An Interview with Anne Sturgess: Gifted Education in New Zealand

Aug 24, 2011 by

Michael F. Shaughnessy
Eastern New Mexico University
Portales, New Mexico

  1. Anne, what is your exact title, and what exactly would you say you do?

My title is National Facilitator for Blended e-Learning and I am employed by CORE-Education, a not-for-profit private education organisation based in New Zealand (http://core-ed.org/). I work with teachers to support them to integrate ICT tools and strategies into everyday learning programmes in order to promote effective learning outcomes for students. The best part of my job is that I am able to visit classrooms and see e-learning in action and it has become increasingly obvious to me that e-learning has opened up wonderful opportunities for differentiation for gifted and talented students. Until recently I was a Deputy Principal in a rural secondary school and have worked in mainstream as well as gifted and special education for many years.

2) In your opinion, who are some of the key people in gifted education in New Zealand?

Without meaning to be coy about this, I can honestly say that we are privileged to have many key people in gifted education in New Zealand. I am on the Board of giftEDnz (giftednz.org.nz) and the organisation’s membership comprises a large number of extremely committed and knowledgeable people. You will be aware of the efforts of Elaine Le Sueur and Rosemary Cathcart in winning the right to hold the 2013 World Conference on Gifted and Talented in New Zealand, and we are also fortunate to have an active Ministry of Education site managed by Kate Neiderer (http://gifted.tki.org.nz/). Most universities in New Zealand have staff who are actively involved in this field, both nationally and internationally, one of whom presented at the recent World Council conference in Prague (Tracy Riley). One of my previous roles was as a member of the National Coordination Team for gifted and talented education (no longer operating) where I had the privilege of working with Roger Moltzen, Angus MacFarlane and Ann Easter in our role of supporting GATE Advisors to Schools. Early Years gifted education and the education of gifted Maori students are key focus areas for giftEDnz and we are blessed to have amazingly talented people leading these areas also.

3) I understand the next World Conference on Gifted and Talented is going to be held in New Zealand- how was that news received?

We are absolutely delighted to have the opportunity to host the International community of people of like-mind and like-interest. There was elation when Rosemary and Elaine made the announcement and they have the support of a large number of people behind them. We are very much looking forward to welcoming our international colleagues to our home and can assure you that each person attending will experience manaakitanga (Maori word for hospitality, warmth, generosity) and new learning. Anyone interested in learning a few Maori phrases prior to visiting NZ might like to visit this site:

http://www.nzhistory.net.nz/culture/maori-language-week/365-maori-words

4) Could you tell us a little bit about ” gifted education ” in New Zealand – is it mostly enrichment, or acceleration?

Both acceleration and enrichment can be found in NZ schools. Our focus has been on matching programmes to each child’s interests and abilities although it would be fair to say that there is still a long way to go before we can claim that this is happening in all schools and for all gifted and talented students. There is still a great deal of discussion about whether or not gifted students should be grouped for learning but the general preference seems to be to group as and when appropriate, which may or may not be full-time placement in a gifted programme or class. The Ministry of Education has provided guidelines (http://www.tki.org.nz/r/gifted/policies/ ) but the only directive is provided in the National Administrative Guidelines for education which states that schools must “develop and implement teaching and learning strategies to address the needs of students and aspects of the curriculum identified in (c) above” which includes gifted and talented students under the umbrella term of ‘special needs.’ Teaching practices employed in Kura Kaupapa (schools based on Maori principles and beliefs) are beginning to influence practices in some mainstream schools.

Te Kura Kaupapa Maori o Nga Mokopuna

 

5) How are gifted kids identified in New Zealand and by whom?

Most educators prefer to employ a multi-dimensional approach to identification, which will include formative and summative assessment as well as anecdotal information from teachers, parents and, sometimes, the student concerned. Schools rely heavily on individual teachers who are passionate about gifted and talented education to advocate and cater for gifted and talented students. The parents’ organisation (NZAGC) provides a great deal of support for parents of gifted and talented children and a recurring theme in many discussions is that of identifying giftedness in children. We have a small number of highly skilled specialist teachers, advisors, and educational psychologists who are able to assist in this area but it is generally up to individual class teachers to identify gifted kids in their classes so professional learning in this area is essential.

6) What do you see as the social and emotional needs of gifted children- and how are they met?

In my opinion, the primary need for gifted and talented children is for acceptance. Being out-of-synch with their age-peers is an issue that begins early and continues to develop as they grow older. It is the one issue that students I have taught over many years have consistently identified as having the greatest influence on their self-perception and it is the reason most give for wanting to be in special programmes in their areas of ability and interest – they want the acceptance that being with others of like-mind and like-ability can provide. The level of intensity that many gifted children experience can also be an issue for them, and for those around them. Awareness of this is critical – forewarned is forearmed – but this often tends to be overlooked and our gifted and talented children are described as ‘too emotional’ or ‘overly anxious.’

7)  What about the realm of creativity-? Is it neglected or nurtured?

We are fortunate in New Zealand to have research carried out by Massey University in 2004 which showed that “multicategorical concepts of giftedness and talent appear to be favoured by New Zealand educators – they are broad, inclusive, and liberal, sitting well with egalitarian philosophies and beliefs” (Report to the Ministry of Education. T. Riley, J. Bevan-Brown, B. Bicknell, J. Carroll-Lind, A. Kearney. Institute for Professional Development and Educational Research, Massey University). The researchers proposed the following categories of ability:

  • Intellectual/Academic – in one or more of; Mathematics, Languages, Social Sciences, Science, English
  • Creativity – as evidenced by the ability to problem-find and problem-solve, and innovative thinking and productivity
  • Expression through the visual and/or performing arts – music, dance, drama and visual arts
  • Social/Leadership – have interpersonal and intrapersonal abilities and qualities which enable them to act in leadership roles
  • Culture-specific abilities and qualities – valued by the student’s cultural or ethnic group, including traditional arts & crafts, pride in cultural identify, language ability and service to the culture
  • Expression through physical/sport – excellent physical abilities evidenced through sport and/or health and physical education programmes

8) How involved are parents in the education of their gifted children?

As I have mentioned previously, the parent organisation, NZAGC, is very active and has been in existence for many years. Schools are actively encouraged to form parent/home partnerships and our public schools are governed by Boards of Trustees, comprising parents and professionals, so parents are able to have a great deal of influence over many aspects of school operations, although, of course, some schools are more welcoming and collaborative than others.

9) What have I neglected to ask?

I would like to make special mention of the amazing achievements of New Zealand students in the International Future Problem Solving competition (13 trophies this year) thanks to the efforts of teachers and the leadership of Robyn Boswell, who received a Queen’s Service Medal for her work in this area.

We’re looking forward to seeing you in Auckland for the 2013 conference.

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