Supporting the UAE's Gifted & Talented Students

If you think your child is a genius, very bright, gifted, exceptionally able or a high-flyer, how can their school help to discover and develop their talents?
Supporting the UAE's Gifted & Talented Students
By Carli Allan
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"My daughter is a mathematical genius. My son is a musical prodigy. So, is my child gifted and talented?"

If you’ve noticed that your child excels in a particular subject or is developing academic or creative skills far quicker than children of a similar age, you may be asking if they are 'able, gifted and talented'.

While there’s no universally agreed definition for 'gifted and talented' in schools (and in the UK, for example, it’s been widely replaced with the terminology ‘more able’), it’s a term that broadly applies to those students who are more advanced than their peers. They may be in the top 2% of their school for maths or science, have an IQ above 130, an advanced intellectual aptitude, or an exceptional talent in music, art or sport.

As Patrick Affley, Principal at Dove Green Private School in Dubai, says:

“Gifted and talented students are able to perform or have the capability to perform at far higher levels compared to others of the same age, experience, and environment in one or more domains. This could be in any area such as, intellectual, creative, social or physical. Gifted and talented students tend to be very curious, they think deeply, ask a lot of questions and have a lot of original ideas.”

For these students, the ceiling needs to be set that bit higher for them to reach their full potential. With many gifted and talented students being ‘non-typical learners’ they often require a non-typical education, one that provides greater challenge in lessons, enrichment in extra-curricular activities, and opportunities to extend their talents to the very highest level.

Louise Lynton, Head of Inclusion at Brighton College Dubai, explains further.  

"We use the language of ‘More Able’ for pupils who have demonstrated high potential knowledge and or skills which are above age-related expectations and have the potential to function at the upper end of the ability and/or attainment range. More able pupils tend to learn new skills easily with minimal support and typically enjoy learning.

"Gifted/Exceptionally Able pupils are those who demonstrate exceptional ability and work significantly above age-related expectations in most or many areas. They may challenge assumptions and be intellectually curious, thriving on unusual ideas and complexity.
Talented pupils demonstrate exceptional ability in practical skills such as sport, creative and/or performing arts."

Schools vary on when and how they support students who are ‘more able’ or ‘high achievers’, and what works for one gifted or talented student may not always work for another. looks at the gifted and talented programmes offered within Dubai at Horizon English School, Dove Green Private School and Brighton College Dubai – and asks how they can meet a child’s unique learning, social and emotional needs.

How to tell if your child is gifted or talented

Horizon identifies 'more able' students using CAT4 tests, data from external progress tests and teacher assessments

Children who show academic potential and individual talents can be identified early, and schools are identifying children from as young as four years old. Louise Lynton, Head of Inclusion at Brighton College Dubai, explains what the school is looking for.

"Teachers and parents can identify pupils who are ‘More Able’, ‘Gifted and Talented’ by noticing when a child has the ability to apply concepts to new material and to make connections between ideas.

"Pupils will also take an independent, curious and questioning approach to learning. Often, these pupils have an ability to think abstractly, laterally and analytically, using strong evaluative
 skills with high quality reasoning. Very often, observers will see a willingness to speculate and make hypotheses to extend understanding, originality, imagination and creativity. Other important aspects are problem solving ability, persistence, insightfulness and resourcefulness." 

Many schools use the CAT4 test, one of the world's most widely used cognitive ability tests, to identify if a student is achieving, or has the ability to achieve, at a significantly higher level than their peers; a mean score of 125-plus will indicate if a child’s cognitive ability is beyond that of their age-appropriate level. This is used alongside data from external progress tests, teacher assessments, conversations with parents, and discussions with the children themselves.

Horizon’s Head of Inclusion, Chad Witcomb, explains what else the school is looking for.

“A key component of the identification process is a questionnaire that the class teacher is asked to complete. This questionnaire aims to collect information about the student's characteristics and learning styles. Some of the desired characteristics include being inquisitive and being able to master new concepts quickly.”

Parents will often be the first to spot if their child learns rapidly, has an extensive vocabulary, an excellent memory for numbers or an exceptional musical talent. Dove Green Principal Mr Affley explains:

“Our parents can help identify a gifted and talented child by observing the child’s activities outside of school, and focusing on cognitive abilities, creativity, and affective and behavioural habits. To help gifted and talented students, we encourage parents to support and respect their child’s interests and allow them to follow their passions by providing as much opportunity as possible.”

How are schools supporting gifted and talented students?

Students in the Enrichment Class at Horizon have worked with industry experts including education leaders from EXPO 2020

Gifted and talented children learn at a much faster pace than their peers, which means they need to be challenged and supported to help them reach their full potential. It’s not simply about giving these students more work within the classroom; instead schools are giving them opportunities to take part in competitions, independent projects and extension tasks that recognise their unique abilities. Specialist gifted and talented programme also offer these students an opportunity to socialise with like-minded children and have a sense of belonging that may be missing in the classroom.

At Horizon, there is a weekly Enrichment Class where gifted and talented students in Years 2-6 complete a variety of STEM projects linked to maths, science and the environment. Working with industry experts including architects and education leaders from EXPO 2020, students have designed alternatives to single-use plastic packaging, an environmentally sustainable pavilion for EXPO 2020, and a future curriculum for an eco-friendly school. 
Mr Witcomb adds:

“Attendees of the Enrichment Class also have the option to complete a Passion Project in which they can choose to explore any subject that they are most passionate about. Children work in groups or by themselves to learn more about a certain area and then create something to present to their peers. A recent example of a Passion Project involved a student who had a keen interest in fashion and went on to design their own sustainable fashion brand. 

“As well as these extra sessions, teachers incorporate higher-level thinking skills into their lessons so that our gifted and talented students have regular opportunity to analyse, evaluate and create across the curriculum.”
Horizon is not focused solely on those students who excel academically. Students who are talented in sport and the arts are mentored by a specialist teacher and participate in enrichment opportunities that challenge and extend their skills.

“Our Talent Enrichment activities offered include invite-only after school clubs where students can work together with other like-minded peers who have similar strengths and passions,” adds Mr Witcomb.

“There are many other opportunities ranging from competing in and helping to lead in sporting events, live music performances for the school community, and inter-school drawing events and painting competitions.”

Dove Green also offers a variety of Gifted and Talented programmes across the curriculum, as Principal Mr Affley explains:

“We provide daily challenges and extra work tasks to encourage their growth and progress and provide workshops, competitions and extra responsibility within the school to enhance their learning experience. Teachers also meet termly to discuss the progress of the students and decide if the identified students are either ‘fast learners’ or genuinely gifted and talented.”
Brighton College Dubai exhibits project work completed by 'more able' students selected for The Sheikh Zayed Group

At Brighton College Dubai, 'more able' students are stretched and challenged regularly with extension activities in the classroom. They can learn a broader range of languages, sit GCSE or A Level exams early, or enter subject-related competitions such as Model United Nations, BEBRAS, Tournament of the Minds and the Duke of Edinburgh Award. They can also be nominated for The Sheikh Zayed Group which provides special inspirational classes and a mentor for each student. 

Dimple Bahl, Special Educational Needs Co-ordinator, explains:

"A key indicator in long term academic attainment is the ability to link subjects, work independently and pursue an area of interest. The Sheikh Zayed Group promotes personalised learning by allowing pupils to take ownership and determine the outcome of a project with guidance from staff."

A good gifted and talented programme will also focus on the child’s personal, social and emotional needs too. Mr Witcomb explains how Horizon keeps student wellbeing at the heart of its enrichment classes.

“Often, gifted and talented children place a lot of pressure on themselves, so we closely monitor their PASS data (a questionnaire which collects data about student wellbeing) and intervene when necessary. In Enrichment Class sessions, as well as facilitating projects which develop academic skills, the sessions also aim to further develop key learning skills such as communication, critical thinking, creativity and collaboration.”

Is there a typical gifted and talented student?

'More able' students at Brighton College Dubai are stretched and challenged in the Sheikh Zayed Group project

The short answer is no. Gifted and talented learners excel in a wide variety of areas and they can face a variety of challenges and struggles, ranging from competitiveness to friendship issues, boredom to low self-esteem. As well as helping students to reach their potential, a gifted and talented programme can help them to tackle various social and emotional barriers too.

Mr Affley shares the story of a Year 6 student at Dove Green with an exceptional sporting talent who was struggling with some behaviour issues.

“By working with his form teacher, parents and myself, we devised a plan to help sport and physical activity manage his emotions and help facilitate sensible behavioural decisions. The student was given provision to challenge his physical ability whilst correlating with behaviour and problem-solving situations. So, far it has had a positive effect, albeit with some obstacles.”

Commenting on how Horizon’s Enrichment Class has benefited students, Mr Witcomb says:

“We have a few students at Horizon who are exceptionally bright but can sometimes be the quieter children in their class. The Enrichment Class programme has really helped some students to become more confident. One example is a Year 5 student who completed a session on presenting skills with lots of role play and practise. 

“He really harnessed his presenting skills in a small group at first, and then was able to confidently present to an expert panel during the final presentations. He is now a lot more confident in his mainstream class – this has also helped him to develop more friendships.”

Ms Bahl at Brighton College Dubai shares an example of how The Sheikh Zayed Group is helping a 'more able' Year 3 student (JK) to work independently and pursue an area of interest.

"This year his inspiration to create a model of the Trojan Horse came from studying the Olympics in class. His research led him to Ancient Greece and the Story of the Trojan War which generated his creative juices to flow creating a working model of a Trojan horse.

"Last year his altruistic idea of a sustainable staff car park with a complimentary coffee facility proved very popular with all the teachers. JK embodies the ambitious, independence and creative skills we aim to promote in our gifted and talented programme."

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