour and something that I, um, I’ve actually spoken about recently is, um, perfectionist tendencies and you know, that’s, that’s common even amongst adults as well. And to, you know, uh, I guess navigate that within a classroom can be quite difficult to let students know that it is okay to make mistakes. And for the teacher, it’s about creating a safe space to let them know that they don’t have to be perfect, that you know, they can draw off, they can edit. Um, when it comes to the creative process, there is a process that so many of us go through where we do fail and then we pick ourselves up and we talk about the learning pit and um, yeah. So it’s about changing my teaching strategies to, to cater for their needs and I guess these personality traits that present in the classroom.
Tell us About The Learning Pit for Gifted and Talented Students
Bron: I was wondering what is the learning pit that you just mentioned?
Sarah: Oh goodness. Okay. So the learning pit is, I’m a visual and I, um, I’m not sure where it’s come from. I apologise. But if you Google learning pit, you’ll find it. Uh, and it’s a visual representation of basically someone overcoming adversity or something that’s quite challenging and they quite literally fall down into the pit and then they figure out, right, how am I going to get myself up the other side? Um, and there’s variations of it where, you know, the person falls down into the pit and they have to swim across the sea with sharks and they climb up the other side of the mountain. And it’s a lovely way to visually represent, um, that success. Um, you know, getting up to the other side and achieving and looking back down at the pit and the other side of the mountain, um, to see, you know, where you’ve come from. And again, the visual representation gives the idea of, you know, the highs and lows that we experience. Really cool. It’s a good one for, you know, you thought of the week if you’re drawing something on the whiteboard or quote of the week or something like that so students can make those connections. Yeah.
Bron: Yeah. And I think that would be really helpful to those students in particular who are in the early years or, um, even just primary years who have trouble with that. Just as a strategy to return to. Because like that’s kind of our role as educators to prepare them for failure as well as for success. Might be very regularly used to success, but probably not at, at learning how to fail is an important skill as well. So. Absolutely. Yeah. Okay. So this is what I’m excited about. Cause we talked about this a lot. We touched on this a little bit before. Yep. I wanted to find out from you as kind of a specialist in your field of talented education. What is your top table or your number one go to tip for classroom teachers who have, um, some high ability or gifted students in their mainstream classroom and they’re differentiating to that top tier to help them achieve and get the best out of their learning?
How Can Classroom Teachers Best Differentiate Their Delivery to Gifted and Talented Students?
Sarah: Top tip? I can think of a few. A few. It’s fine. Okay. All right. Okay. So I guess my, well, number one top tip refers to Harry Passow, um, sort of teach a test. It’s called the would code. It showed a test and I still use this in my teaching today. Um, it’s something that I communicate with my team teacher and we challenge each other about it. And it, it basically asked us as educators to concede out, would all students want to be involved in this particular learning experience? Could all students participate in this learning experience and should all students be expected to succeed in this learning experience? And if the answer is yes to any of those three questions, then the learning experience is not differentiated enough for the gifted learner. And I think that’s a really quick and easy way for us as educators to go would code should no, no, no perfect full steam ahead.
Sarah: Or if there is one that’s a yes, what one is it and how can I differentiate further? And you know, the next step to this would could, should test is, okay, great. Now I’m faced with a learning experience that isn’t differentiated enough for my kids. What now you know, where to next for us. Um, and I encourage people to look up the make and model because it basically looks to differentiation in four different ways. That being the content, the process, product and learning environment. And it gives the educator a number of different examples and ways that we can differentiate for our students. Um, you know, the content for example, um, we may need to make it a little bit more abstract for our gifted learner or we might need to hone in on the study of people because that’s what our kids are interested in.
Sarah: Um, but if you do look up the make a model, you’ll find a variety of different ways to further differentiate. Great. No, that’s fantastic. Did you have a third one that you wanted to say? I do. And this is really important because the moment I figured out my student interests, the moment I found change, um, drive and engagement in their learning. So basically getting to know your students and how they learn sounds like a no brainer. But within the gifted world, I really do encourage educators to engage student interests. Um, we run a program once a week for over an hour. That is purely based on student interest. And this is truly where we see students shine and thrive. Uh, so to kind of long story short, we, we, um, we align these I guess, activities with the international year, also indigenous languages and we are looking at culture at the moment.
Tips on Using Project Based Learning for Gifted and Talented Students
Sarah: So these activities are grounded by culture in any sense of the word. Uh, and then these students actually choose an activity and they might say, look, Miss Weston love your idea. This really is a great activity, but I don’t want my end product to be a podcast. Can I display, you know, a visual, perhaps eight posters, how about that? And I say, absolutely go for it. And when out the phase and stage of the year where they can navigate the syllabus to actually find where they’re hitting outcomes, if they negotiate outside of a given task, um, and further to that they can negotiate their own task as long as they are grounded by the idea of culture. Um, and the fact that they given this freedom in their own learning, uh, to take control of the content, the process, the product and the learning environment means I have ownership of that learning.
Sarah: They are ultimately engaged. Uh, and the stuff they produce is, is phenomenal. I can just tell that that makes you really proud to be, that teacher is not the way you talked about them and what they’re doing. And they will talk to me and I’m like how they negotiating with you? It’s just, I just love it. Like it sounds like such a great program. Yeah. So I look, look, I mean the international year of the race and the international year of indigenous languages, luckily those past two years have aligned with cross curricular priorities. So naturally online that’s going to be embedded in your English geography history. Uh, and we looked at project based learning as it is any way. So we are so lucky that we can encompass those key learning areas and embed them. Like you said, it’s about that child centred learning, child driven learning interspace and also higher order thinking opportunities.
Behaviour Management for Gifted and Talented Students
And it seems like there’s so many, so much scope for what you can do with your class, good behaviour in your class. Oh look, it’s, it’s like any class, you know, kids are kids are kids. Um, and, you know, not that they, they are or aren’t behavioural issues, but I guess the bottom line is when they’re engaged, you know, all they’re thinking about is their learning. We call it in task as opposed to on task. So when they operatively, cognitively and effectively engaged, that’s their mind, emotions and hands working at task. And that’s what we look for. And when they’re engaged and in task, happy days, you, that’s where behaviour falls to the wayside. Um, and learning comes to the forefront. Beautiful.
Bron: Well, Sarah, thank you so much for joining me on, for the love of teaching.
Sarah: Thank you for having me, Bron. It’s been delightful. Thank you.
Bron: Thanks for listening to this episode of, For the Love of Teaching. Don’t forget to subscribe on your favourite podcast app so that you get the latest updates on all the newest episodes.