Talent spotting

31st October 2003 at 00:00
Q There is so much pressure in schools to meet national standards that the more able students are almost left to fend for themselves. Consequently, I see a decrease in motivation among my gifted students in maths.

I would like to extend my lessons to challenge these gifted students; I feel this would benefit my classes and the school as a whole.

This raises a number of questions. How can we identify gifted students? I am uneasy with the idea of taking the top few per cent in class or national tests. Surely there must be a better way to allow for different modes of learning and to encompass underachievers? Are there any resources that complement the key stage 3 and GCSE curriculums for those gifted in maths? And are there any national maths competitions, events, or clubs that students could get involved in?

A High fliers who achieve top grades across the board are easy to identify, but other pupils are gifted and talented as well.

There are those who excel in a particular subject but whose talent has not been identified in other areas of the curriculum. Other pupils might be gifted but their talents go unrecognised. Indeed, they may even be working in an underachieving group. Maths is a subject in which success can be awkward for many students; it doesn't attract the same peer approval as success in sport or art.

In your maths class you are looking for pupils who show curiosity and question things that are difficult, if not impossible, to answer. The gifted student will have good problem-solving skills and, once inspired, will learn quickly. These students are not necessarily those who are good at tests. Teacher evaluation from informal methods should play a part.

Open-ended tasks that do not specify the format of an answer are useful.

Gifted students might also have behaviour problems at school and home due to frustration, peer pressure, boredom and a sense of isolation. Certainly, it is not always "cool" to be talented.

Resources for gifted students

The most important resource the pupil has is you, the teacher. Your job is to identify the needs of the pupil in discussion with other members of staff.

The teacher needs to provide a learning environment that nurtures and celebrates success. The interaction between the student and the teacher is therefore vitally important. Students' questions that extend the lesson, or even divert it from its original purpose, must be allowed for, although the the rest of the class should not be left to become lost in the discussion.

There are also time limits as we have a curriculum to deliver.

I suggest you visit the website of the National Academy for Gifted and Talented youth based at Warwick University (www.warwick.ac.uk) to find out more about identifying these students and what is available to help them.

If you feel that you have a students in your class who would benefit from membership of the Academy then you should encourage them to apply. One of the wonderful things about it is that it places a great deal of importance on what the school says about the pupil, and not so much on test scores.

There are many activities for members, including Saturday workshops and half-term events. There are also summer schools in which maths activities can be pursued without interference from school timetables. There are also opportunities to learn online.

Other opportunities for gifted and talented students

The UK Mathematics Trust organises the UK maths challenge, a multiple choice in-school test with awards. For details see www.mathcomp.leeds.ac.uk

The International Maths Olympiad: http:imo.math.ca

Liverpool Mathematical Society hosts competitions and publishes material for KS3 and 4: www.maths.liv.ac.uklms.html

PLUS Millennium maths project: http:plus.maths.org

Maths Enrichment activities: www.nrich.maths.org

Maths enrichment for Years 6 to 8: www.awaywithmaths.com

There is a report on the Mathematical Association's (MA) website, "Making better use of mathematical talent", and the MA, in association with Dr Tony Gardiner, is running four one-day events for teachers of Years 6-10 pupils.

For more information Email: conference@ma-org.uk


Wendy Fortescue-Hubbard is a teacher and game inventor. She has been awarded a three-year fellowship by the National Endowment for Science, Technology and the Arts (NESTA) www.nesta.org.uk to spread maths to the masses. Email your questions to Mathagony Aunt at teacher@tes.co.uk Or write to TES Teacher, Admiral House, 66-68 East Smithfield, London E1W 1BX

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