Tags: Continuing Professional Development | Gifted and Talented | Leading teacher for gifted and talented | NQT

How can G&T specialists support NQTs, and how can NQTs prepare themselves? Hilary Lowe of Oxford Brookes University looks at some of the key issues

Part 1 of this articles focuses on how G&T specialists can support NQTs. If you’re an NQT please scroll down for Part 2.

Part 1: Supporting NQTs

Many staff in school have responsibility in one way or another for the induction and ongoing support of NQTs and new teachers. Many staff will also find themselves giving guidance to beginning teachers on how to plan for and teach very able pupils. A member of staff with designated responsibility for G&T education will certainly have a role in supporting NQTs in this area, often directly and often through advising other staff on how they too can offer support.

NQTs come to their first post with variable knowledge and experience of teaching very able pupils. You will therefore want to establish their starting points before selecting from the suggested areas in the box, right, to discuss with your NQTs.

You may also include more able pupils when discussing topics such as inclusion, Every Child Matters and 14-19 education. Other key colleagues should also be involved in sharing their perspectives and knowledge in respect of able pupils, for example assessment managers, pastoral staff, Sencos, National Strategy coordinators.

Don’t forget too that many NQTs have a great deal to offer more experienced teachers and could be invited, for example, to lead a departmental discussion, share ideas and resources or organise an enrichment/extra-curricular activity for G&T pupils.

Suggested areas of disccussion with NQTs

  • Identifying areas of the induction standards which relate to able pupils and reviewing NQTs’ competence in them.
  • Undertaking a ‘gap analysis’ for individual NQTs of the key areas of identification, provision and monitoring pupils’ progress and exploring how the Classroom Quality Standards could be used to improve areas of practice.
  • Exploring the school’s policy for G&T pupils.
  • Discussing the context of the school and its definition of and provision for G&T pupils, with reference to pupils who might underachieve.
  • Exploring how to identify and provide for more able pupils.
  • Exploring definitions of high ability and talent in particular subject areas.
  • Looking at ways of differentiating lesson planning to include the
    most able.
  • Considering classroom management/organisation to support the
    most able.
  • Focusing on specific areas of practice, for example, questioning, problem solving, classroom enquiry, independent learning, differentiation strategies.
  • Discussing how to guide/deploy other adults, such as TAs and learning mentors, to support able pupils.
  • Shadowing a ‘case study’ pupil.
  • NQTs giving individual support/mentoring to a pupil.
  • NQTs shadowing a teacher known to have good practice with G&T pupils.
  • NQTs helping with an enrichment activity.
  • NQTs designing a task/resource with a teacher/other NQT.
  • NQTs attending staff professional development events.
  • NQTs participating in a school working group.

G&T specialists helping others to help NQTs

Much of your role as a designated G&T specialist may be taken up supporting your colleagues in making good provision for G&T pupils. Colleagues may also need some advice as to how they can support NQTs in developing their skills in planning and teaching. You could suggest that they explore any of the areas outlined above but it may be most helpful and realistic to invite them to:

  • model good practice in, for example, teaching, expectations and classroom ethos
  • share resources and ideas
  • provide/point out professional development opportunities
  • observe teaching and give feedback.

Other staff who could provide guidance and information to NQTs and others about teaching and supporting able pupils are:

  • staff with ‘pastoral’ responsibilities
  • learning mentors
  • SENCOs
  • senior leadership team
  • curriculum and assessment managers
  • strategy coordinators
  • external experts such as educational psychologists, extended schools coordinators, and local authority advisers.

Part 2: Advice for NQTs supporting G&T pupils

Gifted and talented – what’s it all about?

‘Gifted and talented’ is becoming a more common phrase in schools. In the past, much of the emphasis for extra teaching attention has been focused on the less able, and very able children have often been sidelined.

The establishment of the National Academy for Gifted and Talented Youth (NAGTY) and the existence of a number of organisations (see ‘Further information’) dedicated to improving the quality and range of opportunities for G&T pupils indicate the scope of the work being undertaken. In this country, the education of able and talented pupils should be part of an inclusive curriculum that recognises individual differences and aspirations through what is termed ‘personalised education’.

What you can expect to see in school

Many schools now have a policy for G&T pupils and a teacher responsible for managing and coordinating provision. More schools now have well-developed provision for G&T pupils but not all schools have made good progress in this area. The introduction of the Quality Standards for G&T education and an increased use of pupil achievement data will enable schools to evaluate what they have in place against a benchmark of what is considered to be good provision. 

There’s gifted, and there’s talented

Gifted pupils are those ‘who achieve, or have the ability to achieve, at a level significantly in advance of the average for their year group in their school’ in the statutory school curriculum. Talented ones are those who are doing the same in art, music, PE, sport or creative art.

Definitions in the government literature talk about G&T pupils as being ‘in advance of the majority of all pupils in their age group’, but you and your school should also come to a personal view about who you mean. Schools in the Excellence in Cities (EiC) project were required to nominate up to 10% of the school as ‘gifted and talented’ and a recent move by the DfES invited schools to do likewise. Qualification for membership of NAGTY and the National Gifted and Talented Register require a combination of high level SATs and CATs scores, attempting to capture the top 5% nationally.

What is important is that parents, teachers and pupils themselves know what pupils are deemed capable of and what progress they are making. Take advice from more experienced colleagues and your headteacher on how to communicate matters relating to G&T pupils to parents and pupils, as part of the school’s own reporting arrangements. 

You need to be clear about which of your pupils are already high achievers; scout for talent in those who may not be but have the potential. It is important to remember that ability and achievement are not the same (hence the ‘able underachiever’).

Identifying highly able and talented pupils is often made more difficult by confused or stereotypical views of ability. Some of the key issues in identification are that:

  • no single simple definition of ability exists
  • definitions of ability change and will reflect cultural values and local contexts
  • ability is developmental so manifests itself differently at different ages
  • it is sometimes necessary to distinguish between high ability and exceptional ability
  • ability, achievement and attainment are not the same things
  • some pupils may have ability in a number of areas, including academic and creative, performing arts and sport; some pupils may have a predominant ability in specific areas.

Talent spotting

Be alert to the signs of high ability and potential; some of these signs may include:

  • excellent memory and knowledge/use of information
  • self-regulation: knowing how best to learn and monitoring that learning
  • speed of thought: they may spend longer on planning but then reach decisions more speedily
  • strength in problem solving: adding to information, spotting what is irrelevant and getting to the essentials
  • flexibility: seeing and adopting alternative solutions to learning and problem solving
  • preference for complexity: a tendency to make games and tasks more complex to increase interest
  • concentration: an exceptional ability to concentrate at will and for long periods of time from an early age. (Joan Freeman)

A range of strategies can be used to identify G&T pupils and which should take account of both achievement, potential and the context of particular schools. Issues such as gender, ethnicity, special needs and literacy difficulties may influence achievement.

It is also important to consider and recognise what constitutes high ability and talent in different subject areas.

Broadly speaking, there are two models of identification.

1. Identifying the pupils by a recognised means, for example:

  • tests eg SATS; CATs; school assessments
  • observation of behaviour/performance in class, at home, elsewhere
  • nomination by teachers/parents/peers
  • assessment against checklists.

2. Providing pupils with challenging opportunities to reveal their ability through, for example, response to higher level tasks/provision.

Planning and teaching

The induction standards require you to take greater account of more able pupils in your planning. To complete induction successfully and make professional progress you should:

  • plan effectively to meet the needs of all pupils in your classes
  • deploy and guide the work of other adults who support pupils’ learning.

As in all areas of your teaching, understanding the needs of able pupils and how to provide for them takes time, experience and more specialised professional development on your part. Make a conscious effort to:

  • understand the key learning and social needs of able pupils
  • look out for potential in your subject and more generally
  • consider what ‘challenge’ means in different subjects
  • work out what knowledge and skills a pupil needs to achieve highly.

In your planning and teaching, you need to think about:

  • able pupils’ prior learning and their short and long-term learning goals
  • differentiating to ensure that pupils’ learning is deepened, extended and sufficiently paced, through, for example:
  • a) an emphasis on higher-order skills such as problem-solving, critical thinking, evaluation and analysis
  • b) advanced content knowledge
  • c) facilitating pupils’ independence in learning
  • d) the use of more complex language and demanding resources
  • e) an emphasis on pupils developing and using research skills
  • f) less repetition and moving more quickly through the curriculum or basic skills.
  • using assessment for learning and target setting to enable more able learners to progress.

You may find it helpful to revisit the higher-level descriptors of the NC or to look at the criteria for the higher grades in GCSE and A-level (although many able pupils can go well beyond these into ‘thinking like an expert’).

The secondary strategy generic and subject guidance on teaching able pupils together with the KS3 leaflet Key Messages for Able Pupils give examples of challenge and extension. The QCA optional tests and tasks give you an insight into the kinds of appropriate assessment activities.

Classroom organisation for differentiation might involve:

  • an open-ended task for all
  • different tasks for different groups
  • individually negotiated tasks
  • core for all plus options for some
  • specialist input/support
  • one-to-one tutorials or mentoring.

A particular challenge for teachers, especially new ones, is differentiating for the most able in a mixed-ability or wide-ability situation (this can also occur in ‘top sets’). Useful strategies are:

  • role assigning to individuals or small groups, for example: hot seating; group leadership; decision making; summarising; reporting; chairing; task explanation to other groups; researcher role
  • role playing (debates, simulations)
  • giving less support and fewer instructions for some
  • setting longer term tasks for which pupils take responsibility
  • providing choice in how to handle content (use of different media, different registers)
  • providing differentiated resources for pupils to select and use
  • differentiating questioning
  • providing individualised learning through self-study resources and ICT
  • offering support by older students or adults (teaching assistants/experts brought in)
  • setting differentiated homework
  • giving opportunities for pupils to work with others of similar abilities in and outside the classroom.

Take account of the age and emotional maturity of able pupils just as you do for all others. And remember:

  • precocious behaviour is not necessarily an indicator of exceptional ability
  • ability can be hidden by lack of cultural or linguistic know-how
  • with younger children especially, it’s important to work closely with parents or carers and other teachers.

What do you say to parents?

  • Do be sensitive to parents who aren’t aware they have a very able child and might need support to help their child.
  • Do be clear about what you mean when talking about a child’s ability (in what?) and what the child needs to do in order to make good progress.
  • Do refer difficult or anxious parents to more senior members of staff.
  • Do know the school policy on speaking to parents about G&T; check with your induction tutor/headteacher/G&T specialist.
  • Don’t use ‘edu-speak’.

Who can help you?

Your school and LA can support you. It is the responsibility of all teaching staff to make sure that they differentiate appropriately for the most able and anyone supporting you should be able to give you guidance. As a minimum you should expect:

  • the induction programme to include the school’s policy for G&T pupils and professional development for you on G&T
  • a senior member of staff or head of department to help you prepare to teach able pupils in your subject(s).

Many schools have a G&T coordinator (or lead teacher of the gifted and talented). Most LAs have an adviser with responsibility for G&T. Some LAs have policy guidance, support materials and professional development courses for teachers. Many universities (for example, Oxford Brookes University) offer short and long courses in G&T education.

The most recent developments to support you are the Institutional Quality Standards for Gifted and Talented Education and Classroom Quality Standards. These provide a blueprint for effective G&T provision in your school and classroom and a way to evaluate how good it is.

This article first appeared in Gifted & Talented Update – Mar 2007

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