I just want to fly A metaphor for gifted learners

I... just wanna fly...like a birdie in the sky up so high

The Kea

There's no denying the ability of the Kea to blend in. If you're not familiar with it you might think..."it's nothing particularly different". But if you observe long enough...

Two New Zealand Kea

You might catch a glimpse of something; a flash of brilliance...intensity...or sensitivity...but for the most part it remains tucked away.

I...just wanna fly...higher, higher, higher, higher, high, high, high

The Kea is a curious creature and can often be found amusing itself in mischievous ways. When hooked into a challenge of interest, you may find, you see more than you were expecting.

Hues of vibrant blue, green, red and orange are are visible as the Kea takes flight.

Indeed, it is not until it really spreads it's wings that we get to see just how striking and extraordinary the Kea really is.

Create high expectations and promote excellence, innovation, inquiry, and curiosity

The metaphor explained

The New Zeland Kea are renowned for their cognitive abilities and curiosity. When pondering about the role of curiosity in learning, it struck me that these birds, in all their vibrancy, provide a good metaphor for our gifted learners. With their striking red and orange feathers tucked away out of sight, the Kea seem quite unremarkable. Akin to this, gifted learners may not stand out in an obvious way either, blending in among their age peers. The abilities and qualities of gifted learners may be difficult to spot. It might be that we are not sure what to look for, and as such fail to notice these characteristics, or it may be that we simply haven't had the opportunity to see these in the school context. This may be because the child is choosing to hide them in order to fit in with age peers, or because an opportunity hasn't arisen for the child to use these skills in the school setting yet.

Abilities and qualities may be hidden if a child feels this will be more acceptable to others and help him or her to fit in.

Sometimes we might get to see a 'flash of brilliance', or perhaps be aware of a child's intensity or sensitivity, but not realise this is part of something bigger; part of being a gifted learner. We may observe behaviours, such as the Kea's mischief, without making the connection that these may be arising through the need for more challenge.

In many instances it can take the presentation of opportunity that piques a child's interest, and which provides sufficient challenge to engage the learner, before we start to see just what a child is capable of, and begin to get a true idea of his or her potential. Through provisions which fit the interests, strengths and learning needs of gifted learners, these children have the chance to both demonstrate and develop their abilities and qualities.

It is important to note however, that in order to recognise what it is that we are seeing, we first need to be familiar with the conceptions of giftedness which are relevant to our own educational context, as well as the associated characteristics. We need to be open to the interpretations of others in relation to behaviours and characteristics which are observed, particularly those of parents and whanau of learners, who can offer great insight into their child which we might not otherwise be afforded.

Community consultation needs to take place to ensure concepts of giftedness and talent are specific to the educational context.

Responsive learning environments

A responsive learning environment is pivotal to this notion. Provided through this approach are "opportunities for higher level thinking, creative thinking, and original student research. A responsive learning environment helps to nurture and develop the abilities of gifted and talented students and to ensure that their diverse areas of abilities are recognised" (New Zealand Minsitry of Education, 2012, p. 57)

Responsive learning environments also have the potential to impact on a child's sense of inclusion within the school's learning culture, with acceptance and validation-of-self being unspoken messages conveyed through the application of suitable programming. These positive vibes can help to strengthen self-concept and confidence of gifted learners, and to develop a healthy identity, as an individual and as a learner.

Doors are opened, ceilings removed and expectations are raised

Through a responsive learning environment, learners are able to "discover and follow their passions" (Ministry of Education, 2012, p. 54). Doors are opened, ceilings removed (or perhaps in the instance of the Kea, parts of the car!) and expectations are raised. When provisions are "appropriate for the needs of the learner" (p. 54), these children can indeed, spread their wings and fly.

So what does responsive practice look like in action for gifted and talented learners? Child-centred, strengths-based, differentiated, culturally respectful and responsive, inclusive, invitational, collaborative, flexible...I was very tempted to explore this much further in relation to the current evidence-base through literature, but then decided I felt that it would be better to begin with a conversation.

Let's talk, so that we might learn from one another
  • What are your perspectives around responsive practice?
  • What are your perceptions, values and beliefs around providing responsive learning environments for gifted and talented learners in Aotearoa NewZealand?
  • How do you open doors, break down glass ceilings and raise expectations in your learning environment?
How do you help gifted and talented learners to spread their wings and fly?

Please contribute by commenting. I look forward to the sharing of perspectives.

New Zealand Gifted Awareness Week Blog Tour

This blog was written for the New Zealand Gifted Awareness Week Blog Tour 2015, the theme of which is "changing the way you see us".

About the author

Vanessa White is a gifted education specialist who resides in the Waikato, New Zealand. She is dedicated to supporting gifted learners, their families and teachers. Vanessa enjoys helping others to better understand giftedness and talent and ways in which to provide for youngsters who exhibit these characteristics. Having recently completed her Post Graduate Diploma in Specialist Teaching (giftedness and talent), she is presently working on the Masters Programme, undertaking research, the focus of which is advancing early childhood educators access to professional development in gifted and talented education. This year Vanessa was voted onto the board for giftEDnz, the New Zealand Professional Association for Gifted Education. This is a role she values highly, working with enthusiastic and dedicated board members and members of the New Zealand gifted education community to promote positive national level change in support of gifted learners.


Created with images by giumaiolini - "Feather" • gerraltt - "kea parrot new zealand" • Allie_Caulfield - "2001-12-02 01-03 Neuseeland 373" • Andrea Schaffer - "Kea" • D Piddy - "Kea" • Jo Munday - "a Kea bird" • FocusedMemories - "I See You..." • dicimijo - "Maori Kids" • Anders Ljungberg - "Open it !" • hoyasmeg - "IMG_7522c" • gamaree - "Baby sea lion playing with child"