Magazine article NATE Classroom

Developing Gifts and Talents in English (Part One)

Magazine article NATE Classroom

Developing Gifts and Talents in English (Part One)

Article excerpt

It's happening again--fuelled by coalitionist endorsement of deep-rooted substitutes for thinking--political tails are wagging the educational dog. The 'Free' school' is the latest extrusion from the educational posterior, trumpeting fundamentalist platitudes of faith, good manners and nice uniforms. Not, I think, a case of developing post-renaissance humane potential. As usual, the froth is packaged with the buzz-words of 'freedom', 'choice', and 'parents'. And, of course, Raising Educational Standards.

I'm not going to waste print on railing against this contemptible tosh or the assertive squeaks and splutterings of the gruesome Gove-puppet whose every appearance makes the brain shudder and the flesh wince. Rather, I want to make a plea for what is becoming a neglected priority for teachers working with real youngsters in real schools on Planet Reality. And I do want to use some appropriated words: I want to re-affirm educational freedom from Red-Top ignorance and teachers' choice of something other than Tory totems. In no way does this mean abandoning concern that parents should expect the best for their children, and it certainly embraces educational standards in terms of thought, feeling, understanding, personal satisfaction and social awareness--the things that matter more in English than the simple quantifiables of identifying a connective or spelling 'business'.

I want to steer thinking back to the craft of teaching and learning in English. In particular, I want to address what we do for our more able youngsters because it develops our ability to make all youngsters more able. In recent years, concern for top-end performance has been an aspect of the Gifted and Talented agenda, and I'm aware that the G&T tag may not have suited the educational or social priorities of all teachers. However, it has stimulated thinking and practice about challenge and progression for the ablest, and, by trickle-down, those not already able.

My take on this has been to use the funding and focus of G&T to develop strategies and resources beyond provision for an already multi-favoured elite. My aim has been to establish a teaching repertoire to develop Gifts and Talents in all. Practically, this means that teachers who can (spontaneously or by cunning preparation) demonstrate and display ('model' in the established jargon) skills at the highest level for their students become better able also to demonstrate and display the rungs below in the ladder--enabling them to guide students up the rungs of a developing skill hierarchy. It also means devising activities that allow all to work at the top of their ability and above, wherever they start in the range of assessment.

Unfortunately, several things have combined to demote provision for the special needs of the most able in the nation's educational priorities. The erosion of local authority funding and responsibility has put a stop to adviser-initiated, authority-wide events bringing students together from different schools. These events, apart from their stimulus to learning, developed self-image and ambition by creating a new peer group in which it was OK to be bright and want to do something with brightness. Additionally, the obsession with turning D-predicted youngsters into Cs to satisfy targets in league tables has become an (understandably) disproportionate major feature of daily life. It has produced artificial minimum C performance lasting for the assessment period and no longer. When Warwick University decided it would not bid to continue the National Academy for Gifted and Talented Youth, the brief for developing research, provision and support for G&T went to CfBT. Since then, the profile of G&T work has been less evident, and CfBT's contract ran out in March 2010.

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In the absence of strong external representation of top-end curriculum development, we need to revitalise this part of the educational agenda and find motivation and support wherever it lies. …

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