Tukuna Kia Rere – Gifted Learners

Our Tukuna Kia Rere Gifted Learners Hui (February 2021) introduces gifted education at St Mark’s School.

Please don’t hesitate to contact Cristy Yonetani, Specialist Teacher – Gifted, with any questions, feedback, or to enquire about your child: c.yonetani@saintmarks.school.nz.

Hui Q&A

If your question isn’t answered here, please send it in to c.yonetani@saintmarks.school.nz. Where possible, I’ve included responses from parents and gifted learners. Thank you for your contributions!

What is MODS? 

Modified One Day School (MODS) is a programme for our gifted learners. Students in MODS remain in their regular hapori most of the time, but spend one session a week with a small group of gifted learners. This may be a morning, afternoon, half day, or full day, depending on learning needs and availability. Our MODS room is adjacent to the Ōmoho, giving us our own space to learn at our own pace in different ways. Activities include Future Problem Solving, Ethics Olympiad, and lively debate. When planning and delivering MODS, I ask myself,

“1. Would all children want to be involved in such learning experiences?

2. Could all children participate in such learning experiences?

3. Should all children be expected to succeed in such learning experiences?” 

If the answer to any of these questions is ‘yes’, I am probably not meeting the needs of our gifted learners and need to make things more different or difficult. 


How were students chosen for MODS in 2020?

Our pilot programme started in term one with year 6-8 students nominated by teachers. In term three, we invited Mōkihi whānau and teachers to nominate children. This shift was evidence-based, moving towards early identification and greater whānau involvement. We had hoped to launch our pilot school-wide by the end of 2020, but had to extend the timeline of our pilot in response to the lockdowns.  


Doesn’t every parent think their child is gifted?  

Our parents of gifted learners say:

“I think it’s the opposite… It’s a bit embarrassing.” 

“I think as a parent, you know. Your kids don’t fit.”

The evidence says:

“[there are] numerous studies by various researchers confirming that parents are, in fact, very good indeed at identifying giftedness… It does not mean that every parent is always right. It does mean that parents have a very high likelihood of being right… Parents should be our priority source of information.” (Cathcart, 2020, 31)

We haven’t yet been inundated by whānau nominations. The more our St Mark’s Family learns about giftedness, the better we will become at identifying students who need the support and challenge of MODS or other provisions for gifted learners.  


Do students stay in MODS or do we have to reapply each year? 

There is no need to re-apply. Being gifted is not something students grow out of. Students join MODS on a provisional basis and are welcome to stay if it is a good fit for them.  


What about my twice/multi-exceptional child?

We are always on the lookout for twice/multi-exceptional learners. 

“As a parent of two twice-exceptional kids, it’s actually really nice that this is a programme that supports their strengths because so much time and effort goes into their weaknesses that we kind of forget that they have those strengths…Quite often they’re really hidden… Other kids in the class don’t appreciate what their mind is actually capable of. All they see… is that [they] can’t write and [they] can’t sit still, but there’s a mind that’s just going at a hundred miles an hour behind that.” 


What about other high achievers?

Many high achievers don’t require the support of MODS. Other provisions include extension/enrichment groups in particular subject areas, lunchtime clubs, participation in University of Canterbury Kiwi Competitions, Cantamath, sports tournaments, or differentiation within the classroom. Please talk to your hapori kaiako if you are concerned that your child’s learning needs are not being met.    


What about gifted athletes and artists? 

Depending on a student’s other interests or abilities, MODS may not be the best fit for gifted athletes or artists. There are many exceptionalities and ways of being gifted. As we develop our specialist teaching model, our aim is to support all kinds of giftedness. This is a long term goal and we look forward to your involvement on our journey.  


If my child is in MODS or extension groups, can I expect to hear about their progress from their hapori teacher?  

As Specialist Teacher – Gifted, I am the first point of contact for queries about MODS. I will be sending weekly updates to MODS whānau, keeping everyone in the loop. Please feel free to contact me directly if you have questions or concerns about your child’s experiences as a gifted learner.  c.yonetani@saintmarks.school.nz


What about EQ and IQ? 

Emotional quotient (EQ) and intelligence quotient (IQ) can manifest in all sorts of mixtures. The stereotype of the gifted academic with no social skills is misleading. In fact, giftedness often manifests as extreme empathy and moral concern. As we develop our St Mark’s School definition of giftedness in consultation with our St Mark’s School Family, we will continue to acknowledge and celebrate our St Mark’s School values, including care for others.  


Isn’t it possible that because we’re an integrated school and parents choose to come here that.. the gifted category… might be over-represented here?

We don’t yet have any evidence to suggest that we have a disproportionate amount of gifted learners at our school. Evidence is clear that gifted learners come from all cultures, genders, and socio-economic backgrounds. However, as one parent pointed out:   

“Most of my experience with gifted kids is that they don’t fit modern learning environments, so you start looking and that’s one of the draw cards. When we started as a new-entrant… there were three or four parents who said they specifically chose here because of the single-cell classrooms.” 

MODS admission is on a case-by-case basis and although MODS numbers are capped at 12 per group, our school’s gifted registry is not limited to an arbitrary maximum. We are keen to keep doors open and engage in ongoing discussion to best meet the needs of every learner.  


Admission to MODS

Participation in MODS in 2021 is part of our on-going pilot, so some changes in membership are to be expected as we gather data in our evidence-based approach. Students invited to join MODS will do so on a provisional basis, until we can be confident that this is the best fit to meet their learning needs. Ultimately, decisions rest with our school management and Dr Averil Worner, in consultation with Specialist Teacher – Gifted, Cristy Yonetani. 

The purpose of our admissions process is to recognise learners who need extra challenge and support. We are committed to keeping the door open, early identification, exploring a wide range of evidence, and ensuring equity of access. We affirm that “gifted learners can be found in every socio-economic level and in every culture and regardless of gender.” (Cathcart, 2020, 37) and expect this diversity to be reflected in our gifted learners registry.   

There are several ways students can gain admission to MODS, including whānau nomination, diagnostic assessment, self or peer nomination, and teacher nomination.  


Whānau Nomination

Please don’t be shy to nominate your child. It is not whakahīhī (boastful), to acknowledge unique learning needs. Parents and whānau have a key role to play, especially in early identification. Advanced development and early milestones can be seen in very young children. “[There are] numerous studies by various researchers confirming that parents are, in fact, very good indeed at identifying giftedness… It does not mean that every parent is always right. It does mean that parents have a very high likelihood of being right… Parents should be our priority source of information.” (Cathcart, 2020, 31). We welcome the involvement of our St Mark’s School Family. Please feel free to contact me for further information: 


Cristy Yonetani

Specialist Teacher – Gifted



Diagnostic Assessment

Expert assessment by an Educational Psychologist or other licensed professional is invaluable. This is especially important for twice/multi-exceptional learners, whose giftedness can be masked by specific learning disabilities. The New Zealand Association For Gifted Children lists several clinicians in Christchurch who have experience dealing with gifted children. It is important to note that not all gifted learners score well on IQ tests. “We cannot use an IQ score by itself to say a child is not exceptionally able or to dismiss other evidence which does indicate exceptional ability. On the other hand, a high IQ score is definitely, irrefutably evidence of high cognitive ability, no matter how ungifted the child appears in the classroom.” (Cathcart, 2020, 36) If you have a diagnostic assessment identifying your child’s giftedness, please let us know.       


Student (Self/Peer) Nomination

We value student voice and welcome students to nominate themselves or their peers. Students can be particularly insightful when it comes to less widely recognised areas of giftedness, such as social leadership. 


Kaiako Nomination 

Every teacher is a teacher of gifted learners. For most teachers, this is a matter of differentiating learning within a mainstream classroom environment. Teachers of all year levels are encouraged to nominate students for our gifted learners’ registry, as students’ abilities and passions can emerge over time. This includes (but is not limited to) nominating students who achieve exceptional results (two or more years above norms) in standardised tests such as e-asTTle or PATs.