Whilst Penrhos College aims to ensure every student has the opportunity to maximise her academic potential, we recognise that gifted students require specialised educational experiences to allow their unique gifts and talents to be nurtured and to flourish.
Personalised learning experiences are the foundation of everything we do here at Penrhos. A key component is offering targeted learning opportunities for students who think and learn differently – our gifted students.
According to Gagné’s Differentiated Model of Giftedness and Talent, the term ‘giftedness’ refers to natural abilities in at least one ability domain, to a degree that places an individual at least among the top 10% of his or her age peers (DMGT, 1999).
At Penrhos, we are proud of our reputation as one of Western Australia’s most progressive and successful girls’ schools. We continue to lead by providing a unique program which positions us firmly at the forefront of gifted girls’ education in the state.
Since launching in 2017 our MESH-Ex Program (formerly Elevate) has provided gifted learners with an ability-grouped learning environment for their core subjects – Mathematics, English, Science and Humanities & Social Sciences – in line with best-practice research (Gagne, 2009). The MESH-Ex Program offers students a personalised journey which may include studying outside the curriculum, compacted courses, accelerated learning opportunities, cross-curricular and collaborative projects, and working with mentors.
Our aim is for each student to be fully engaged and involved in her learning – we want her to be excited to come to class and inspired to reach her potential. The MESH-Ex Program is underpinned by the concept of a Growth Mindset (Dweck, 2017) which is an individual’s belief that their talents can be developed through hard work, effective strategies and support from others. The first week of our Year 8 program is spent exploring what this means, considering the science around it and experimenting with what is truly required to grow: put simply, this means the ability to embrace challenge and persist in the face of setbacks!
Teachers in the MESH-Ex Program encourage academic risk-taking in a safe and supportive environment where students are pushed outside of their comfort zone and rewarded for trying new things rather than getting everything ‘correct’. Their weekly review meetings and engagement in ongoing professional learning informs a culture of constant evolution and the consistent implementation and development of evidenced-based strategies. Our professional learning is led by our three Secondary School staff who have completed their Masters in Gifted Education, with the involvement of teachers who share their experiences and what they have learned from them.
Using the Maker Model of differentiation (Maker, 1982) whereby modifications are made to the content, process, product or learning environment, students have a greater choice of learning environment, process, content and ways to display learning. Whilst this freedom and flexibility can initially feel unnatural and may be uncomfortable, students are encouraged to develop resilience which will make them successful in life beyond school.
Assessment tasks may look a little different to what students might typically expect – including pre-tests at the commencement of each new topic, which are designed to check what students already know and what they are capable of. Rarely do we use marks in the MESH-Ex Program – instead, students are provided with feedback in various ways – through coaching, conferencing and via their peers, in a model which reflects the experiences students may face in workplaces in the future. This assessment framework also reflects the Growth Mindset concept, which values individual growth rather than peer comparison.
Our personalised approach supports student wellbeing by addressing each individual’s concerns or needs – perfectionism and anxiety, for example – through team collaboration around a safe, supportive classroom environment and with careful case management. “This program has made a tremendous impact to my daughter, giving her the confidence to take a large step in life, in this case overcoming an academic challenge and socially fitting into a new social group. This could not have been a success without the support from her mentoring teachers, who have gone out of their way to ensure her success in transitioning” says a parent of an accelerated Penrhos student.
By Shannon Armitage and Nicole Johnson
A similar sentiment was shared amongst Year 10 MESH-Ex Program students in a recent survey.
“The choice of teachers was really good, they were very engaging and supportive and willing to be flexible with our learning which meant we had a really high quality of education through the program.”
“I felt as though the MESH Ex program was a lot more inclusive of everyone and it made me comfortable to say what I thought. It extended me and taught me at a pace that was much more suited to me, as well as the style.”
“The best aspect of the class what being encouraged to view the world from a more critical perspective.”
“I liked the more philosophical and experimental approach to English and HASS subjects as I felt that I could extend myself and I was being challenged to think differently.”
“I liked the sense of community developed between students and teachers. It felt like a family.”
In recognition of their incredible work, Nicole Johnson (Gifted Education Specialist) and Shannon Armitage (Assistant Dean of Teaching and Learning) were selected to share their experiences with gifted educators from around the world at the 2021 Virtual World Council for Gifted and Talented Children’s World Conference: Developing the Future of Gifted Education. Here, they shared their presentation ‘Creating and Sustaining a Gifted Education Program’ with more than 600 people from 55 countries.
Congratulations to Nicole and Shannon for being chosen to present at this highly-regarded conference and for their ongoing work, dedication and vision in the gifted education space. We look forward to seeing the exciting pathways that our gifted students will take in their senior secondary school years and beyond the College.