Question: Hi, I am a teacher with a psychology degree, and am currently completing my Masters in Education. I am looking at the impact of a new gifted and talented program on A/A* attainment at GCSE. I would like to ask the scientists which purpose for Gifted pupils they think is most effective: enrichment, practise on developing intrinsic motivation? And how this fits with the current neuropsychological theories of learning. I would also like to ask fellow teachers about their experiences of gifted education programs: do they work? How can did you measure impact? And are they fair? Thanks in advance for any input! Sarah
Lucy Cragg answered on 5 May 2015:
Hi Sarah, there doesn’t seem to be much in the way of evaluations of what works best for gifted pupils (although other scientists may know better!). A recent study in America showed positive effects in English with an enrichment approach (see http://ieeyork.blogspot.co.uk/2015/01/clear-route-for-gifted-students.html). In terms of a neuroscience/psychology explanation this could work because it makes it easier for pupils to integrate new information with existing knowledge. Practice, especially distributed practice, strengthens relevant connections in the brain. It is beneficial for all learners and so is likely to also be beneficial for gifted pupils. As stated on a previous post http://bit.ly/1ABUW4W there isn’t actually much literature on intrinsic motivation, especially from a neuroscience perspective, although I guess if you view Carol Dweck’s growth mindset approach as a kind of intrinsic motivation then there is evidence for this improving outcomes. This paper (http://bit.ly/1chJHt7) also suggests that enrichment improves intrinsic motivation (which could then in turn improve outcomes). I wonder if gifted pupils might already have quite good intrinsic motivation though? (This is just an opinion and not based on any evidence). It would be really nice to do a study comparing the benefits of the three different approaches! In terms of measuring impact could you compare the group who receives the intervention to a control group of similar students from the previous year?
Kathryn Asbury answered on 5 May 2015:
Thanks for a very interesting question. From the behavioural genetic perspective what we know is that high ability (like ability throughout the distribution) is influenced by both genes and experiences. There is a clear opportunity here to nurture natural ability (as there is for all pupils). One study found that genes explained 50% of the differences between high ability pupils in 4 countries (Australia, Netherlands, UK and US). These kids were gifted in the sense of having high IQ/g (Haworth et al., 2009). I’m not aware of genetically sensitive studies on other aspects of giftedness or talent.
I guess the question with a G&T programme is what you actually want it to achieve. Do G&T pupils really need additional support to achieve A*/A at GCSE or should any programme offer them something beyond the curriculum (in the area of their gift/talent) that aims to keep them stimulated, learning and making progress? Because children differ in their learning capacities and preferences for both biological and social reasons it seems to me that the key is personalisation – understanding what drives individuals and building on that. I therefore wonder how possible it is to develop a G&T programme for a group. I have heard of schools where, for example, the G&T kids get to do Latin. This might be a stimulating enrichment opportunity for some pupils but is unlikely to be a good fit for all. There’s a lot of research to be done here but, as it stands, I would plump for enrichment of individuals – based on their particular abilities and interests – as the most likely source of benefit to pupils. I would measure its success in terms of engagement, interest and self-reported stimulation in school rather than GCSE grades.
I would also recommend reading Gifted Phoenix’ blog and following him on Twitter as he stays very up to date on the needs of G&T pupils and the relevant policies and practices: https://giftedphoenix.wordpress.com/
Haworth, C. M., Wright, M. J., Martin, N. W., Martin, N. G., Boomsma, D. I., Bartels, M., … & Plomin, R. (2009). A twin study of the genetics of high cognitive ability selected from 11,000 twin pairs in six studies from four countries.Behavior genetics, 39(4), 359-370.
Mark Mon-Williams answered on 14 May 2015:
I have some issues with the ‘gifted and talented’ construct… this seems to be quite tightly defined in terms of our current educational system… humans have so many amazing abilities that I worry we ignore all the gifts and talents that are harder to measure or less ‘on trend’ within a particular political climate…
But obviously some children excel in particular academic topics (for example) and it’s brilliant to see efforts to allow these children to develop further these skills.
In terms of a proper scientific evaluation of such programs with regard to attainment – I’m unaware of any such research (though certainly amenable to a Randomised Control Trial). I would make a more general point that we urgently need such evaluation so that educational practice becomes more evidence based (big data across educational authorities might also offer some opportunities to address some of these questions).
In the absence of scientific evaluation I would defer to the experience and judgement of the teaching experts when deciding the nature of the programme most likely to be effective. Likewise, I’d be hesitant about extrapolating teaching programmes from current theories of learning per se.
I’m sorry if that sounds a bit wishy-washy but I hope it’s an honest appraisal of our currents state of understanding.
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