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New Zealand Centre for Gifted Education's Blog

What's the Story? 

Making the world a better place for gifted kids, one yarn at a time.


Gifted Education? A Piece of Cake!

Exploring the Continuum of Provisions for Gifted Learners


Explorers at Heart

I have to admit it. I am not really an explorer. Well, not in the traditional sense anyway. If you were to find me hanging off the side of a cliff in reality, I can assure you it would be with a look of intense trepidation not joy. (Actually, between you and me, I would likely be clinging to the rock face like a natural-born limpet!) But activities such as rock climbing, in my opinion, are only one way to be an explorer and I, like many of you, am a natural explorer when it comes to finding ways to better support our students. We are not only self-motivated to explore, we are driven by the, sometimes intense, needs of our learners and our gifted kids are certainly no exception when it comes to this.

Let’s be honest. At times it can be a real struggle to keep apace of some of our gifted learners. Whether or not these kids are high achievers in school, they have characteristics that enable them to learn at a quick pace (when interested and motivated to do so). This can make it difficult to ascertain how to meet their needs when they themselves can ‘climb’ so fast. Their needs seem to be ever changing and, at times, difficult to see, let alone assess. While these students may start off at the same levels as some of their peers, they can quickly move beyond this because they are ready to be extended earlier and more quickly. In some instances, they surpass our own levels of knowledge and understanding. So how do we lead the way when we ourselves are trying to keep ahead and, at times, playing catch up?

Well, let’s take a step back for a moment. Grab a coffee and a slice of cake and snuggle in for the next bit.


The Humble Cake

Because of this innate ability and drive to learn more rapidly than their peers in their areas of strength and interest, one way to look at gifted kids is as “high altitude learners” – again, this is a reflection on ability and qualities not achievement. Bear with me on this. Let’s parallel this idea to something a little more tangible … the humble cake. Yeah, okay, I admit, even I can see that making this connections looks like a bit of a stretch, but hang in here with me … in considering baking at differing altitudes we need to think about a key factor that underpins the likelihood that our are teaching approaches are successful. As the Accidental Scientist points out, “most recipes are designed for sea level” and thus “high-altitude success requires a few clever adjustments.” Huh. Curious.

How often are the “recipes” for teaching that we use in our classroom practice designed for “sea level”, i.e., the average learner? Just as with high-altitude baking, when we work with high-altitude learners we also need to make a few clever adjustments to have the chance to achieve the same outcomes as all students: those of learning, growth, self-confidence, resilience, perseverance, a feeling of fit and inclusion, positive citizenship, and the like. So, if we are starting off with “sea-level recipes," how can we make the necessary adjustments to support our gifted learners?

Well, first off, I think it is really important to note that we are talking about “adjustments” here, rather than any drastic measures that are too time or resource intensive. We can all appreciate the need for practicality here, after all! So what clever adjustments can we make? Just as with baking a cake up in the mountains where we can adjust the ingredients, the baking process, and the way the final product will be presented, for students we can make adjustments to the content being offered, the process of teaching, reflecting and learning, and the products which evidence growth. We can also adjust some aspects of the environment and the way in which assessment occurs. Importantly, it is imperative that each of these aspects is addressed within a culturally responsive framework.


Getting the Recipe Right



To watch the video click here.


Key principles of differentiated instruction (DI) which underpin planning for adjustments in content, process and product are identified by Riley (2004), and can be found in the handbook Gifted and Talented Students: Meeting their needs in New Zealand Schools (which is free to download, I might add). Well worth a look!

So what about environmental adjustments? Fortunately for us here in New Zealand, we have a wonderful array of provisions we are able to tap into which include both enrichment and acceleration, ranging from regular classroom options such as learning centres, independent inquiries, flexible grouping, tiered activities, choice boards and Individual Education Plans, through to special classes, early entrance, withdrawal programmes, dual enrolment, virtual instruction and subject specific or full year acceleration. Beyond these there are further options still such as the NZCGE's one day a week gifted programmes, MindPlus, Small Poppies and Gifted Online, regional school clustering and community programmes. We are rich in options to support these young people. If you are looking for more information about these, check out the aforementioned handbook and the Ministry of Education’s gifted education website

Which brings us to the final factor, assessment for learning, which involves the students in the assessment process and has a strong focus on feed-forward. A great model to explore in relation to this is Hattie and Timperley’s model for effective feedback, with some excellent practical pointers available in ‘Feedback: Assessment to Promote Student Learning.’

If you are looking for support to further develop your school's differentiated practice, contact the NZCGE consultancy team who can help to tailor an approach that is fitting for you and your school community.


A Piece of Cake

So next time you are planning for your classroom explorers, know that making learning meaningful for all your students, including your "high-altitude" gifted learners, really is a piece of cake.

Gifted Education? Piece of Cake!

The New Zealand Centre for Gifted Education offers support to schools and their gifted students, drawing on the continuum of provisions to guide their practice. To support the Centre in their continued effort to provide both direct and indirect support for gifted learners across New Zealand, please visit their Virtual Cake Stall and donate today. Your donation makes a difference.



'What's the Story?' is a new blog section which is being written for the New Zealand Centre for Gifted Education, with posts being added regularly. The purpose of this space is to share musings and anecdotes relating to giftedness and gifted education to provide a form of information and support for those living with and/or teaching gifted learners. Please do share them along.


We would love to hear from you.  Grab a virtual cuppa and share your story in the comments.

What's the Story? Making the world a better place for gifted kids, one yarn at a time.


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Please note that the views expressed in these blogs are those of the author and not necessarily representative of the views of the New Zealand Centre for Gifted Education.

Image credit: Mangapohue Natural Bridge by itravelNZ - New Zealand in your pocket, is licensed under CC BY 2.0. The original image has been modified with the addition of the avatar and cake.


Piece of Cake

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