At the beginning of the 20th century, long before the term “Support for the gifted and talented” came into common use, Maria Montessori was already promoting an education system that suited the talents of every child. It seemed to her that teaching from the front at a uniform level that tried neither to deal with the weaknesses nor the strengths of individual pupils offered no opportunity to fulfil this aspiration.
Only in creating a pre-set learning plan and the total individualisation of the learning process did she see any opportunity to produce the best possible development conditions to suit every individual child.
Just as children stand themselves up, start to speak or become “dry” at different ages, so they should also be allowed to gain the cultural techniques of reading, writing and arithmetic – and their abilities in the musical areas – when they are ready. No child should have to learn under pressure because it advances more slowly than the others; however, neither should any child be held back in its eagerness to learn so long that it becomes bored, just because that child moves forward quicker than other people. Nothing has changed about this principle to this very day. At our school, every child works at its own internal pace on content at its current level of development; that child finds itself spontaneously associating with those children who share its interests and who can stick to the same pace, whether they are older, the same age or younger.
So we should no longer be surprised if our classes contain children with average talents as well as those diagnosed as gifted, all learning and playing in peaceful coexistence with children who are slower in their development. Particular significance is accorded to mixed year classes in our school system.
Many discoveries in today’s targeted research into the gifted and talented, as well as the claims derived from them and the associated endeavours within the latest systems to support the gifted and talented are now based on Renzulli’s “School Enrichment Model” (SEM), on Csikszentmihalyi’s Flow Experience, on Gardner’s “Multiple Intelligences”, or on “Bloom’s Taxonomy”; these were all pre-empted by Maria Montessori and are seen to this day – about 100 years later – to have been thoroughly confirmed.