Wednesday, 18 June 2014

Theory into Practice - Identifying Gifted and Talented Māori Students

As this week is Gifted Awareness Week and excitingly I have had an article about my research published in the Apex journal I thought it would be timely to write an update about how I'm putting my research into practice.  Just like identifying gifted students is only the beginning of the journey, undertaking my thesis was just the beginning of my journey.  I specifically chose a topic that I felt I could take what I found out and actually put it into practice in my school.

My research was into how Māori students who are gifted and talented are identified in mainstream schools and the barriers and challenges that teachers face when trying to do this.  The findings did not surprise anyone.  I found that although there were a few schools who had culturally appropriate procedures in place, the numbers of Māori students being identified was low, if not non-existent.  The majority of schools who took part in the study did not have a clear definition of what Māori giftedness would look like and therefore their identification processes did not take Māori giftedness into account.  The main barrier to this was teacher knowledge and expertise within the schools.  All the teachers surveyed were keen to learn more about this aspect of giftedness but time and pressures of other factors meant that unfortunately this was not a priority.  

I strongly believe however, that it needs to be made a priority.  It is well known throughout Aotearoa New Zealand that there is a disproportionate number of young Māori not achieving in our school system and I believe that by creating robust identification and provision for Māori gifted and talented students we would be able to begin to combat these statistics.  I discovered through my research that when identifying Māori students who are gifted and talented, the provision of a culturally responsive environment is crucial.  It is important that teachers realise that they don't have to be of the same culture as their students in order to be effective, but it is imperative that they are able to connect with their students' cultures and understand what it means to be gifted and talented in that culture.  If students are not given opportunities to let their gifts and talents shine then how can we ever hope to identify them and in a school system that generally reflects the majority culture.  

In 2012 I was fortunate to be selected for a year long study award to complete my thesis and following this, in 2013, I returned to school as the Gifted Co-ordinator/Teacher to develop a Gifted and Talented Withdrawal Programme for 8 hours per week (6 hours teaching, 2 hours planning).  Prior to 2013 our school definition of giftedness and talent was very generic and was pretty much copied from the MoE 2000 handbook.  The only mention of cultural giftedness was a bullet point buried at the bottom of the list of areas that a student may demonstrate giftedness and talent.  Through my research I found this was common among the schools surveyed and although the bullet point was there, teachers did not know what this would look like past being good at kapa haka or being able to speak te reo.

My first task therefore was to update our definition this was done in consultation with staff and community and our updated definition is as follows:

The next step was to provide our teachers with PD on what this meant and how we could make this more than words.  Cultural competency was a major driver behind our PD programme for the year so this fitted well and by the end of the year I believe we have come a long way to recognising and catering for a wider range of gifts and talents.  We still have a way to go as making this kind of shift in practice takes time but we are definitely on the right track.

The other major component of this change was developing identification processes and a withdrawal programme that aligned with our revamped definition. Using a variety of resources and research I developed a new identification checklist for teachers which we implemented in 2014.  I also made it very clear that parents and students needed to be a part of this process also.  The list of names gained from the identification process proved very interesting.  In 2011 only 17 % of the identified gifted and talented students were Māori.  In 2014, with our new definition and identification procedure this increased to 35%.  With a roll that is 40% Māori, this is much closer to what it should be.  

Now that we'd identified these students what were we going to do to ensure that we were catering to their needs?  Ka Hikitia and it's principles provided a great starting point and ensuring that we were working towards meeting these was a good place to start as gifted students spend the majority of their time at school in mixed ability classes. The other part of the process was creating a programme that recognised the variety of gifts and talents that we had included in our definition.  With only six hours per week, this has been the hardest part!  As a school we provide lots of opportunities for education outside the classroom as well as leadership opportunities so my first step was to categorise these under the areas of giftedness and talent we had identified to ensure that students had lots of opportunities to shine in the various areas.  The second step was to look at which areas there weren't a lot of opportunities and create some.  We decided that Kaitiakitanga, Mātauranga and Rangatiratanga would be our focus for the year and I have created a programme around these three areas.  There's not enough time to go into this in detail here but if you'd like more information about our programme please email me.

It has been really exciting this year seeing the change taking place around what giftedness and talent looks like in our school and really thinking about and recognising all the ways that students demonstrate it and can be extended.  We are by no means at the end of this journey and there are lots of things that we are still learning, reflecting on, refining and improving but when I look back to what gifted and talented education looked like at our school in 2011 compared to what it looks like now I feel we have the essence of something great that can only grow in greatness and positive outcomes for all our tamariki.

This is the power of strong, culturally responsive gifted and talented education.  One where students feel that their culture is valued throughout every aspect of the school.  One where they feel that teachers understand and value what it means to be gifted and talented in their culture and are not trying to assimilate them to what it means to be gifted and talented in the majority culture.  One where their gifts and talents are recognised and encouraged to shine in the classroom, in the playground and in the wider community.  

 Ko tōu reo, ko tōku reo, 
 te tuakiri tangata. 
 Tīhei uriuri, tīhei nakonako. 

 Your voice and my voice are expressions of identity.
 May our descendants live on and our hopes be fulfilled. 


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