P.O. BOX 1586



FALL 1996




Ms. Sharon Buzzard -- Supervisor of Gifted Education, East Liverpool Ohio Schools and Past President of the Ohio Association for Gifted Children

Dr. James Delisle -- Professor and Co-Director of SENG, Kent State University, Kent, Ohio

Dr. Jerry Flack --Univ. Of Colorado-Colorado Springs

Dr. Howard Gardner -- Professor, Graduate School of Education, Harvard University, Cambridge, Massachusetts

Ms. Diane D. Grybek -- Supervisor of Secondary Gifted Programs (Retired), Hillsborough County Schools, Tampa, Florida

Ms. Dorothy Knopper -- Publisher, Open Space Communications, Boulder, Colorado

Mr. James LoGiudice -- Director, Program and Staff Development, Bucks County, Pennsylvania Intermediate Unit No. 22 and Past President of the Pennsylvania Association for Gifted Education

Dr. Mary Meeker -- President of SOI Systems, Vida, Oregon

Dr. Adrienne O'Neill - Director of Graduate Studies, Caldwell College, Caldwell, New Jersey

Dr. Stephen Schroeder-Davis -- Coordinator of Gifted Programs, Elk River, Minnesota Schools and Past President of the Minnesota Council for the Gifted and Talented

Dr. Bruce Shore -- Professor and Director, Giftedness Centre, McGill University, Montreal, Canada

Ms. Joan Smutny -- Professor and Director, Center for Gifted, National-Louis University, Evanston, Illinois

Dr. Virgil S. Ward -- Emeritus Professor of Gifted Education, University of Virginia, Charlottesville, Virginia

Ms. Susan Winebrenner -- Consultant, Lombard, Illinois

The spirit of the 1996 Olympics was on full display in Atlanta, Georgia this summer when thousands of champions from 197 countries joined forces with hundreds of music and dance per-formers for the opening ceremonies. This astonishing display in honor of youthful competitors from every nation invites comparison with intellectually and artistically advanced students. Are there characteristics which underlie the Olympians’ emphasis on excellence in sports that can be applied to educating gifted youth? In the spirit of these extraordinary athletic games, we recommend that supporters of gifted education make their own personal analysis of the success experienced by Olympic athletes. At least seven features underlie their success that should be applied to developing more support for gifted education: (1) emphasis on grass roots community support by ordinary citizens; (2) high levels of motivation and enthusiasm among athletes and fans; (3) systematic training programs at the community, state, national and international levels; (4) extensive recognition and rewards given to outstanding athletes; (5) equal opportunity for competition resulting in the selection of women and minorities with superior athletic abilities; (6) large budgets available for training and the display of athletic abilities; and (7) cooperation among athletic, business and government organizations to promote the Olympic events.

The interest and support of ordinary citizens/taxpayers is the primary driving force that sustains excellence in sports. In the United States and all nations of the world, the enthusiasm generated by Jackie Joyner-Kersee, Dream Team III and Kip Keino (1,500 meter run, 1968) spreads to every community and household. We have much to learn about producing this same amount of enthusiasm for identifying and developing gifted children. The seven points described above should be carefully analyzed by every educator concerned with the future of gifted education in their community. Let us emulate the Olympians’ emphasis on excellence to gain more citizen support for educating the gifted. The Olympic spirit needs to spread across athletic boundaries to the realm of the intellect. This can occur when we use the lessons learned from the Olympics of ancient Greece and the modern Olympics of 1896-1996.

This issue of GEPQ includes articles by British and Canadian authors. Pauline Bottrill is a citizen of the United Kingdom who resides in Bethesda, Maryland. Following in the tradition of the imaginative 19th century English design and crafts expert, William Morris, she writes about design education for gifted students. The second article by Ross Butchart of Vancouver, British Columbia discusses the advantages of using that old standby, the newspaper, to teach social issues and history in a differentiated curriculum. Michael Walters writes about the gifted American author, Ellen Glasgow.

Maurice Fisher, Ph.D., Publisher






Since working in Fairfax County Virginia, I have noted that some Gifted and Talented Program activities bear a relationship to what I would term design education activity. Teachers in this program develop multiple intelligences and cognitive ability, and involve students in practical, process based multi-disciplinary learning activity. Design edu-cation may not be a familiar area to United States educators. But the focus on developing students’ creative thinking and learning skills is similar to the objectives of a gifted program. One reason that this area has grown is because the typical compartmentalized curriculum does not reflect real world problems and practices. Designing as an integrative activity draws on knowledge from many subjects as well as knowledge and skills intrinsic to designing.

Design education is an embryonic field of study which has gained some recognition in the United Kingdom in the past decade. A design approach to learning is being developed in some technology education programs in the United States. In England and Wales, the development of design capability is a vital component of the National Curriculum for Technology for all children from 5-16 years (Depart-ment for Education, Wales, 1995).

There are some aspects of design education which might be of interest to teachers of the gifted. A knowledge of the structure and evaluation of design education activity could support teachers in their differentiated program.

First, I shall give a synopsis of design theory which has informed the development of design education activity. I shall outline the emergence of design education in the curriculum.

Secondly, I shall characterize designing activity both inside and outside of school. Professional designers are the keys to understanding the nature of design activity in real world situations. They use expert ability to do their job for which they were trained and have learned by experience. In this section, I shall compare the behavior of expert designers with some emergent design thinking in young children based on research.

A major area of concern for developing process-based learning has been the creation of appropriate assessment models. In this regard, I shall present a model for obser-ving children’s design thinking. I suggest that teachers might consider the characteristic behavior of expert designers when attempting to monitor student ability.


Design and Designing

The term ‘design’ and ‘designing’ when used as a verb is characterized by the intentional and purposeful activity of human beings, with their conception, resolution and realization of future configurations of the made world.

At one end of a spectrum, designing involves a broad field of human response to the physical environment using whatever resources that are available. At the other end, designing embraces fields as diverse as architecture, graphics, communication and media design, fashion in-dustry, engineering, and corporate business. We all have some practical experience of designing in our everyday lives, but designing is also a specialized talent. Some people are more gifted in this area, but the knowledge and skill of design and designing may be taught.

Design Activity versus Design Education Activity

Roberts and Archer (1992, p. 3) make a distinction between design activity and design educational activity:

"Design activity, when distinguished from design- educational activity, is directed towards the manipulation of things and systems so as to achieve the most acceptable and practicable fit between a particular set of desires and needs, on the one hand, and a particular means of fulfilling them, on the other." Design activity, they state: "is more concerned with the attainment of a result than with the acquisition of knowledge."

"Design educational activity is concerned not only with achieving an effective result, it is also concerned with the development of the pupils’ knowledge and understanding. This knowledge and understanding is to do with self, self in relation to made things and systems, and the appreciation of the effect of his or her own, and other people’s activity in and on the world."

In the examples discussed in this article, the purpose of the design activity is to develop the student’s knowledge and skill as well as to achieve an effective result. In terms of assessment, both the product (or outcomes of the activity) and the process need to be evaluated.

Design as a Basic Intelligence

The idea that designing is a fundamental human intelligence has been founded on the theory that:

● all human beings have a capacity to design;

● designing has its own way of knowing and is as basic as language and number.

Human Capacity

In order to design, human beings need to use several characteristics which Donaldson (1992) describes as making us human. Apart from our ability to use language and develop tools, human beings:

● are highly prolific ‘intention generators’ setting goals of diverse kinds;

● make choices and can pursue a course of action with tenacity;

● consider novel and purposeful outcomes to their actions;

● are good at thinking of possible future states;

● can consider what is and what might be.

Donaldson adds that: ”although we live in a world of hard fact we can imagine the world changed and within limits we know we can change it, - some recognition of possibility is activated when we start to ask questions.”

Cognitive Modelling

Our capacity to respond actively and intentionally to the physical environment, to create purposeful outcomes and possible future states, is driven by distinct abilities. A key to this ability is the development of cognitive modelling:

‘The expression cognitive modelling is intended to refer to the basic process by which the human mind construes sense experience to build a coherent conception of external reality and construct further conceptions of memory and imagination. The expression imaging is intended to refer to that part of cognitive modelling which construes sense data and constructs representations spatially and presentationally rather than discursively and sequentially." (Archer, 1992 cited in Bottrill, 1995).

A Third Culture

Archer (1976) believes that: "there exists a designerly way of thinking and communicating that is different from scientific and scholarly ways of thinking." Archer suggested that before the demise of the crafts and the dominance of the universities, the 3Rs meant: reading and writing, reckoning and figuring, and wroughting and wrighting. (Wroughting means knowing how things are brought about and wrighting, how to act in order to bring them about.) The change from a craft-based design process to a more conscious theory-based approach to design led to the academic study of design. It is perhaps no accident that a third culture alluded to here is that of technology. A.N. Whitehead (1932) for example suggested that:

There are three main roads along which we can proceed with good hope of advancing towards the best balance of intellect and character: these are the way of literary culture, the way of scientific culture and the way of technical culture. No one of these methods can be exclusively followed without the grave loss of intellectual activity and of character.

The culture of the technology is that of the designer. Technology involves a synthesis of knowledge and skill from both the arts and the sciences. Cross (1982) char-acterized some of the designerly ways that distinguish the activity of designers from individuals who work in the humanities and sciences.

Design and Technology in the National Curriculum in England and Wales

The movement for recognition of design as a discipline took place in the 1960s (Conference of Design Methods). The history of this movement is reported by Cross (1992). Design education emerged in the early 1960s largely in Britain through identifying the educational potential of, and value of cross-curricular approaches to design, and designing in craft-based subjects. Today design and technology are included in the National Curriculum of Great Britain for all children. The belief is that learning design and technology at school helps young people for living and working in a technological world by: a) technical understanding of design methods and developing skills needed to produce practical solutions to real problems; and b) stimulating both intellectual and creative abilities and developing personal qualities needed to complete design ideas from initial ideas to finished outcomes. Children are not just taught about design and about technology; they are expected to develop design and technology capability.

"Pupils should be taught to develop their Design and Technology capability by combining their designing and making skills with knowledge and understanding to design and make products." ( DES, 1992).

Design Activity

Outside of school, activity closely related to the behavior of designers can be seen in the actions of young children. This example has the ingredients of a design activity:

Context - small boy and his companion playing with a model sailing boat;

Content - the important task for them is launching, relaunching, perfecting and testing the launch;

System as Product - they are designing a system that would work by trimming and testing the sails, adjusting and readjusting the rudder;

Evaluation - the aim is to achieve a perfect launching, to capture the wind and water, meet the objective and haul the yacht on its rollers back up the sand...and start all over again.

There are several processes involved in designing. The main principles of a design activity are exhibited in the boys’ actions:

● responding to an identified or perceived need (to control the performance of a model sailing boat);

● creating something which did not previously exist or modifying something (this activity in-volved modifying a system of launching to achieve a satisfactory solution);

● communicating thoughts and action using models and codes (the boys communicated their thoughts and ideas through words and demon-strative action; the boat is a model, but for the children it represented the real thing )

● attaining an intentional outcome even though it may be ill-defined (can only be determined in this case by the behavior of the boys which was deliberate and purposeful );

● following a coherent and structured course of action which is interactive (the rules of the action were being created by the boys through the course of the action; there was a pattern of trying something out, evaluating it, trying another way - this is the basis of design methodology);

● taking place over time (in this case the subjects were involved for two hours of concentrated action; design processes take place over time );

● being manifested within a system of values (the kinds of values observed were: technical quality, aesthetic judgments and skills; the object was to achieve perfection. Other value systems are ethical, political, moral, economic, cultural and social );

● reaching an outcome was a compromise of the accumulative demands of the activity (each attempt was subject to the elements of wind, water and density of sand, and to human error in adjusting the model );

● justifying the outcome by the results or justi-fying the results (in this case a result is the perfection of a system that works. One would need to ask the boys who were also the clients whether this worked; perhaps they did capture a perfect solution, then again when they try another day the tides and wind will have changed). (in Bottrill, 1995).

Design Education Activity

Simulating a Design Situation in the Classroom

A teacher will need to simulate a creative opportunity for students in a classroom situation. For example:

Context - classroom environment with the students working individually, in pairs or small groups;

Content - space inside and outside a box presented as a challenge or a problem to be solved;

Product - make a box into something else;

Objective -

● Select a box from those available and discuss the form and the shape;

● Talk about what you could make the box into (use imagination and creative thought) and decide what will be made (purposeful outcome);

● Generate goals by asking questions about what might be, or the process underlying the task;

Evaluation -

● State what has changed;

● Describe what happens on the outside and/or the inside of your box.

Materials - Provide boxes and cartons of varied sizes (one for each child), construction paper, pencils, glue, scissors, crayons, paint, yarn, tape, hole puncher, etc.

Two Gifted and Talented Activities

Some Gifted and Talented activities I have observed exhibit aspects of design educational learning. Two examples from a grade 1 class which illustrate this are:

The students had been given a large rectangle of black construction paper and Six x Three color squares. The instruction was to use all the squares to make a pattern on the black paper. Each student was to spend time arranging and rearranging patterns, then they were to read the sequence verbally to the teachers or the teacher assistant before sticking down the shapes. A note was then attached to the work for the parents saying:

"Today we had a lesson with Mrs. X. . . .and made patterns. Ask me about the patterns I created."

This was a simple design to create a pattern. It is the type of basic activity that a textile designer would do in a design studio. It involves a process, and working toward a goal. There is no right answer. The designer will select the most appropriate solution to meet his or her needs.

The activity was presented to develop knowledge and skill. The purpose of the activity, from the teacher’s point of view, was to gain insight into the kinds of thinking skills that these students possessed. The class teacher assisted in recording evidence of thinking through a check list. In this instance, the teacher was especially interested to elicit novel and original responses to the task.

In a second activity in a grade 1 classroom: The students were shown examples of simple machines such as an electric toaster, a pencil sharpener, and a mechanical food whisk. The teacher encouraged them to talk about these objects. The students were able to recall knowledge about these machines from memory and experience. They were asked to think about how the object might function. They were in fact being asked to evaluate a designed product.

All human-made products, systems and environments are to some extent designed by people for their needs and to solve their problems. All the artifacts that the students examined were designed. Knowledge is embedded in all the human-made world. Without design there would be no clothes, books, floors or pavements (Perkins, 1982). In each object the students examined, there is a story about who made it, and why and how it was made. In working on this problem, they had to think about the object and make a value judgment about the objects’ technical function, aesthetic appearance, social needs, cultural differences, etc.

The teacher was looking for the level of perceptual awareness. The students were being evaluated through a check list for signs of divergent thinking, risk taking, etc. Some students showed by their comments that they had already acquired considerable knowledge and experience of these machines. Some were hesitant to venture any information while others showed great curiosity and wanted to know: “ what if ---- we tried this or turned that?”

All the students were asked to design a machine that could be used to sow seeds. The purpose of this task was to see if they understood the concept of machines, i.e., a machine is a device created by people to help them and other people. Through this activity the students were developing design awareness and applying design ability to a given task. Having examined the real objects, the students might have been able to identify the design needs or problem for themselves. However, with the constraint on time, full development and evaluation was not possible although this is the area of greatest learning potential.

Professional Designers and What They Do When They Design

Investigations of what designers do when they design have been made by architects and engineers such as Darke (1979), Lawson (1980) and Akin (1984) as a means of making improvements in design procedures in pro-fessional practice. Much of the literature in this field was initiated through the debate between science and design methodology, and attempts to construct various forms of design science by Simon (1969), March (1976) and others. My concern has been to know more about the techniques of designers for the following reasons: firstly, to help children think and act by finding out how their ability to design develops; and secondly, to help teachers assess designing activity.

Darke (1979) was writing at a time when a systematic procedure of design was presumed to be an objective analysis-synthesis approach. She conducted interviews with architects in support of a conjecture-analysis approach to designing. She found that architects formulate a limit very early in the process and set limited objectives. These objectives are a starting point for the architect and a way into the design. This observation was based on the way the architects in her study took some features of the site they were developing as a 'primary generating' factor in the design. She believes that designers have to do this in order to find a way of reducing the various possible solutions.

In the G/T lesson on patterns reported above, one of the boys noticed that “a pattern goes straight and diagonal.” He was making a statement that could become his ‘primary generator.’ He is a divergent thinker, more concerned with the problem than the goal.

The students must arrange 18 squares of paper in 3 colors into a pattern sequence on a rectangular piece of construction paper. The emphasis is on exploration and the chosen solution must include every shape. B1 says: "A pattern goes straight and diagonal."He explores and plays with the squares and makes approximately 20 different ideas. ( B1. 6. 1 yrs.)

Lawson (1980) devised controlled experiments which he performed on 5th year architectural students and 5th year science students that involved various construction tasks using colored blocks. One of his interesting results was an analysis of the different problem-solving strategies between the groups. The scientists adopted a procedure which was aimed at uncovering the problem structure. The architects generated a sequence of solution attempts until one proved acceptable. One approach was ‘problem focused’ (scien-tists) and the other ‘solution focused’ (designers).

Different approaches to the problem-solving task can be seen in my research: for example, B1 ( see above) shows a divergent approach and is preoccupied with the problem, while B3 takes a more convergent solution approach to the same task. He focuses on finding an acceptable solution and not on exploration.

B3 finds a solution which is acceptable to him quite rapidly and sticks down his response with glue. (5.9 yrs.)

Akin (1979) attempted to study a more nebulous aspect of designing, ‘intuitive design’ - the natural behavior of designers compared with systematic design methods and computer aided designing. Akin identified a hierarchy of design strategies, beginning with setting up the design context, followed by searching for sub-solutions. He reports that analysis takes place at all stages but that synthesis occurred quite early in the task. A feature, he reports is the generation of new task goals and redefinition of task constraints. Designers start at any point and move toward the goal by pursuing small improvements. Like Darke, he found that the systematic procedure of analysis - synthesis and evaluation seems inappropriate and did not reflect his experience of design behavior.

In the school context, I found that groups of children working together (for example: B3 and B1 playing with LEGO and K'NEX ) in the context of free choice activity were more likely to mirror what Akin termed as ‘the natural behavior of designers,’ (characterized by the behavior of two boys playing on the beach reported previously). In schools generally a problem-solving, objective, systems approach to practical tasks has been prevalent, which owes more to Simon (1969) and his followers than to what designers say they do.

B3 starts by collecting three (LEGO) models that he had made previously.

"Let’s make a vehicle" he says to another boy. They explore the manipulative box of K'NEX, turning wheels and testing them. B3 says he did not use K'NEX much last year. They choose and connect parts that will turn. B3 adds a part to his friend’s model, who in turn says he does not need it. B3 says: "Let’s - it’s cool."........................... B3 is very proud of the structure and can now turn it at its base. He shows the others "how cool it is." His friend has connected his model to his and they explain how it will work: "When the wind catches this one it helps the other to turn. It grinds and helps to make electricity!" ( B3. 6.6 yrs.)

Archer (1984) an engineer and academic noted in his studies of designers that they start with a general idea (B3 had a notion of what he wanted to achieve) and work toward a particular problem or need. While designing may be problem focused, designing activity does not necessarily start with a problem or solve a problem. Some design tasks are ill-defined. Designers are called to present the most satisfactory or apposite solution to their client. Designers have to make choices and work with incomplete information. With the children there was little shortage of general ideas, and sometimes they were ill-defined.

An important skill for designers is to be able to look at a situation from a fresh viewpoint. One girl who was working with the G/T teacher to create pattern arrangements with squares of paper remarked: "I’m not using them." She rejected the orange shapes. (G3. 5.8 yrs). This student was generating her own idea. My suspicion (unproved) is that this is difficult for many children; for one reason it requires taking risks. Jones (1979) points out:

"Creativity is not so much having good ideas as being willing to attempt what is unfamiliar and being willing to change one’s mind."

Sometimes it is also necessary to let children at times develop a mind of their own. G3 was matching wooden shapes on a card in a prescribed task. Which one are you doing? "I’m doing my own." Instead of placing the shapes flat she was building them up into a relief pattern. ( G3. 5.8 yrs.)

Jones (1979) and Rowe (1987) state that one of the most inventive aspects of designing is redefining the task or the problem. This is an example of novel transfer of knowledge:

B2 and another boy have been doing a math activity with red and yellow Unifix cubes and egg cartons, in which they were estimating quantities of more and less. When they had finished, they started to play: "Here’s a hot dog with less ketchup and more mustard." ( 5.10 yrs.)

Levin (1966 in Cross, 1990) suggests that a designer through generating and testing solutions can recognize a missing ingredient and can apply the power of conjecture and original thought to the task. This involves a system of ordering.

The teacher can nurture children’s embryonic but ill-formed ideas. They can foster in children strategies where they can restate their problem and need through evaluating what they have achieved. Problem evaluating and solving have to be integral to the whole design process. I have made some observations where one teacher has successfully achieved this goal with her grade 1 students. In her class, I was able to see how the peer group played a vital role in the design decision and in the problem and solution defining process. In this instance the problem has been restated and the student encouraged to make a new challenge:

B1 had made a robot out of K'NEX, he planned to make a drawing of his robot.

He would do this so others could recreate his construction. He counted the parts he has used and he took a different crayon for each color and wrote for example, GRAY 6. Near to completing his plan, he had written the details on a sheet of white paper and it was color coded. ( B1. 6.9 yrs.).

Jones (1979) makes an important point:

"Designing today is not a simple in-out process of one person. It is a concerted effort of a whole group of people, especially when the thing to be designed is outside the experience of one person."

Thomas and Carroll (1979) developed a wide range of observation and experimental design studies. During the course of their studies, they modified their view that designing is a form of problem-solving for ill-defined problems to the opinion that designing is essentially a way of looking at a problem.

Assessing Design Activity

The rationale for designing activity in schools is concerned not so much for achieving effective results, but with the development of children’s knowledge and understanding. This has implications for assessment.

The assessment of thought processes involved in designing within craft and design subjects in British schools led to the commission of a report: ‘Design in General Education’ (Archer 1976). Also, in the 1970s, there was an increased awareness for accountability in education. The Assessment of Performance Unit was established to monitor students’ performance in the curriculum in 1975. In 1981, the Assessment Performance Unit (APU) were given a brief to consider among other aspects of learning: how design might be assessed. The notion emerged that through design (and technology) a variety of types of knowledge and skills were embedded in the procedural activity itself. I have made use of some of the tools from this discussion document for my observation instrument of young children learning through designing.

This project by the APU and another in 1991 (Kimbell, et al.) contributed to the framework for the design component of the National Curriculum for Technology in England and Wales (1990).

As stated previously, our capacity to respond actively and intentionally to the physical environment, to create purposeful outcomes and possible future states is driven by distinct abilities. In order to observe the development of children’s cognitive ability, I devised an observation tool. I identified a number of key designerly thinking skills which were included on the Leaner Profile Observations chart. It shows six groups of abilities: Perceiving, Imaging, Modeling, Questioning, Planning and Organization, and Evaluating. Each set has four observable activities. These observables are based on a framework for identifying design abilities discussed in the APU document (1981, Table I, page 3). Design is essentially about change and future possibility. I therefore incorporated the ‘4 MAT System’ (McCarthy, 1980) as an additional set of obser-vables.

As it was difficult at times to follow the actions of several children in one classroom, I found an assessment tool by Sunburst to be invaluable in helping the collection and organization of data. The Sunburst instrument is used in conjunction with a hand held Apple Newton to collect the data. This versatile tool allowed me to add additional observables and to annotate notes about the children.

I did not require a qualifier for my study as I was looking for student capacity to design. A qualifier would be needed to gauge student ability.

Design activity requires students to use all the six groups in the Learner Profile in proceeding toward a purposeful goal. There is no hierarchy in the order of the activity. Students need to be given an opportunity to identify needs, generate ideas and goals, plan and make an outcome, and evaluate and test the ideas in the course of the action. Teachers seeking to identify student capability in designing situations could establish criteria based on the behavior of expert designers. Are students capable of ?......

● generating ideas /setting limited objectives;

● developing solution goal /oriented approaches;

● starting with a general idea and working toward solution;

● working with and resolving ill defined tasks/ tolerating uncertainty/taking risks;

● redefining the task /generating new task goals;

● taking a systematic course of action;

● producing novel, unexpected solutions;

● analyzing at all stages;

● using non verbal, graphic media as a modeling tool and as a means of solving problems.


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The photograph shows a young man standing curbside on the Stanley Park Causeway - a main artery on the daily commute to and from Vancouver. He is clean-cut, displays an engaging smile to the passing motorists, and looks very dapper in his conservative business suit. He is also holding up a very large home-made sign which reads: URGENTLY REQUIRE JOB TO SUPPORT YOUNG FAMILY. PHONE RICK AT 260-0001

The caption further explains how this young man's department had been eliminated during a corporate restructuring, and how he has spent the previous thirteen months vainly seeking employment. In desperation he could think of no other way to advertise his plight than to make himself a visible attraction to commuter traffic at 7:30 in the morning.

A bizarre story? Perhaps. But it was featured - comprising about one-quarter of the front page - in my daily newspaper one morning this past summer. And it is also typical of the type of article a skillful teacher can use to make learning 'come alive' for gifted students.

For example, she can challenge her students with questions such as: If you were the owner of a small self-operated business and require a new employee to find new markets for your products, would you consider hiring this young man? Why? How would you recognize whether your motives were based on your sympathy, or his merit? Do this young man's actions reflect his desperation or his resourcefulness? Does this matter that much? What further information would you want to know about this young man before you would consider hiring him?

Of course, questions such as these only relate to this specific story. But the ideas and understandings contained within the answers are not limited to this single incident. In fact, many emerge that when formulated into further questions can lead students to look both within and beyond themselves to explore a variety of directions. For example:

What is the unemployment rate in your city today? What are its causes? Is this greatly changed from a decade ago? What is the relationship between unemployment and other social malaises such as alcoholism, poverty, domestic violence, and increased crime? Has improved technology contributed to or detracted from making a 'healthier' environment in the workplace? Indeed, has it increased or decreased overall social benefits? What obligations, if any, should a business organization have toward its employees?

More so in recent years than during the early part of my career I have found the daily newspaper to be a valuable resource. As one of the most inclusive textbooks ever written - a true textbook of life - it offers tremendous possibilities for the gifted student. Always topical and available six days a week for nominal cost, its pages contain every motive governing human behaviour, every theme known to world literature, and every personality recognized in human nature. It deals with the serious, the joyful, the tragic, the humorous, the bizarre. It has style, tone, and bias. It is a self-contained library of prose, letters, essays, interviews, journals, photographs, diagrams, graphs, and cartoons. Indeed, it encompasses the passions of psychology to the impact of ideas, the essence of emotion to the subtleties of style. It can be used for great educational benefit.

Studies that students can undertake using the newspaper are virtually unlimited. Activities such as having them place on a world map the names of all cities where feature stories occur over a given period of time (geography), finding an example where each of four different number systems appears (mathematics), writing a letter to the editor (composition), and reassembling four cut-up Peanuts cartoons (sequencing) are examples not without their challenges. They are also somewhat common. So what I propose instead is to suggest several theme areas more appropriate as enrichment pursuits for gifted students and to offer some guided questions and directed activities that I believe are more relevant and demanding.


● Follow (cut out, record) the three daily feature stories in your newspaper over a one month period of time.

- Create your own classification system and categorize each story. - What category received the most 'newsworthy' stories? Why do you think this category of news is the most reported? - What story remained the feature item for the most extended period of time? For how long did it remain a front page feature? Why, in your opinion, was it the most popular?

● In your opinion, do stories that appeal to the bizarre and the sensational (e.g., the O.J. Simpson trial) deserve extended media coverage? Why?/Why not?

● If you were responsible for selecting the "News Story of the Month," what criteria would you apply to your selection? - Make a list of your five priorities. Why did you select these -- justify your choices.

● If you were appointed the new editor-in-chief of your newspaper, what major change(s) would you make that, in your opinion, would improve it significantly? - Write to your newspaper and suggest they adopt this change(s) (However, don't be too surprised by their reaction).


● Select six major advertisements that appear in your newspaper on any given day. - Who is the target consumer for the product featured in each advertisement? - What technique(s) of persuasion dominate each advertisement? - How much space does each advertisement take up? What is the daily cost of each advertisement for the product's supplier? - Track one of these advertisements over time. How long did the advertising campaign for this product run? - Study the effects of advertising on the general public. How long should it take for the supplier to recoup the cost incurred through his advertising campaign?

● Select advertisements that target two consumer groups: (a) senior citizens, and (b) teenagers. - What consumer group is targeted most frequently? Which of these has the most disposable income? Is there an apparent contradiction in your findings? - What types of consumer items are targeted for each group? - How do the techniques of persuasion used in the advertisements differ for each consumer group?

● Design a newspaper advertisement for a new ice-cream product that would appeal to both consumer groups.


● The newspaper article explained how Mr. Xu, a 58-year-old farmer from a rural village in northern China, has eaten a live snake daily for the past 30 years. The western reporter who actually witnessed and was overwhelmed by its happening, wrote how he arrived just in time "to see the wiggling tail disappear into Mr. Xu's mouth." Furthermore, the article continues, Mr. Xu gives every appearance of being an extremely healthy man and feels his day would be lacking without his regular intake of live snake. - Pretend that you are a reporter assigned by a major wire service to conduct a live interview with Mr. Xu. List the first five questions that you would ask him. - With a classmate, roll play a fictitious three minute interview between yourself and Mr. Xu.

● The article reported how a businessman who accidentally locked himself out of his hotel room in southwestern England while he was nude used an American Express application form to cover up. Grabbing the leaflet from the hotel lobby, the embarrassed man ran to a nearby pay telephone to dial the police. They arrived to find him still clutching the "strategically placed" application. A spokes-man for American Express was quick on the uptake. "We cover all eventualities," he said. - We have all known or experienced embarrassing incidents. Write a short newspaper article relating an embarrassing moment you experienced or which happened to another person.

● The article reported how a taxi driver in Indonesia has gone to considerable extremes, including driving through the midst of a violent protest in downtown streets, to return the wallet (which contained a sizeable amount of money) to a client who had inadvertently left it in his car. Naturally the client was overjoyed at the taxi driver's honesty and gave him a small cash reward in appreciation.

What makes this story intriguing, however, is how the taxi driver was excoriated by his wife for his honesty when he arrived home and told her his story. In no uncertain terms he was told how stupid he was to return money that was rightfully his, given the stupidity of his client for misplacing it : Comment on the attitude and behaviour of both the taxi driver and his wife.


Incredibly, each school year some story always seems to emerge as a recurring issue. Recently, such matters as bizarre weather patterns and their consequences, unprovoked attacks by pit bull terriers, and overreaction by people to minor incidents (I well remember the story where a shopper in a grocery store pursued another customer - hurling invectives, and finally a can of stewed tomatoes at him - all because of an accidental brushing of their shopping carts in the aisle) have dominated newspapers in many parts of the world, and for an extended length of time.

As a long-term project, students can document such incidents, in some cases speculate as to the reason(s) for their sudden emergence, and even consider the following:

- Does 'news' tend to perpetuate itself?


At the time of this writing, two newspapers I receive have initiated a special three part series to investigate an area of specific concern to each. In a series titled, "Warning: Pilot Error,” USA Today is focusing on the failure of regional airlines to train their pilots adequately and the potential for disaster this holds. Similarly, my local newspaper, The Vancouver Sun, is featuring a series titled "Gambling Halls" in which they outline recent reforms to public education mandated by the provincial government and analyze the pros and cons of some possible consequences.

Comparing the format, style, and bias of such feature items holds tremendous potential as a project for gifted students. Once they have accumulated a number of special-feature series they can be challenged through directions such as:

What is the bias or "slant" taken by the newspaper with respect to the subject featured? How does the title of the series reflect this bias? Who were interviewed for the writing of this series? What positions of significance do they hold (political official, union leader, client of the service, etc.)? What do they have to gain or lose by supporting or rejecting this bias? Document the incidence of factual statements that can be supported by concrete evidence. Contrast these with documented opinions - comments that cannot be substantiated by hard evidence. Which of the two - fact or opinion - dominate the series? How does the use of photographs and/or cartoons contribute to the effectiveness of the series? Evaluate the overall effectiveness of the series. Did it fulfill its intent in a convincing and engaging fashion? Why?/Why not? Of all the feature-series you accumulated, which was the most effective and convincing? Why - what made it so?


Most newspapers maintain an excellent archive which, through the wonders of microfilm, is readily available to the public. What better way then to teach the continuity of history than to have students document historical, as well as other events in conjunction with their most personal interest -- themselves!

Challenge students to produce a personal time line, highlighting first their day of birth, followed by each subsequent fourth birthday. Each fourth-year account should answer questions such as: What was the headline story? What was the weather forecast? What was the most popular movie showing in the theatres? What musical group and/or song title was the most popular? How many deaths were reported? How many births? What was the price of a new car? A pair of jeans? A carton of milk? etc. By how much had this increased in four years? What was the major sports story? What was the topic of the lead editorial comment?

Once their time line of specific dates is complete, students can pursue more general concepts: Did the headline story on any one of your birthdays have any long-term historical significance? Explain. Did a story of 'secondary' importance have more significance in the long run? (While renovating my house a few years back, I discovered the front page of the daily newspaper published the day the workmen enclosed the walls and stuck it between the studs. The feature story was about Maurice Chevalier's role in a new movie. Ironically, another front page article of secondary significance gave a short account of the burning of the Reichstag in Berlin). Can you predict what the price of a carton of milk will be on your next birthday?


The newspaper can be more than just a daily read of the news events of our world and your community. I believe in the hands of a skilled teacher it has the potential to become the foundation of a complete curriculum. Cheap, topical, ever-changing -- its content not only permits the integration of many discrete subject areas, it also holds an appeal that, if judiciously used, can stimulate the interest, challenge the intellect, and enrich the experiences of gifted students of all ages and backgrounds.





“I would write, I resolve, as no Southerner had ever written, of the universal chords beneath the superficial variations of scene and character. I would write of all the harsher realities beneath matters, beneath social customs, beneath the poetry of the past, and romantic nostalgia of the present.” From The Woman Within (1954) by Ellen Glasgow.

From 1929 until the 1950s, there developed in the southern part of the United States a movement known as the Southern Renaissance. It was in response to the conflict of social values that occurred after the Civil War. Some of the world famous members of this literary awakening were William Faulkner, Thomas Wolfe, Eudora Welty, Robert Penn Warren and Ellen Glasgow. Although Glasgow was writing prior to 1929, her most significant novels were published after that period. Simultaneously, she also represents the upsurge of women authors who produced world famous American literature. These were besides herself, Willa Cather and Edith Wharton. The fact that Glasgow was a feminist is very important because her novels, while concerned with the impact of clinging to values of the Confederacy, also probe the rituals women were forced to perform in a value system known as Southern gentility. It is interesting to note that at the same time the nation was being enthralled by Margaret Mitchell’s Scarlett O’Hara, there was another woman writer (Glasgow) analyzing the social values of the same culture. For Glasgow, Scarlett O’Hara represented the behavior pattern she described as “evasive idealism.” The Southern Belle, the Southern Lady and the Southern Gentleman were archetypes that upheld the social values of the old South.

Glasgow grew up and lived most of her life in Richmond, Virginia where she enjoyed a period of being indulged as a Southern Belle. However, she was also committed to the values of being a writer and a person of literature. Therefore, she perceived her role as honestly portraying the false idealism and social repression behind Southern values near the turn of the century.

It is Ms. Glasgow’s artistry that is so noteworthy for the modern reader. She was able to make the reader get inside her characters and understand the social processes that created Southern archetypes. In The Sheltered Life (1932), she analyzed the psychic imprisonment of a beautiful Southern Belle: “Even in Queensborough, which contained as much laughter as any place of its size in the world, a celebrated belle and beauty could scarcely be expected to laugh by herself. Mirth required company, as Jenny Blair had learned long ago. . . .” The theme of this novel is that the values of the old South were based on the idea of “appearances being reality.” Clearly, reality is a combination of many things such as one’s perceptions, expectations and internal values. Women, despite being put on a pedestal, were objects of exploitation and forced to live their lives within very defined roles.

Gifted females will appreciate the literary struggles of Ellen Glasgow. Besides her novels, she wrote two non-fiction books that are full of insight concerning the literary development of a gifted female writer. One is a collection of prefaces to her novels, A Certain Measure (1943), which described how she composed them. The other is The Woman Within-- her intellectual memoir published posthumously in 1954. In this book, she described the struggles she had to undergo to maintain her identity as an individual. Alfred Kazin, the dean of contemporary American literary criticism, compared her to Chekhov. In the same fashion as this great Russian writer, she described the agony of living in a world of enormous social change. Ellen Glasgow needs to be rediscovered and appreciated as a great female writer in American literature.

Ellen Glasgow’s Books


(1) Virginia. 1913.

(2) Barren Ground. 1925.

(3) The Sheltered Life. 1932.

(4) Vein of Iron. 1935.

(5) In This Our Life. 1941. (She won a Pulitzer Prize for this novel.)

(6) The Collected Stories. 1963.


(1) A Certain Measure. 1943.

(2) The Woman Within. 1954.

(3) Letters. 1958.