Monday 16 December 2019

Do gifted children need more support in school?

A new online course will help teachers to assist bright kids in class, writes Kim Bielenberg

A new online course will help teachers to assist bright kids in class. Stock photo: Getty
A new online course will help teachers to assist bright kids in class. Stock photo: Getty
Kim Bielenberg

Kim Bielenberg

The majority of parents of gifted students in Ireland do not believe their child is receiving assignments suitable for their ability.

A study by the Centre of Talented Youth in Ireland (CTYI) has shown that 54pc of parents of gifted children believe the students were not given work that suited their academic ability. Nearly three-quarters of parents indicated their children rarely or never received differentiated assignments.

A common thread in parents' descriptions, according to the research, was a lack of planning and consistency in special assignments for their children.

Fewer than one in five parents believed that their child's school had a system to identify gifted students.

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An earlier study of Irish teachers by the CTYI found there was positive support for gifted education in schools, but widespread opposition to grade acceleration. This is where children may be moved ahead in the curriculum in certain subjects so that they find their academic work is more challenging.

CTYI director Colm O'Reilly says gifted education is not covered in teacher training or continuous professional development.

The CTYI has just launched a new online programme for teachers of gifted students in regular classrooms. The free course will also be available to principals and parents.

The course, backed by the EU's Erasmus programme, aims to ensure that appropriate educational opportunities for gifted students are provided at a school level.

Based at Dublin City University (DCU), the Centre for Talented Youth has been welcoming children aged from six to sixteen since 1992.

It provides Saturday activities for bright primary school students and summer courses for those at secondary level. It also enables children in Transition Year (TY) to sample academic courses at university standard.

Among the courses or subject areas available at the centre are Forensic Science, Law, Politics, Engineering and Psychology.

Colm O'Reilly said: "Students have a very postive experience when they come to our courses, but a lot of them are saying that they can be frustrated or bored in school.

"We would prefer to have a situation where the school experience could be improved.

"The feedback from teachers is that they are well disposed to gifted education but they often don't know where to start."

According to O'Reilly, priority is often given in schools to children at the lower end of the spectrum while bright students are left to their own devices.

O'Reilly says: "Hopefully, they will do well in the end. The problem is that some of them do and some of them don't.

"Some under-achieve in a large fashion - they don't engage with the material available to them in school, because they are not interested in it ."

Despite their apparent academic advantages, gifted and talented students are often unchallenged at school, at both primary and post-primary level, according to O'Reilly.

"This lack of stimulation can lead to these students not fulfilling their academic potential, disengaging from school and even dropping out of the education system altogether.

"The main goal of our programme is to allow students to fulfil their potential. Hopefully this programme will make it easier for teachers to differentiate and design lesson plans for high ability students.

The online programme is aimed at teachers, both in primary and second-level schools.

O'Reilly believes this is the first programme of its type, not just in Ireland, but across Europe. It is being designed with education partners from across the EU, and the lesson plans could be adapted for use in other countries.

CTYI already runs an Early University Entrance programme for high ability TY students.

It takes place on the DCU campus, with students taking part in selected first year modules on one day each week over the course of a semester. Students are in separate classes, with other TY students. Class sizes are usually around 20 pupils.

Anna Gaughan, 16, is a TY student at Holy Faith Secondary School in Clontarf and takes part in the Early University Entrance programme.

"Every Friday I come to DCU instead of school and I study college-level Law and Politics.

"In the morning we have Law classes and I study Politics in the afternoon.

"I started coming to the Centre for Talented Youth when I was seven. The activities for primary students are on Saturday mornings.

"When I started in secondary school I did a summer programme for three weeks, and I have done that every year since."

Anna says she has always liked to be challenged at school, both at primary and second-level.

"I am quite academic, and when I came to CTYI on Saturdays and during the summer I felt that I was being challenged.

"I was being asked to discuss more topical issues that I was concerned with, rather than the basic Maths, English and Irish that we did in school. I was studying things like Forensic Science, Archaeology, Medicine and Law."

In its Forensics progamme, students investigate a mock crime scene and analyse blood spatters and finger prints.

The issue of grade acceleration, where gifted students push ahead in the curriculum in one or more subjects is controversial.

A study by the CTYI found there was significant opposition to it in schools.

Colm O'Reilly says: "It is a very emotive issue and people are wary of it, but research shows that it is a good way of working with bright kids.

"If they are very good at Maths, for example, they could be moved ahead a couple of years in the curriculum.

"Acceleration is well researched and the evidence shows that kids make a good social adjustment.

"It can work better for single subjects, where students move ahead in one subject, but go back to their peers for the rest of the curriculum."

Irish Independent

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