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High expectations for gifted and talented learners

Students looking at flower.

The Education Review Office (2011) found that, although most schools are committed to the principle of high expectations, teachers focus more often on meeting the learning needs of at-risk students than on extending the more able. This is consistent with other research indicating that the learning needs of gifted and talented students are often overlooked (ERO, 2008 a and b; Riley et al., 2004). It is especially so for certain groups of gifted and talented learners, such as Māori and Pasifika students, students in rural areas, and students who have a physical or sensory disability or a learning difficulty.

To support gifted and talented learners to achieve to their potential, school leaders and teachers need to develop programmes that are tailored to these students’ individual strengths and interests. This includes taking into account their identities, languages, and cultures.

Schools also need to consider the effect on students of how they see themselves and of how they are seen by their peers and by the adults around them. While high expectations are important, gifted students’ own and others’ expectations of them can create pressures that lead to fear of failure. Some learners hide their giftedness in order to gain peer acceptance (girls in early- to mid-adolescence and Māori and Pasifika students may be particularly vulnerable to such pressures). When setting expectations for these students, schools must also be sensitive to their emotional and social needs and explore ways to allow for them.

Case study

Good Practice at Kelston Girls’ College

Kelston Girls’ College is a multicultural secondary school in Waitakere City. Principal Linda Fox is adamant about the importance of investing in the social, cultural, and academic growth of all students and supporting them to meet high expectations in their pursuit of excellence.

Linda has a particular interest in promoting the high achievement of gifted and talented learners. The school belongs to a cluster that provides professional development for teachers and mentoring for gifted and talented learners with social, emotional, or behavioural difficulties. Provision for gifted and talented learners is firmly embedded in school programmes and is subject to ongoing self-review.

A key part of this policy is the provision of high-motivation classes (HMC) for academically gifted year 9–10 learners, in which they are challenged to use higher-order thinking skills. In year 10, high-motivation classes are also offered for some Pasifika students and for Māori students studying te reo. There is also a high- performing sports class. Enrichment activities have included the Amazing Race, organised by HMC students for local primary and intermediate school students. This activity has challenged their leadership skills and their understanding of Māori and Chinese culture.

At higher levels, gifted learners work separately in their subject classes but come together daily in a whānau group to continue to support, motivate, and extend each other. Other extension, enrichment, and community-based programmes ensure that these students’ pastoral as well as academic needs are met. Gifted students at the school say that their teachers have high expectations of them so they are challenged, not bored.

The school understands that potential can be hidden and can emerge at different times for different students. Before they entered the HMC programme, some students were at risk of not achieving, but they have now learned to set goals and take responsibility for themselves. One student who had been expelled from her previous school was identified as gifted and talented and placed in a high-motivation class. The support she received from her teacher, her peers, and a social worker enabled her to settle at school and re-engage in learning.

This case study draws heavily on one developed by ERO to exemplify high-quality practice in the school’s provision for gifted and talented students. The full case study can be found online.

> References and other useful resources


Alton-Lee, A. (1984). “Understanding Learning and Teaching: An Investigation of Pupil Experience of Content in Relation to Immediate and Long-term Learning”. Doctoral dissertation, University of Canterbury.

Alton-Lee, A. (2003). Quality Teaching for Diverse Students in Schooling: Best Evidence Synthesis. Wellington: Ministry of Education.

Bishop, R., Berryman, M., Powell, A., and Teddy, L. (2007). Te Kotahitanga Phase 2 – Towards a Whole School Approach. Wellington: Ministry of Education.

Education Review Office (2008a). Schools’ Provisions for Gifted and Talented Students: Good Practice, June 2008. Wellington: Education Review Office.

Education Review Office (2008b). Schools’ Provisions for Gifted and Talented Students, June 2008. Wellington: Education Review Office.

Education Review Office (2010). Including Students with High Needs, June 2010. Wellington: Education Review Office.

Education Review Office (2011). Directions for Learning: The New Zealand Curriculum Principles and Teaching as Inquiry, May 2011. Wellington: Education Review Office.

Ministry of Education (2000). Gifted and Talented Students: Meeting Their Needs in New Zealand Schools. Wellington: Learning Media.

Nuthall, G. (2007). The Hidden Lives of Learners. Wellington: NZCER Press.

Riley, T., Bevan-Brown, J., Bicknell, B., Carroll-Lind, J., and Kearney, A. (2004). The Extent, Nature, and Effectiveness of Planned Approaches in New Zealand Schools for Providing for Gifted and Talented Students: Final Report. Wellington: Ministry of Education.

New resources to support high expectations for gifted and talented learners

The following new resources are being developed to help schools set and support high expectations for their gifted learners. For further information, schools can also go to the TKI Gifted and Talented community online.

Gifted and Talented Online – for students

This section of TKI’s Gifted and Talented community includes a needs analysis questionnaire for students to complete themselves. They then receive a PDF report that they can email to parents and teachers and keep as their own record to help support them on their journey.

Provider database

Providers of gifted PLD programmes.

National Standards resources on gifted learners

A set of resources and guidelines for teachers and school leaders is being developed to help them integrate their use of the National Standards with effective approaches for working with gifted learners. These resources include a self-review tool for schools, online case studies, and ways to help schools share their knowledge and expertise with each other.

Reversioning of Gifted and Talented Students: Meeting Their Needs in New Zealand Schools

Gifted and Talented Students: Meeting Their Needs in New Zealand Schools (2000) is a Ministry of Education handbook to support schools and teachers with helping their gifted learners to reach their potential. While the information in the handbook is sound, since its publication the knowledge base has grown. In particular, we know more about the need for culturally responsive pedagogy and that teachers and school leaders need to conduct ongoing collaborative inquiry into their expectations for their learners, their expectations for their own practice, and how far they are meeting those expectations. The handbook is being updated to take account of this new knowledge. The TKI Gifted and Talented site will then be redesigned to reflect some of the core concepts in the revised handbook.


The Iterative Best Evidence Synthesis (BES) programme

The Iterative Best Evidence Synthesis (BES) programme brings together research-based evidence from New Zealand and elsewhere to explain what works in education and why. Eight best evidence syntheses have been completed to date, each focused on a significant aspect of educational practice. The programme is also developing a growing range of resources to support educators to incorporate the BES findings in their professional learning. These resources include a set of BES summaries published by the International Academy of Education and a new series of BES exemplars, which illuminate eleven research-derived “dimensions of quality teaching”.

Te Kotahitanga

Te Kotahitanga is a response to the underachievement of Māori students in English-medium schools. The programme demonstrates that student achievement improves when, instead of deficit theorising, teachers use collaborative professional development to construct a culturally responsive pedagogy.

The Te Kotahitanga publication series is available at online.

The Graham Nuthall Classroom Research Trust

Inspired by then doctoral student Adrienne Alton-Lee, Graham Nuthall took up a new approach to educational research that focused on the experiences of students. Through a unique method of data collection, in which students wore broadcast microphones, he and his colleagues were able to explore the “hidden world of the learner”, including their private talk among themselves and their interactions with their peers. His findings included the discovery that what students learn is highly influenced by their peers and by the knowledge they bring to their learning. The Graham Nuthall Trust continues Graham’s work in exploring the impact of classroom interactions on student learning.

Download the full print version: Issue 22: June 2012 (PDF, 1 MB)