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Supporting Twice Exceptional (2E) Students At School

This article first appeared in Vision Magazine (see here for publication details https://www.vagtc.org.au/vision-magazine/).

The Case for Individual Learning Plans (ILPs)

By Dr. Kate Jacobs & Hayley Anthony

Education Faculty, Monash University


Students are unique and can vary considerably in their skills and abilities, learning styles and preferences, personality and also in what they require in order to experience success and reach their potential within the school environment. Twice Exceptional (2E) students represent a unique student cohort in that they present with both areas of exceptional strength as well as areas of exceptional need. Ensuring that both 2E students are both challenged and appropriately supported can be a daunting task for teachers, parents and students themselves. Despite growing awareness and identification of 2E students, the focus for these children is often only on the child’s difficulty and not concurrently on the child’s strengths. Individual Learning Plans (ILPs) are an important tool for facilitating understanding of a 2E child’s unique profile of strengths and difficulties, and for formulating an action plan as to how education supports can be provided to concurrently target both areas of talent and need.

What does it mean to be a Twice Exceptional (2E) Student?

In 2014, a new definition of 2E was proposed and recommended by the National Commission on Twice Exceptional Students. Twice exceptional learners are defined as “students who demonstrate the potential for high achievement or creative productivity in one or more domains such as math, science, technology, the social arts, the visual, spacial, or performing arts or other areas of human productivity AND who manifest one or more disabilities…[such as] specific learning disabilities; speech and language disorders; emotional/behavioural disorders; physical disabilities; Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD); or other health impairments, such as Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). These disabilities and high abilities combine to produce a unique population of students who may fail to demonstrate either high academic performance or specific disabilities. Their gifts may mask their disabilities and their disabilities may mask their gifts (Reis, Baum and Burke, 2014, p. 222). The asynchronous development that is a defining characteristic of 2E students means that individualized and differentiated support is commonly required.

What is an Individual Learning Plan (ILP)?

An Individual Learning Plan (ILP)1 is a tool that schools, teachers, parents and students can use with any student that requires some form of differentiated support. An ILP helps to understand and implement the unique educational support that a particular student requires. More specifically, an ILP is a written plan created for an individual student that details how classroom instruction and school curriculum is to be adjusted so that the student may access the curriculum effectively and have the opportunity equal to their peers to demonstrate their strengths and fulfil their potential within the classroom (AUSPELD, p. 22).

Creation of an ILP is a collaborative process between school teaching and support staff as well as parents and students. Sometimes professionals outside of the school may be involved such as private psychologists or speech pathologists.

Why are ILPs particularly useful for 2E students?

2E students often present with asynchronous development in the areas of cognitive, academic, social, emotional and behavioural functioning. This combination of strengths and difficulties is what can result in a student’s gifts masking their disabilities and their disabilities masking their gifts. For example, a student with exceptional thinking and reasoning abilities alongside written expression difficulties may only obtain an average mark due to a difficulty demonstrating their advanced knowledge and understanding through written assessment. Consequently many 2E students complain that work is both too hard and also too easy. A lack of adequate academic challenge combined with experiencing learning difficulties means the 2E students are at increased risk for not enjoying school and subsequently disengaging from teaching and learning activities. As disengaged students can often partake in disruptive behaviours, it can be all too easy for the focus within the classroom to be on minimizing disruptive behaviours as opposed to optimizing learning and achievement outcomes. Given the complex needs that 2E students often present with a tool such as an ILP creates a structure and process to enable understanding, support, empowerment and ongoing improvement.

How is an ILP for a 2E student created?

Step 1 – Gather all necessary information

The information to be included in an ILP will vary depending on the age of the child, the educational and developmental assessments they hve received, and also their specific strengths and difficulties.

It is recommended that the following is considered at a minimum:

  • Areas of strength/talent and difficulty as identified from recent assessments that may have been conducted by a range of specialists such as special education teachers, psychologists, speech pathologists, occupational therapists, audiologists and paediatricians.
  • Any diagnoses (e.g., ADHD, Specific Learning Disorder)
  • Social-emotional functioning
  • Attitude to learning including motivation
  • Independent learning skills such as help-seeking, starting and completing tasks independently, managing distractions and recording homework accurately.
  • Supports available both inside and outside school (e.g., withdrawal groups, private tutoring, access to school learning support staff).

Step 2 – What to include in an ILP

The particular format used in an ILP can vary. However AUSPELD recommend that the following be included (p. 22):

  • Both long and short term goals with a clear time line;
  • Information about the specific equipment, programs or approach being used;
  • Information regarding the assessment, reporting and reviewing of the identified outcomes;
  • A statement about who will be taking responsibility for implementation and coordination of the ILP;
  • The timing and frequency of reviews.

Step 3 – Choosing the most appropriate forms of differentiation

The acronym MARC is a useful tool for considering the different ways in which teaching and assessment activities can be differentiated for an individual student. The ultimate goal of differentiation is that the student may demonstrate their strengths and fulfil their potential within the classroom.

MARC stand for Modification, Accommodation, Remediation and Compensation. See Table 1 for definitions and examples of each of these forms of differentiation.

It is important to consider all four types of educational differentiation when creating an ILP for a 2E student as it is more than likely that more than one, and possible all four, will be required. It is important to note that generally, remediation efforts become less necessary as a student progresses through school, and rather a greater emphasis is placed on the implementation of accommodations and compensatory strategies so that the student may have equal access to the curriculum as other students.

It is also important to note that while accommodations, remediation and compensatory strategies can be implemented with no risk of restricting further educational opportunities, modifications may restrict access to future curriculum and programs. For example, a modified maths curriculum that reduces the difficulty level of the content in middle school will likely restrict access to higher level math subjects in Years 11 and 12. Therefore it is important that any modifications to the standard curriculum occur only after consultation between parents, the student and relevant school staff.

Step 4 – Assembling the student’s team

Teachers, support staff, parent and the student should all play a role in creating and implementing the ILP. Support staff may include a special education teacher, counsellor or pastoral leader (e.g. head of the student’s year level). When creating an ILP it is important to clearly identify the roles and responsibilities of each team member as this promotes both accountability and empowerment.

The role of the student must also be developmentally appropriate. A general rule of thumb is that the older the student is, the more they should be expected to ‘own’ and be able to direct the ILP planning and implementation process.

Step 5 – Implementing for success

It is important that ILPs are reviewed regularly to assess whether progress towards the identified goals are being made. Goals that are not being met may indicate the need to modify the ILP in order to increase the possibility for success. The Victorian Department of Education recommends that ILP’s are reviewed every six months at a minimum (www.education.vic.gov.au/school/teachers/health/Pages/oohcedplans.aspx), though reviewing them once a term is more common. The frequency of reviews is of course dependent on the unique needs of the individual student and should be determined and agreed to by the team. Regular and constructive communication between school, parents and the student is another essential component for successful implementation of the ILP.

The end result of an effectively developed and implemented ILP is a happy and engaged student who feels good about themselves, their learning, and has a meaningful educational experience. KJ, HA.

  1. The term used to refer to an Individual Learning Plan can vary across Australian states as well as across the different educational systems within Australia (i.e., Government, Independent and Catholic school systems). A non-exhaustive list of alternative terms includes Individual Education Plan, Differentiated Learning Plan and Individualized Education Program. For consistency this article will use the term Individual Learning Plan (ILP) throughout
  2. www.auspeld.org.au/resources
  3. www.mq.edu.au/research/research-centres-groups-and-facilities/healthy-people/centres/macquarie-university-special-education-centre-musec/community-outreach-overview/musec-briefings
  4. www.ronritchhart.com/OCTResources.html



AUSPELD(2015). Understanding learning difficulties: A guide for parents. South Perth, Australia: DSF Literacy Services. Retrieved from www.uldforparents.com

Mascolo, J. T., Flanagan, D. P., & Alfonso, V. C. (2014). A systematic method of analysing assessment results for tailoring interventions (SMAARTI). In J. T. Mascolo, V. C. Alfonso & D. P. Flanagan (Eds.), Essentials of planning, selecting, and tailoring interventions for unique learners (pp. 3-55). Hoboken, NJ: Wiley.

Reis, S. M., Baum, S. M., & Burke, E. (2014) An operational definition of twice-exceptional learners; Implications and applications, Gifted Child Quarterly, 58(3) 217-230.

The authors would like to acknowledge the contribution of Sarah Asome who provided examples of ILPs.


Dr Kate Jacobs is an Educational and Developmental Psychologist, lecturer and researcher in the Faculty of Education at Monash University, Melbourne. Kate has presented conference papers, keynote addresses and workshops on Cattell-Horn-Carroll based educational assessments around Australia.

Hayley Anthony is an Educational and Developemtnal Psycholgoist and lecturer in the Faculty of Education at Monash University, Melbourne. Hayley has extensive experience working within school. Contact: hayley.anthony@monash.edu