Gifted and talented students

Introduction

Gifted and talented students are entitled to rigorous, relevant and engaging learning opportunities drawn from the Australian Curriculum and aligned with their individual learning needs, strengths, interests and goals. ACARA acknowledges that there are numerous models of curriculum adjustment relating to gifted and talented students, although these are not referenced in detail in this advice. The purpose of this advice is to focus on how teachers use the flexible design of the Australian Curriculum to meet the individual learning needs of gifted and talented students and make necessary adjustments to meet their individual learning needs. This section builds on the general Student diversity advice.

Gifted and talented students vary in terms of the nature and level of their abilities; there is no single homogeneous group of gifted and talented students. Gifted and talented students:

  • vary in abilities and aptitudes — they may demonstrate gifts and talents in a single area or across a variety of domains; they may also have a disability
  • vary in their level of giftedness — this means that two students who have gifts in the same field will not necessarily have the same abilities in that field
  • vary in achievement — while having gifts is often associated with high achievement, achievement can and does vary across high-potential students and over time, and some gifted students underachieve and experience difficulty translating their gifts into talents
  • are not always visible and easy to identify, and their visibility can be impacted by cultural and linguistic background, gender, language and learning difficulties, socio-economic circumstance, location, and lack of engagement in curriculum that is not matched to their abilities
  • exhibit an almost unlimited range of personal characteristics in temperament, personality, motivation and behaviour — no standard pattern of talent exists among gifted individuals
  • come from diverse backgrounds and are found in all cultures, socio-economic levels and geographic locations.

Gagné’s model

Although a number of different definitions have been proposed over the years, there is no universally accepted definition of students who would be identified as having particular gifts or talents. However, a shared understanding of giftedness is important in order to address their needs. In Australia today, Gagné’s model provides the most generally accepted definition of both giftedness and talent.

Gagné’s Differentiated Model of Giftedness and Talent (2008) provides research-based definitions of giftedness and talent that are directly and logically connected to teaching and learning. According to Gagné, gifted students are those whose potential is distinctly above average in one or more of the following domains of human ability:

  • intellectual
  • creative
  • social
  • physical.

Talented students are those whose skills are distinctly above average in one or more areas of human performance. Talent emerges from giftedness through a complex developmental process and via a number of influences, including the teaching and learning opportunities. Gagné’s model recognises that giftedness is a broad concept that encompasses a range of abilities; it also recognises that giftedness is only potential and that it must go through a transformative process in order to become a talent. As such, Gagné makes it clear that adequate school support is necessary if students are to develop their gifts or high abilities into talents or high achievements.

Other models of giftedness

There are a number of other models of giftedness, one of which is the Sea Star Model developed by Dr Abraham Tannenbaum. According to Tannenbaum (2003), giftedness in a child is their potential to become an adult with a developed talent. Tannenbaum asserts that there are two types of gifted people: producers, who produce either things or ideas; and performers, who interpret or re-create these things or ideas. According to Tannenbaum, these two kinds of gifted people demonstrate their talent either creatively by adding something new or original, or proficiently by having high levels of skill. Like Gagné’s model, Tannenbaum’s model attempts to explore the process by which ability becomes actual achievement. He identifies five factors that influence this conversion:

  • superior general intellect
  • distinctive special aptitudes
  • a supportive array of non-intellective traits such as personality, self-concept or motivation
  • a challenging and facilitative environment
  • chance.

Tannenbaum argues that all need to be present for gifted potential to be reflected in talent.

According to Renzulli’s Three-Ring Model (1978), giftedness results from a dynamic interaction between three basic clusters of human traits:

  • above-average general ability
  • high levels of creativity
  • high levels of task commitment.

His model goes on to argue that the ‘gifted’ are those who possess or are capable of developing this composite set of traits and applying them to any potentially valuable area of human performance. Renzulli’s model draws attention to the developmental nature of behaviours such as creativity and task commitment, and like Gagné’s and Tannenbaum’s models it recognises that a range of factors must be in place in order for students with natural abilities to develop their gifts into talents.

As can be seen, while each approach has its own distinct definitions of giftedness and/or talent, they all recognise that giftedness is a broad concept that covers a range of abilities. They also recognise that ability or giftedness needs to undergo some transformational process if it is to be reflected in high levels of achievement or talent, and that while there are a number of factors that influence the conversion of gifts into talents, the school plays a critical role in giving students appropriate opportunity, stimulation and experiences in order to develop their potential and translate their gifts into talents.

It is important to consider that:

  • gifted and talented students are not a homogeneous group and may require different adjustments according to their individual learning needs, interests, strengths and goals
  • gifted and talented students may also have a disability and/or English as an additional language or dialect — in such cases, adjustments should be developed that address all aspects of their learning rather than just those related to their gifts and talents
  • effective adjustments for gifted and talented students stem from effective and ongoing assessments of student need — because of the capacity of many gifted and talented students to learn at a faster rate than other students, ongoing formative assessment, particularly pre-assessment, is critical to ensure that the learning area content and adjustments align with student needs
  • gifted and talented students who require adjustments to one aspect of their learning may not require the same, or any, adjustment to another
  • the process of making adjustments always starts with learning area content that aligns with students’ chronological age
  • because giftedness and talent are developmental, some adjustments may be necessary throughout a student's educational career, while other adjustments may only be needed for a short period of time
  • the student and parent must be consulted as part of the process to personalise learning.

While the objectives of the Australian Curriculum are the same for all students, learning needs of gifted and talented students may differ dramatically from those of other students. Not only are gifted and talented students likely to make progress towards these objectives at a faster pace than other students, but they are also often capable of achieving at a level beyond their same-aged peers. Even though their cognitive development may not correlate with their chronological age, gifted and talented students are generally placed in Australian schools at the year level appropriate for their age. As a result, they are likely to require personalised learning through a range of adjustments to teaching and learning if the curriculum is to meet their needs.

In particular, gifted and talented students have specific learning needs that require adjustments to content (what students learn), process (how students learn), product (how students demonstrate their learning), and learning environment, according to personal characteristics such as readiness, interest and learning preference. By creating adjustments that take account of these differences, teachers are able to address the individual learning needs of each student and maximise their learning potential in the classroom.

  • Content may need to be made more complex, abstract or varied or it may need to be organised differently.
  • Adjustments to process may be made to the level of thinking required, the pace of teaching and the type of approach used. In particular, gifted and talented students require process adjustments that involve higher-order thinking, problem solving, and a focus on critical and creative thinking and choice.
  • The nature of products, the ways in which gifted and talented students are able to demonstrate what they have learnt, may also be adjusted to be more appropriate, for example, by ensuring that they are authentic and address real problems, and require transformation of learning rather than summarising content.
  • In order to successfully implement adjustments to content, process and product, it is also important to make adjustments to the learning environment to ensure that it is complex and abstract, and also encourages independence and intrinsic learning.

Whatever adjustments are made, they need to reflect the ability of gifted and talented students to:

  • learn at faster rates
  • find, solve and act on problems more readily
  • manipulate abstract ideas and make connections to an advanced degree.

Overall, adjustments should comprise elements of any or all of the following:

  • faster pace (acceleration, compacting)
  • greater breadth (enrichment)
  • more depth (extension).

Each of these three elements can be used in different proportions and in different combinations to frame a personalised response to the learning needs of all gifted and talented students. Decisions on the balance between these three broad and overlapping strategies should reflect the particular needs of each gifted learner at the relevant point of their schooling.

Planning from age-equivalent content

The following points elaborate on the process outlined in the flowchart using the Australian Curriculum to meet the learning needs of all students, found under the "Meeting diverse learning needs" menu. The process starts with learning area content that aligns with students’ chronological age — in this example, Year 5 Science:

In Year 5 Science, students learn about the solar system [Year 5 Science Understanding ACSSU078] and how to construct and use a range of representations, including tables and graphs, to represent and describe observations, patterns or relationships in data using digital technologies [Year 5 Science Inquiry Skills ACSIS090].

The Year 5 Science content provides the starting point for developing the teaching and learning program for all students. The program can be personalised in relation to individual student need through curriculum adjustments which may include the following for gifted and talented students:

  • Drawing from learning area content at different levels along the Foundation to Year 10 sequence to personalise age-equivalent learning area content. For example:

    An adjustment may be that while most of the students in the class are given websites by the teacher to use to research information about the planets in the solar system as well as a table to summarise their information, a student with gifts and talents is required to carry out their own research on the internet to find information about the planets [Year 5 Science Understanding ACSSU078] and use this information to develop a computer simulation showing the planets in the solar system and their relationship to earth using Kahootz [Year 6 Science Inquiry Skills ACSIS107].

  • Using the general capabilities learning continua to personalise age-equivalent learning area content. For example:

    An adjustment may be to teach targeted literacy skills, identified for an individual student or group of gifted and talented students, through the science lesson.

    These may include using their knowledge of the solar system [Year 5 Science Understanding ACSSU078] to design an intergalactic tour and a travel brochure to encourage people to take that tour. This is used to consolidate knowledge of how to structure a persuasive text [Literacy: Text knowledge Level 4 and Literacy: Visual knowledge Level 4], and to present the findings of research into the solar system [Year 5 Science Understanding ACSSU078]. The task is also used to develop creative thinking skills [Critical and creative thinking: Inquiring Level 4 and Critical and creative thinking: Generating ideas, possibilities and actions Level 4].

  • Using the cross-curriculum priorities to personalise age-equivalent learning area content. For example:

    An adjustment may be that Sustainability is targeted for a student or small group of gifted and talented students through the science lesson. This may include using their knowledge about the solar system and the relationship between the earth and the sun to examine the use of solar energy as a sustainable energy source [Year 7 Science Understanding ACSSU116].

    Another adjustment may be that a student or small group of gifted and talented students learn about how Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples explain night and day and use observation of the night sky to assist with navigation [Year 6 Science as a Human Endeavour ACSHE099].

  • Aligning individual learning goals with age-equivalent learning area content.

    Adjustments made in response to a student who has gifts and talents as well as a specific learning difficulty as identified in an individual learning plan can affect not only how they access content but also what the focus of that learning will be. This might involve, for example, a greater emphasis on Literacy and Personal and social capability, which represent some of the essential skills that all students need in order to become successful learners at school and in their lives beyond school. Teachers can use these capabilities to align with individual learning goals such as personal skills and plan for multiple opportunities to develop these skills across the school day. For example:

    In the context of this Science example, the goal may be for a student to describe the influence that personal qualities and strengths have on their learning outcomes [Personal and social capability: Self-awareness Level 4] in a guided investigation of the solar system [Year 5 Science Understanding ACSSU078] where they have to research and record data about the planets in the solar system. The student then has to use the data to write an information report on the solar system [Literacy: Text knowledge Level 3]. When drafting, editing and publishing their report there is explicit instruction and a focus on sentence structure [Literacy: Grammar knowledge Level 3] and spelling skills [Literacy: Word knowledge Level 3].

    Although there is greater focus in the last point on the general capabilities, the learning still takes place through the context of a learning area (Year 5 Science), with an expectation that the Science learning will be achieved alongside the other learning.

Detailed Illustrations of personalised learning have been developed to promote equity and excellence for diverse learners, including gifted and talented students. The illustrations demonstrate access to age-equivalent learning area content from the Australian Curriculum. There are many sources of advice about planning quality teaching and learning programs that are inclusive of gifted and talented students. The websites of state and territory education authorities are a good starting point.

Using the general capabilities to personalise learning

It is important to consider that:

  • the general capabilities are an integral part of the Australian Curriculum
  • all of the general capabilities need to be developed in gifted and talented students if they are to learn to manage their own wellbeing, relate well to others, make informed decisions about their lives, become citizens who behave with ethical integrity, relate to and communicate across cultures, work for the common good, and act with responsibility at local, regional and global levels
  • the general capabilities are not an alternative curriculum to the learning areas but support access to and progress through the learning areas for gifted and talented students
  • the general capabilities do not provide the context for learning; teaching and learning programs are developed beginning with age-equivalent learning area content through which teachers may specifically target the development of capabilities in gifted and talented students
  • through a focus on the general capabilities, gifted and talented students can access teaching and learning programs drawn from age-equivalent learning area content that is relevant to their individual learning needs, while at the same time experiencing opportunities to add depth, complexity and richness to student learning in content elaborations
  • because gifted and talented students bring different abilities to their learning, some aspects of the general capabilities may be interpreted and enacted in different ways — for example, the capacity of gifted and talented students to more readily manipulate abstract ideas, make connections to an advanced degree, and find, solve and act on problems informs the Critical and Creative Thinking capability by drawing on their highly developed capacity for analysis, synthesis and evaluation
  • teachers can use the general capabilities learning continua to identify particular skills, behaviours and dispositions that a student needs to develop in relation to their individual learning needs and plan for opportunities to develop these across the curriculum.

Using the cross-curriculum priorities to personalise learning

It is important to consider that:

  • cross-curriculum priorities are embedded in all learning areas
  • the cross-curriculum priorities will have a strong but varying presence depending on their relevance to the learning areas
  • through a focus on the cross-curriculum priorities, gifted and talented students can access teaching and learning programs drawn from age-equivalent learning area content that is relevant to their individual learning needs, while at the same time experiencing opportunities to add depth, complexity and richness to student learning in content elaborations.

Agne, K. J.,2001, Gifted: the lost minority. Kappa Delta Pi Record, 37(4), 168-172.

Ashman, A., & Elkins, J. (Ed.), 2009, Education for inclusion and diversity (3rd ed.). 
Frenchs Forest, NSW: Pearson Education Australia.

Colangelo, N. & Davis, G. A., 1992, Handbook of Gifted Education (2nd edition). Allyn & Bacon, Boston.

Ehrlich, V. Z., 2002, Gifted children: A guide for parents and teachers. Highett, Vic., Hawker Brownlow Education.

Gagné, F., 2003, Transforming gifts into talents: e DMGT as a developmental theory. In N. Colangelo & G.A. Davis (Eds.), Handbook of gifted education (3rd ed., pp. 60–74). Boston: Allyn & Bacon.

Gagné, F. (2008) Building gifts into talents:Overview of the DMGT. Keynote address, 10th Asia-Pacific Conference for Giftedness, Asia-Pacific Federation of the World Council for Gifted and Talented Children, Singapore, 14-17 July.

Gross, M., MacLeod, B., Drummond, D. & Merrick, C., 2001, Gifted Students in Primary Schools: Differentiating the Curriculum, GERRIC, University of NSW.

Gross, M., MacLeod, B. & Pretorius, M., 2001, Gifted Students in Secondary Schools: Differentiating the Curriculum ( 2nd edition), GERRIC, University of NSW.

Gross, M. & Sleap, B., 2001, Literature Review on the Education of Gifted and Talented Children. Gifted Education Research, Resource and Information Centre (GERRIC), University of New South Wales: Sydney.

Montgomery, D., 2003, Gifted and talented children with special educational needs: Double exceptionality,  London, David Fulton.

NSW Department of Education and Training. 2004. Policy and implementation strategies for the education of gifted and talented students (revised 2004). Sydney.

Rimm, S., 2001, Underachievement syndrome: Causes and cures, Hawker Brownlow Education, Victoria.

Renzulli, R.  (1978). What makes giftedness? Reexamining a definition, Phi Delta Kappan, 60(3)  180, 185.

Renzulli, R. (2003). Conception of giftedness and its relationship to the development of social capital, in Colangelo, N. & Davis, G. (2003) (eds) Handbook of gifted education (3rd Edn) Pearson Education, 76.

Rogers, K. B.,  2002,  Re-forming Gifted Education: Matching the Program to the Child,

Scottsdale, AZ: Great potential press.

Senate Employment Workplace Relations Small Business and Education References Committee., 2001, The education of gifted children. Canberra, ACT: Commonwealth government.

Tannenbaum, A. (2003). Nature and nurture of giftedness’ in Colangelo, N. & Davis, G.(eds)

Handbook of gifted education (3rd edition) Pearson Education, 45.

Whitton, D., 2002, Educational Strategies for Gifted Children, Hawker Brownlow Education, Victoria.

Van Tassel-Baska, J., 2003, ‘What matters in curriculum for gifted learners: reflections on theory, research and practice’, in N. Colangelo & G.A. Davis (eds), Handbook of Gifted Education, 3rd edn, Allyn & Bacon, Boston, pp.174-183.

State and Territory resources

Australian Capital Territory Policy on Gifted and Talented Students 2008, http://nswagtc.org.au/files/resources/permanent/ACT_2008_GAT_Policy.pdf

Department of Education and Training, Victoria, Gifted and Talented Education, http://www.education.vic.gov.au/school/parents/learning/Pages/gifted.aspx

Department of Education and Child Development South Australia, Policy Statement Gifted and Talented Children and Students  Policy 2012, https://www.decd.sa.gov.au/sites/g/files/net691/f/gifted-talented-students-policy.pdf?v=1467090054

Department of Education WA Gifted and Talented Guidelines, http://www.det.wa.edu.au/curriculumsupport/giftedandtalented/detcms/school-support-programs/gifted-and-talented/teachers/guidelines.en?oid=com.arsdigita.cms.contenttypes.FileStorageItem-id-11663549

Extending Learning for Gifted Students 2012, Department of Education, Tasmania, https://www.education.tas.gov.au/documentcentre/Documents/ExtendedLearningProcedure.pdf

Gifted and Talented Home, New South Wales Department of Education, http://www.curriculumsupport.education.nsw.gov.au/policies/gats/

Department of Education and Children’s Services NT Guidelines and Procedures, http://www.education.nt.gov.au/__data/assets/pdf_file/0017/2276/GiftedEducGuidelines.pdf