Clearing a pathway for twice-exceptional students

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In the world of education, exceptionality is what sets one student apart from others. It could mean they have a gift or talent, or it may indicate they have a learning challenge or disability. A twice-exceptional (2e) child has both; gifted with strong ability in some cognitive, creative and/or cultural area, while also having a diagnosed disability that often conceals the gift within.

As a concept, twice exceptionality is not widely recognised in New Zealand or elsewhere in the world, which means there are currently a number of barriers to correctly identifying and catering for 2e students in the classroom.

Through her work in this area, Holly Gooch, a PhD of Educational Psychology student at Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington has observed that twice-exceptional students have to work hard to compensate for the impact of their learning disability and this makes learning even more stressful for them. Her research is geared towards supporting these gifted students to explore their specific areas of interest before they embark on tertiary education.

As well as the long-term goal of making the classroom a better and more inclusive learning environment, the focus of this project is on establishing a talent incubator for 16-18-year-old 2e students. In what would be a world-leading programme, students would have the opportunity to showcase their talents and abilities through a project in their interest area that has links to university or industry. They would also be given additional support to help them manage and organise themselves—as well as academic skills. They would also be given access to assistive technologies that they may never have used before or that they have so far failed to reap the maximum benefit from. Ultimately, the aim is to set them up for success as they go on to university and next steps in their careers.

“By definition, these students are out-of-the-box thinkers,” says Holly. “They think differently and see the world differently. There are so many challenges on the horizon and the world really needs people with the talent and skills to be able to approach them from completely new angles.”

Holly became the first person in the University’s Faculty of Education—Te Whānau o Ako Pai ever to be accepted into the KiwiNet Emerging Innovators Programme.

Features and benefits

Learning will focus on one comprehensive subject

The subject will be covered in far more depth than in an ordinary classroom environment and will involve a reduced workload. This will enable the students to better balance both their exceptionalities.

Prioritises the development of relationships

For 2e students, an effective relationship is critical. With the support of someone who understands their profile, they can go on and thrive.

Allow special talents to shine

Giving 2e students a pathway to university and familiarity with the industry that they are heading into provides them with an opportunity to explore what is usually a very specific and intense talent. The university also stands to benefit from the new, diverse and creative thinking of these exceptionally gifted individuals who can hopefully go on to shift the frontiers of knowledge.

Next steps

As part of an ongoing relationship, the team at Wellington UniVentures continues to work with Holly to grow the impact of her project—something that will ultimately help the idea to bring maximum benefit to those who need it. The current focus is on finding a partner organisation—ideally a university—that would like to test the programme in the market, with a view to having a full programme up and running within the next 5 years.

For more information about partnering with Wellington UniVentures on the project, please contact Pierre Malou.

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Pierre Malou


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