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Creative, productive giftedness at Tawa College

What happens when gifted and talented students, who also have learning difficulties, are acknowledged for their strengths and abilities? In this story, passionate secondary school teachers recognised the urgency to cater for twice-exceptional students in their school, and decided to focus on creative and productive giftedness in order to better meet their specific learning needs. 

The Gifted and Talented Education (GaTE) PLD programme is designed to improve the capability of school leaders and teachers to better meet the needs of gifted and talented students in years 1-13. It has a specific focus on gifted and talented Māori and Pasifika students, twice-exceptional students (gifted students who also have special education needs), and gifted students who are underachieving. For more information and impact in Gifted and Talented, see the 2014 infographic data.

In 2014, the GaTE project team worked with school leaders and teachers in several schools across the North Island. Feedback from principals suggested that GaTE PLD was viewed as an effective lever for raising student achievement, because it has an explicit focus on identifying and nurturing the potential of all learners. As shown in this infographic, the number of learners who were identified as gifted and talented in schools that had completed the GaTE PLD programme almost doubled, increasing from 756 students at Time 1 (6%) to 1,445 students at Time 2 (12%). 

Creative, productive giftedness at Tawa College

Tawa College, a large, diverse secondary school located in Wellington, applied to be part of the GaTE PLD programme towards the end of August in 2012. Their original intention was to assist a group of Year 10 teachers to develop a pool of expertise and experience within the school with the intention to cater for individual needs, restorative practice, ICT, literacy, pedagogy with a particular focus on the field of creative, productive giftedness as defined by Joseph Renzulli. This aligned with a wider strategic goal to, provide a broad-based curriculum and co-curricula activities that meet the needs of all students. 


Internal reviews indicated that the school was meeting the needs academically for gifted students in the junior school (through streaming), however the needs of creative, productive gifted students were not being catered for. The teachers realised that some of their students were not achieving as well as they could, and not thinking as deeply as they could. They were high achievers because of their exam results, but the teachers knew the students could do things better, differently - more creatively at a higher level. 


At the same time, the Special Needs Coordinator was working hard to meet the needs of students who were both recognised as both clever and dyslexic - the twice-exceptional students.  


What happened


In 2012/2013, Anna Meuli (GaTE facilitator) worked with a small group of teachers of the top-streamed year 10 class, supporting them to develop skills and strategies to highlight and extend creative thinking for their gifted and talented students. A comprehensive GaTE strengths and needs analysis was undertaken that helped to feed into the PLD action plan.  Part of this plan involved surveying a small target group of students and parents. The survey asked students what they thought creativity was all about.

G&T student survey

The parents were also surveyed and asked to feedback about their children's learning (attitude, highlights, lowlights, engagement, further suggestions).

The survey results provided an opportunity for teachers and the facilitator to have discussions around what creative thinking is, and how this can be facilitated in the classroom. Understandings emerged about giving students more control and choices in their own learning, including product creativity and publishing beyond text. A trial programme was put in place which resulted in changes in systems, curriculum content and pedagogical delivery. These outcomes informed programme changes for the whole Year 10 cohort, including the students identified as twice-exceptional.

In 2014 Ingrid Frengley-Vaipuna (Gifted and Talented Facilitator) worked collaboratively with the GaTE Coordinator, a larger group of Year 10 teachers of core subjects (Science, English, Maths, Social Studies) of the Gifted and Talented class and the students' parents to better the needs of these students, with a focus on creativity in giftedness. Ingrid explains a little bit more about the PLD intentions in the sound file on the left.

One of the most positive actions was that the school was in regular contact with the parents and often shared work and progress, including specific strategies that the teachers were using to teach their children. 


Also, over the period of two-and-a-half years, Professional Learning Groups provided opportunities for teachers to share strategies for success and failure about the students' work, including authentic assessment practices. They also engaged in learning conversations about theoretical influences around creativity; such as Paul Torrance's research on creative thinking and Howard Gardner's Multiple Intelligences, which in turn became influential drivers for new ways of thinking and new ways of working. Through effective facilitation, teachers were also challenged with interdisciplinary planning; which led to more collaborative teaching practices, that resulted in shifts in curriculum design and pedagogical delivery. 

The results

Refined changes over time resulted in;

System changes included timetabling:

  • One period a week enrichment programme instead of Physical Education. Enrichment programme including philosophy of education, range of alternative choices in Year 11.
  • One day a month where a suite of alternative choices, beyond the standard NCEA curriculum were offered.
  • Learning opportunities outside the school were encouraged.

Changes in delivery meant:

  • less 'chalk and talk' with more student-focused delivery and facilitation
  • more consciously constructed lessons to allow student thinking space, talking space, doing space
  • learning opportunities that promoted creative ways of responding to learning tasks (multiple modes of productivity through e-learning, music, art)
  • providing opportunities for students to have greater choice in their learning
  • modified Year 10 assessment tasks (Social Studies) to give students more open-ended ways of demonstrating knowledge

Teacher shifts 

Teachers showed changes in their beliefs around creativity, ownership, choice and voice, particularly  for those twice-exceptional gifted students. Teachers have also demonstrated shifts in practice where cross-curricular, collaborative planning with a move towards interdisciplinary teaching is more evident. A conscious focus on creative thinking has enabled students to have more choice about the productive ways they engage, process and communicate their new learning.

Ingrid reflects, "The biggest shift of all, was that teachers were acknowledging and analysing student voice." Not only were the GaTE students offered more choice and creativity, the twice-exceptional students were finally recognised for their talents and skills, where both their abilities and learning needs were now catered and compensated for. As a result of the revised programme, the twice-exceptional students flourished in their learning, as described by one of their parents, Viv, in the video clip below. 

Student shifts

The following snapshots offer rich anecdotal reflections from three 'twice exceptional' students, Zac, Nikki and Daniel, as they talk about the benefits of being part of the GaTE programme at Tawa College. All of the video clips included in this story were filmed and directed by the students themselves, with the support and encouragement of their teachers.

On reflection

A significant outcome of this intervention was that teachers were better equipped with systems and strategies to meet the diverse needs of all learners. Twice exceptional students reported that they were happier in their learning at school and felt valued and accepted for who they were. Parents/whānau also believed that their children's specific learning needs and abilities were being recognised and developed further.

Thank you Ingrid Frengley-Vaipuna for this story. For more information, visit the Gifted and Talented Education page or contact Ann Easter.

Image 1: Flickr.