Gifted but bored?

18th September 1998 at 01:00

CHALLENGING THE MORE ABLE LANGUAGE USER. By Geoff Dean. NACEFulton Pounds 12.99.

Probably the most naturally talented young poet I ever taught was twice a major award winner in a national writing competition at the ages of 10 and 11. But in other, academic, areas of the curriculum he was not so advanced.When he went to his secondary school, they didn't want to know. "That's all very well," they said, "but can you spell and write proper sentences?" His enthusiasm and confidence destroyed, he left for the private sector.

Many teachers, and parents, will recognise this situation. Geoff Dean has other examples: children who read before entering school and are forced to plod through reading schemes; those who keep their heads down, always produce good work but are never stretched; and those bored by unsuitable work who become underachievers and opt out. He rightly eschews the term "gifted", preferring "more able" to describe children who have a marked ability in one area only.

The first part of this book is an excellent exposition of the difficulties encountered by more linguistically able children (and their parents), and by schools unversed in how to identify them and meet their needs. It promises strategies for teachers to remedy this throughout all key stages. The second part attempts to provide these for reading and writing.

Sadly, this promise is not really fulfilled. Undoubtedly, there is a real need for step-by-step practical advice in this area, but what is offered here is not especially new or comprehensive enough to encourage teachers who are not already aware of the problem.

Particularly disappointing is the cursory treatment of poetry, and the missed opportunity of linking children's own writing more with their reading in this genre, which can allow them to explore language at a very high level.

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