High potential and gifted education in the early years - podcast

Covered in this illustration of practice:

Many parallels exist between the HPGE Policy and the Early Years Learning Framework. In this podcast, several ways that the policy statements and the framework intersect are discussed. These intersections include how potential is viewed on a continuum in a preschool setting, the use of formative assessment to plan for the next step in a child’s learning, and examples of differentiated teaching (known as intentional teaching in a preschool context). The transition to school process is also covered with suggestions on how to facilitate a successful experience for high potential and gifted students.

Access the podcast below to listen to Jacqui Ward (Early Learning Coordinator) and Lynda Lovett (HPGE Project Officer, P-6) delve into the important aspects of high potential and gifted education in early learning settings.

Jacqui Ward and Lynda Lovett

Transcript of High potential and gifted education in the early years (23:41)

Jacqui – Welcome to early learning matters podcast. My name is Jacqui Ward, I’m the Early Learning Coordinator at the Department and I'm here today with Lynda Lovett, the High Potential and Gifted Education K-6 Project Officer. And today's topic is all about high potential and gifted children in early childhood. So, I'm going to start today with posing a question to you Lynda being the expert in the high potential and gifted education space. What do we mean by high potential and gifted children and what's the difference?

Lynda – Potential occurs on a continuum Jacqui. For example, our definitions are high potential students are those whose potential exceeds that of students of the same age in one or more of the domains that is intellectual, creative, social-emotional and physical. Gifted students are those whose potential exceeds that of students of the same age in one or more of the domains and highly gifted student's potential vastly exceeds that of the students of the same age in one or more of the domains.

Jacqui – That's awesome and it's so interesting because, and I’m going to expose my naivete here, to say that I hadn't thought about it being split up into domains either you know, like I thought of it more holistically or that child has to be gifted or high potential in all of the areas so it's really great that you know there's some real clarity around those different domains and therefore as educators and teachers we need to be looking for information in those areas to identify those students or to assess those students and where their learning is at.

Lynda – We have a graphic on our web section that states this, it's like a Venn diagram, that states it more clearly. It's a simple diagram.

Jacqui – So I think that's a really good point to raise early on in the podcast is that there's heaps and heaps of information that's on our website and that even though it might be more targeted at that sort of school, you know primary and secondary space, there's a lot of information and tools that will be really, really useful for an early childhood educator to have a look at as well.

Lynda – And lots more to come.

Jacqui – Yeah, that’s great. Awesome.

So I guess thinking about what does it look like in early childhood, I was thinking about, you know what you'd said there Lynda and the idea that it's really important then in that early childhood space, well in any space, but I guess there's a lot of change, there’s a lot of rapid growth and change through developmental stages in those early years prior to school, so it's about you know early childhood educators really knowing those developmental domains well what is within normal age appropriate sort of range to know what isn't and I guess that's really true for the other end of the spectrum or for the you know for the other students that you know you might be recognising that there might be a need for identification of a child who might need to be assessed for any learning difficulties or all those sorts of things. It's about knowing what’s sort of within that normal range and therefore what falls outside of it and I guess the other thing that's a bit more challenging in the early childhood space is that we don't, we don't assess learning in the same way, and we don't have the same assessment tools for learning, so that could be a bit more challenging as well so something to have a little think about.

Lynda – I could give you a little example, tell you a little narrative about how this potential on a continuum can manifest itself in a classroom, in an early learning environment. So, we have a little boy called, we will call him Joe, and his teacher observed his high potential when he was using social cues and in the respectful way that his classmates or other students would approach him and included him. So, the teacher saw this as high potential and she built on these strengths. Now at this point Joe exceeded his age peers and the development of his social skills but still more data was collected and until that data was collected it wasn't yet obvious whether he was significantly above his age peers. Yet there's another little boy, we’ll call him Elijah, he was in preschool one day and the teacher was reading a book to the group and he put his hand up and he said, ‘I have that book at home’ and the teacher said, ‘Well that’s nice Elijah’. Elijah got up and he took the book off the teacher, he sort of pushed her off the seat, he sat on the seat and started reading the book to the group, to the class. Now the teacher thought, oh he’s probably memorised it because he's got the book at home, so she gave him another book and he could read that too. So, then they realised they had a high potential reader on their hands. Now how they differentiated between the high potential and the gifted and the highly gifted was that they gave him harder and harder readers until they found his instructional level. And then they put him on a levelled reading program it while he was at preschool.

Jacqui – That's a really great example isn't it because I think sometimes children don't always share with us, I guess, all of their skills and talents and knowledge. So, it's important that you know if we get an inkling that we don't easily write it off to say, oh yes that child probably automatically knows that book because they have it at home, because a lot of children do memorise favourite stories and they do know when to turn the pages and all those sorts of things. So, I think that's a really good example and I guess the idea that it's ok too for these high potential and gifted children to progress beyond the stage, age and stage that they’re at in terms of you know, their cohort you know. So, in terms of reading, it's ok that a child progresses in reading 'cause they’re still fitting within the Early Years Learning Framework and the curriculum content in the preschool but they just progressing to the next stage.

Lynda – The where to next that we use in formative assessment.

Jacqui – Alright so next I'm really interested to hear, 'cause the policy the high potential and gifted education policy was launched this year, so I'm really interested to hear if you can give us a little bit of a brief overview and of the policy itself and how it might fit in or marry with the Early Years Learning Framework.

Lynda – Love to. The policy was made mandatory on the 27th of January 2021. People are now starting to familiarise themselves with it. The policy applies to all New South Wales public schools and that includes preschools right through to year 12 and it includes every setting, including specialist schools, SSP schools and so on. It describes a framework to develop the talent of high potential students in all domains and that's a little change from the last policy. Instead of just looking at the intellectual domain, we’re now looking at the creative domain, the social-emotional domain and the physical domain. The policy provides advice to implement effective practises such as talent development opportunities. And that is another new term that has been introduced in this policy, talent development, and we might be able to unpack better to a later date. This ensures that specific learning needs are being met. Fundamental to the policy are issues of equity and excellence. So, in many ways, this sits beautifully alongside the Early Years Learning Framework, which also espouses many of the statements in the policy. For example, the policy statement 1.1, uses this sort of terminology ‘high expectations’, ‘effective, explicit and evidence-based teaching’, ‘optimal learning environments’, ‘all students should be challenged and engaged to achieve their educational potential’. So, the language in that statement reflects much of the language in the Early Years Learning Framework. High expectations for example, are one of the principles underpinning effective practice. And optimal learning environments that support student learning, students of any age.

Jacqui – Definitely. I see lots and lots of links there and the beauty of Early Years Learning Framework that it, it supports us as educators and teachers to work with where the child is currently at, so whatever their skills knowledge and understanding are, there's no age and stage kind of limitations that the, you know the other syllabus documents at school have. So really, it's a document that's well suited to you know intentional teaching wherever that child is at. I think that that it also, you know is worthwhile considering that there's an opportunity but there's equally a risk because if we don't necessarily have those benchmarks to pick up whether a child is you know is progressing in their development above and beyond a stage in particular, we might not necessarily recognise that child as high potential or gifted so I think there’s, it's something to have a think about. I have another little story to tell, and example for my grandson, who I'm trying to say an unbiased attitude to say that he's quite high potential on multiple domains, but that will be left to be to be seen. But just thinking about him, the educators where he attends at a long day care service, did a checklist, a developmental domains checklist on him and shared it with his parents, that's how come I got to see it as well, and the great thing about that was they had done it according to his age, so a two to three year old checklist, so he's 2 1/2 that's where he fits, but if we're never doing a checklist on him that's the three to five, so the three to four year old's, we’re never going to know that he's achieving you know in those higher categories I guess.

Lynda – Which means they may never know his level of mastery. So, then they don't have a beginning point. And again, formative assessment answers this situation beautifully. Keep assessing, keep exploring until you find the level of mastery because that's your where to next point, where to start.

Jacqui – And that's what I was going to say too is that the EYLF does prompt us, as educators to use a range of assessment tools and strategies to find out where children are at, to get a really full picture of their strengths, their interests, their knowledge of what they can do, what they know and what they understand. So I think it's a really good point here that we keep digging and we keep looking for information about what a child can and can't do. And in your example with Elijah with the book, if the teacher had just assumed that he could read that story 'cause he remembered it, we would have had an end of story there wouldn't we.

Lynda – Yes, yes. It also comes back to I think the first professional standard, standard one ‘Know your child, know your student and how they learn’. And if that is applied, if teachers really, really know their students, then they will sense oh no I actually haven't found this child's potential, how far can this potential go.

Jacqui – And you raise a really good point those Australian Professional Standards for Teachers are the same in early childhood, school, primary school, high school, they’re all the ones set of standards so they're equally applicable in the early childhood space.

So I think we've talked a little bit there about you know the idea of assessing and recognising and planning so I'm happy for us to have a think about you know moving on to say what do we do, ok with now you know we've got some assessment information we've recognised that this child could be high potential or gifted, what do we do next in terms of the teaching you know the planning cycle you know the teaching and learning planning cycle?

Lynda – Just before we go there, I just want to reiterate that the policy, the high potential and gifted education policy is about meeting specific student needs. We’re moving on now from identification or labelling a child. We want to try and get rid of that. It's about meeting every students’ needs where they’re at. And that is why this policy is so equitable and so inclusive 'cause it is a policy for all students. We have a slogan on all our promotional materials saying ‘A rising tide lifts all ships’, and that works beautifully.

Jacqui – That's nice.

Lynda – Now as for planning that really also encompasses formative assessment, it’s the where to next and importantly use the formative assessment to find the level of mastery and start from there. Pre-testing is really, really important at this stage. At some stage we may also need to talk about how would you pre-test in a preschool. Kindergarten, year one year two teachers know how to pre-test, but I'm not sure maybe you know if there is any knowledge there?

Jacqui – So I guess it's just again it's about using that sort of understanding and knowledge of the developmental domains and where does that fit so I know that there is a resource that links the Early Years Learning Framework and the National Quality Standards, the Developmental Milestones resource, so I would probably use that. Like that was the resource that my grandson's educators had used, and they'd converted it into a checklist. By no means am I saying that we all need to use checklists. Formative assessment is about saying well how do I know and understand where this child is at and how will it inform my teaching. So, a formative assessment could be a range of different things and in fact we've just had the Centre for Education Statistics and Evaluation, and they've just actually launched a paper on our website as well which is formative assessment practises in the in early childhood services. So well worth a read there to say what tools and techniques, we don't have a standard sort of tool or technique to use, but again it's about knowing and understanding where all the, where all children are at in all of those developmental domains and then knowing sort of what sort of above and beyond that. So, I would suggest you know in early childhood we could use a range of different you know observation techniques and all those sorts of things and examples of practice where we think this child is saying well, they look like they're operating beyond you know. What sort of in that range of what's considered to be north.

Lynda – Yes and observations are a really good place to start and then keeping your anecdotal records from those observations. While we're talking about CESE, all the beautiful thing about our policy is that it's all research based, and CESE wrote a document for us as well called Revisiting Gifted Education and the link to that document is also on our website and there's two hours of professional learning on that document as well.

Jacqui – Oh that’s great. That’s a good tip.

So, I guess in relation to you know where do we go with and I think in the school space it's called differentiated teaching but in our early childhood space we refer to that as intentional teaching. So, it's about I guess going on that journey with children as co-researchers too in the early childhood space, you know co-learners, co-investigators, focusing in on their interests and where do they want to take the thing to next in terms of, you know if a child has an interest in dinosaurs you know, where do they want to go with that? What are they interested to find out about with dinosaurs? You know, what is it are the interested in their habitat? Are they interested in you know what food different dinosaurs eat? You know, are they interested in in all sorts of different things about dinosaurs? You know physical traits is another one that I know a lot of younger children really like to know about dinosaurs you know that that you know triceratops has the three horns and all those sorts of things.

Lynda – And that's a perfect example of interest, where differentiation plugs into student interests because if you plug into student interests, you have engaged learners they want to learn more about their interests and their passions. Our, the policy, other policy statement 1.7 makes it clear that the Department supports differentiated and evidence-based procedures programmes and practices for growth and achievement of all students P-12. Now a differentiated approach in the early years might be spontaneous as part of a discussion with an individual or a group, it’s those teachable moments. So that's where it can be informal. On our web section educators, preschool teachers, early learning teachers and beyond, can access a tool, we call it the differentiation adjustment tool, where there are nine examples of differentiation with many examples under each and I'll give you an example using dinosaurs in a moment. So, we're encouraging educators to apply a new strategy, say once a day, to find out what works best with their students. The first strategy is complexity and to differentiate using complexity can be as simple as asking the ‘what if?’ question. What if what if humans were alive at the same time as dinosaurs? If you go into our web section you will find many wonderful examples of differentiation adjustments that can be adjusted down to the early learning level.

Jacqui – I think that's a really great example Lynda because that's very much what we're all about, we're all about interest based learning, we're all about play based learning, and when we ask questions like that we give children an opportunity to really share with us what they know and what they understand and put their own theories and their own ideas in front of our faces rather than being in control of what we want what we want to learn about dinosaurs and you know all those sorts of things.

Jacqui – Well I think that sort of leads us nicely to our next sort of topic I guess, about the idea of you know the importance for this particular cohort of students, the high potential and gifted children moving in that transition space so moving from their early childhood service to school because the research definitely shows that that's a group that can be vulnerable to not experience a strong start to school because of the fact that they haven't had that learning recognised from their early child space or their home environment all those sorts of things. And so when they start school, it can often feel like they're not necessarily engaged with the learning that's happening there.

Lynda – Transition is so important and it's all about relationship building. Particularly belonging, I think that's one of the your...

Jacqui – Yeah definitely. The main overarching themes yes.

Lynda – So many educators understand that there are some students who just don't seem to fit in, who do not find that sense of belonging and they work hard to understand why. So, this is a time to further investigate what is happening. Is it the curriculum? Is the curriculum challenging enough? What adjustments are put into place for a 5-year-old who can read or do year four maths? Is it social issues? Many young, gifted children are interested in weird and wonderful subjects, we often call them quirky. They are intensely curious, they are full of wonder. Can they find a like mind? Are there kids like them? What happens if the rest of the kids find them a bit odd? So how can we build these relationships and the sense of belonging when you're confronted with these issues. Is it the learning environment that is not creating a sense of belonging? What needs to happen for this belonging to occur? So this is where transition is vital and we’re tracking children, tracking children's observations, the anecdotal records, the results and any sort of products that they produce. Write it down, take photos, record it and use that information to communicate with the next stage of transition.

Jacqui – And that leads us nicely into the important role that transition to school statements play in that because that's an opportunity for early childhood educators to say we've recognised all of these things in this child and put lots and lots of information in there about what strategies that the early childhood service or educators have used, that have been successful with that child. Lynda, you pointed out that there's a spot in there for you know for a child to talk about themselves, you know as learners, and draw a picture or other work samples can be uploaded in the statement as well.

Lynda – I thought that transition to school statement has a lot of potential to identify these children and make that transition smooth. For example, I think it’s got a statement that says something like shows interest in learning, focuses attention and concentrates when challenged, shows wonder and curiosity. The responses to the open-ended question where the child is invited to tell her new teacher about herself rather than just saying my name is Mary and I live in Braidwood. I have a cat. Ask them about their learning what do they like learning, what do they know. So there's that information is all ready for the next stage of transition.

Jacqui – That is awesome. I think also too, you know we've got lots of information in our transition guidelines. So those are a set of guidelines that are aimed at schools but also information in there might be also relevant for early childhood service. And we talk about the importance of having collaborative relationships early childhood services and schools need to work together. They need to share information and they need to know each other spaces, so I think that's really, really important that we know especially for this group of high potential and gifted children because we need to know where that child is going to next in terms of the curriculum and vice versa they need to know where they've been at in terms of the early childhood space.

Lynda – That transition to school statement also taps into the domains beautifully

Jacqui – Yeah.

Lynda – So there's a wonderful links between early learning and high potential and gifted education. So, there's content there about the child’s social-emotional, so shows awareness of the needs of others and how well is that developed. Represents thinking and ideas in creative ways and so on. So, it just fits together beautifully. Explore the options everybody.

Jacqui – And I guess that leads us, I'm thinking now that we've probably been chatting for a while Lynda, so I'm going to wrap us up here now but I guess just really keen for everybody to have a look at our website, Department of Education website for some of the resource that we've talked to. If you're interested to find out more, Lynda's generously offered to share her email address with us and we'd love to hear from you. There's more early childhood resources to come, as we mentioned before but reach out if you'd like to have more information. Lynda, I’ll leave it over to you to share your email address.

Lynda – Thank you Jacqui. You can actually access our web sections just through doing a search, high potential and gifted education new south wales, that's probably the easiest way and you'll find a wealth of resources on the web section. Otherwise, you go into the department's home page, just click on teaching and learning in the top toolbar, a drop-down box will appear, and you'll see high potential and gifted education. You can email us, very simple email HPGE@det.nsw.edu.au You can also communicate with us and learn what new resources are appearing on our Yammer group and in our statewide staffroom. Thank you.

Jacqui – Awesome, thanks Lynda.

End of  transcript.

Questions for professional learning

For school leaders:

  • What do you think preschools can do to actively promote communication and develop closer links with their local primary schools at transition?
  • What can primary schools do to actively promote communication and develop closer links with their local preschools?
  • How can early learning settings better assess high potential students and identify their learning needs? Make a list of what your school is currently doing. What would you like to do and how can you overcome the obstacles to these actions?
  • What processes are in place to facilitate open communication with parents of high potential and gifted students on enrolment in an early learning setting and during transition to school?

For teachers:

  • How do you encourage the strength or areas of interest for your young high potential and gifted students? How do you assess the impact of play-based learning in meeting the needs of high potential and gifted students?
  • The Differentiation Adjustment Tool on the HPGE web section can be used to create challenging and engaging tasks for all students, including high potential students in early learning settings. Choose an adjustment that would be suitable for a student in your preschool. Ceate a list of relevant examples using this adjustment in the different domains of potential that might be suitable for preschool students at your preschool.


  • Teaching and learning


  • Collaborate

Business Unit:

  • Teaching, Learning and Student Wellbeing
Return to top of page Back to top