This book could act as a guide to anyone entering the fray of dealing with outstandingly able children, but it fails to provide great inspiration or sufficient practical advice.
There are chapters on providing for such pupils, on developing a whole-school gifted and talented policy, on creating challenge in the classroom, and on the involvement of parents and governors, while the last chapter gives ‘useful information’. Every chapter ends with ‘key messages’, each of which is a carefully worded sentence that indicates how things should be in a perfect world as far as providing for outstandingly able children goes. All the material could help those involved with outstandingly able children in both the independent and state sectors, at primary and secondary level, but the majority of readers will need more detailed guidance from other sources, too. The book may also help those who have been on a journey of self-discovery, and are seeking validation of their own theories, aims and practices.
The chapter on identification of, and strategies for providing for outstandingly able pupils gives the usual set of possible characteristics of such pupils (those who are achieving well, as well as those who are underachieving), details of the standardised tests available and other strategies for identification. The one clearly successful chapter in the book is on developing a whole-school policy, and those who are in the process of developing or updating school policies, are likely to find helpful thoughts and ideas here. The appendix contains a very sound draft policy. The chapter on creating challenge in the classroom is the least successful. It is predominantly theoretical and unoriginal. It has the air of ‘that is an interesting idea, let’s put it in’ and is, as the young say, ‘random’. It is hard to understand why the authors felt that they needed to include yet another explication of Bloom’s Taxonomy. The back cover says ‘the authors consider why it is so important to create challenge in the classroom…’. Consider as they may, this chapter doesn’t provide inspiration, nor does it help to build courage, which is what educators of pupils with outstanding ability need.
The two final chapters, one on involving parents and governors and one on resources, may be of some use but are unlikely to offer anything new to readers, unless they are very new to the area and most uninformed. If it is to add value, a new book in any field of education must provide two things: a strong, inspirational sense of direction and useful, practical advice. Disappointingly, this book fails in the first, and only partially succeeds in the second. It lacks enthusiasm; it is presented in a flat and practical way, and readers are unlikely to get to the end and feel that they have been inspired, or given original and powerful tools to improve their performances. There is a touch of complacency in the book, a sort of self satisfied sigh occasionally comes out of the text.
The area of teaching outstandingly able children is in the spotlight, and many educators are doing good things for them. It is likely, though, that those educators were born to it, and that their passion come from a deep well that is fed by original thought, courage, sound teacher training, support in providing creative differentiation in the classroom, and empathy with children grappling with their awakening intellect and ability.
Able, Gifted and Talented
Bates, J and Munday, S (2005), The SEN series, Continuum, £7.99 ISBN 0826478379.
Reviewed by Jane Caiger-Smith, coordinator for the outstandingly able at Downe House School, Thatcham, Berks.