GATE in cluster classrooms
Palmerston North Normal Intermediate School is a decile 9 school in Palmerston North.
In 2007 the school’s roll was just over 660, of whom 64 percent were New Zealand European/Pākehā, 14 percent Māori, 12 percent Asian, and two percent Pacific, with the remaining eight percent from various other ethnicities.
The deputy principal was the appointed gifted and talented student programme coordinator and was supported by a group of nine cluster class and withdrawal programme teachers. The principal, senior management team, and board were very supportive of and knowledgeable about the provision for gifted and talented students.
There were six teaching teams of three to four classes. Many gifted and talented students were clustered in 12 composite classes at this school, spread across the teaching teams. The school provided a range of opportunities for enrichment and extension through both school and community programmes.
The coordinator of the gifted and talented education was very knowledgeable and skilled, and used her designated time effectively to develop GATE provision. The cluster teachers were also very knowledgeable and led many of the withdrawal and out-of-class programmes. In addition to this, the principal had a long history of developing gifted and talented programmes (both in this school and others), and encouraged teachers to be innovative and take risks in their teaching. These factors were critical to the development and success of the school’s current provisions for gifted and talented students.
Six years ago, the school only had withdrawal classes, and gifted and talented students were spread across 21 mixed ability composite classes. There was only a small group of identified gifted and talented students who participated in future problem-solving extension classes. The senior management team, through self review, realised that this was not beneficial to gifted and talented students – identified and non-identified.
The board released selected teachers for two days and there was school‑wide discussion about the options of mixed ability classes versus streamed classes. Teachers felt that, while gifted and talented students benefited from being together, streaming was not beneficial for students. Consultation with parents challenged this belief. A large group of students at the school were achieving academically in stanines 8 and 9.
 The parents of these students’ wanted one streamed class. However, teachers felt that this scenario would have made use of the strength of only one teacher rather than all the teachers, and that there would have been no provision for gifted and talented students who were not in this high ability class. Further consultation with parents and professional discussions amongst staff led to the development of clusters of academically gifted students in Years 7 and 8 composite classes.
The school then developed strong policies and core principles for gifted and talented provision. This was supported by a planning and implementation document, developed by the team leaders (of the six Years 7 and 8 teaching teams), the GATE coordinator, and the senior management team. This plan, informed by professional development and discussion, helped teachers to carry out the intent of the school’s policy on gifted and talented provision.
The board provided a budget for professional development, resources, programme development, and staff release time. Class teachers were released to run withdrawal programmes, to coach sports, or attend events.
The principal and deputy principal acknowledged that establishing a school‑wide understanding of gifted and talented education was a constant challenge, particularly with a large staff. They approached this by involving as many teachers as possible and through school‑wide professional development. The coordinator discussed planned provision for the year with teachers before the start of the school year. Teachers, particularly those new to the school, were encouraged to be involved in withdrawal programmes. There was school‑wide professional development in differentiated learning, planning and assessment, and teaching strategies such as thinking, questioning, and problem solving. Teachers who took withdrawal programmes had professional readings about the definitions and identification of gifted and talented students. The coordinator attended gifted and talented network meetings, GATE conferences and seminars, and had undertaken university study specialising in the provision for gifted and talented students.
The school placed high priority on informing and educating parents about gifted and talented education. The coordinator gave parents a booklet with extensive information about GATE, held an open day and a parent information evening, sent regular newsletters home, and visited contributing schools to meet students and parents.
Defining and identifying
The school’s definition of gifted and talented education evolved from many years of staff research, professional learning, and discussions, particularly with Māori staff members. In addition to this, the senior management team consulted parents, including Māori parents and whānau, and local iwi to ensure the definition incorporated Māori concepts of giftedness and talent. The definition included the following domains:
- general intellectual;
- specific academic;
- creative and productive thinking;
- visual and performing arts; and
- sporting ability.
Teachers used a multi-methods approach to identify gifted and talented students on an ongoing basis, before and during students’ enrolment at the school. These approaches included:
- a parent perspective form that asked for information about academic, sporting, the arts, key competencies, and preferred teaching style;
- interviews by the principal with prospective students;
- a placement form for teachers at contributing schools that identified gifts and talents, and included standardised test results;
- interviews by the deputy principal and SENCO with teachers from contributing schools;
- standardised and teacher-devised testing;
- teacher identification through observation; and
- student and peer nomination.
The principal and deputy principal said that they considered behaviour problems as an indicator of underachievement possibly masking gifts and talents. They also recognised that writing skills were a barrier for many academically gifted boys and emphasised the importance of a multi-methods approach to identifying these students.
The GATE team considered all these factors and summarised this information in their identification of gifted and talented students. The school’s register of these students was well balanced in terms of ethnicity and gender, and across four categories of gifts and talents: academic, sports, performing arts, and young leaders.
Programmes and provision
The school had a variety programmes to cater for its gifted and talented students – in the regular classroom, in withdrawal programmes, and in the local community.
Students gifted in literacy and mathematics were clustered in groups of four to five students in cluster classes. These and other gifted and talented students were placed with teachers with particular strengths to ensure not only a match of knowledge and skills, but also to meet students’ social and emotional needs.
In the regular classroom, teachers provided differentiated programmes and used teaching and learning strategies such as:
- inquiry and problem based learning to encourage thinking and questioning at a higher level;
- integrated learning;
- ability grouping for literacy and numeracy, and increasingly in science and social studies; and
- learning intentions, WALTs
 , success criteria, and self evaluation.
The school’s withdrawal, out-of-class, and beyond school programmes were well planned and used the strengths not only of teachers, but also parents and community members. Teachers who ran these programmes met certain requirements for planning and reported to the board and class teachers about student progress. These programmes included:
- performing arts - drama, band, kapa haka, choir;
- visual arts – linked with secondary schools;
- te reo festivals;
- Ngā Tohunga;
- Debating and speech making;
- international languages;
- sports, including extending top sportspeople to leadership through extension programmes, coaching of other students and running tournaments;
- science – linked with secondary schools; and
- a variety of regional and national competitions across the curriculum.
The school council research project was a particular initiative for gifted and talented students. The students were divided into three committees to research a particular topic:
- hygiene in the school toilets;
- the bike compound roofing; and
- the school heating system.
They then presented their cases to the board. This was a deliberate programme put in place to promote leadership and problem solving in real world scenarios.
Recently the school introduced an incentive programme where students were presented with Blues badges for academic, performing arts, sports and citizenship success. Students set academic, cultural and sporting goals based on this system. This was envisaged and promoted by the school council. The council ran a Blues Assembly six times a year, with a role model attending the assembly each time to talk to students.
School self review
Regular self review of the provision for gifted and talented students, included:
- an annual review and discussion based on observations of class teachers;
- standardised and school‑wide test results;
- other assessment and product evaluations;
- student‑completed programme evaluations;
- parent-student conferences;
- parent surveys; and
- reports to the board by teachers of withdrawal programmes.
This information, together with new intake data, was used when considering provision for the year. Outcomes from this self review were the introduction of new philosophy, creative thinking, and problem‑based learning groups.
The school valued feedback, both formal and informal. The senior management team regularly undertook a parent and school community survey about their provision for gifted and talented students, and made modifications to programmes. A transition survey of Year 6 students and their parents was undertaken in Term 2 of each year. This survey identified any social and emotional well-being issues. These surveys, together with informal discussions between parents and staff, showed that parents felt their children were doing well at school, and also helped identified some areas for improvement for the school to focus on.
There were positive outcomes for gifted and talented students. The students said they enjoyed school, felt challenged, and that teachers encouraged them to take the next step in their learning and personal development. Students in cluster classes stated they felt safe in a supportive environment with others who were good at the same thing as them. Not only had the achievement levels of gifted and talented students increased, particularly those of boys, but the students were motivated, and were growing in their ability to apply knowledge. Cluster teachers said that there were social and emotional benefits as well. Gifted and talented students had grown in their tolerance and acceptance of others who were not at the same level as them. The Years 7 and 8 composites classes meant that the teacher got to know the students well over a two‑year period and, particularly in Year 8, could build on students’ strengths. Year 8 students developed leadership and mentoring abilities, modelling for, and supporting, their Year 7 classmates.
Successes were celebrated at the school through performance assemblies, newsletters, awards, and individual feedback from the principal and teachers. Performance assemblies gave parents opportunities to see the level at which students were achieving, as did progress meetings between the deputy principal, parents, and students.
The school worked hard to make sure that these positive outcomes continued for gifted and talented students, organising special visits to secondary schools and to specific departments in the school. The principal and deputy principal met with Year 9 deans, GATE coordinators, SENCOs, and Resource Teachers: Learning and Behaviour (RTLBs) about learning, social and emotional needs, and achievement outcomes.