GIFTED EDUCATION PRESS QUARTERLY
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VOLUME EIGHT, NUMBER TWO
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"gifted adj. 1. Endowed with great natural ability, intelligence, or talent: a gifted child; a gifted pianist.
2. Revealing special talent: a gifted rendition of the aria." From The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language (Third Edition, 1992, Houghton Mifflin Company).
In recent years educators of the gifted -- particularly those of professorial rank -- have proposed a change from "gifted" to such labels as "highly advanced," "accelerated learners," and "high ability students." The rationale for this name-change is that it would remove the stigma associated with the present name, and help regular educators and the American public to become more supportive of special programs for these children. However, this approach to making gifted children more acceptable will solve nothing by replacing the current name with one that will quickly become unacceptable in the future. The name-change advocates are taking a birds-eye view of the problem rather than studying it from a broader perspective of trends in American society and culture. From this perspective, the name-change solution will not work, i.e., it will not reduce prejudice (see Coercive Egalitarianism by Stephen Schroeder-Davis -- Gifted Education Press, 1993) against the gifted nor cause regular educators who advocate current "reforms" to embrace gifted programs.
Robert Hughes in his book, Culture of Complaint: The Fraying of America (1993, Oxford University Press), has accurately captured the situation in American society of the 1990s that makes us think a name-change might produce an attitude-change. He says: ". . . The notion that you change a situation by finding a newer and nicer word for it emerges from the old American habit of euphemism, circumlocution, and desperate confusion about etiquette, produced by fear that the concrete will give offence. And it is a peculiarly American habit. The call for politically correct language, though some answer it in England, has virtually no resonance in Europe. . . ." (pp. 20-21). We suggest the name-change advocates could use their energies more effectively by trying to figure out how to change people's attitudes toward the gifted. Trying to make this group more palatable by revising its name is about as useless as applying politically correct euphemisms to solve age-old problems of prejudice against Jews, Italians, Irish, Blacks or African-Americans, Native Americans, Asian-Americans, the disabled, and short people. As Robert Hughes' book clearly illustrates, our society is presently exhibiting many self-destructive and pathological behaviors in the political and intellectual areas. These behaviors involve solving problems through changing labels/words rather than attempting to address the underlying causes. By kowtowing to these negative influences and voices of prejudice against the gifted, this field will be further weakened and eventually destroyed. In the present atmosphere, we need less accommodation and more dedication to the idea that "gifted" denotes students who can play positive roles in their schools and society. If we cannot gain more support for these children, then we might be headed in a similar direction as certain attitudes produced during the French Revolution. When the great French chemist, Antoine Lavoisier, was about to be guillotined (1794), his wife and friends pleaded with the judge for mercy by referring to his contributions to France and science. The judge replied, "The Republic has no need of geniuses!" Since the French Jacobins in the name of liberty, equality, fraternity exterminated about 90,000 of their fellow citizens between 1793 and 1795, they probably did not need many other "geniuses."
This issue includes an extensive article by Susan Winebrenner that discusses many procedures educators of the gifted can use with their students in today's anti-gifted atmosphere. We thank Joan Smutny, Editor, Journal of Illinois Association for Gifted, for permission to reprint this important article. It will appear in the Spring 1994 issue of the Illinois journal along with other articles concerned with inclusion and cooperative learning. To obtain more information about the Illinois journal, write Ms. Smutny at 633 Forest Avenue; Wilmette, IL 60091 -- or call her at 708-256-1220. Michael Walters discusses the work of the great English fiction writer, Mary Shelley, whose Frankenstein has provided many generations of readers with enjoyment for the horror fiction genre and reflection on the nature of life. As he shows, this novel is more than a monster tale. It is an allegory on the creation of life and the rejection of one who is different from "normal" human beings. It is also a work of great creative genius.
Maurice D. Fisher, Ph.D. Publisher
WHAT TO DO UNTIL GIFTED PROGRAMS COME BACK
BY SUSAN WINEBRENNER
EDUCATIONAL CONSULTING SERVICE
WHY GIFTED PROGRAMS ARE DISAPPEARING
During the last two years, the damage done to carefully constructed gifted education programs across the country has been devastating. Riding on a tidal wave of sentiment against any kind of ability grouping, researchers have convinced administrators and administrators have convinced school boards and staff that there can be no place for ability grouping in effective schools. Although the accumulated research on ability grouping (Slavin, 1987; Oakes, 1985) appears to support the conclusion that separating struggling students from the regular program has only increased the discrepancy of those students from the norm, it is certainly true that other factors besides ability grouping could be responsible for the dismal outcomes. For example, one other contributing factor has been the practice of placing the students who seem least capable with the most inexperienced teachers, creating a vicious cycle of low expectations - low achievement. There is ample evidence ability grouping can be effective for any level of ability if the methods and strategies used to teach are appropriately differentiated to meet a particular group's learning needs (Gamoran, 1992) and that ability grouping is necessary for the most capable students (Allan, 1991). However, as the call to eliminate ability grouping is heeded, the research that supports heterogeneous grouping has become confused with the research that supports ability grouping for gifted students, and the results have been chaotic.
In an emotionally charged anti-elitism climate, the impeccable research of Kulik and Kulik (1992), which indicates that improvement in gifted students' achievement is dependent upon their consistent interaction with their intellectual or learning peers, has been ignored. In an atmosphere that values equality and equity, perhaps over excellence, gifted programs have been watered down or eliminated outright. In schools where the same learning outcomes are "taught" to all students with no regard to their previous mastery, highly capable students wait for the challenging outcomes to appear. Charges of elitism are once again trumpeted throughout the land.
Elitism may be defined as opportunities that are available for some students from which others might benefit but which are not available to them. It is ironic that in this country athletic programs have rarely been criticized, although by the above definition, they have actually been extremely elitist. There have always been some students who wanted to participate in competitive sports but were denied a place on a team because they weren't "good enough" to meet the "quality" criteria that had been imposed to assure that the official team was comprised of only the best and most capable athletes.
It seems that the American educational psyche has embraced the "melting pot" theory that is predicated on the belief that anyone can succeed in education and in life. This viewpoint has led to an accompanying belief that gifted programs will only be fair if they are available to all students. Since all students cannot qualify for gifted programs, just as all students cannot qualify for an athletic team, the conclusion that many educators have reached is that gifted programs should be abandoned, except in athletics! By abandoning the programs and other opportunities that gifted students have had available to them, the end result is that exceptionally capable students are now the ones suffering most from reform and restructuring movements.
Presently in many places, most students who have formerly been taught using special education services are being "included" in the regular classrooms with totally heterogeneous groups. Confused teachers who have very little experience in meeting their exceptional learning needs ask, "What should I do to meet such diverse learning needs?" Often, they are told that the use of cooperative learning will provide them some teaching assistance by having the more capable students help the less capable students. Of course, this creates a situation in which the most capable students are actually being discriminated against as they receive the message over and over again, "Everyone else comes to school to learn. Except you! You have to come to school to teach!"
Inclusion will be successful only to the degree that teachers are appropriately trained in the strategies that will facilitate success for those students formerly taught in special education settings while not robbing the other students of their inherent right to learn. Unfortunately, the realism for most teachers is that they are not given nearly enough support as they bravely try to meet the needs of so many students with so many diverse needs. Cases in which special education personnel are actually providing personal assistance to classroom teachers to support the inclusion model are rare, particularly in places where finances are in crisis. Add to that the alarming trend towards larger classes due to budget constraints and we have a situation in which the plight of gifted children may be more dramatic that at any time in recent history. Clearly, we are at a point where public education seems willing to sacrifice the needs of the most capable students to expedite the learning for the more average kids or for those who appear more needy. It boggles the mind to suppose that in a country as wealthy and creative as ours, we seem faced with an either/or choice. Either we meet the learning needs of the struggling students or we meet the learning needs of the exceptionally able students. Surely we can find ways to make sure all children are learning all the time, including those exceptionally capable students who have been called gifted.
Under a pedagogical climate which assumes that all children are gifted, that gifted students will be better served in totally heterogeneous groups, and that out-of- classroom enrichment experiences should be eliminated whether or not any quality enrichment opportunities are available in regular classrooms, a situation has been created in which the system has simply switched which groups comprise the "have-nots." In classrooms of the past several decades, "have-nots" have been those children struggling to learn. In totally heterogeneous classrooms of the '90's, the "have-nots" may be those children who are exceptionally capable learners.
In this anti-elitist climate, educators who wish to advocate for the continued availability of services for the most capable students might be well advised to refrain from using the words "special" or "separate" in any way. It may be more helpful for us to support the following beliefs:
●Academics is only one way in which exceptional learning ability manifests itself. The models of Howard Gardner (1993), Robert Sternberg (1989), and others validate the notion that the most successful learning takes place for all students when they are taught in a manner compatible with their learning strengths and thinking styles. If we can provide visual learning aids for visual learners to optimize their learning, we can also provide compacting and differentiation for students of exceptional academic ability.
●If the term "gifted" is the major cause of the hostility toward meeting the educational needs of this group, we should change what we call them. Actually, I prefer to replace the label "gifted" with one that much better describes all learners whose style is discrepant from the norm. My choice for the new label is DILFAPS -- those who are Discrepant In Learning From Age Peers! Perhaps this more ecumenical label would help us move beyond the elitism atmosphere to one that acknowledges the need to facilitate all learning differences, regardless of their description.
While the leaders in gifted education continue their search to find more effective ways to restructure how services for our most capable students can be delivered in our schools, something less formal and more practical has to be available for the present time. This article will describe several easy to manage, cost effective opportunities for schools to use to prevent gifted students from having their learning needs ignored. The literature is replete with plans that would require some significant school restructuring. What are we going to do NOW?
MEETING THE NEEDS OF GIFTED STUDENTS IN THE INTERIM
Four topics will be described as appropriate responses to the present dilemma. They are:
1. Identifying and serving gifted students' learning needs
2. Providing appropriate grouping practices including cluster grouping
3. Appropriate use of cooperative learning for gifted students
4. Restructuring the concept of gifted programs and the job description of gifted program coordinators.
1. IDENTIFYING AND SERVING GIFTED STUDENTS' LEARNING NEEDS
It is important for the advocates for gifted students to make it clear in their appeals to maintain appropriate services that we are not asking for anything "special" for these learners. We are asking only for what most students automatically experience; consistent daily opportunity to struggle to learn. In typical learning plans for a heterogeneous group of students, initial instruction is aimed somewhere near or below the middle of the perceived range of learning abilities of the group. Therefore, the group most likely to be disenfranchised by the complexity of the regular learning experiences are the most capable students. In a typical class then, those students who probably learn the least are those who are at the top of the learning continuum.
In state of the art classrooms, where active meaningful learning around thematic multidisciplinary content is the rule rather than the exception, the need for differentiation and enrichment may be minimized. But until we get to the point in American education where most teachers are operating that way, we still have to be extremely sensitive to the anguish suffered by highly capable students when so much of their school time is spent in redundancy. We are reminded of a poem by Richard Brautigan (1970) called "The Memoirs of Jesse James." A young man paraphrased it to express his point of view of what it's like to always be the smartest student in his class:
"All the time I just sit here waiting ........ waiting for something new to learn.
My teachers should have ridden with Jesse James,
For all the learning time they have stolen from me."
Providing appropriate learning opportunities begins with finding out what students already know. This may be done by administering the same type of learning assessment instrument at the beginning of a learning sequence as is planned for the end of the sequence, so capable students can demonstrate that they have already mastered the major learning outcomes. Written pretests, end-of-the book or unit tests, samples of a student's work, or observed ability to deal competently with a particular set of learner outcomes all document previous mastery of upcoming work.
For many teachers, it may not be as terrifying to find out what the children already know as it is to wonder what additional teaching responsibilities will be expected once the evidence is available that some students have either mastered upcoming content before it is taught, or can demonstrate the ability to learn even new material with much less practice and repetition. The really scary part comes in visualizing a line of students that follows the teacher around the room asking, "I'm done. What should I do now?"
The concept of "extra credit" should be absent when dealing with highly capable children, since one wonders what benefits could possibly be experienced from more work when someone has already easily mastered the basic work. The teacher's job is to "compact" (Reis & Renzulli, 1992) the regular curriculum by shrinking the amount of actual content down to the most difficult part, or shrinking the amount of time highly capable children must spend learning new material. Next, the teacher must learn to provide alternate work for capable students to do when they have demonstrated they need a challenge that exceeds the scope of the regular learner outcomes.
The good news is that part of what makes some learners gifted is their incredible curiosity about multitudes of things as well as their propensity for staying with a topic until they can reassure themselves that they have learned everything possible about it. To accommodate this characteristic, the teacher anticipates it during the planning stage of a unit plan. A list of related alternative topics is prepared which students could explore on a continuing basis when they earn some "choice" time by finishing their compacted work in a shorter time than the teacher allots for the rest of the class. Rather than topics specific to a particular unit, generic topics are the most practical because they could be used repeatedly when students are investigating similar topics.
For example, in mathematics the teacher might make available self-correcting enrichment materials that are applicable to many different units of study within a mathematics program. In science, a teacher might create a list of alternative extension activities that have no bearing on any specific content but that all require scientific thinking or research. Some examples of generic activities might include:
●Find a scientist who has made a significant contribution to this field and read at least two biographical sources. Be prepared to describe the struggle that the scientists endured in order to make their contribution noticed and utilized.
●Trace the history of a certain field from its inception to modern times
●Discover the ways in which technology has affected a particular scientific field over the last ten years.
Many other workable strategies are described in detail in books by Sally Reis (1992), Alaine Starko (1986), and Susan Winebrenner (1992) listed in the refrence section at the end of this article.
2. APPROPRIATE GROUPING PRACTICES INCLUDING CLUSTER GROUPING
Since we have clear evidence (Kulik & Kulik, 1992) that gifted children need to learn with other gifted children to maintain high achievement, which grouping practices best support their learning needs? First, gifted students must be grouped together in the areas of their strength. Many schools have recognized that the most capable students have different learning and grouping needs than other students, and are keeping intact some separate classes for these children, while grouping all other students more heterogeneously and eliminating the lowest groups formerly labeled remedial or basic.
In high schools, where students move in and out of different classes throughout the day, this method is less likely to call attention to itself than in the lower grades. In secondary schools, former honors classes are being opened to a larger group of students than those who meet rigid criteria decided by the teaching staff. Instead of having to qualify by quantitative criteria, students are allowed to examine the requirements of the honors or advanced section and volunteer to be placed in that section with the understanding that they agree to strive to meet those requirements. Signed contracts are effective which stipulate that if students discover that the level of the class is too challenging, they can turn to less rigorous classes. If such stipulations are not present and the most rigorous courses are simply opened to anyone who says they want to participate, the great risk is that the integrity of the curriculum designed primarily to challenge highly capable students would be compromised.
In the elementary and junior high schools, we have a somewhat different situation. In the middle school movement, there is a commitment to avoid labeling entirely. The result of this policy is that highly capable children find themselves randomly scattered through many heterogeneous sections of classes and may be experiencing significant frustration while waiting for something challenging to happen.
Cluster grouping (Winebrenner & Devlin, 1993; Hoover et al, 1993) provides a workable compromise to the dilemma in grades one through eight. Rather than having gifted children randomly distributed to all sections, administrators and staff purposely place them in small clusters with other highly gifted children in otherwise heterogeneous groups. For example, in a school with three fifth grade sections, teacher A would have six identified gifted and 20 heterogeneous others. Teachers B & C would each have 26 heterogeneous but no identified gifted. It has been well documented (Fiedler, Lange, & Winebrenner, 1993; Schunk, 1987) that under these circumstances there are plenty of positive academic role models in all sections. Teachers in whose rooms the cluster groups are placed are expected to utilize compacting and differentiation methods for all students who need them, whether or not such students have been identified as gifted. As more teachers receive training in how to differentiate learning experiences for the most capable students, the cluster assignment rotates among those who wish to have the cluster group placed with them (Gamoran, 1992).
With cluster grouping in junior high and middle schools, four to six students with exceptional ability in a particular subject are strategically placed in specific classes. With this arrangement, teachers will be much more likely to compact and differentiate for those in the designated cluster groups rather than trying to provide differentiation in every class. The same thing happens in science and social studies when the most capable science students are clustered in a teacher's fourth hour class, rather than being randomly distributed to all classes. In this way, teachers do not have to compact and differentiate the curriculum in all classes, but may concentrate their efforts in the classes in which the most capable students are clustered. Under these conditions, teachers are much more likely to make appropriate modifications, and gifted students are much more likely to take advantage of the differentiation options because they have the company of children with similar ability to work with. Even better, since the opportunities to reach for excellence are available for all students in the group, the elitism issue is moot.
The cluster grouping system works better when the neediest learners are not placed in the same class with the cluster teacher in deference to the fact that students at both ends of the continuum need significantly more teacher time and that one teacher can be stretched only so far. Since present practices do not appear to support clustering the neediest students together, they are placed in small groups in all remaining sections. Keep in mind that many schools are clustering the neediest anyway because that arrangement makes them more accessible for special education support.
Dr. Joseph Renzulli (1993) writes about another form of cluster grouping called "enrichment clusters by interest". Schools set aside regularly scheduled times when all students are engaged in learning about topics in which they are particularly interested. The problem with this method may be that it would not provide enough consistent differentiation for exceptionally capable students if it happened only outside regularly scheduled class time. If it accompanies full-time academic clustering, it sends a welcome message that all children can benefit from enrichment experiences.
Dr. Sylvia Rimm (1987) has documented that when students are constantly interacting with a non- challenging curriculum, their self esteem is actually at risk. She says that, "The surest path to high self esteem is to be successful at something one perceived would be difficult." Caring teachers would not knowingly enter into an educational environment in which the self esteem of a certain group of students was almost certain to be threatened and destroyed. Therefore, the appeal to provide an appropriate challenge for the highest ability children is no more important than the appeal to provide an appropriate challenge for children at all learning levels.
3. THE USE AND ABUSE OF GIFTED CHILDREN IN COOPERATIVE LEARNING SITUATIONS
It is bad enough that gifted programs have been abandoned, and that gifted students are spending all their time in heterogeneous classrooms where the majority of the learning experiences may be most appropriate for students with average to below average ability. In addition, cooperative learning practices have the potential to make the lives of gifted children downright miserable. Contrary to popular belief, gifted students do not dislike cooperative learning (Mathews, 1992). Gifted students are just as likely as other students to enjoy working with their peers, as long as they are their intellectual rather than their age peers. What they really dislike about traditional cooperative learning is being taken advantage of during those learning experiences. In many typical cooperative learning experiences, gifted students are expected to become the teacher's helper and to sacrifice their precious learning time in the interest of becoming tutors to struggling students. As a matter of fact, the inclusion literature suggests that one way teachers can meet the incredibly diverse needs in an inclusion classroom is to have the more capable students help the less capable students. Again, it seems that the American educational system is willing to sacrifice the needs of its most capable students to provide for the needs of those perceived as more needy.
In real life, adults are very selective as to when they choose to cooperate. Take the scenario of gifted cooks who frequently invite friends to dinner parties for which they have lovingly and laboriously created culinary delights to showcase their cooking talents. As the guests arrive, they traditionally go to the kitchen and ask the cook, "Can I do anything to help?" To which the cook usually replies, "Yes... get out of my kitchen!" This is an excellent example of how adults sometimes prefer to work alone, particularly in areas where they have a great deal of expertise. Now picture this same cook experiencing a flat tire on a crowded freeway the following morning. It is easy to imagine that the attitude toward cooperative learning would be significantly changed. In situations where we feel that getting help would allow us to do a difficult job better, most adults are willing to engage in cooperative learning experiences. In situations where we feel we can do a better job without other people's help, we don't ask for it. Gifted children may feel the same way.
In classrooms that value cooperative learning, gifted students rarely have choices about whether or not they will cooperate. When the groups are working on content they have clearly mastered, they feel frustrated and cheated out of authentic learning experiences for themselves. When cooperative groups are engaged in activities that represent no new learning for some students, those students should be placed in their own groups and given a more challenging extension of the task.
More sophisticated cooperative learning structures, such as those described by several writers like Bellanca & Fogarty (1991), focus on critical thinking and problem solving activities. In those situations, highly capable students may more appropriately be placed in heterogeneous cooperative learning groups because there are no right answers and because all students can benefit from seeing how other students approach problem solving.
It is therefore up to the teacher to determine under what conditions gifted students should be placed in heterogeneous cooperative learning groups and in what situations they should be placed in their own group learning together in an appropriate extension of the task the rest of the class is working on.
The following compromise might therefore be helpful:
●When the cooperative groups are dealing with content which some students have already mastered, place those students in their own separate groups, and provide an extension enrichment of the regular task. All other students are placed in heterogeneous groups containing one highly capable student, although not gifted, one struggling student, and one or two average students. In such groups, it is much more likely that all group members will be much more active learners than when the gifted students are present. When gifted children are accused of being bossy, they are really demonstrating total frustration with the task that is far below their learning capabilities. Worse, when they are present, the other students don't work nearly as hard to deal with frustrating material, preferring instead to rely on the strongest students to do their most difficult thinking for them.
●In situations where the task is more complex, gifted students could be placed in heterogeneous groups with students of various abilities. When all children interact in highly challenging thinking activities, everyone can develop an appreciation for the multiple ways in which problems can be approached and solved. In these situations, students gifted in the typical academic areas come to appreciate how much they can learn from students who think in a style different from their own, but which may turn out to be the most effective for solving a certain type of problem.
●The goal is for a balance between the times when gifted students work with other gifted students in their own separate groups and when they work with all class members in totally heterogeneous cooperative learning situations.
4. RESTRUCTURING THE GIFTED EDUCATION PROGRAM AND THE JOB DESCRIPTION OF GIFTED PROGRAM COORDINATORS
While the critics of gifted education extol the virtues of eliminating gifted programs, they would do well to remember that everything pioneered by gifted education is now being used in regular classrooms as state-of-the-art teaching strategies. Gifted programs in reading and language arts incorporated literature-based and process-writing approaches. Regular classrooms call those same strategies whole language. Gifted programs in mathematics stressed critical thinking and problem solving, and their guidelines could easily be confused with the standards from the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics. Many gifted programs were based on multidisciplinary, thematic units which have become the cornerstone of effective learning at all grade levels.
One might argue that if what formerly characterized gifted education programs is in the regular classrooms, American education no longer needs to worry that gifted students are not being challenged! If that were true, former educators of the gifted would happily pack their bags and head for the hills. Although the practices are evident in many classrooms, the huge range of ability dictates that many of the activities are much less rigorous than they would be if all the students in the classes were exceptionally capable. Compacting and differentiation are as necessary in the classrooms of the 1990's as they have always been. The difference is that more students will become able to participate in the more rigorous activities when they are available in regular classrooms, and that's just fine. Unfortunately, many teachers assume that because the typical activities are more fun and interesting than they may have been in the past, the needs of all learners are being addressed. No matter how much more challenging learning activities become, there will always be some advanced students who see problems in a more complex way, whose ideas are more fluent and creative than their peers, and who simply need to experience learning at a more challenging level.
Renzulli and Reis (1987) have suggested an extension of their traditional Revolving Door Triad Model, renamed the Schoolwide Enrichment Model (SEM), to meet the more exciting learning opportunities progressive schools wish to make available for all students. It provides a structure wherein many more students are identified into the talent pool using a variety of identification techniques. With the talent pool being so much larger, the percentage of students who actually experience opportunities for extended learning is naturally increased. With effective staff development, all students can potentially experience many of the activities formerly reserved for identified gifted students.
In this model, the role of the person we have always called the Gifted Education Coordinator is transformed into the new role of the Schoolwide Enrichment Coordinator or Schoolwide Enrichment Teaching Specialist. Therefore, the gifted label disappears while gifted education services are available to many more students.
In all cases, rather than eliminating the gifted education services because it seems unfair that all students don't receive them, visionary schools are looking for ways to bring those formerly labeled gifted education opportunities to as many students as possible. Rather than bringing the gifted students' learning experiences down to a more average level in some insane attempt to make things fairer by taking away from the gifted students what they need, the general level of learning could be raised to a higher level for all students.
Are all students gifted? This question lies at the heart of the recurring elitism charges that have brought the gifted education movement to its knees. With the newly emerging definitions of intelligence, particularly those of Robert Sternberg (1989) and Howard Gardner (1993), it appears that there are many more ways to define intelligence than the traditionally narrow ways historically used in education. In Gardner's model of multiple intelligences, there are seven areas in which exceptional talent can be identified and nurtured. Two of those, the logical-mathematical and verbal-linguistic categories, describe those areas to which traditional school giftedness has been confined. Gardner also includes exceptional ability in the categories of visual-spatial arts, musical, and bodily kinesthetic. In addition, he designates an area of intelligence, intrapersonal, which we have called leadership. His final category, intrapersonal, defines those people who are very sensitive to their own goals and needs and who understand themselves so well that they do not need much guidance from outside sources.
Robert Sternberg's Triarchic Model teaches that most learners would be more highly capable if the educational system could effect matches between students' thinking styles and the way they are taught. Sternberg describes three thinking styles. Theoretical Analytic students may have typically been considered gifted because they can excel at school tasks. Creative thinkers love to create theories, design experiments, and constantly wonder what would happen if they tried a learning experience in several different ways. Creatives may not be particularly enamored of typical school tasks, always seeing a better way to do things. Practical thinkers are adept at utilizing theories in daily life and resist learning things that do not seem relevant.
The Gardner and Sternberg models make it is easier to extend the gifted label to almost all students. As their theories are put into widespread practice, more students will experience learning success. However, in traditional public schools, there are still only two areas that are recognized as the most legitimate learning arenas: the mathematical and the linguistic. Those are the areas in which most curriculum is centered; those are the areas in which the most capable learners need appropriate differentiation now. Further, we must be aware that even if these new theories enhance learning for all students, then even those we have called gifted will be able to learn better than they have in the past, and the discrepancy between different ability levels will certainly still be present.
Foreigners studying our educational systems have often been astonished at how simplistic and unchallenging most of our curriculum is at most levels of learning, and how poor American students are at exercising effective critical thinking abilities (Toom, 1993). There is plenty of evidence that the levels of learning in most American classrooms are significantly less challenging than they have been in the past (Reis, 1993). We cannot afford to wait until the American educational community provides equal opportunity for all children in all areas of potential exceptional intelligence while those students who are highly capable in the traditional areas languish for want of real challenge in their learning. We cannot wait until the restructuring efforts have been totally implemented and are running according to design. We have to do something now to make sure all students experience their inherent right for an authentic education in a democratic society. We have to make sure that all students are empowered to learn -- from those who struggle the most to those for whom learning comes more easily. This article has attempted to help educators provide consistent opportunities for gifted children to learn something new and useful in every subject every day. If we can accomplish these goals, the issue of whether or not formal gifted programs ever come back may no longer be relevant.
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Winebrenner, S. (1992). Teaching gifted kids in the regular classroom. Minneapolis, MN: Free Spirit Publishing.
Winebrenner, S. & Devlin B. (1993). Cluster grouping fact sheet: How to provide full-time services for gifted students on reasonable budgets. Lombard, IL: Phantom Press.
Winebrenner, S. & Devlin, B. (1993). The Practice of cluster grouping: Providing full-time educational ser-vices for gifted students. Gifted Education Press Quarterly, 7(2), 2-9.
Dear Mr. Fisher:
I am a TAG teacher who is very frustrated at this time. For the past three years I taught a self-contained, fourth grade gifted class. The program was successful. Students did extremely well, but interest in leaving the neighborhood school was waning. The last class had only 17 students. The district office thought the class was too small, and decided to look for alternatives. The program has been restructured to a, one day a week, strictly enrichment program. Is that the trend now? I understand tracking is out. But are there special needs for special needs children? Aren't gifted children special? If we don't keep something special for them, do they really become all that they could? I'm truly afraid they are left behind. I think we have reduced our standards to a level of mediocrity. How sad to think that our forefathers had the strength and determination to excel, and we are letting it go by the wayside because it just doesn't matter anymore.
Julia Furia, TAG Cycles Program Teacher
Wayne, New Jersey
Dear Maurice Fisher:
I always enjoy looking through the QUARTERLY that you are kind enough to send me. I wanted to single out for special compliment the Winter 1994 issue. The articles by Steve Allen and by Jonathan Plucker were very interesting and help to underscore the special niche that your publication has come to assume.
With very best wishes for the holidays.
Howard Gardner, Harvard University
Dear Mr. Fisher
Thank you for your recent letter to Secretary Riley expressing your support for gifted education. I have been asked to respond.
Not only does the Secretary strongly support gifted and talented education, but he has expressed support for expanding, rather than diminishing funding for such programs. The changes that are recommended in the proposed Javits legislation are in keeping with an overall plan for federal education programs described in the Elementary and Secondary Education Act currently being considered by Congress. One goal of ESEA is to create more coherent and challenging programs for all children. The revised Javits legislation is intended to create schools, not just part-time programs, in which gifted and talented students can grow.
In addition, the intention is to expand opportunities for research on gifted education to a wide array of individuals and institutions rather than to focus it in one research center. We appreciate your continued support of this important area of education.
Barbara Lieb, Director, Research Applications Division
United States Department of Education
Jonathan Plucker is preparing a creativity attitude scale for use in his on-going work with the evaluation and acceptance of creative products. He is looking for classroom teachers who would be willing to administer the scale to their students. The time commitment will be minimal (less than 10 minutes of class time), and any classroom situation is suitable (elementary to undergraduate). More information is available from Mr. Plucker at: P.O. Box 4071, Charlottesville, VA 22903. (804) 243-0885. e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
MARY SHELLEY (1797-1851): THE JOYS OF ENCOUNTERING A GREAT
BY MICHAEL E. WALTERS NEW YORK CITY PUBLIC SCHOOLS
". . . Sir Isaac Newton is said to have avowed that he felt like a child picking up shells beside the great and unexplored ocean of truth. . . ." (from Frankenstein by Mary Shelley).
This insightful morsel of wisdom is located in the midst (Chapter 2) of Mary Shelley's Frankenstein, or the Modern Prometheus (1817). The name Frankenstein has become a popular culture icon because of many cinematic versions of this story. However, it is distressing that comparatively few who encounter this icon are inspired to turn to the novel. When they do, what a delight will be awaiting them. First, it is extremely well written and psychologically composed. The themes are consistently relevant to the contemporary debate on gifted education. Ms. Shelley herself is a role model for gifted individuals, and specifically for gifted females.
She wrote this novel when she was only nineteen years old. During this time, she was married to the British Romantic poet, Percy Bysshe Shelley. The occasion for composing this tale was a "ghost story contest" among husband and wife and their friends. Because of inclement weather while visiting Geneva, Switzerland, they participated in this form of entertainment. One of their visitors and fellow story tellers was another British literary giant, Lord Byron. Here was an incredible group of highly gifted individuals making up tales of the supernatural and unknown. Ironically, Mary Shelley was the only one to write her story down in prose. When the book was published, one critic who exuberantly praised it was the king of early 19th Century popular historical fiction (e.g., Ivanhoe), Sir Walter Scott.
Mary Shelley's family and home background were super-saturated in giftedness. Her father was William Godwin, the well-known British writer, social reformer and publisher. Her mother was Mary Wollstonecraft, the author of the acclaimed feminist book, A Vindication of the Rights of Woman (1792). As a child, Mary read a great deal beginning at an early age, and she was allowed to read whatever she wanted. Among her father's household guests during her childhood, were the British writers, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, author of The Rime of the Ancient Mariner, and the great essayist and Shakespeare authority, Charles Lamb. She first met Percy Bysshe Shelley in her family's house when she was only fifteen. Clearly, she had a childhood of great cultural and literary enrichment.
Besides the novel itself, the Introduction and Preface (written by the author) can also be used as a reading assignment for gifted students. In the Introduction, Shelley describes her experiences as a child, and she dealt psychologically with both the joys and pangs of having a gifted sensibility. The following passage gives insight into this sensibility: "It is not singular that, as the daughter of two persons of distinguished literary celebrity, I should very early in life have thought of writing. As a child I scribbled, and my favorite pastime during the hours given me for recreation was to "write stories. Still, I had a dearer pleasure than this, which was the formation of castles in the air -- the indulging in waking dreams -- the following up trains of thought, which had for their subject the formation of imaginary incidents. . . ." (From Introduction to Frankenstein).
Frankenstein is a composite of science fiction, gothic mystery and morality tale. The book in fact is an early example of the science fiction genre. Science was not as departmentalized during Mary Shelley's lifetime as it is today -- it was a part of philosophical speculation as reflected in her story. Benjamin Franklin, Michael Faraday and Luigi Galvani were conducting scientific studies of electricity during this time. Many intellectuals believed that electricity was the source of the "life force." Another participant in the Shelleys' "ghost story contest" was Lord Byron's personal physician, Polidori, who helped to give Mary medical insights into her story.
A favorite literary genre when she wrote Frankenstein was the gothic mystery novel that contained elements of the supernatural, suspense, romance, and unusual settings such as castles, haunted houses and stormy weather. Obviously this genre abetted the Romantic temper displayed by Mary Shelley, her husband and their friends. She was followed by other great female writers of gothic novels such as Charlotte Brontë (Jane Eyre, 1847) and Emily Brontë (Wuthering Heights, 1847). Both Brontë sisters were heavily influenced by the gothic mood.
The morality tale aspect of Frankenstein is usually considered to be the dilemma of science creating a monster that turns against humanity. (A modern example would be the development of nuclear physics.) Recently, writers such as Michael Crichton have explored this theme in The Andromeda Strain (1969), Terminal Man (1972) and Jurassic Park (1990). There are other themes in Frankenstein that accompany this idea of science turning against itself. One of the most important is the problem of discrimination and personal bias. The monster is a tragic figure and an outraged individual. He is driven to hostile and violent behavior by the constant rejection of the people around him who cannot accept his personal appearance. There are many Frankensteins on the streets of present day American cities committing horrible acts of mayhem possibly due to their sense of outrage and personal rejection. Another theme illustrated by several characters in Frankenstein is the search for a personal friend. This story is indeed more than a monster story; it is a sensitive study of the human heart that all gifted students should read and analyze.
Mary Shelley was also influenced by folk tales and the famous English poet, John Milton (Paradise Lost, 1667). In folk tales she encountered the dark mysteries of horror, e.g., vampires, werewolves and demons. In John Milton she found a model for the monster -- this was Milton's Satan in Paradise Lost, acting out his rage and revenge. Reading Frankenstein is an enrichment experience par excellence. A new film version directed by Kenneth Branagh will be released in the spring of 1994, and Robert DeNiro plays the monster. Perhaps this movie will be the occasion for the rediscovery of Mary Shelley's genius.
The Young Scientists: America's Future and the Winning of the Westinghouse by Joseph Berger. Foreword by Dr. Leon M. Lederman, Winner of the 1988 Nobel Prize in Physics. Addison Wesley, 1994.
"The striking thing about schools for the gifted is in their application of the obvious: they expose students to the doing of science rather than the more sterile study of science....As Berger notes, this technique is so successful that it is beginning to find its way into programs in ordinary schools, described as a hands-on, activity-based, discovery method." (From the Foreword by Dr. Leon M. Lederman).
The author, a reporter and Bureau Chief for The New York Times, has written a fascinating account of the schools, teachers and students that participate in the annual Westinghouse Science and Talent Search. In doing so, he has presented one of the strongest arguments currently in print for maintaining and expanding gifted education programs. The Westinghouse competition began in the 1930s as part of a science fair in New York City, and eventually spread to high schools throughout the country. Although every high school in the United States receives information about this science competition, many do not participate. The question concerning why every high school does not compete should be the subject of another book. High schools in the New York City metropolitan area dominate the lists of national winners year after year. Among these outstanding high schools are the Bronx High School of Science (118 winners), Stuyvesant High School (70 winners), and Forest Hills High School (42 winners). As Berger says, many early winners were children of Jewish immigrants. Beginning in the 1970s, the number of students from Asian families increased enormously; their relatives immigrated from Taiwan, China, India, Korea, and Japan. In 1989, 44 percent of the winners were from New York state, primarily because interest in the Westinghouse was greater in New York than in other states.
This is a beautifully written book that conveys the thinking and scientific research of teachers and students in schools such as those in the New York area, the North Carolina School of Science and Mathematics, the Illinois Mathematics and Science Academy, and the Texas Academy of Mathematics and Science. The author's extraordinary ability to describe excellent teaching is illustrated by his description of David Kiefer's method of teaching science at Midwood High School in Brooklyn, New York: "David Kiefer conducts his class like an orchestra. Taut, controlled, his burly shoulders rising in an agony of anticipation, he squeezes information from his students as if he were drawing a poignant adagio from a violin section...." (Chapter 3: A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, p. 44). The Westinghouse is not just a science contest; it has served for sixty years as an instrument for launching the careers of the world's greatest scientists. Among the Westinghouse winners, five have received Nobel Prizes in Physics and Chemistry, two have been awarded the Fields Medal in Mathematics, and eight have received MacArthur Fellowships. In addition, 28 winners later became members of The National Academy of Sciences. Teachers and parents will find this book to be inspiring and informative. It clearly shows how young gifted scientists are the products of gifted teachers and world class high schools.