GIFTED EDUCATION PRESS QUARTERLY
10201 YUMA COURT
P.O. BOX 1586
MANASSAS, VA 20108
VOLUME SEVEN, NUMBER TWO
LIFETIME SUBSCRIPTION: $22.00
By all indications from our friends and colleagues, most states and localities have again moved the gifted field to the bottom of the list of educational priorities. Mainly because of our relatively small numbers in comparison to other educational areas such as Chapter I and Special Education (Public Law 94-142) programs, we lack the necessary political clout to have a sustained influence upon most local school districts.
Our primary hope for survival is to gain new constituencies/advocates among parents of both gifted and non-gifted children, and among regular education teachers and administrators. How this support can be increased, amidst shriller calls for educational reform and shrinking school district budgets, should be a major topic of state and national conferences. We call upon the National Association for Gifted Children, the Office of Gifted and Talented Programs in the U.S. Department of Education, and the National Research Center on the Gifted and Talented to develop more effective strategies for "stating our case" to the general public, and for bringing parents, politicians and educators together to discuss how the gifted field can improve its chances of surviving the educational reform movement. This movement is currently disrupting the education of gifted children rather than improving it.
Here are some general recommendations for improving our "public relations image" and gaining more support from ordinary citizens: (1) Develop video presentations concerning the importance of gifted education which are targeted for state legislators, federal officials, parents and school officials; (2) Organize a public relations program in each state which targets local clubs such as Chambers of Commerce, Lions Clubs, etc.; (3) Organize a speakers bureau in each state which can send out individuals to address these and other groups; (4) Run community service announcements on radio and television concerning the need for gifted education programs; and (5) Contact local and national talk shows to organize discussions of the importance of gifted education. We are a relatively small group which is taking a defensive position regarding the survival of our field. Maybe our best defense would be to explain our case more thoroughly to the majority of school board members, politicians and ordinary citizens who will determine our future in the 1990s and beyond.
Our first article, by Susan Winebrenner and Barbara Devlin, addresses how gifted children can be most effectively taught in the regular classroom. Ms. Winebrenner is a full-time consultant from Lombard, IL who presents workshops on many topics for teachers at all grade levels. Her recent book is Teaching Gifted Kids in the Regular Classroom (Free Spirit Pub., 1992). While Dr. Devlin was a school administrator in Minnesota, she became familiar with Cluster Grouping, and has applied it in her current position as Superintendent of the Villa Park, IL School District.
The second article by Dr. E. Paul Torrance discusses a recurring problem in gifted education -- the need for identifying and teaching Creatively Gifted, Learning Disabled children. (This article originally appeared in The Education Forum, Volume 56(4), Summer 1992, and is presented here with Dr. Torrance's permission.) He provides fascinating autobiographical information in the context of this helpful and delightful article. Parents should find Dr. Torrance to be particularly informative because the type of gifted child which he describes will provide them with many exciting challenges and frustrations which are incongruent with their potential giftedness. The author is Alumni Distinguished Professor Emeritus at the University of Georgia. He is perhaps best known as founder of the Future Problem Solving Program and the author and developer of the Torrance Tests of Creative Thinking, the Incubation Model of Teaching, the Longitudinal Study of Creative Achievement, and his studies of creative behavior in more than twenty different cultures.
Dr. Michael Walters continues his incisive examination of great writers of English literature by discussing the work of a genius of detective stories, Agatha Christie. Parents and teachers can use Christie's writings to develop reasoning skills and a liking for good stories.
Maurice D. Fisher, Ph.D., Publisher
THE PRACTICE OF CLUSTER GROUPING: PROVIDING FULL-TIME EDUCATIONAL SERVICES FOR GIFTED STUDENTS
SUSAN WINEBRENNER, PRESIDENT
EDUCATION CONSULTING SERVICE
BARBARA DEVLIN, SUPERINTENDEN
VILLA PARK SCHOOL DISTRICT
Du PAGE COUNTY, ILLINOIS
Gifted programs are in great peril. The atypical learning needs of gifted students are being overlooked because our public schools are floundering in a flood of restructuring practices which focus on ending all tracking and ability grouping. Throughout the United States, budgets for gifted programs have been slashed, and administrators find it politically incorrect to continue to support special services for identified gifted students. (Silverman, 1991). The research on tracking and ability grouping has been misinterpreted to imply that all students, including the gifted, learn better in mixed-ability classes. Something must be done now to allow gifted students to work together in conditions which maximize their learning potential and provide opportunities for all other students to move up to higher levels of learning. Even if it is true that students of most ability levels can learn more effectively in heterogeneous groups, the needs of the gifted to learn with students of similar ability should not be sacrificed. It is indefensible to lower the learning outcomes for gifted students in the name of "coercive egalitarianism." (Schroeder- Davis, 1993). For years, practices that were used with gifted students in pull-out or resource programs have found their way into regular classroom practice. It is possible to continue this trend by making gifted educational practices available for more students rather than taking those practices away from gifted students who need them. The cluster grouping concept provides an acceptable compromise to this dilemma.
WHAT DOES IT MEAN TO PLACE GIFTED STUDENTS IN CLUSTER GROUPS?
A group of four to six identified students in a given grade level or subject area, usually those in the top 5% of the grade level population in ability, are clustered in a classroom of one teacher who has had special training in how to teach gifted students. The other students in that class are heterogeneously mixed. The size of the cluster group should not exceed six students, so in bigger schools where there are many sections of a grade level or academic class, more than one cluster may need to be formed. This is in contrast to the usual practice of distributing gifted students among all classes.
ISN'T CLUSTER GROUPING THE SAME AS TRACKING?
No, they are different. In a tracking system, all students are grouped by ability for much of the school day, and students tend to remain in the same track or level throughout their school experience. In some schools, the practice of tracking results in classes where all students are struggling to learn, and where positive modeling for learning may be absent. For a variety of reasons, present educational practice appears to favor placing all students in totally heterogeneous groups, with learning needs of gifted students assumed to be the same as the needs of students who are learning at or below grade level. It is a serious mistake to make that assumption. Research by Kulik and Kulik (1990) documents the fact that gifted students benefit from learning together, and need to be placed with students of similar ability in their areas of strength. The practice of cluster grouping of gifted students allows them to work with their intellectual peers in their areas of learning strength, while avoiding permanent grouping arrangements for students of other ability levels. When cluster grouping for the gifted is used, all students are more likely to be placed in appropriate learning environments.
WHY SHOULD GIFTED STUDENTS BE ASSIGNED TO A CLUSTER, RATHER THAN BE DISTRIBUTED EVENLY TO ALL CLASSES?
When teachers try to meet the diverse learning needs of all students, it becomes extremely difficult to provide adequately for everyone. Often, the highest ability students are expected to "make it on their own." Usually, students who are getting high grades appear to be learning. Ironically, the students in heterogeneous groups who are at greatest risk of learning the least amount in a given course or school year are those who are in the top 5% of a particular class. This is because teachers tend to teach to the middle of a diverse group. Paying attention to students who appear to be doing just fine may seem unnecessary. However, when a teacher has several gifted students and has been trained to understand and accommodate their special learning needs, compacting and differentiation for those students are much more likely to occur. Furthermore, the social and emotional problems that occur when gifted students struggle to understand why they seem so different from their age peers may be avoided. Gifted students will actually remain more humble when they have consistent academic competition. When they are in situations in which they usually complete their work ahead of all others with great ease, the likelihood of developing a more arrogant attitude is much greater. The work of Kulik and Kulik (1990) has proven that gifted students in special programs or groups clearly demonstrate positive gains in achievement.
WHAT ARE THE SPECIAL LEARNING NEEDS OF GIFTED STUDENTS?
Since these students have usually mastered many of the concepts they are expected to "learn" in a given class, a huge part of their school time may be wasted. They need only what all other students need; consistent opportunity to learn new material and to develop the behaviors that allow them to cope with the challenge and struggle of mastering unfamiliar and difficult concepts. They need to be able to demonstrate which concepts and skills they have already mastered. They need the regular curriculum compacted into a shorter time period to allow them to "buy time" for differentiated learning opportunities that are more complex and challenging (Reis and Renzulli, 1992). They need opportunities to learn new materials at a faster pace than their age peers. They need opportunities for meaningful and relevant independent study in their regular school experience which allows them to include topics they are passionate about. They need to consistently experience the struggle which should accompany real learning, and to take pride in staying with difficult tasks until mastery is achieved. No teacher would purposefully destroy a student's self-esteem. Yet it is true that "The surest path to high self- esteem is to be successful at tasks one perceived would be difficult." (Rimm, 1986). Since we value strong self-esteem for all students, we must apply this principle to assure that gifted students are maintaining theirs through consistent struggle with a challenging curriculum. Most of all, gifted students need to be able to feel that it's OK for them to learn in different ways than their age peers rather than feeling pressured to be more "normal" or average.
CAN'T THESE SPECIAL LEARNING NEEDS BE MET IN HETEROGENEOUS CLASSES THAT USE COOPERATIVE LEARNING?
Not really. Cooperative learning is an excellent learning technique for most students. However, people are more likely to agree to cooperate when they perceive the task at hand is too difficult for them to do alone. Therefore, cooperative learning works best when all participants can learn better together. In actual practice, many of the tasks given to cooperative learning groups are too simple to represent real learning for gifted students. When they are always placed in mixed-ability groups for cooperative learning, these students frequently become either bosses or tutors. Sometimes, the other students come to rely on the gifted to do most of the thinking and directing for the group, and may actually learn less or feel less competent than when the gifted students are not in their cooperative groups. In addition, the practice of group-grades is almost always problematic for the highest ability student in the group, since such students are often robbed of a higher grade they could have earned themselves because someone in the group did not meet the teacher's expectations. Yet gifted students must learn how to work with students of various abilities and develop the team skills required in the world of work. How is the teacher to use the best practice in these situations?
One effective way is to consider the nature of the cooperative task or activity before assigning students to their cooperative group. If the task is of a drill and practice type in which students are reviewing or studying at the knowledge and comprehension thinking levels, it is best to place the gifted students in their own group and present them with an appropriately challenging extension of the regular task. For example, if the class is working to answer comprehension questions for a novel the entire class is reading, the gifted students might be working on creating questions for upcoming chapters, investigating the author's style, or reading other books of a similar nature. All other students are placed in heterogeneous cooperative learning groups. When gifted students work in their own cooperative learning groups from time to time, other students learn to rely less on the gifted students and become more active learners.
In situations where the task for cooperative learning is open-ended, requires divergent thinking, and represents the higher levels of thinking, gifted students may be placed in mixed-ability cooperative learning groups.
The research on cooperative learning for the gifted is meager and misleading. Although its proponents (Johnson and Johnson, 1992) claim the benefits outweigh the disadvantages, it is hard to find gifted students who appreciate working in groups which slow down their own learning or in which they are expected to do most of the work (Matthews, 1992). Robert Slavin (1990) rarely mentions in his prolific writings that gifted students have been omitted from his research base; yet he claims that cooperative learning is beneficial for them. Although the Johnsons continue to maintain that the learning of gifted students is enhanced when they have to explain what they know to others, one wonders how adults would better understand completely mastered ideas by teaching them to novices. Improved understanding is more likely to occur when teaching a concept with which one is still struggling. To place gifted students in cooperative learning situations in which they are the only ones not learning new ideas is reverse discrimination. To demonstrate through inappropriate cooperative learning practices that in school, almost all students are expected to learn, while gifted children are expected to teach, is to rob the gifted of their inherent right to experience meaningful learning.
HOW CAN GIFTED STUDENTS BE EFFECTIVELY IDENTIFIED FOR THE CLUSTER GROUP?
Your school's cluster group or groups should contain students in the top 5% of the student body. These are students whose learning needs are atypical from their age peers. It is critically important to use a variety of identification methods. Although standardized ability and achievement tests provide some useful information, careful observation and identification by teachers who have had training in gifted education should have significant influence (Fisher, 1992). It is important to remember that many gifted learners are not necessarily high achievers or good test-takers. Some have become non-productive because they are bored and frustrated by work that is too easy for them. Some come from backgrounds that do not provide the experiences needed to score high on standardized test results.
WHAT SPECIFIC SKILLS ARE NEEDED BY CLUSTER TEACHERS?
Since the gifted are as far removed from the "norm" as the learning disabled, it is equally necessary for teachers of all exceptional children to have special training in gifted education. Teachers of gifted students must know how to:
● recognize and nurture "gifted" behaviors
● understand the social emotional needs of gifted youngsters
● find ways to compact the curriculum by allowing students to demonstrate prior mastery
● have them spend less time on grade level work, and more time on appropriately challenging alternatives (differentiation)
● provide opportunities for faster pacing of new material
● maintain an appropriate scope and sequence of the entire curriculum
● incorporate students' passionate interests into their independent studies
● facilitate sophisticated research investigations
● provide flexible grouping and re-grouping opportunities for the entire class
SHOULD WE PLACE OTHER HIGH ABILITY STUDENTS IN THE SAME CLASS AS THE IDENTIFIED GIFTED?
Typical practices create a cluster group of identified gifted students and place them in an otherwise heterogeneous class. In large schools, where there are five or more sections of a class or grade level, there may be enough gifted students to make up an entire class. Since there will be many high ability students left in the other sections to provide positive role modeling, it is acceptable to create a separate class for the gifted. In most schools, however, grouping all the high ability students in one section might create situations in which other classes may appear to have no students who can provide "learning sparks" for others. In these cases, it is best to use the model that clusters four to six identified gifted students in otherwise heterogeneous groups.
ISN'T IT ELITIST TO PROVIDE FOR THE NEEDS OF GIFTED STUDENTS IF OTHER STUDENTS CAN'T GET THEIR LEARNING NEEDS MET AS WELL?
It is inequitable to prevent gifted students from receiving an appropriately challenging education until other students get their learning needs met. This would be egalitarianism at its worst! (Fiedler, Lange & Winebrenner, 1993). The practice of cluster grouping for gifted students allows educators to come much closer to providing better educational services for all students, instead of sacrificing the needs of gifted students to the false perception that our educational system must choose which students to serve and which to ignore. Furthermore, in classrooms without clusters of gifted students, teachers actually have more time to attend to the learning needs for students who may be struggling with the learning process. For that reason, some schools that use cluster grouping choose not to place students with serious learning disabilities in the same classroom with the cluster group.
IF GIFTED STUDENTS ARE NOT PLACED IN SOME CLASSES, WON'T THOSE CLASSES LACK POSITIVE ROLE MODELS FOR ACADEMIC AND SOCIAL LEADERSHIP?
Teachers overwhelmingly report that new leadership "rises to the top" in the non-cluster classes. There are many students other than the gifted who welcome opportunities to assume the available leadership roles.
THEN WON'T THE PRESENCE OF THE CLUSTERED GIFTED STUDENTS INHIBIT THE PERFORMANCE OF THE OTHER STUDENTS IN THEIR CLASS, THEREBY HAVING A NEGATIVE EFFECT ON THEIR ACHIEVEMENT?
This is not a problem if the cluster group is kept to a manageable size of no more than six students. If there are more eligible students, two or more clusters may be formed. As a matter of fact, cluster teachers generally report that the presence of the cluster students stimulates a general improvement in achievement for the entire class. The effects of the cluster grouping practice may be evened-out over several years by rotating the cluster teacher assignment and also by rotating the other students so they all have a chance to be in the same class with the cluster group every two to three years.
IS CLUSTER GROUPING FEASIBLE ONLY IN AN ELEMENTARY SETTING?
No. Cluster grouping may be used at all grade levels and in all subject areas. Gifted students may be clustered in one section of any class with other students of mixed ability, especially when there are not enough students to form an advanced section of a course. At the secondary level, in deference to all teachers having an equal number of students, honors or advanced sections contain some students who are really in need of more rigorous curriculum as well as some who, although strong students, are doing fine with the regular curriculum and would be frustrated by more difficult classes. When these students are placed in the same classes as the gifted, the entire curriculum is somewhat watered down. Therefore, when the number of students is not enough to create a truly more advanced program, forming clusters of students who are gifted in certain subjects is an attractive alternative. It makes much more sense to have the top five science students clustered in a teacher's fifth hour biology class than to have those students spread out through several classes. The teacher is much less likely to compact and differentiate for them when there are only one or two in a class, and much more likely to provide appropriate learning alternatives when four to six students who need them appear in one targeted class. Furthermore, adolescents are much more likely to take advantage of differentiated options if they have the company of other students. Cluster grouping is a welcome option in rural settings as well where it is nearly impossible to find enough qualified students to form separate accelerated classes.
HOW DOES THE CLUSTER GROUPING MODEL FIT IN WITH THE INCLUSION AND REGULAR EDUCATION INCLUSION (REI) MODELS THAT ADVOCATE THE INTEGRATION OF STUDENTS WITH EXCEPTIONAL EDUCATIONAL NEEDS INTO THE REGULAR CLASSROOM?
The cluster grouping model is perfectly compatible with both the inclusion and REI initiatives. All are aimed at providing learning opportunities for all students which allow them to actualize their learning potential. Gifted students also have exceptional educational needs, and are as equally in need of special provisions as are students who have been considered eligible for "special education" programs.
WON'T THERE BE PRESSURE FROM MOST PARENTS TO HAVE THEIR CHILDREN PLACED IN THE CLUSTER TEACHER'S CLASSROOM?
Administrators are encouraged to provide quality staff development programs for all staff regarding the learning needs of gifted students along with compacting and differentiation techniques, so all parents would be able to expect appropriate differentiation when it is necessary. The assignment of children to a cluster group should get no more attention than any of the other criteria used to assign students to classes, and should be handled in a very low-key manner. It is also recommended that the cluster teacher assignment be rotated every two years among those who have had the necessary training. When the community is made aware of this information, and the staff development training appears to be beneficial for all teachers and their students, this arrangement may be considered as no more or less important than all other program considerations. Obviously, in a school where the principal or dean automatically honors all parent requests for placement with particular teachers, the cluster grouping model may be less workable.
SHOULD THE CLUSTER GROUPING MODEL REPLACE PRESENT PROGRAMS FOR GIFTED STUDENTS?
No. Cluster grouping is only one part of a comprehensive program for gifted students. The services of a resource teacher may be used to provide assistance to all classroom teachers in their attempts to differentiate their program for gifted students. If resource teachers plans to offer "pull-out" opportunities, they usually experience less resistance from trained cluster teachers about students leaving class for the pullout. Furthermore, those classroom teachers are more likely to use the time when the gifted students are gone to review and reinforce already presented concepts that most students need but the gifted do not. Teachers are much less likely to present new material, thereby ending the dilemma of whether those who left have to "make up" the work they missed.
WHAT ARE THE ADVANTAGES OF USING THE CLUSTER GROUPING CONCEPT?
For the gifted students, the advantages are that they feel more accepted and "normal" when there are other students just like them in the class. They are more likely to choose more challenging tasks when they are able to work with others, instead of having to work alone away from the rest of the group. For the teachers, the advantages are that they no longer have to deal with the strain of trying to meet the needs of just one precocious student. When teachers know several gifted students will benefit from differentiation efforts, it seems more realistic to make that differentiation available. In addition, teachers quickly discover that techniques they bring into the classroom for the benefit of the gifted students are adaptable for use with most other students and actually enhance the program for everyone. For the school system, the advantage is that it is actually financially possible to provide a full-time, cost effective program for gifted students, because their exceptional learning needs are being met daily in all subjects. This becomes an attractive option for parents of gifted students who may consider this criteria when choosing to move into a particular area.
WHAT ARE THE DISADVANTAGES OF CLUSTER GROUPING?
In some communities, the cluster grouping option may be perceived as a status symbol, leading to some pressure from parents to have their children assigned to the same class that houses the cluster group.
When the cluster teacher assignment is rotated regularly, the community soon realizes there are many teachers who have the necessary skills to effectively teach gifted students. It is also helpful to rotate the other students into classes taught by cluster teachers. Another problem is that the cluster grouping concept is only effective when teachers receive and use the training they need to appropriately adapt the regular curriculum for gifted students through compacting and differentiation. An administrator usually takes the responsibility to assure that the cluster teachers are consistently providing appropriate compacting and differentiation opportunities for the gifted students. They should receive the necessary support by way of continuous staff development opportunities, and by providing regular opportunities for cluster teachers to meet with each other. It is critical that the cluster grouping concept not be used to make it appear that gifted services are still available, when in fact, they are not. Just as we have an obligation to make sure that mainstreamed special education students are receiving differentiated services in the regular classroom, we must treat the inclusion of gifted students in the same manner.
ARE THERE DISTRICTS I CAN CONTACT THAT ARE PRESENTLY SUCCESSFULLY USING CLUSTER GROUPING?
Readers may wish to contact their State Director of Gifted Education who may know of districts where cluster grouping is being used and can give you the names of contact people. The author is able to provide a brief list as follows:
Dr. Barbara Devlin, Superintendent
Villa Park School District #45
225 West Vermont Street
Villa Park, IL 60181
Dr. David DeLay, Assistant Superintendent
Ball-Chatham Unit District #5
500 South Pine
Chatham, IL 62629
Mr. Chris Dransoff, Principal
Bartlett Elementary School
111 East North Avenue
Bartlett, IL 60103
Mr. Tom Dahlfors, Principal
Century Oaks Elementary School
1235 Braeburn Drive
Elgin, IL 60123
Bill Kielty, Gifted Coordinator
25701 Forest Boulevard, North
Wyoming, MN 55092
Linda Gustafson, Gifted Coordinator
District 623 Curriculum Center
701 County Road B West
Roseville, MN 55113-4594
There is an alarming trend in many places to eliminate programs that benefit gifted students. Reasons range from lack of money to an egalitarian policy of returning all students to heterogeneous learning environments. Educators have been bombarded with information from many sources that makes it appear there is no benefit to ability grouping for any students. The work of Kulik and Kulik (1990), Allan (1991), Feldhusen (1989), and others clearly documents the benefits of keeping gifted students together for at least part of the school day in their areas of academic strength. Although the evidence appears to indicate most students have more to gain from heterogeneous grouping, gifted students clearly need to experience the challenge of working with others of similar ability. We must not make the mistake of thinking we have to choose between ability grouping and providing appropriate learning opportunities for gifted students. The practice of cluster grouping represents a mindful way to assure that gifted students continue to receive a quality education at the same time as schools work to improve the learning opportunities for all young people.
Allan, S. (March, 1991). "Ability Grouping Research Reviews: What Do They Say about Grouping and the Gifted?" Educational Leadership, 48: (6), 60-65.
Feldhusen, John (1989, March). "Synthesis of Research on Gifted Youth." Educational Leadership, 46: (6), 6-11.
Fiedler, E., Lange, R. and Winebrenner, S. (1993). "In Search of Reality: Unraveling the Myths about Tracking, Ability Grouping, and the Gifted." Roeper Review, in press.
Fisher, M.D. (1992). "Early Childhood Education for the Gifted: The Need for Intense Study and Observation." Illinois Council for the Gifted Journal, 11, 6-9.
Johnson D. and Johnson R. (1992). "What To Say To Advocates for the Gifted." Educational Leadership, 50: (2), 44-47.
Kulik, J.A. & Kulik, C-L. C. (1990). "Ability Grouping and Gifted Students." In Colangelo & David (Eds.), Handbook of Gifted Education , Boston: Allyn and Bacon.
Matthews, M. (1992). "Gifted Students Talk About Cooperative Learning." Educational Leadership, 50: (2), 48-50.
Reis, S. and Renzulli, J. (1992). "Using Curriculum Compacting to Challenge the Above-Average." Educational Leadership, 50: (2), 51-57.
Rimm, S. (1986). Underachievement Syndrome: Causes and Cures. Watertown, WI: Apple Publishing.
Schroeder-Davis, Stephen. (1993, Winter). "Coercive Egalitarianism: Subverting Achievement Through Neglect and Hostility." Gifted Education Press Quarterly, 7: (1), 2-9.
Silverman, L. (1991). "Scapegoating the Gifted: The New National Sport." Address at the conference of the National Association for Gifted Children, Little Rock, AR.
Slavin, R. (1990). "Cooperative Learning and the Gifted: Who Benefits?" Journal for the Education of the Gifted, 14: (1), 28-30.
Winebrenner, S. and Devlin, B. (1991). Cluster Grouping Fact sheet: How to Provide Full-time Services for Gifted Students on Existing Budgets. Lombard, IL: Phantom Press.
Winebrenner, S. (1992). Teaching Gifted Kids in the Regular Classroom. Minneapolis: Free Spirit Publishing.
CREATIVELY GIFTED, LEARNING DISABLED INDIVIDUALS
BY E. PAUL TORRANCE
ALUMNI FOUNDATION DISTINGUISHED PROFESSOR EMERITUS
UNIVERSITY OF GEORGIA ATHENS, GEORGIA
When I was a child, the terms "creatively gifted" were never spoken. In fact, even when I set out to discover "creatively gifted" children in 1958, I had never heard of the term "learning disability." Very quickly, however, when I started testing to find "creatively gifted" children, I simultaneously discovered "learning disabled, creatively gifted" children.
In most fourth-, fifth-, and sixth-grade classrooms, there was a little group of four to six children (usually they were all boys) sitting in the back of the classroom. Upon entering the room at the appointed time, the teacher would tell me, "you can't test those five children in the back of the room. They can't read or write." Since the first part of the test was the figural form, I said I thought they would enjoy it and we would schedule the verbal form to be given individually and orally. All of the teachers cooperated and were anxious to know what the test would "show." My research assistants and I did the oral administrations. The first day we did this, I shall always remember how Som Nath Ghei rushed excitedly to tell me, "Just look at this boy's responses! He's the kind of person who will dictate to five secretaries at one time, and keep them all busy. He was just full of ideas and never slowed down!" This experience was to be repeated many times before we completed testing all of the pupils in three elementary schools. When I reported back to the teachers, most of them were excited to see the results. They began to see these youngsters more positively, since the children had shown that they knew much more than the teachers had thought. Many of the teachers began using the children's strengths to help them learn. The little clusters in the back of the room began to disappear.
More and more I began to hear "learning disabilities." It has come to be defined as "a life-long disorder affecting the way people with normal or above intelligence process information." Meanwhile, the March 1992 conference in Atlanta of the Learning Disabilities Association of America (LDAA) was held on the theme of "Teaching to a Different Beat," "learning different" being a new term for "learning disabled." According to a participating teacher, they are constantly looking for different ways for kids to learn. In the same month, the student paper at the University of Georgia, the Red & Black (March 9, 1992), reported on the success of the University Learning Disabilities Clinic in working with creative learners who are also learning disabled. Chris Lee, one of these learners, has written a book, Faking It (1992), and described his own, somewhat harrowing experiences of coping with his learning disabilities. Other students in the Clinic, who were interviewed by a Red & Black reporter, also described their own experiences. The Clinic tries to take some of the hassle out of these students' lives and helps them to become "self-advocates." (As you would expect, Faking It has become controversial, and many schools will not permit it to be placed in their libraries. In any case, "faking it' had been a survival technique for Lee and thousands of others like him.)
Ten years earlier, in 1982, I presented a paper, "Growing up Creatively Gifted with Learning Disabilities" (1982), at the annual conference of the LDAA. In it, I described some of my own personal experiences as a creatively gifted child and adult with learning disabilities.
My learning disabilities have been of a different nature than those with which the school has been concerned. I was fortunately an overachiever, but try as I might, I could not learn to write on the blackboard in a straight line; plow a straight row; drive an automobile and keep it straight on the road; sing in a tune; play a harmonica; march in step; whistle; wink; dance in step; shoot a target; swim; typewrite using the touch system; and so on and so forth.
My failures to learn these skills have caused much humiliation, shame, disgrace, and discomfort. "Faking it," or even cheating at times, has been necessary. I have sometimes been able to fake singing or playing a harmonica by just going through the motions or not making enough noise to be heard over others. At other times, of course, I have not been able to fake or cheat. In the fourth grade, I was kicked out of my sight singing class and made to sit silently at the back of the room. Just a few years ago, I tried to sing along with a four- and five-year-old group, but a musically-talented four-year-old boy told me, "If you can't sing in tune, why don't you stop?" I decided that that was good advice! In the Army during World War II, I was taught typing. I discovered that the only way to pass the test was to use my own system. Likewise, the only way I could pass the marksmanship test was for the range sergeant to fudge a little. I did not ask him to do this kind of deed, but I pray that St. Peter will not hold this against him. I have found that I can write on a straight line if, not surprisingly, I use a typewriter or write on ruled paper.
Fortunately, I had some compensating abilities I could use for becoming a self-advocate. I excelled in such activities as running and tree climbing; mathematics (algebra, plane geometry, solid geometry, trigonometry, bookkeeping, statistics, etc.); language (English, French, German, Latin); reading, literature, spelling; history, political science; psychology, education; orations, speech making; woodworking; brainstorming, problem solving, creative problem solving; essay and problem-solving examinations, applications; and writing. I tested about 120-125 on intelligence tests but, by "faking it" and using my creativity, I was voted the "most intellectual" boy in my high school and ranked number one in elementary school, junior high school, senior high school, junior college, and summa cum laude from senior college. I also managed to make good grades in graduate school, and achieve particularly good grades on my preliminary exams in the doctoral program. This was enough to cover over many of my inadequacies. Still, inadequacies or learning disabilities come back to haunt me even after I have retired.
Keeping Humble. Meanwhile, I have worked very hard, and loved it passionately. I have authored about 50 books and over 1,500 other publications that have been placed in the archives in the University of Georgia Library. I have been accorded many awards and distinctions in my profession. As I look back over all of it, "it's no big deal."
This is what Quincy Jones said about the many honors that have been bestowed on him for his musical achievements: "Others may find it unusual that I can see and hear all the parts and pieces in my head, but it's no big deal because this is all I can do, I can't even drive a car...." (Ebert, 1991). Jones won 25 Grammy awards and composed scores for 38 films. He also gathered together 60 of the top musical talents in the U.S. for a mammoth, eight-hour recording session to produce, "We Are the World," the 1985 fund-raiser for African famine relief. The result was the best-selling single of the decade.
Jones says that creativity comes easily and naturally to him. "When I'm composing, I see pictures, I hear music. When I'm really smoking I can't leave work because ideas keep coming at me. I find myself writing in taxis or in airplanes, using menus, gum wrappers -- anything that's handy -- to put down ideas...." This, in fact, is the way that most highly creative people describe their experiences (Torrance and Safter, 1990).
GENERAL GUIDANCE FOR THE CREATIVELY GIFTED DISABLED
I concluded my LDAA presentation a decade ago with a "Manifesto" (Torrance, 1982) for such individuals. I drew these guidelines from my longitudinal studies in which I had encountered some creatively gifted children with learning disabilities, but I now realize that I was writing them for myself. The "Manifesto for Children" states: (1) Don't be afraid to fall in love with something and pursue it with intensity; (2) Know, understand, take pride in, practice, develop, exploit, and enjoy your greatest strengths; (3) Learn to free yourself from the expectations of others and to walk away from the games they impose on you. Free yourself to play your own game; (4) Find a great teacher or mentor who will help you; (5) Don't waste energy trying to be well rounded; (6) Do what you love and can do well; and (7) Learn the skills of independence.
(A schematic representation of the Manifesto has been developed by Morgan Henderson and Jack Presbury. The poster [Copyrighted 1983, Henderson, Presbury, and Torrance] is available in full or miniature size from Torrance Center for Creative Studies, College of Education, University of Georgia, Athens, GA 30602.)
A great deal has happened in these 10 years, not because of my speech, but because the time was right. The progression of the profession was right. At that time, the terms seemed like a contradiction to many people, who were asking, "Is there such a thing as a creatively gifted, learning disabled child?" These were two different classifications in exceptional children -- how could a child be both? Educators did not know how to handle this administratively. I am sure that the concept is not yet universally accepted or adopted. Nevertheless, enough people have accepted the concept and have been "off and running."
Teachers and children have developed successful techniques of learning despite their disabilities, and they have been discovering and putting to use their creative strengths. Examples vary all the way from the child who came running to the teacher and said, "If I sing my spelling words, I can remember them," to the college student who says that she learned the periodic table in chemistry by using a song and dance routine. Throughout elementary school, everyone had considered this girl stupid. In high school she began to use her creativity in such ways as to master the learning tasks required of her. She practiced the periodic table using her song and dance, and she has never forgotten it. I would expect most of the techniques invented, whether by teachers or children, will involve music and movement or other "right brain" learning techniques.
For many years, I have observed the effectiveness of instrumental singing, dancing, and creative movement in teaching preschool children basic learning skills. Thus, it is not surprising to discover that musical skills prove effective with learning disabled individuals. Recently, someone from Germany sent me a manuscript of a book authored by a Russian, inquiring about its possible publication in the United States. They had sent it earlier to the United Kingdom for the same purpose, but the education experts and publishers there expressed the opinion that not enough teachers were musically literate for the book to be universally useful in U.K. I suggested that we might try educators in Japan, since their preschool is based upon music and the other arts and since they have the highest literacy and the highest musical literacy rate in the world.
I could offer many examples in this connection, but I think Clary spoke very eloquently of her own choice of music and dance as a facilitator in teaching. In 1969, she was the first-place winner among teachers in the United States in a contest on the "Changing Face of Education," conducted by the Instructor magazine. In accepting her award she made some interesting comments concerning teaching as a creative occupation and the role of teachers in social and technological change. She wrote: "Teachers are part of the revolution taking place in America. It seems to me that the teacher as an educator can no longer be content with the teaching methods of yesterday; he cannot remain static, unwilling to change and dogmatically resistant to innovative techniques...." (Clary, 1970). The important point she makes is that one's way of teaching must suit the children, the teacher, the school, and the times. It must be something that teacher and students alike can enter into with enthusiasm and joy.
The use of "right-brained" learning and thinking activities have also been rather widely used with creatively gifted learning disabled children. I had observed that many learning disabled children had right-brained learning preferences, but we wondered how they fared in classes for the gifted. Therefore, Okabayashi and I studied identified gifted children in grades four through seven to explore the relationships between the information processing style and the failure to achieve at a level commensurate with their measured intellectual abilities. The results revealed significant differences among the three achievement level groups (classified by teachers as below, at, and above expectations) on the "right brain and integrated learning-thinking style" but not on the "left brain learning-thinking style." Low achievers scored significantly higher on the right brain style and lower on the integrated style of information processing (Okabayashi and Torrance, 1984).
Looking at the emotional characteristics resulting from treatment accorded them, learning disabled children may need more verbal reinforcement than other children. Adult approval is one of the most commonly used means of effecting behavioral change in children. However, the learning disabled child's particular reinforcement history might not be in accord with generally accepted psychological theory and educational practice. Using students in grades one through five who were enrolled in special public school programs for the learning disabled, Kandil (1980) explored the influence of two conditions of reinforcement on the verbal creativity performance of children. The findings of this study support the following conclusions:
(1) Positive verbal reinforcement led to significantly higher creativity scores for the learning disabled children. This result was consistent and clear-cut for all creativity test tasks and all measures (fluency, flexibility, and originality); and (2) The learning disabled children demonstrated higher creative potentials when compared with a parallel group of nonhandicapped children, especially on fluency and originality. The weakest areas of performance of the handicapped children were flexibility and overall performance on the task of "Guess Causes." These results support the need for positive, verbal reinforcement in administering creativity tests individually to learning disabled children. The findings also indicate that a great strength of many children in special education programs is their creative thinking ability.
In our search for new ways of learning, we can depend upon the creativity of both teachers and learners, and we must have some ways of mobilizing this tremendous power and of disseminating these discoveries. We might have something like the "Invent America" program or an older program of the Japan Institute of Invention and Innovation, in which children with learning disabilities and teachers invent ways of learning despite their learning disabilities. Or, we might add something from the Future Problem Solving Program, Quality Circles, and Cooperative Learning, and have teams work on such inventions and innovations and make it a creative effort. This would challenge the creative abilities of learners and teachers.
It is time to stop asking, "Is there such a thing as a creatively gifted learning disabled learner?" The answer is clearly affirmative. We should get on with the task of helping them discover and invent their own ways of learning. They are a rich resource who will enrich the world!
Clary, Doris H. (1970, February). "Music and Dance for the Disadvantaged." Instructor 79, 58-59. Quoted from p. 55.
Ebert, Alan (1991, July). "No Big Deal." Readers Digest , 70, 141-142.
Kandil, Shaker A. (1980). "Effects of Verbal Reinforcement and Race on the Performance of Emotionally Handicapped Children." Except. Children, 46: (4), 296-297.
Lee, Chris and Jackson, Rosemary (1992). Faking It: A Look into the Mind of a Creative Learner. Portsmouth, NY: Heinemann.
Okabayashi, Haruo and Torrance, E. Paul (1984). "Role of Style of Learning and Thinking and Self-Directed Learning Readiness in the Achievement of Gifted Students." Journal of Learning Disabilities , 17, 104-107.
Shah, Mira (1992, March 9). "Clinic Helps Students View Learning Disabilities in Positive Way." Red & Black, pp. 1,3.
Torrance, E. Paul (1982). "Growing up Creatively Gifted with Learning Disabilities." In William M. Cruickshank & Janet W. Learner (Eds.), Coming of Age (pp. 24-35). Syracuse: Syracuse University Press.
Torrance, E. Paul and Safter, H. Tammy (1990). The Incubation Model of Teaching. Buffalo: Bearly Limited.
"Of the truly creative no one is ever master; it must be left to go its own way." Goethe
"Everyone has talent at twenty-five. The difficulty is to have it at fifty." Degas
THE WORK OF AGATHA CHRISTIE: AN EXCITING EXCURSION INTO GIFTEDNESS AND MYSTERY WRITING
BY MICHAEL E. WALTERS NEW YORK CITY PUBLIC SCHOOLS
"I regard my work as of no importance, I've simply been out to entertain." Agatha Christie
One of the most remarkable traits of gifted students is how they entertain themselves and spend their leisure time. The ways they entertain themselves are indicators of their sensibility, which can be observed in many different situations and tasks (Fisher Assessment of Giftedness, 1988). They are not mere spectators but are driven to participatory forms of entertainment such as chess and reading. I have consistently observed gifted students between 12 and 17 years gleefully absorbed in Agatha Christie's mysteries. It is fascinating that one can observe that this interest transcends class, gender and racial lines. However, gifted girls especially appreciate her work.
Agatha Christie (1890-1976) is an exemplar for gifted girls. She was not only a gifted writer, but she was a talented singer, pianist and chemist. It is also significant that she had been a nurse when she was young. Here, we observe an individual who was interested in both the arts and sciences. Her personal life was a continuous expedition in giftedness. For over 50 years, she wrote at least one book a year. Her second husband was a world renowned archaeologist whom she constantly accompanied on digs. Among the places she traveled to was Iraq where she participated in digs at Ur. (This was the ancient Sumerian city where Abraham, the progenitor of three world religions, lived.) She was also involved in digs in the Nile Delta which added to knowledge of the ancient Egyptian civilization. In her last period of life, she became the most popular playwright in the English language. Her play, The Mousetrap (1952), was the longest continuous performance in the English language. It is said, that like Shakespeare's plays, either The Mousetrap or Witness for the Prosecution (1953), is playing somewhere in the world at this very moment. Her books and plays have been translated into almost every known language.
Agatha Christie created two of the finest characters in English literature, Hercule Poirot and Jane Marple. In a manner similar to her fellow British writer, Charles Dickens, she was able to transform a characterization into a unique personality which has become part of the universal literary imagination. Hercule Poirot is presently playing on the PBS Mystery! Theatre. Also, several films featuring him are very popular. This detective has a persona which lingers in one's imagination. He is a portly Belgian expatriate living in London who resembles Shakespeare's Falstaff. They are both earthy individuals who are fond of the "finer things in life" (e.g., gourmet food and fine clothes), and are representatives of the wise buffoon. The other character, Jane Marple, is a well-loved literary figure. She lives in an English village named St. Mary's Meade, and shows that human evil displays its ugly visage even in the midst of a rustic setting, . Miss Marple is on the surface a sweet, elderly spinster, but underneath she is a tough observer of human conduct.
The settings of Agatha Christie's novels are enticements to gifted students' interest in the exotic. Three of her novels are representative of this facet of her work -- so much, in fact, that they were made into great movies. These are Murder on the Orient Express (1934), Death on the Nile (1937), and Appointment with Death (1938). The first takes place on the same train which travels from Istanbul to Paris. This novel was inspired by a real occurrence -- the Orient Express was snowbound for about a week during a bad winter in Europe. The second book is about an excursion down the Nile River to view ancient tombs. This area was eventually submerged in the 1950s during the construction of the Aswan Dam. The third book occurs in Petra, an ancient cliff-city in present day Jordan. Agatha Christie also wrote a novel, Death Comes As An End (1944), which takes place during the ancient Egyptian period. It gives a wonderful historical account of this age.
Gifted students will receive intellectual stimulation as they solve the mental puzzles of these mysteries. Christie's narrative style is a wonderful experience for the gifted because it presents great insights into human behavior overlaid with a smooth flowing narrative. In Appointment with Death, she describes the mental interior of a dominating stepmother: "Below the decencies and conventions of everyday life, there lies a vast reservoir of strange things -- as, for instance, delight in cruelty for its own sake. But when you found that [cruelty], there is something deeper still -- the desire, profound and pitiful, to be appreciated...." This is just one of the tasty tidbits of her prose.