Developing the Gifted and Talented Young Learner


Margaret Sutherland

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    For Stacey, Amy and the ‘North Lanarkshire girls’. Now you are all qualified teachers make sure you help your children reach for the stars.

    This book is also dedicated to the memory of Emily-Jane Gold. A gifted and talented young girl. Ready to shine.


    My thanks go to the many inspirational 3–5-year-olds I have come across in early years settings.

    Thanks go to Stacey Hutton, Amy Cullen and Fiona Huggan for their constructive feedback and to Isobel Reid and Ian Pieper for sharing their experiences. Thanks also to Susan May Nursery Teacher, Killermont Primary School Nursery Class and the staff of Renfrewshire early years settings for feedback and allowing me to try out ideas.

    Special thanks to Shona Mathieson, close friend and Depute Head Teacher of Killermont Primary School, Bearsden, and to Ewan Tooth for technical advice.

    Advice and support were gratefully received from my colleagues and friends, Chris Smith, Niamh Stack, Rae Galbraith and Frances Gaughan, and from Jude Bowen and Amy Jarrold at SAGE Publications.

    Finally, my thanks go to Andrew and Briagh for ‘putting up with me’ and constantly encouraging me during the writing process.

    About the Author

    Margaret Sutherland lectures at the University of Glasgow in additional support needs. She is also the project leader for the Scottish Network for Able Pupils. She has 26 years' teaching experience in mainstream primary schools, behaviour support and latterly in higher education

    She has written articles in the field of gifted and talented education and is author of Gifted and Talented in the Early Years: A Practical Guide for 3–5 Year Olds.

    She is on the editorial board of the Korean Educational Development Institute, Journal of Educational Policy. She speaks regularly at conferences and has led courses, workshops and seminars across the UK and in Korea.

    How to Use This Book

    Early years national initiatives in the United Kingdom (UK) have helped to raise expectations among educators. This, coupled with the move towards inclusive education, has seen many exciting projects taking place in settings across the country A central issue in the early years has been early identification of the additional support needs of young children. Much of the writing related to this centres on children who ‘can't do’ certain things. This book, however, is concerned with the children who are doing things beyond what we might expect for their ageIt considers how we can meet their additional needs within an inclusive framework.

    Early educational experiences can have a long-lasting effect on us. Most people can recount positive and negative learning experiences. When you ask a bit more about these experiences, people often talk about a particular adult. Where the experience has been positive, they speak highly of the individual and the effect on their learning. Sadly, some recount negative experiences and do so with great feeling. An ill-thought word or a look can have a devastating effect on a child. Sometimes this effect lasts into adulthood. The kind of interaction we engage in with all of the young people in our care is of vital importance. This book considers gifted and talented children and encourages us to explore our beliefs and practice relating to these young learners. By considering this group of children, we will be in a better position to meet the needs of all children in our setting.

    The first chapter of this book sets out to consider how young children develop their beliefs about ability. Particular issues for gifted and talented young children and their families, such as sibling rivalry and lack of understanding from relatives, are touched on. Issues for staff working with these children and issues for their age peers are also explored. The reader is asked to think about their own learner identity.

    Chapter 2 takes practitioners through a process that leads to them considering how their beliefs about their own ability impact on what they do and say, to and with, young children. Case studies are used to demonstrate the impact of attitudes and beliefs on the young learner and on the tasks they provide.

    Chapter 3 explores how staff, parents and young children view the world and how these, sometimes conflicting, narratives can lead to difficulties when challenging and supporting gifted young learners

    Chapter 4 considers the various aspects involved in creating and developing challenging, open-ended activities for gifted young children so that they develop a sense of themselves as a learner. It builds on the ideas in previous chapters and, using a story as a starting point, offers some ideas for ‘getting started’. The chapter refers to fact sheets for adults and a useful glossary that can be found at the end of the book.

    Chapter 5 offers a range of challenging activities related to stars, the sun and space exploration that can be used or adapted for use within the setting.

    Chapter 6 examines the idea of identifying through provision. This holistic and inclusive approach allows for latent, potential and unexpected abilities to be identified.

    Chapter 7 looks at the kind of feedback we can offer that will help to develop a positive learner identity and effective learning dispositions. It also considers how practitioners can work together with parents.

    The final chapter pulls together the thoughts from throughout the book. It explores some of the reasons why it is so difficult to meet the needs of all within the setting. It highlights the need to challenge our gifted and talented children and to ensure that we help to develop positive learner identities in each child with whom we work.

    You will see icons appearing throughout this book:

    It should be noted that four countries make up the UK. Each has adopted slightly different terminology, and approaches, to the education of gifted and talented learners.

    Scotland:more able pupils.
    Northern Ireland:gifted and talented pupils.
    Wales:more able and talented pupils.
    England:gifted and talented pupils.

    While terminology is important, at the heart of each country's approach is the desire to offer every child a relevant, challenging and meaningful learning experience. Placing children at the heart of learning will help us to achieve this.

  • Appendix

    If you go to the SAGE website and search for the entry for this book, you will be able to download PDFs of the material included in this Appendix and of the photocopiable material included in the body of the book.

    The following information is for practitioners. This information is intended as a starting point. You will be able to find out much more in-depth information from books and websites, however, the outline below can be used as the basis for discussion and for further topics for exploration by children and yourself!

    Useful Websites Contains numerous pages of space-related information including our universe, lift off and life in space. A range of online activities for educators and developers. A national programme of astronomy events offering workshops, demonstrations and shows. A range of space-related topics giving information and activities. The section about the Sun is particularly good. National Schools Observatory. A superb website that has activities for children aged 7–14+. The website covers Telescopes, Go observing, Universe now, Astronomy, @stroclub, International. While it is for older children, some gifted and talented children will be interested in the topics covered. There is also a section for staff called Staff room. Amazing pictures from the Hubble space telescope – a must for all your children. The site of the National Radio Astronomy Observatory. It has a photogallery of telescope and space pictures. The US government space site offers a huge range of activities for young people. The section ‘Space Shuttle facts’ is particularly good. While there is some reading required for parts of this site it is a great site with the following sections:

    • Space station.
    • Astronaut school – children can see if they have quick enough reaction times when destroying asteroids, good enough hand-eye coordination and memory to be an astronaut.
    • Lift off – there is a particularly good activity about rocket trajectory
    • Living in space – deals with issues such as food and toilets.
    • Space science. Virtual tour of the International Space Station. Build a satellite. There are 360-degree panorama taken from the Apollo Moon landings. There are also audio clips of astronauts and engineers and a puzzlers section offering puzzles of varying complexity. You can watch a movie about the Sun on this site. The British National Space Centre. There is a ‘Kids Section’ with a range of activities at various levels. The Natural History Museum. You can examine meteorite exhibits. Planet Quest is a site devoted to the search for another Earth. There are games, movies and simulations. This is the American Museum of Natural History's website for children. There are many interesting areas. Astronomy is the most relevant for this topic but it also includes archaeology, Einstein, genetics, marine biology, palaeontology, Earth, mythic creatures and biodiversity. Join the Starship Sagen on a voyage through the universe. A learning centre for young astronomers.


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    Sutherland, M. (2006) ‘Continuous provision: a bit of a balancing act but well worth the effort’, Early Years Educator, 8(9): 12–14.
    Torrance, P. (1981) ‘Predicting the creativity of elementary school children and the teacher who made a difference’, Gifted Child Quarterly, 15: 56–62.

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