Children and Schools
A small booklet needs to be written here on this
topic! - and I will add to this page as I have time.
The main thing to remember about schools is that
in most cases they don't, and never will, really understand the needs of gifted
and highly gifted children. Our natural hope as parents is that after an
initial period of negotiation with the school, the staff will come to understand
our children's needs, and will take over the task of providing for them
appropriately. Unfortunately this doesn't happen in most school
situations. Most of the reason for this is simply statistical. Only
2 to 5 children in 100 are gifted; perhaps 1 in 1,000 or fewer are highly
gifted. This means that given a class of 30 each year, the average teacher
has a gifted child in his or her class only once every second year or so.
A teacher may have a highly gifted child in his or her class once in his or her
career. A principal may have several gifted children in his or her school
each year, and a highly gifted child once every 2 or 3 years. Since we
learn in our careers by experience year by year, school staff simply don't get
enough experience with gifted and highly gifted children really to understand
them, except in specific cases of staff with special training, or an unusual
level of ability.
Sadly, this is the most important fact to learn
about gifted children and schools in Australia at present. There is far
more I need to write here, but at present I will simply include
here the following article, which can be of great use when negotiating regarding
the needs of your gifted child in normal classrooms.
Please note that in my experience, because of
school staff's lack of understanding of gifted children, as explained above, the following
article is best used in conjunction with an Individual Education Program, a clearly-presented plan of work which
parents and a gifted child want the child to be allowed to work on during class
time at school, instead of class work which the gifted child finds repetitive or
boring. Although the article seems very clear to those of us who have a
gifted or highly gifted child, or who have experience in working with them, by
itself the article isn't sufficient to convey real understanding of gifted
children and their needs. It is not realistic simply to give this article
to a normal class teacher, and expect that teacher to understand and be able to
provide for the needs of the gifted (even more so highly gifted) child without
further ongoing help.
The following article is based on a document used
by some Australian State Education Departments describing one method of
attempting to address the needs of gifted and highly gifted children in State
School Classrooms. In those states where it is used, this method is called
"Compacting the Curriculum". I am indebted to the document
"Compacting the Curriculum" from the guidelines for gifted children
from the South Australian Education Department; most of the excellent ideas were
in the original document. I have added some ideas and amplified the
article, particularly with regard to gifted children who are underachieving, and
the needs of highly gifted children.
of the simplest approaches to catering for gifted or highly gifted children
within the normal classroom is called by some Australian State Education
Departments, “Compacting the Curriculum”.
This approach attempts to take into account as many as possible of the
needs of gifted and highly gifted children; for example some negative needs are
not to be bored by work below their ability level, not to have to repeat work
which is already easy for them, not to have to do more of the same work simply
because they have finished their work more quickly than others, not to have to
do year level work which they already understand without needing to be taught it
at school, not to become de facto assistants in the classroom helping other
students with their work rather than having appropriate work themselves, etc.
needs are that they be allowed to spend classroom time on work which interests
them and stimulates them academically, and since the school curriculum for their
year level doesn’t provide such work this will almost always need to be work
which they choose and bring to school themselves.
Another need is that they be allowed to work on their work and subject
areas for longer periods of time than might be expected for their year level,
because research has shown that gifted, and especially highly gifted, children,
with their longer concentration span, frequently learn best by “immersion”
in one project or subject for many hours or days, and are confused and
frustrated by the short lesson times which are appropriate for other children.
instance gifted and highly gifted children are likely to learn mathematics more
easily in one or two episodes per week of several hours or a full day, rather
than in a short period every day. As
long as their level of educational function is at or above their year level,
whether in the classroom, or as shown by IQ and psychometric assessment scores,
they should be freely allowed to work in this way. Gifted and highly gifted
children also frequently leave projects unfinished, not through lack of
application, but because they reach a stage when they have mentally completed
the project, have learnt all they can from it, and are ready to move on to other
work. Remembering that these
personal projects are over and above the normal school curriculum, this should
also be freely permitted.
basic principles of “Compacting the Curriculum” are as follows:
who have demonstrated that they have mastered year level course content, either
in the classroom or in properly administered IQ and year-level achievement
tests, or that they can master course content more quickly than other students,
should be allowed time to work on material which they find more challenging and
following steps are recommended when implementing “Compacting the
First find out what students already know, with the emphasis that
evidence from IQ and school-oriented psychometric tests is acceptable,
especially in the case of highly gifted students who may be too bored to achieve
highly in their Year level classroom.
Give these students the same “credit” for the work they have
mastered, as other students. It is
a common mistake progressively to raise expectations of gifted and highly-gifted
students, but this should not be done; in the normal classroom they should
receive the same credit for mastering work as other students receive.
Do not give these students more work of the same level, nor more Year
level work of similar standard, simply because it’s there.
Try to avoid simply giving these students work from a higher year level within
the school curriculum, as this will only compound the problem of boredom for
them next year and following years. If you are aware of work outside the
school curriculum, make it available to them, otherwise suggest that they and
their parents provide work for them to do in class.
Provide, or more realistically allow the child him or herself to provide,
alternate more challenging projects and work to do instead of Year level work,
but avoid to as great an extent as possible simply doing Year level work in
advance of the rest of the class; rather, encourage projects and work which lie
outside the core school curriculum.
Discover what their interests are, and allow them to work and to build
their projects around their interests. If
their project ideas seem too large for their Year level, or for a school
project, don’t attempt to reduce or limit their project; allow them to
discover for themselves what is practical for them.
Allow as much flexibility as possible in the way they pursue these
projects and work, remembering that the Year level work has already been
completed, so that their commitments to the school at their current Year level
have been fulfilled, and the work they are now pursuing is additional and is for
their personal benefit.
Trust them to learn in non-traditional ways.
Research has shown that gifted children, and even more so highly gifted
children, often do not learn and approach projects in the same way as other
children. The common preference for
long but less frequent periods of “immersion” learning has already been
mentioned, but there are many other differences depending on the individual.
Learning far greater scope and content than other children is also
common, leading to large-scope projects as mentioned in #6.
A general focus on creative thinking, critical thinking and problem
solving is common and should be encouraged.
Offer or allow them as many choices as possible, and the use of as many
different resources as possible.
Allow students to explore self-selected or suggested topics on a
conceptual rather than a factual basis.
Allow them as much experience as possible with setting their own goals
and evaluating their own work.
If there is more than one gifted or highly-gifted student in the class or
Year level, they should be allowed to work sometimes in small ability and
Enjoy and give them full credit for what they accomplish. If they attempt a large project and do not finish it, give
credit for what has been done. If
they nominate work or projects which are well outside the school curriculum,
remember that the Year level school curriculum work has already been mastered,
and give credit for whatever else these children achieve. Help them to expand, challenge, and realise their potential,
and increasingly to enjoy their giftedness.
Helen Dowland, B.Sc., B.A.(Hons), Dip. Ed.,