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Giving Gifted and Talented Children A Chance to Shine

April, 2006
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As the coordinator for gifted children at the Western Academy of Beijing (WAB), Robyn Lonergan is often asked: “How many gifted children do IMG_2702 we have on campus?”

  “I can’t put a number on it. Students are supported in mainstream classes, others have special extension work, a group of students from Grade 2 are coming to special math class once a week, a few students are taking extra classes … I don’t believe you label a child, you just label the need.”

  Lonergan is the only specialist teacher for gifted children at the school, and before she arrived there was no teacher dedicated to the task, gifted was the responsibility of classroom teachers with some assistance from the learning support teachers.

 IMG_2699 She said, however, that next year there will be two gifted teachers on the school.

   “The school is recognizing that we need to very actively support the needs of children who may need more challenge than is readily available in their current situation,” she said.

  As Lonergan explained, often schools feel very responsible for the children who have problems such as reading difficulties, but rarely feel as responsible for those children who can do a lot more if given the opportunity. This is not the situation at WAB.

  Over the past few months, she has done a lot of talking to the senior management, grade-level leaders, department heads and teachers about the gifted programme.

  “I am working throughout the school to establish as part of the school culture that we look after the needs of gifted children equally with all other individual needs”, she said.

  In some schools like the British School of Beijing (BSB) and Dulwich College Beijing (DCB), the gifted and talented program is well embedded in the learning support strategy.

  As DCB learning support teacher Angela Mutinda said, the gifted and talented program is “automatically there in any good teaching environment.”IMG_2717

  The three schools are all taking different approaches towards identifying the gifted students on campus.

  At BSB, the starting point of identifying gifted and talented students is the class teacher since they work with the children on a day-to-day basis. Meanwhile, Dan Stratford, the BSB learning support teacher, will consult parents, look at the records of the students from their previous teachers or past schools, and discuss these issues at staff meetings.

  “Basically, we define the gifted and talented program in five aspects, such as intellectual (like English, mathematics, science), artistic creativity (like art design, music and drama), physical (like sports, dance, etc), social (including personal and inter-personal development), and leadership qualities, as some children are so mature that they respond better to an adult than to peers,” said Gilbard Honey Jones, the BSB principal.

 IMG_2724 “In our secondary school balloon debate last week, the first-place winner was on his first day in the school. There are all sorts of ways to identify a child’s talent.”

  At DCB, a talented student is one that excels above all the rest, either in the academic sphere or in the non-academic, like sports, music and drama.

  “They are usually found out by the tests done by educational psychologists,” said Angela Mutinda, the Dulwich learning support coordinator. “Some children come with those tests already done, so they are already identified as gifted or talented, others would be identified in school just through the normal regular teaching.”

  Bill Jarvis, director of studies at Dulwich, said that the school looks at the past records of every enrolled student, particularly those children who were identified as gifted and talented.

  “And also as part of our educational program here, we have a quality and ability test and those tests tend to show up students’ goals across the learning areas,” he said.

  Lonergan of WAB offers her definition of a gifted student: “We say a gifted child is someone who has high ability or high achievement, and because of this has educational needs that are significantly different.

  “Every child is different. So we don’t have one way of looking at them, we look at multiple criteria. We might look at their ability through IMG_2729 tests, teacher nomination, parent nomination, the students’ work, and reports available from educational psychologists.”

  Lonergan also said that the school uses a non-verbal test every year to assist in identifying gifted students on campus. “Grade 3, 5, 7 and 10 participate in the International Schools Assessment (ISA), and I look at these results as well.”

  Lonergan thinks an important part of her role is to work with the teachers to assist them in better knowing the children who have these abilities and to assist them to keep challenging the students and ensure they stay excited about learning.

  “Gifted children can be very different, and they are often very aware they are different,” she said. “Sometimes counseling is important, sometimes understanding is very important, and sometimes helping a teacher to give the child more challenging work is needed.”

IMG_3164   Class placement can also be important and very occasionally a student can be given the opportunity to work with older students in a subject or grade acceleration. “We have three little boys who have been accelerated and put in class a year ahead. And they are doing very well.”

  However, Jarvis dealt with this situation in a different way at DCB. He gave an example of a Year 3 child who is already capable of doing what Year 6 students do.

  “He has a team of teachers working in that area to provide him with course work and structured tasks that let him extend himself,” said the director of studies.

  “Somebody would ask ‘Why wouldn’t you move that child a few years ahead?’ But we should be mindful about the gifted kids and make sure they feel socially comfortable.”IMG_3156

  Jarvis said it is part of the school policy to make sure every single child fulfils all the potential they have, and even if they haven’t achieved what their parents did, they still feel like “I could not have done even better.” Meanwhile, the broad curriculum can offer many opportunities for  students to develop their talents and interests.

  Honey Jones said that providing the gifted and talented program at the British School of Beijing presents a real challenge both to the students and also the teachers.

IMG_3187  “If you have a talented child in your class, it is not about giving them more of what they already can do, it is actually giving them other activities that can stretch them and ensure their minds are challenged,” he said. “We hope the children generally reach their potential. I call it extended grasp. Potential is something you know they can do and ensure they get there, and that satisfies the child even more.”

   Kerensa Mason, a girl in Year 5 at BSB, who plays an ancient Chinese instrument called Guzheng very well, was given the opportunity to perform in the school assembly.

  “That is an extension for her,” said Honey Jones. “We have staff from the Royal Academy of Music to give her highly-qualified exercises.”

  Recently, the British school has a qualified dance teacher from an international dance school, who looks after children who have gifts in dance or gymnastics, and enriches them through extended training. The school also provides workshops for teachers so that they can obtain knowledge from each other.

  “When we talk about the gifted and talented program, we are talking about good teaching and learning,” Jarvis said.

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