Educators meet to discuss teaching the most talented

Published 05 May 2008

classroom.jpgAbout 80 educators met at the University of New England last week to discuss challenges and celebrate innovations in the teaching of gifted and talented students.

They came to Armidale from around NSW and southern Queensland to take part in the third annual UNE “TalentEd” conference. The conference, on Friday the 2nd and Saturday the 3rd of May, focused on the special problems facing teachers of talented students – from early childhood to university – in rural and regional areas.

“Rural and regional educational contexts are often inhibited by distance and isolation, lack of resources and limited support,” said Dr Susen Smith, one of the organisers of the conference. “However, rural educators – who often teach in one-room classrooms, multigrade classes and mixed ability classes – strive to engage all students, including gifted students, in a variety of learning processes and environments.”

Dr Smith, from UNE’s School of Education, said the “TalentEd” conference had provided opportunities for educators and researchers to share new strategies and ideas for supporting gifted and talented students. She said the themes of the conference had included acceleration, enrichment programs, gifted Aboriginal students, and using ICT to mentor gifted students. “The conference showcased programs such as “Popular Philosophy”, “Music for Excellence”, “Success for Boys”, and CSIRO scientists in the classroom,” she said. “These diverse presentations reflect the diversity of strategies needed to support the diversity of giftedness and talent found in our rural and regional schools.”

“UNE is a leader in the field of gifted and talented education,” said Dr Peter Merrotsy, Dr Smith’s UNE colleague and co-organiser of the conference. “It is conferences like these that continue to support such leadership. We have strong links both nationally and internationally in this field, and are leading many important research and practice projects to help educators support the education of students with advanced learning needs.” The “TalentEd” conference was sponsored by UNE’s School of Education and the UNE-based National Centre of Science, ICT and Mathematics Education for Rural and Regional Australia (SiMERR).

One of the keynote speakers at the conference was Dr Sue Vasilevska, President of the NSW Gifted and Talented Association. Dr Vasilevska’s presentation, “Building a school culture of personal best”, focused on the need to address the learning needs of all students – from the low achievers to the gifted – to enable them to reach their “personal best”. “Schools are generally quite good at helping the low-achievers towards this goal,” she said, “but often not so good at helping the high achievers.”

“I want every child to be safe and happy, and to get on with their learning at school,” said Dr Vasilevska, who is Deputy Principal of Marsden High School in West Ryde, Sydney. “Every child deserves a new year’s lot of learning each year.”

The other two keynote speakers were Ronald Laura, Professor in Education at the University of Newcastle, and Stan Bailey (an Honorary Fellow at UNE). Professor Laura spoke about the dangers of an over-emphasis on technology – at the expense of social development through personal interaction – in meeting the education needs of gifted students.

“Gifted students should be stretched and challenged every day, but that often doesn’t happen,” said Mr Bailey, who is the founder of UNE’s highly-regarded teacher-training program in gifted and talented education. He added that teachers were sometimes reluctant to use strategies such as acceleration, fearing that they might be doing the wrong thing. “But it should be a concern for the whole school,” he said, “not just the individual teacher. The whole school should take on the responsibility.”

A PHOTOGRAPH  of the “TalentEd” conference organisers and keynote speakers can be seen by clicking on the image displayed here. They are (from left) Dr Sue Vasilevska, Stan Bailey, Dr Peter Merrotsy, Dr Susen Smith, and Professor Ronald Laura.