One for all and all for one

4th November 2005 at 00:00
GIFTED YOUNG CHILDREN: A GUIDE FOR TEACHERS AND PARENTS. By Louise Porter. Second edition, Open University Press pound;21.99.

GIFTED AND TALENTED IN THE EARLY YEARS: PRACTICAL ACTIVITIES FOR CHILDREN AGED 3 TO 5. By Margaret Sutherland. Paul Chapman Publishing. pound;16.99

TEACHING GIFTED AND TALENTED PUPILS IN THE PRIMARY SCHOOL: A PRACTICAL GUIDE. By Chris Smith. Paul Chapman. pound;17.99

ENRICHMENT ACTIVITIES FOR GIFTED CHILDREN. By John Senior and Julian Whybra. Optimus Publishing. pound;129.50 inc pp www.optimuspub.co.uk

Provision for gifted and talented pupils is part of the standards agenda: an essential element in school evaluation, inspection and support. Yet there is still little agreement on who precisely the gifted and talented are; nor on the sort of outcomes by which the effectiveness of schools'

provision should be judged.

Louise Porter's Gifted Young Children demonstrates the complexity as well as the importance of this issue. How you define giftedness depends on how you define intelligence, and neither is always easy to recognise. In this second edition, the author pulls together much of the recent research into the nature and implications of advanced development. For teachers and researchers who specialise in this field, this is essential reading, but the author's context is Australian and the core of her case - that primary schools should be able to identify, assess and provide for the special needs of their gifted pupils - is less relevant in England and Wales than it used to be. Even in the early years, perhaps especially in the early years, we now take that argument for granted.

But who are the gifted pupils, and how many of them are there? Louise Porter says they make up no more than 5 per cent of the age cohort; the Department for Education and Skills guidelines speak of 10 per cent of pupils within each school, regardless of its ability profile. The disparity is striking.

It does, however, point emphatically towards inclusion: children learning together, not apart. That is very much the message of Margaret Sutherland's Gifted and Talented in the Early Years. Let me persuade you, she writes, that whatever intelligence is, it isn't one-dimensional and it isn't static; that labels, particularly when applied to children, aren't always very helpful; that children need help and encouragement to show us their potential, as well as to develop it. Early years teachers are in a unique position to build on these understandings. In 100 clear and concise pages, Sutherland offers eminently practical hints and suggestions covering observation and identification and the sort of activities and resources that build confidence and skill in the very youngest learners.

What matters most, she says, is challenge and enjoyment; but that is the entitlement of every learner. It is only by watching all young children learn and responding sensitively to them that we can be sure of meeting their changing needs and capabilities, and even then they will constantly surprise us.

Teaching Gifted and Talented Pupils in the Primary School comes from the same stable and shares the same down-to-earth approach. Again, the guiding principle is inclusivity; though the attainment range is widening, the similarities among children of primary age are as important to the teacher as the differences between them. The principles that add up to good practice for all learners, Smith says, are likely to be the basis too of good practice for the most gifted.

The key is differentiation, and the core of this book is about ways of managing this in a mixed-ability primary classroom. How can teachers improve their questioning skills? How can they best use choice as a means of motivating and stretching a range of pupils, for example by using "menus" of varying levels of difficulty in their subject teaching? How could whole-class projects be managed and utilised? The suggestions here, many of them photocopiable, are clearly tried and tested. All primary teachers will find them helpful.

But what of the secondary stage, where the national curriculum and league tables too often encourage a syllabus-based uniformity? Enrichment Activities for Gifted Children seems very expensive, although it does deliver a remarkably original selection of learning activities complete with photocopiable A4 notes for participants and their teachers. They are planned for anything between a tutor-time 10 minutes and a challenge lasting a whole day or longer, and they range from ice-breakers and party games (for example, "names on hats") to a project to weigh the Isle of Man.

You don't have to do them in any order, and you certainly don't have to do them all (which, in the case of the Anglo-Saxon translation, is probably just as well), but if you are looking for activities that will test the ingenuity and skill of your students (or indeed your colleagues) you may find this to be a sound and enjoyable investment.

MICHAEL DUFFY

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