I have enormous reservations about the whole ‘Gifted and Talented’ industry. I believe it is essential that we challenge all our students intellectually to the point of failure (making it safe to fail, to take risks,to learn from mis-understanding). Until and unless that is done routinely and consistently we will not be able to identify a extra special ability.

I have had a fascinating conversation with a head teacher today about a boy in P3 whose progress is causing concern. On all standardised assessments he appears to have developed very few literacy or numeracy skills and is frequently out of kilter with the rest of the class. He presents as a child with little general knowledge and few social skills.
However, she had a strong intuition that he may have greater intellectual powers than at first appears. His occasional ‘off the wall’ observations suggested some deep insight and discrepancies between his performance and his (possible) ability.

The HT recounted a conversation between herself and her niece. The 6 year old remarked that a man was very far behind them while they walked along a street. ‘No, he is just in front of us”, answered the adult, who proceeded to give a short lesson in prepositions . ‘Well’, responded the child when she could get a word in edgeways, ‘if we were walking around the world, then he would be many miles behind us’.

I have met several young people who have been so non-conformist that school has meant very little to them. Sometimes they are perceived as failures; almost invariably they view themselves as such.
I recall Michael who asked questions about nuclear fission on the sun while the rest of his P2 class coloured in pictures of clothes suitable for hot and cold days in a Weather study.
And Andrew who neatly placed full stops and questions marks in a list for a puncutation task. He saw no point in writing out the sentences, declaring (accurately) that he had demonstrated his knowledge satisfactorily without wasting time.
And my own son, who sailed through 1st year university aeronautical engineering by understanding first principles rather than learning formulae. He found, when he changed to studying English, that he actually had to read ‘Pride and Prejudice’ in order to answer questions on it; and could not accept that the academic game was to recount what others’ said about the novel and save his own theories until PhD level. He dropped out without a degree rather than conform. teen

It is really hard to disassociate the very able pupil from the merely bolshie sometimes (and I have deliberately used stereotypical images). When we are talent spotting we need to open our eyes to those students who don’t necessarily just know the answers, but who ask searching questions if given the chance; those who have strong opinions; who grasp meaning quickly and then draw inferences.
gtPupils in the top group might listen carefully and be alert; those beyond already know and are keenly observant (unless completely turned off). The very brightest thrive on compexity, initiate projects, often play around yet can pass tests when (and if) they see it is necessary. They are inventors not technicians, and their wild, ‘silly’ ideas may be an answer to a question their teachers haven’t even thought of.
These pupils can be intensely challenging and it can be really hard to differentiate appropriately for their needs. But we owe it to all our young people to have the highest of aspirations for them and, as my HT colleague was doing, to keep our minds open to the possibility that within each and every student are riches untold.
Off for a G+T! gin

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