The paper is a report about policies and practices needed to be in place to help meet the needs and aspirations of gifted students with special needs. To successfully accomplish this, the report is divided into two sections. The first section is a synthesis of relevant literature to special population who are gifted. The other section is the main report; policies and practice that flow logically from the literature synthesis.
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The proposed policies and practice will ensure that there are mechanisms to ensure that teachers work successfully with gifted student, working well with special needs students, working successfully with students at risk and finally to appreciate cultural differences in a class.
Gifted student although has no globally agreed definition, are those students or learners who have or exhibit intellectual capabilities that are significantly higher than average (Alexinia & Wilma, 1998). On the other hand students from special population are those individuals who are challenged by a number of issues such as disabilities as a result of health conditions for instance autism (Mastropieri & Scruggs, 2004).
An example of gifted student is one who has exceptional talent and capabilities in mathematics but have very poor skills and knowledge in languages. It is worth noting that although it is fun to teach gifted student; it is a times very challenging for teachers especially if the students are disabled (Westwood, 2003).
On the same note, striking a balance between meeting the needs of gifted student who are disabled is very challenging and can be a nightmare to teacher if well established strategies, policies and practices are not well brought forth.
It is unfortunate to note that in the recent past, students with special needs were not included in normal classrooms. The reason was that they were segregated in special classrooms or centres in which they were only allowed to have very little contact with the other normal students.
Since then laws have been brought forth that encouraged and made it mandatory for special population students to be provided with a learning environment that is less restrictive (Bowe, 2005). This meant that special need students were to be mainstreamed to the greatest possible extent in terms of learning.
As a result of this legislation, more special need students formed part of the ordinary school life. Any successful school will not only be judged on academic performance but also how the different students are treated; for that reason there is need to factor in the needs of both gifted students who are from special need population (King, 2005).
Australia recognized that student with disabilities were being mistreated in public schools and were not being given an equal opportunity to compete with their counterparts. The country has a system of education where children of the same age bracket are grouped in a class and subjected to learning experiences that are designed to help the learners’ progress with the aim of attaining specific standards.
Ultimately after a period of 12 to 13 years, learners are awarded with Australian Certificate of Education (Porter 2005). It is no doubt that schools help students attain their maximum potential and to do this Australia has realized that it can only be done by ensuring that equity is the guiding principle where all learners are provided with equal access to appropriate education.
It is worth noting that children of the same age group will differ significantly in a number of ways; this include academic abilities, physical abilities, developmental stages, emotions among others. For this reason, schools find themselves being challenged when dealing with such a diverse group of learners who exhibit very different and wide academic abilities.
Ideally all students who are disabled are entitled to free and appropriate public education in an environment that is least restrictive. Traditionally, for this to be realized professional from education agency usually arrange a meeting with the parents of the affected student and craft ways in which the student will be assisted (Lovecky, 2007).
In the recent past the country has realized that there is increased number of enrolment of disabled student in public school, thanks to the policies and regulations passed by the government, improved medical technology, changes in demographic trends among others (King, 2005).
It is worth noting that there are a number of disabilities that despite affecting the individuals, these persons are capable of exhibiting certain exceptional talents.
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These disorders as suggested by Coleman, Harradine & King, 2005 include specific learning disabilities, language impairment, autism, developmental disabilities, intellectual impairment, disability in emotions or behaviours, visual impairment, deafness or blindness, traumatic brain injury, multiple disabilities attention deficit disorder, physical impairment or orthopaedic disabilities and dual sensory impairment (King, 2005).
Special education and gifted students in the Australia
At present the country has close to 0.5 million gifted students; about a quarter of them exhibit some form of disabilities (Porter, 2011). Although there have been tremendous efforts over the years to ensure that disabled learners who are gifted and talented get equal learning opportunities, Australia has no bill of rights aimed at protecting the rights of these individuals.
For that reason, the education sector in Australia did not have binding obligations for inclusive education. It was until Australia signed the international conventions and conferences that endorsed inclusive education for learners with disabilities that it begun seriously thinking of the disabled students who exhibited extra ordinary capabilities.
It was the gifted and talented children and students policy which was designed to help all students who were talented and gifted that marked a change on how education sector handled students with disabilities and at the same time were gifted. The policy was aimed at ensuring that student attain their full academic, personal and social potential (Porter, 2005).
The policy also help bring forth procedures and guidelines on how to identify this group of student as well as the manner with which to provide them with appropriate curriculum and academic pathway.
Other land mark changes in Australia with regards to educating gifted individual include the following; the Australian strategic plan 2004-2014 whose central focus is to improve learners outcomes, retention levels and psychological wellbeing, DECS statement of direction which aimed at encouraging a very strong beginning, excellence in teaching, active engagement as well as wellbeing.
Additionally, the Aboriginal strategy 2005-2010 helped ensure that individual learning plan is developed. More importantly, the student with disability policy recognized that gifted students with certain learning difficulties or physical impairments could be hindered to attained their maximum potential, thus the policy sought to come up with ways on how to overcome the challenges facing this group of individuals (Porter, 2011).
It is worth noting that individuals deemed gifted despite the fact that they are affected by previously mention disorders, exhibit the following characteristics; they learn quickly, deeply and broadly than their counterparts (Ford & Tarek, 2003) Additionally as suggested by Johnsen, 2004 students who are gifted are capable of learning how to read at a tender age and do what normal children older than them can do.
This group of individuals are capable of showing unique abilities when it comes to reasoning, being very creative, curious, using significantly wide range of vocabulary as well as demonstrating excellent memory. Gifted children always master ideas and concepts without many repetitions (Krochak & Ryan, 2007).
Gifted individuals show a great deal of perfectionism. On top of this they are very sensitive to emotions and can question relevant authorities on a number of issues. A section of these individuals usually find it very difficult to communicate with their peers as a result of differences in vocabulary and for that matter prefer mingling with older people.
It is important to remember that the concept of giftedness is not evenly distributed meaning that one can be very good in mathematics and dealing with logic problems and be very poor in spelling and language. Additionally it is during the preschool years that one start exhibiting giftedness (Ford &Tarek, 2003).
Gifted individuals also exhibit a number of sensitivity as well as discriminating responsiveness; these may include “sensitivity to light, sound, touch, sight or even smell and movements” (Johnsen, 2004).
Concern of the teacher about gifted disabled children
Being a teacher to one or more disabled student in a mainstream class is a challenge that needs high level of not only professionalism but also tolerance and understanding of the different needs of these students. Teachers are always concerned about how to change the teaching curriculum to accommodate those who are disabled and exhibit exceptional talents in various fields.
For instance, they are compelled to strike a balance between catering for a gifted student in mathematics who is disabled and another who is poor in arithmetic but does very well in spelling and languages. Another concern that is central to this profession is caring for the diverse needs of these students (Westwood, 2003).
It is a fact that in Australia, there has been increased enrolment of disabled students from different cultural background. With this in mind, there is need for teachers to ensure that the differences in culture are factored in when dealing with disabled students.
Additionally teachers are compelled to be in line with the provision of scrutinizing students’ academic performance in basic subjects such as mathematics and languages (Taylor & Whittaker, 2003). On the same note teachers are concerned with issues relating to the behaviour of students with disabilities.
They contend that there are some who behave in extremely dangerous manner that not only impacts on their own lives but those of others and the teachers (Heller, 2000).
There is also a concern about a lack of adequate training, time, personal resources and experience that makes them feel capable of dealing with disabled students who are gifted in one way or another. Lastly, the issue of funding is another serious concern for teachers who deal with disabled students as they need to be accountable among other central issues (Coleman, Harradine & King, 2005).
Policy and practice
It is worth noting that various practices and policies have been proposed to deal with gifted students and those who are disabled. However, none of these policies and practices are coined in dealing with those students who are gifted and exhibiting some form of disabilities.
There has always been a need to ensure that disabled children are provided an access to education on the same basis as their counterparts with no disabilities and with reasonable accommodations and adjustments (Gross, 2008).
There is need to ensure that funding from the federal government is consistent and well accounted for. Without money, nothing can be successfully accomplished even if there is will from all other relevant stakeholders. It is encouraging to note that the prime minister recently announced a $200 million boost to fund spatial education.
This should not be a one time even rather a consistent one with annual increment according to the increasing number of students. On the same note, the relevant stakeholders staring from the ministry of education, schools principals opt to be very transparent and accountable for money and other facilities they are provided with (Taylor & Whittaker, 2003).
Since there have been discrepancies on the amount of funding to independent school and the public ones, government should allocate funds equally in these two kinds of schools so that all learners who are gifted and are disabled receive equal opportunities.
Since teaching disabled students who are gifted is a challenging task, it would be rational for government through the ministry of education to strictly develop minimum requirements for individuals who wish to work with such children before they are extensively trained.
On the same note, government should allocate funds for adequately training teachers who will later deal with gifted students who are disabled. A program should also be in place to periodically evaluate the teachers and identify areas where they will need re-training. This will ensure that we have qualified and adequate resources in terms of human workforce (Nielson, 2002).
Effective partnership and collaboration
It is a fact that unity is strength. To adequately meet the needs of this group of students, there is need to ensure that various stakeholders especially the ministry of education, various Non-Governmental Organization, parents and the general community join hands in all aspects that concern learning of special and gifted students.
Forming partnership for instances with churches, other higher institution of learning will help carryout studies to identify factors for instance that will help encourage these learners to thrive and develop academically, physically and socially.
It is worth noting that even if all major policies are brought forth, not having an inclusive practice strategy will render these policies useless. The practice refers to all efforts made by the school and the community at large in ensuring that students and their parent feel accommodated and welcomed (Seon-Young & Olszewski-Kubilius, 2009).
Inclusive practice will help ensure that when participation becomes a serious issue for students as a result of disability, then it would be rational to widen the mainstream thinking, structures and practices to accommodate these students instead of coming up with special programs.
Ideally, the concept involves changing the mindset of the societies, schools and students on how to help disabled children attained meaningful learning outcomes as individuals and as groups (Cortiella, 2009).
The practice will also ensure that leadership in schools develop visions that are sensitive to the unity while emphasizing the significance of relationships. Additionally, the practice will ensure that the culture of inclusion is developed and nurtured. This can be attained by developing staff capacity to include learners, foster collaboration with other relevant partners such as parents and educational professionals (Heller, 2000).
There is a need to start by making teachers aware of the significance of them being personally inclusive of the disabled gifted students, treating them in a manner that is human, disregarding labels and applying what they have learnt as the best practice (Colangelo & Davis, 2003).
I propose the following in order for inclusive practice to be realized; teachers need to work chiefly from the basis of students’ strength and not their disabilities. This ensures that teachers are always focused on strategies that will enhance and support learning (Nielson, 2002).
Secondly there is need for the relevant authorities to operate in a manner that is genuine, very flexible as well as responsive to the affected individuals. This will contribute to bringing in a lot of creativity in developing interesting as well as exciting challenges to disabled students.
Employing a variety of teaching techniques, using exploiting approaches that are effective for all students instead of being rigid to some traditional standards will help in developing an inclusive practice (Cortiella, 2009).
Other strategies and policies
As suggested by Westwood, 2003 there is need to modify learning process for gifted students who are disabled.
This can be attained by giving learners a loose structure which will allow them to take the project to whatever extend, allow gifted students to work together, using technology more often where appropriate, setting up a rapid pace for instruction, being flexible in the nature of assignment given to talented students as well as focusing on higher level thinking skills throughout the course.
It is also advisable that gifted students be put in a group with less gifted individuals to act as tutors; however there is need to set boundaries on this (Gottlieb, 1978). Teachers should also work very closely with parents of gifted students who are disabled to help them understand their needs as well as reducing possible frustrations in situations where the lessons do not match their expectations (Gross, 2008).
Additionally there is need to extensively talk with every student about his or her concerns. This will encourage free communication between teachers and their students. Being sensitive to the needs and aspirations of disabled and gifted students is called for. For instance ensuring that they are in a position where they can comfortably see or hear with no distraction (Colangelo & Davis, 2003).
It is also mandatory for the relevant stakeholders such as teachers and instructors to fully accept learners’ shortcomings and strive to help them overcome them as well as being proactive in addressing issues relating to this group of learners. More importantly teachers opt to provide their students with immediate feedback regarding an assignment they have completed (Seon-Young & Olszewski-Kubilius, 2009).
Similarly teachers dealing with gifted students who are disabled need to work closely with para-educators. Lastly, special needs population academic achievement should be evaluated after every term so that it would be possible to establish areas that need adjustments (Bowe, 2005).
From the review of the issue of gifted students who are disabled, there has been tremendous effort to ensure that these students are provided with quality education in a free and less restrictive environment.
However the practices and policies developed addressed either students who were gifted only or those in need of special attention as a result of a number of disorders. This paper has proposed practices and policies that would help students who are disabled and are gifted to adequately meet their needs and aspirations academically and socially.
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