GIFTED EDUCATION PRESS QUARTERLY
10201 YUMA COURT
P.O. BOX 1586
MANASSAS, VA 20108
VOLUME NINE, NUMBER ONE
LIFETIME SUBSCRIPTION: $22.00
In the Fall of 1994, the United States Department of Education issued its sixteenth annual report on the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). The findings concerning inclusion in the regular classroom are very disturbing. Although one-third of handicapped students participated in the regular classroom 80% or more of their school time, they were more likely to fail a class than peers who spent 50% or less in the regular classroom. Of course, the federal bureaucrats say this finding proves that regular classroom teachers need more supports to successfully educate handicapped children. However, a more meaningful interpretation is that regular education teachers are buried in the task of working with too wide of a range of ability and social levels. It may not be humanly possible to effectively teach seriously handicapped, average, above average and gifted students in the same classroom. It has only been in the last few years that this common sense idea has been challenged.
Clearly, this federally sponsored study has serious impli-cations for teaching the gifted in the regular classroom. It may well be that as a result of inclusion and other reformist initiatives, large numbers of gifted children across the country are suffering from a lack of academic stimulation in the regular classroom. (In fact, a high percentage may be failing or barely passing courses as a result of boredom and rebellion.) If this is the case, we should not blame regular classroom teachers because they are (in most cases) trying to deal with an impossible situation. In any event, federal and state governments should sponsor more extensive national and statewide studies on the impact of inclusion on gifted students. Dr. Karen Rogers (1991) has shown that grouping gifted children for instruction is very effective. It is important to have follow-up studies to Dr. Rogers' work that examine the academic and psychological impact of placing gifted children back into the regular classroom after differentiated programs have been disbanded or decreased in intensity.
Jacob K. Javits Gifted and Talented Students Education Program. In the Friday, October 28, 1994 Federal Register, the United States Department of Education proposed that at least 75% of its funds for this program should be directed toward sponsoring innovative education projects in low-income schools. Approximately 25% of the remaining funds would be used to provide technical assistance to schools regarding how to adapt gifted education techniques to all students. We have no particular objection to using federal funds in this manner as long as they produce valid results that can be applied to the entire gifted field. The crucial questions are: how will these projects be evaluated, and who will do the evaluating? We highly recommend that an independent group outside of gifted education is hired to evaluate these projects, e.g., companies around the Washington, D.C. Beltway, or educational research companies in North Carolina or California.
Leonardo da Vinci (1452-1519). We have learned today (November 12, 1994) from The Washington Post that a set - 72 pages - of Leonardo's writings, including discussions of hydrodynamics and paleontology, was sold by Christie's Auction House for $30.8 million! (The purchaser was a genius of the 20th century, Bill Gates, the founder of Microsoft Corporation.) Although Western civilization still values this great Italian genius, a recent 314-page report, "National Standards for World History: Exploring Paths to the Present" (sponsored by such groups as the American Historical Association and the National Council for History Education), encourages history teachers to ignore the contributions of da Vinci and other similar white European males. Maybe history teachers of the gifted should ignore this report!
We are particularly pleased to publish this issue and would like to dedicate Dr. Adrienne O'Neill's article to the parents of gifted children who are seeking alternative means of edu-cating their children. Her analysis and recommendations concerning how to effectively use computers with gifted children should help to stimulate more widespread use of computer software in differentiated instruction. Dr. O'Neill is currently Assistant Professor of Education at William Patterson College in Wayne, New Jersey. Prior to this position, she was Superintendent of Bernards Township Public Schools in Basking Ridge, New Jersey. Dr. Bruce Gurcsik has written many articles for GEPQ, and his current article shows how Outcomes-Based Education can be adapted to gifted education. Please note that in the Summer 1994 issue, we published "Outcomes for Gifted Learners Through Using Virgil S. Ward's Differentiated Curriculum" by Gabriel, DeYoung and Bajema. Use both articles to help design OBE for the gifted! We present Dr. Mara Sapon-Shevin's response to Stephen Schroeder-Davis' critique of her book. We invite all readers to send us their reactions about the inclusion debate -- pro and con. Dr. Michael Walters writes about the humorist, James Thurber, who had an enormous impact on writing in America.
Maurice D. Fisher, Ph.D.Publisher
USING TODAY'S TECHNOLOGY: PARENTS CAN HELP CHALLENGE GIFTED CHILDREN
BY ADRIENNE O'NEILL
COLLEGE OF WILLIAM PATTERSON WAYNE, NJ
Gifted students have innate intelligence, but they need opportunities to learn and grow beyond the attainment of basic skills. The practical realities of public education in the 1990s dictate that parents must play a larger role in providing for these opportunities. If parents learn and use today's technology with the gifted child, growth and development are sure to follow. Parents may wish to share their findings with the school and cooperatively work with other parents to further the education of all gifted children.
Today's technology, including the use of computers and appropriate software as tools for learning, has great potential for stimulating the individual child and for establishing a cooperative program to challenge gifted students. Examples of how to use technology and/or computer software as tools to encourage and help gifted students access and acquire information, stimulate divergent thinking, increase the production of creative products, use a mentor and use the power of fiber optic networks are outlined in this article. After you try some of these ideas, you will generate ideas of your own which you may wish to share with other parents and the teachers in the school district.
WHY MUST PARENTS OF GIFTED CHILDREN HELP TO CHALLENGE THEIR CHILDREN?
Despite the political rhetoric that bemoans low SAT scores, encourages high standards and purports to recognize the power of education as a necessary component for stimulating economic growth through increased productivity, there is no unified policy on education in the United States.
Programs are different in every local school district and in every state in the United States. Local debates rage about the basic curriculum, books to use, ban, or censor, acceptable methods and materials to be used in classrooms, the types of awareness programs to use to promote self-esteem and political correctness, and the level of social services to be provided to needy families. School Board meetings are replete with complaints about the food in the school cafeterias and the location of bus stops but noticeably absent are debates about how best to stimulate thinking in the classroom. Improvement of academic performance does not usually appear as a topic on the agenda.
The only nationwide philosophical agreement appears to be that schools can do more with less as they teach the basic skills to all students. Parents are only twenty-five percent of the voting public in most school districts and the majority prevails in thinking that if the parents want more, they should privately, and preferably quietly, provide it for their children.
Some think that competition will improve schools. School choice has now reached the discussion stage in many states, but it will be years before we see widespread use of vouchers or choice programs, and years after that before we know the effectiveness of such programs. Some cities and counties have established magnet schools for the gifted which are patterned after the hugely successful specialized high schools in New York City. But unlike the programs in New York, all too many are not really gifted programs. Instead, they are a solution to an earlier integration problem.
Consequently we have regrettably entered an era where funds for gifted programs are being eliminated from educational budgets for financial or "politically correct" reasons. Partially because of the inclusion movement that has given a bad name to the labeling of students, gifted students are no longer identified in many school districts. Lack of labeling would not be disastrous if appropriate resources were provided for enrichment, but the growth of enrollment in most school districts has brought fewer actual expenditures for each student.
Teachers are expected to identify the needs of all students assigned to the same classroom, and then to plan differentiated instruction to meet the specified needs. Coupled with the rise in class size and the increased expectations for parental involvement, the task of teaching has become awesome. Even the most energetic and knowledgeable teacher has limits, and will probably not be able to effectively reach or challenge all students in the traditional classroom setting.
Administrators have been eliminated in many school districts and the few that are left frequently do not have the time to read, plan and develop programs that will meet the needs of gifted students. To illustrate the seriousness of this problem consider Broward County, Florida. In January 1994, a new Superintendent of Schools was hired and charged by the School Board to do three things: reduce crime in the schools, deal with the increasing enrollment problems and reduce drug usage in the schools. Those three missions are only obliquely related to educating children.
Moreover, many school districts are not current in this era of technology. Often the funds are not available for technological initiatives and administrators are so absorbed with other priorities that seeking funds, or studying the available technology is beyond them.
The current conditions in education are not happy news for teachers who wish to do a good job, or for the parents of gifted children who must now make choices. They can choose to put their children in private schools that challenge gifted students. However, these schools are difficult to find and are usually very costly. Furthermore, some private schools advertise and don't deliver. Time is wasted as the parent analyzes the effectiveness of the school. Parents can try to change the school system. Given the very confused status of public policy regarding education, this is an almost impossible task. If the parent were successful, time has elapsed and by the time change might be recognizable, the child may be too old to benefit from the change. Thus, the most effective and immediately useful strategy for parents of gifted children is to exercise creativity and use their private financial resources to purchase today's technology, thus ensuring that their child has the opportunity to maximize innate potential.
HOW CAN PARENTS MAKE A DIFFERENCE FOR THE GIFTED STUDENTS IN THE SCHOOL?
The picture is not totally bleak. Much of the educational reform of the late 1980's and the early 1990's focused on the reorganization or re-engineering of schools to use the power of cooperative efforts by teachers and parents. School councils have been established in many schools and joint planning for the improvement of the school is the agenda. Known as site-based management, the concept of joint management of the schools has been successful when the focus of improvement is maintained by all.
Applying this notion to gifted students is a natural next step. Working together, parents and teachers can provide opportunities that inspire and stimulate children's thinking in ways that augment, but do not compete with the instruction given in the classroom. Leadership for a cooperative program to stimulate gifted children is most likely to come from parents who recognize that the teachers and administrators are over burdened and do not have the time to establish such a program.
Meeting with the school principal is the best first step to establish a working group of parents and teachers to explore and develop an organized program. The Parent Teacher Organization of the school may also be helpful. Traditionally volunteer cadres of parents have raised funds to obtain equipment for the schools or to provide enrichment assemblies and field trips, but they have also demonstrated an interest in helping to establish, fund and maintain academic programs for the students in the school. Frequently the functioning school councils in reorganized schools are very interested in furthering the use of technology, therefore, they may be very interested in new ideas from parents. The same ideas can be used with all students. Thus, the often unspoken belief that the gifted students will be given special opportunities that should be available to everyone is addressed and eliminated as an obstacle.
WITH OR WITHOUT THE COOPERATION OF THE SCHOOL, PARENTS CAN HELP CHALLENGE GIFTED STUDENTS BY:
Purchasing a Computer, Printer and Appropriate Software for Use in the Home. Today's computers are compact, efficient and relatively inexpensive to purchase. For approximately $2,000 you can purchase a computer, monitor, modem and CD-Rom with sufficient memory and disc space to run and use many programs. A laser printer will be very helpful and for $900 you can purchase a very good one. You will find many uses for this computer and printer, and you will be very glad that you made the investment.
Purchasing and using many currently available software programs will allow you to help your gifted child learn and grow. Best of all, your child will be an active learner. In the past, computer assisted learning has failed because the learner was passive. Today's software programs are interactive and the learner is no longer a passive participant. You can make the learning more active by discussing the use of the programs and what has been learned with your child.
Helping them to Access and Acquire Information. Gifted children master the basic skills quickly. Progressing beyond the basic skills requires knowledge. Traditionally school libraries have not been adequately funded to meet the information needs of gifted students. Often these libraries close when school is over and for fiscal reasons, many local public libraries are closed on weekends. However, today's technology makes it very easy to find data.
Young children are fascinated with multimedia CD-Rom programs. Kid's Zoo--A Baby Animal Adventure ($59.95 retail) and Microsoft Dinosaurs ($79.95 retail) can be used to introduce preschool age youngsters to the wonders of information available. Older children will enjoy CD-Rom based encyclopedias such as Microsoft Encarta ($399.95 retail, based on Funk & Wagnall's Corporation encyclopedia). As the child's need for information increases, networks such as Prodigy, CompuServe or Internet allow anyone to retrieve information quickly and easily.
Internet, sometimes called the "network of networks" allows access to the greatest amount of information. You could encourage your school district to obtain an Internet account, or you could establish your own account. Small firms are sprouting to allow individual users easy access to the Internet. These firms are often associated with bookstores. For $20.00 per month you can obtain an account number and use the network for 30 hours in that month. Joining Internet through private firms allows you to use ARCHIE, VERONICA, WAIS, WWW, TELNET, FTP, and GOPHER among other network servers to access vast collections of information.
Initially, an individual may find that using the network is very complex. Some books that explain Internet are almost impossible to understand. Find one that you can read. There is a learning curve and with effort and concentration, access to the network becomes possible. Using the network frequently makes use easier.
It should be noted that using Internet is not inexpensive. Besides the monthly account number charge there are additional charges to subscribe to some services on the Internet and telephone charges for the modem required to use the system. However, the expenditure is justified by the amount of information that is available. Imagine being able to have ready access to the Library of Congress any time of the day or night!
With or without the cooperation of the school, the gifted child will benefit from using Internet. The child will find information very easily for almost any assignment. Using E-mail or direct connections, the students can communicate with others who are interested in the same subjects. If the school supports the child with recognition or the opportunity to share knowledge from the Internet, so much the better.
Stimulating Divergent Thinking. The literature on giftedness emphasizes that the gifted child usually thinks divergently. Yet, the curriculum in public schools seldom includes rewards for students who engage in divergent thinking. In fact, most of the instruction and testing reward the regurgitation of small bits of information. Typically students are not asked to analyze or synthesize information, much less to think divergently.
Divergent thinking needs to be rewarded, or the behavior will become rusty with disuse. One way to encourage a child to continue thinking differently is to introduce the child to a software program called IdeaFisher. For less than $100.00, you get a program that promotes expansive thinking.
The manual for the program contains examples of how to use the program in the adult world, but a child can use the program to generate ideas for writing assignments and for problem solving activities. The program contains 65,000 words and phrases in the IdeaBank, and 775,000 associated links. The Qbank has 6,000 questions that can be used to develop ideas. As you use the program, you can record your work on the Idea Notepad and the Answer Notepad. Creating a macro allows access to IdeaFisher from three word processing programs--WordPerfect 5.2 & 6.0, Microsoft Word 2.0 and 6.0 and Ami Pro 3.0.
The program is very simple to use, and the major value of the program is the pattern of thinking that can be learned. The child has to think to create ideas, to choose between ideas and to accumulate the associations that go with the ideas. Answering the questions provided helps stimulate the analytic thinking process and generates further questions leading to creative solutions. In essence, this program is a variation on the Socratic questioning method. The only thing missing is human analysis of the answers given by the user. Additional modules can be added to the system. These add-ons are available for strategic planning, speeches and presentations, and business and grant proposals.
IdeaFisher can be used by gifted children to do assignments given by the teacher. For example, if the child is asked to write a new ending for a book that the class has read or if the assignment is to find a solution to a pollution problem, the students can use the program to generate ideas. If the project is to do a research paper on a particular topic, the program would be helpful to select the topic and to identify all aspects of the subject to be researched. If there is a poster contest, this is a great way to generate new slogans. In a cooperative learning activity the group of students could use the program to generate ideas to complete the project assigned.
If the school doesn't own the program or can't buy the program, parents certainly can purchase it and help their children to use it to complete assignments. Parents might volunteer to form seminar groups with several gifted students from the same grade or school and teach all of the students to use the program and to discuss their results with respect to a particular assignment. Involving the teacher in this effort is imperative so that the children receive the recognition that will be needed to continue.
Increasing the production of creative products. Gifted students produce creative products. Before computers those creative products were limited. For example, creative writing was tedious because so many handwritten or separately typed drafts were required. Scientific calculations filled notebooks. Now, parents can help increase the gifted child's output by purchasing or providing access to the tools that make production easy. Writing, calculating, producing graphics, and creating data bases are all simple using integrated software programs such as Microsoft Works. Writing can be easily revised by moving or reconfiguring text and the use of programs that check spelling help to produce a perfect finished product. Grammar program checkers help the student learn the rules for writing by correcting poor usage. Use of a software program thesaurus allows the child to vary language in a document and to develop an extended vocabulary. Calculations are easy using spreadsheet programs and data base programs allow vast amounts of data to be simply tracked. As the child's sophistication grows, the parent can consider purchasing more sophisticated programs for word processing, data bases, graphics and spreadsheets.
Many programs are available to track personal finances or small business finance. Students can use these programs to first follow their allowance expenditures and later to trace their clothing, book and entertainment expenses. Training in this area of finances is essential to avoid the pitfalls that many adult children have faced before their return to the parents' empty nest.
Simple Computer Assisted Drawing programs are available and can be used by the student to do simple design projects. As the child's interest or skills develop, more complex programs can be purchased and drafting and architectural exercises can be completed.
Effective project management and scheduling evolve from mastering daily scheduling. Many programs are available for daily scheduling. One of the easiest to use is SIDEKICK ($39.95) which provides daily calendar reminders when you turn on your computer. Again, as the sophistication of the child grows, other programs can be purchased.
Software programs are available to help students learn foreign languages. Most will provide translations from English to the language being studied and conversely, from the new language to English. What a wonderful way to see if the foreign language essay or translation is correctly done!
Desktop publishing is easy to do with very simple to use programs. MICROSOFT Publisher ($139.99 retail) is one inexpensive, but effective example. If the child uses the templates provided, production of quality products is guaranteed.
Learning geography can often be a deadly dull activity when the student is asked to memorize the cities, capitals and countries. Automap Road Atlas ($49.95 retail) and the add-on Automap Destination Europe ($49.95 retail) allows the student to map destinations and to learn geography in an interactive and connected manner.
The examples of available computer software listed above are not exhaustive. Many more programs exist and are useful tools in every field that a student may wish to study. Most important, use of the programs does help the student to learn more quickly and to increase the production of creative products.
Schools frequently have computers. If the home com-puter and the school computer operating systems are compatible, then the child can easily expand a product at home by bringing the disc home. Conversely, if the child begins a project at home, the project can be continued in school. If the equipment is not compatible, there are programs that will read and convert incompatible discs. Conversion from one operating system to another is still difficult, but is getting easier.
Using a Mentor. Developing as a learner requires discussion of information and ideas with experts in the field. The best example is in the field of science. Many scientists are flattered to be contacted by a student who wishes a reaction to an idea. Many are glad to supervise a research project and the companies that employ these scientists will often allow students to work on site or to communicate through modems. Faculty members at college and universities will also work with off-site students.
A parent can help by making the connection between the scientist and the student and obtaining the blessing of a teacher and the school for the project. Often the school will fund the expense of the modem transmissions and will help to make the necessary research equipment and facilities available to the students.
Using the Power of Fiber Optic Video Networks. In the same way that news programs now connect remote sites and interact with far away newsmakers, many colleges and universities and some high schools have fiber optic video classrooms that allow one teacher at a host site to reach and interact with four remote classrooms. Students may take courses or attend lectures through these interactive fiber optic networks. The teacher in the host classroom can hear the students' comments in each of the remote sites and answer questions long distance. Students can discuss the homework with the teacher and the teacher can see the homework assignments, or the students can fax the work to the teacher.
If you live near a college or university you might inquire about the feasibility of allowing students in the public school access to the courses offered to the college students. Frequently, high schools will participate in such a program by obtaining county or state funding for the necessary setup of a classroom. Eventually, as fiber optic wiring becomes more common and more of the sites are switched from analog wiring to digital wiring, more of these opportunities will be available to interested students. Digital wiring enables more than four remote sites to be linked. It is not inconceivable that in the very near future High School students will be taking college courses on Saturdays, after school or in the evenings. CONCLUSION
Innate intelligence is a hallmark of gifted children. That intelligence needs to be stimulated so that it is effectively used. Parents can make a difference and can help to stimulate and further the growth and development of their gifted child using today's technology. The techno-logical advances described in this article are merely examples of the tools available now. Every day, more advances are made and parents will benefit from adding the new items to their collection. If the parents wish to share their success stories with other parents, school councils can be formed or expanded to spread the programs and to learn from other parents.
Further information about Computer Software can be found in:
Cheryl Currid & Company. SOFTWARE: WHAT'S HOT! WHAT'S NOT! Pima Publishing P. O. Box 1260BK. Rocklin, California 95677.
OUTCOMES-BASED EDUCATION OPPORTUNITY KNOCKS FOR REAL GIFTED
BY BRUCE GURCSIK SUPERVISOR OF GIFTED PROGRAMS
ARIN INTERMEDIATE UNIT 28 SHELOCTA, PA
In spite of the extensive research and program development, educators continue to struggle to meet the challenges of teaching the gifted child. The most common strategies involve some form of enrichment at the elementary school level and acceleration or tracking at the secondary level. Generally, pupils are pulled together under the direction of a specialist into homogeneous groups for specialized instruction. While we have relied upon and continue to cling to these strategies, clearly the solution to the puzzle of challenging the gifted learner continues to elude us. National reports indicating that high school students from other countries achieve better in mathematic and science than the top 5% of our population or our gifted learners, clearly indicate that the failure of public school education extends to the gifted. Furthermore, financially distressed school districts are reducing their gifted program options in order to balance budgets (New York Times, 1992). Dismal could be the most accurate term to describe the condition of programs for the gifted.
Outcomes-based education (OBE) is now sweeping over the American educational landscape. This new approach focuses upon deliberate attempts to plan and conduct essential activities in order to accomplish preconceived aims (Spady, 1988). Basic education is being recreated at a fundamental level in an attempt to prepare our youth for the future. This renewal is based on concepts and strategies which have been commonplace in programs for the gifted (Gurcsik, 1992). The most popular include a focus on higher-order thinking skills, development of leadership ability, creation of non-graded primary levels, elimination of Carnegie Units, extension of the school day, blurring and blending of content areas, creation of parent- school governing councils, greater use of technology and others. A quick review of the components of the "break-the-mold schools" (Phi Delta Kappan, 1992), our most celebrated, leading-edge learning centers, will reveal a tepid brew of reform-minded ingredients that will turn our pupils into thinkers and problem-solvers. While we won't find reform guru Ted Sizer blushing, as first steps these attempts are notable.
What does all of this "revolutionary" thinking mean for the gifted learner? Is there a silver lining that upon discovery will enable educators to deliver the Grail once and for all? Perhaps, all of this is another fad that too will pass, thus validating increased demand for more enrichment or acceleration for the gifted.
I would encourage my colleagues to embrace the changes as positive steps that can only enhance opportunities for gifted learners. This fresh wind influencing educators around the country provides a genuine, golden opportunity for gifted educators and parents to improve the learning environment for the gifted through systematic change, not the band-aid approaches of the past. How many of us have accepted half-hearted enrichment programs that show little or no statistical benefit for the gifted learner? How often have we stated that the gifted child is exceptional all of the time not just during the special class? Total gifted program improvement can happen only if we go beyond our current self-serving focus and team up with the change masters in the regular educational community. My beliefs are based upon the assumption that for the gifted the benefits of outcomes-based programs are real. Since educators and parents of the gifted are knowledgeable and proactive, partnership in the change process can greatly increase the potential for the infusion of high expectations and quality to regular education that often form the foundation of gifted programs. This quality emphasis is essential if the gifted are to be challenged in the new educational scheme.
Specifically, I see several areas where the thinking that surrounds OBE-based programs possesses the potential to serve the gifted well:
1. Strategic planning, the process whereby a district will develop a long term focus for its resources, provides an outstanding opportunity for input by those who are sensitive to the needs of the gifted. This process always involves input from a broad-based group of educators and citizens. Participation in this phase of school-based planning is essential! As a member of the strategic planning team, an opportunity to influence the incorporation of excellence and quality into the curriculum will be provided. Therefore, advocates for the gifted must work hard to be included as the foundation for a superior educational system being created in the local district.
2. Often OBE includes or is based upon a vision of what education will or should be in a district. That vision must include a firm belief in the need to develop educational opportunities for all students regardless of their strengths or weaknesses. Dr. Spady has identified for educators the need for districts to move up the "OBE mountain" from traditional models to those that focus on transitional and transformational outcomes. The poten-tial for increased challenge for the gifted learner is great. By insisting upon such a focus, the conditions for a dynamic curriculum that will benefit the gifted can be created.
3. The outcomes that are developed will include those established by your state school authority, as well as those developed locally. The outcomes must include clear references that have direct relationship to components for the gifted. At the base of program improvement is the focus on higher order competencies. However, where the gifted classroom may set this as a target, developing OBE schools will be targeting the complex role performances and life-role functioning that Spady sees as more powerful than school or curriculum-based activities that currently serve as limits to the learner. In this way the provisions for excellent curriculum that will benefit the gifted will be imbedded in the most fundamental levels of program decision-making.
4. Many OBE programs will endorse Bloom's "teach-test-reteach-retest" cycle and encourage enrichment. This approach developed by Benjamin Bloom will provide data to support acceleration and/or enrichment for the gifted (Bloom, 1968). As a parent and/or teacher, you will have specific information to support requests for relief from study on concepts or topics that have already been mastered! OBE-based programs specifically reference "extensions" for those with mastery (Abrams, 1985).
5. Implementation of OBE Programs will require faculty to receive in-service training. Any opportunity for staff training must be welcomed. Regardless of its focus the potential for improvements in teaching is always inherent in training. In-service programs for teachers in problem-solving, higher order thinking skills community service projects and others will result in teachers who are better equipped to teach the gifted learner.
6. Portfolio assessment is a common evaluation approach in OBE programs. The gifted learner is ideally suited for this type of multiple assessment. No longer will student achievement be drawn exclusively from "tests" but will include displays, reports, demonstrations, models, group activity, videos and other empowering forms of evaluation. This type of assessment has been encouraged for years by pundits in the field of gifted child education.
7. OBE objectives commonly reference "critical thinking" as an essential component. Whether it is termed critical thinking, higher order thinking or problem- solving, this focus for curriculum is consistent with the needs of the gifted. Since most programs for the gifted include this emphasis, its inclusion in basic education offers the potential for a quantum leap in the level of challenge in the regular classroom.
8. Empowerment of teachers through the development of leadership teams (a component of total quality management which often accompanies OBE) provides opportunities to influence decision-making at the classroom level. Any opportunity to improve the delivery of instruction in the classroom (where the rubber meets the road) increases the opportunity for meaningful change for the gifted. The sanction by top level management for decentralized decision-making (which is inherent in OBE) will permit the teacher to introduce a variety of learning strategies that can be of great benefit to the gifted learner. This opportunity has the potential to improve instruction through the belief that people (teachers) will support and take pride in what they help to create.
9. OBE-oriented programs place an emphasis on self-directed learning with increased opportunities for independent and guided study for the gifted. Just about every gifted program component includes and encourages the gifted learner to pursue through comprehensive study an area of interest. A basic education class that has at its core, the opportunity for a pupil to independently study would go a long way toward opening up advanced study opportunities for the gifted.
10. Self-evaluation, as an integral part of the assess-ment system, results in specific benefits for the gifted. Dr. William Glasser believes that self-evaluation is one of the most powerful change elements available to our schools today (Glasser, 1990). All of us use self- evaluation daily in our work and advanced level studies. That ability, when developed to a high level, provides the learner with a means of self-challenge that can be of immense value. When used as part of the OBE-based system in the regular classroom, the potential for individual growth may be unlimited.
I have attempted to highlight the components that are common to OBE- type programs and view them in a way that could result in the positive development of regular education curriculum that could benefit the gifted. Naturally, the application of these strategies in the classroom will be the real test. However, I suggest that those who are interested in improving programs for the gifted become actively involved in the new education environment. Change is happening and those who support the gifted need to be in the mainstream not on the periphery. With enthusiastic and tireless involve-ment the results can only be of benefit to the gifted learner.
Abrams, Joan D. (1985). Making outcome-based education work. Educational Leadership. 43:1, 30-32 (September).
Bloom, Benjamin (1976). Human characteristics and school learning. New York: McGraw-Hill.
"Education for the gifted, seen as a luxury, faces cutbacks". New York Times. 1 (November 29, 1992).
Glasser, William (1990). The quality school. Harper and Row, New York.
Gurcsik, Bruce (1992). Curriculum reform??? Look no further than your gifted program for help. Educational Excellence Network News and Views. Vol. XI, No. 5., 96-97 (May).
Mecklenburger, James, A. (1992). The braking of the 'break-the-mold' express. Phi Delta Kappan. 280-289 (December).
Spady, William G. (1988). Organizing for results: The basis of authentic restructuring and reform. Educational Leadership. 46:2, 4-8 (October).
Copyright, 1994 by Dr. Bruce Gurcsik
TOWARDS EXCELLENCE AND JUSTICE FOR ALL: A RESPONSE TO SCHROEDER-DAVIS
BY MARA SAPON-SHEVIN
PROFESSOR OF EDUCATION SYRACUSE UNIVERSITY
I am pleased to be asked to respond to Schroeder-Davis' critique of my book, Playing Favorites: Gifted Education and the Disruption of Community (1994). The angry, powerful response my work engendered is a good indication of the magnitude and the seriousness of both the issue and my analysis. I am especially flattered to have Schroeder-Davis characterize my book as having "something objectionable on nearly every page," as I would guess this means I have written an unusually coherent text!
Reading Schroeder-Davis' analysis and criticism made it painfully clear to me that the field of gifted education (and his perspective) is so insular that many of the concerns I raised made little sense to him. I will begin by discussing the ways in which I feel Schroeder-Davis did not understand either the book or its analysis, including a discussion of what this lack of shared perspective means for students and education. I will conclude by analyzing the ways in which I feel Schroeder-Davis did indeed understand my perspective and what his reaction (and strong feeling) tells us about the field and the future.
If there's no silence, why is this analysis so "troubling" and "bizarre"? Schroeder-Davis is distressed by my "persona" as "pioneer" "breaking the silence." He feels that issues of equity and excellence have been discussed exhaustively in the literature. If, in fact, my assertions have been "made previously and debated thoroughly," why then, is my book so challenging to the field, challenging enough for him to characterize me as "the vanguard of a new wave of critics"? While I am certainly not the first person to raise the issues of elitism, racism, meritocracy and inequitable education with relation to gifted education, these issues have hardly been resolved. The field of gifted education would not be under the gun at the moment if these issues had been taken care of satisfactorily already. And, I would argue again, that the kinds of questions I am asking are different questions --- not just questions about "How do we make gifted programs more ethnically and racially diverse?" or "How do we include multiple intelligences within the purview of gifted education?" but "What happens when we identify children as gifted and what happens to their education and the education of the children who remain unlabeled?" These are very different questions, and they are not likely to be resolvable within the field or discourse of gifted education because their resolution would require a complete reorganization of our thinking and educational programming, including abandoning segregated programs for students labeled "gifted."
Giftedness and Social Construction: Labels Come From People. Schroeder-Davis flatly rejects my analysis of giftedness as a social construction and insists that there are children who are members of a discrete population ("gifted children") and that they "exist." He is critical of my statement that "without school rules and politics, legal and educational practices designed to provide services to gifted students, this category, per se, would not exist." Perhaps Schroeder-Davis should read more closely. I never said that children who perform stunningly well, or who differ substantially from their peers in certain ways, would not exist, but that the category would not exist. Category creation is a human activity, and, as such, it is framed by our values, our perceptions and our motivations. We are the ones that take certain characteristics of human beings and make them salient. Other cultures may choose differently. If our curriculum was based largely on spear throwing and hunting, then categories of height, quality of eye sight and upper body strength might be the defining ones used to describe people. We, as a culture, have chosen verbal intelligence as measured primarily by performance on IQ tests, as our characteristic of choice. He is correct that researchers and practitioners did not create children who learn faster than their age-peers, but they did create a category and call it "giftedness." I would encourage Schroeder-Davis to read more widely in order to understand the problematic and political nature of category creation, starting, perhaps with Gould's The Mismeasure of Man; the work of Mercer on mental retardation labeling; the fine work of Cicourel and Kitsuse or Mehan on educational decision making; and anything on the sociology of knowledge construction. Any of these might help Schroeder-Davis and other readers understand the ways in which categories emerge and the effects of those categories on subsequent policy and decision making.
The use of the term "coercive egalitarianism" (not surprisingly, the title of Schroeder-Davis' book) is clearly meant to enrage. How dare I suggest that we don't want people to "be all that they can be" or what I would suggest that, in the name of fairness, people with exceptional skills should be limited or held back? In fact, I said none of these things. I want all children to receive rich, exciting, nurturing educations that meet their unique educational needs. These educational programs will likely differ in hundreds of ways (if they are indeed responsive to individual children) because children differ in hundreds of ways. I have never set a goal of "equality of outcome" nor do I think such a thing is possible. What I do believe is that all children deserve to have resources committed to their educations, need high expectations, merit consistently caring and thoughtful educators in their lives, and should be part of loving, supportive communities. And, I have observed that the existence of gifted programming for only some children, gets in the way of these objectives for all.
Sorry John Dewey, Community is not a Value Anymore. I must say that I chuckled to learn that the goal of creating schools as communities of learners was a "peculiar" one and one that Schroeder-Davis, in his 22 years in education, after conversing with over 5,000 people had never heard of! As a Professor of Education, I would certainly love to see the course syllabi of the education courses that Schroeder-Davis took as part of his doctoral work. I guess John Dewey, the foremost writer about education and democracy, was not on the reading list. And I would love to know, of course, which 5,000 people he had talked to (in addition to counting them, in and of itself an impressive feat!). Many of the thousands of educators that I address yearly on topics of cooperative learning, diversity education and developing fully inclusive schools believe that establishing a strong school community is an essential goal, and a necessary antecedent to other forms of pedagogical and curricular reform.
Either Schroeder-Davis intentionally misreads my vision of inclusive classroom communities, or, perhaps even more sadly, he has never experienced the kind of classroom I describe. Nowhere did I suggest (as he said) "sacrificing the needs of those with high ability" or that such a classroom would exclude the kinds of services provided to "gifted" students. There are millions of brilliant, creative, innovative and flexible ways to provide exciting educational opportunities for students. I am always heartened to visit schools and classroom in which children of many levels and interests are all productively engaged in learning tasks appropriate to their needs. I am not convinced, however, that these opportunities can only be provided in segregated, pull-out, exclusive (members only) settings.
Although Schroeder-Davis states, "Clearly, what is being exposed within this false either/or proposition is equity over excellence," I never made such a statement. I agree with Schroeder-Davis that equity and excellence are not an "either/or proposition." I do not feel that being explicit about how resources are allocated and exploring thoughtfully the ramifications and consequences of certain forms of inequitable resource distribution leads to a privileging of equity over excellence. Rather it might lead to lots more excellence for more people!
Envisioning and Supporting a Diverse Society. There are many more areas in which it is clear that Schroeder-Davis and I do not hold similar beliefs or understandings about the goals of the American educational system. His statement, for example, that "a meritocratic system is the most efficient and ethical method of selection possible" is so far from my own belief in and commitment to excellence for all children, that it is difficult to find even enough common ground for a rebuttal.
I will also not respond to Schroeder-Davis' patently false statement that "hereditary privilege" is not a problem in America, or that sheer will (persistence and effort) are sufficient to make schools a level playing field. It is this kind of argument that embeds the racism and stratification even further within our schools ---- if you only worked hard enough and cared more, you could make it! I would dare Schroeder-Davis to make these statements in front of a racially diverse community in which the gifted program is almost completely white. Interestingly enough, Schroeder-Davis never responds to the discussion of racism or my discussion of the ways in which gifted programs collude with existing patterns of racial discrimination in schools and society. I would urge him to examine the racial and ethnic compositions of schools nationally and then to respond.
And, sadly, Schroeder-Davis completely misinterprets the data I report from my study. He concludes that because many of the informants do not share what he calls my "moral indignation," it is clear that there is no problem and that the situation is "tension free." The logic of this statement is a lot like declaring, "I interviewed 100 people about the destruction of the ozone layer and only two of them were at all concerned, so it is clear that the problem has been blown way out of proportion." In fact, the reactions of the participants in my study are completely consistent with my analysis of the ways in which gifted education is firmly embedded, relatively immune from serious examination or critique, and closely connected to the disempowerment and deskilling of teachers. The fact that many teachers, parents and students were complacent about the issue, or had, in fact, given up arguing, says a lot about silencing and little about the seriousness of the problem.
Schroeder-Davis urges me to talk more to students about issues such as inclusion and ability grouping. I think this is a fine recommendation for us both. I think that students are incredibly perceptive about their own lives and schooling and that much weight should be given to their feelings and understandings. And, we must also place their remarks within a context --- if students have experienced poorly implemented heterogeneous classrooms in which their own education has been damaged by the presence of disruptive students, and the curriculum has been boring and inflexibly unmotivating, this is indeed problematic. It says much about the need to support teachers far more extensively as they move away from tracking and towards heterogeneous teaching. And it speaks volumes about the ways in which teachers are prepared in colleges and universities and about their need for extensive preparation for heterogeneous teaching and community building. It says little, however, about how we should organize our schools so that students get to know and value a wide range of fellow students.
On Not Valuing People with Disabilities: The Dangers of Gifted Elitism Personified. But beyond all the places that I feel that Schroeder-Davis did not understand my book or the places that it is clear that we do not agree, the aspect of Schroeder-Davis' review that most distressed me was his discussion of students with disabilities. While it is clear that Schroeder-Davis is a product of his own quite limited educational history with people with disabilities, the attitudes and values he expresses concerning children he calls "unmotivated," "defiant," "resolutely subversive" ---- children he refers to as "predators" --- upset me deeply. As an educator who works daily with students who are identified as having a variety of educational and behavioral disabilities, and with teachers who are preparing to teach (and currently teaching) in heterogeneous, inclusive classrooms, Schroeder-Davis' attitudes are an unfortunate indication of the prejudices and misinformation which impede these students' active participation and success in classrooms. And, not surprisingly, Schroeder-Davis' negative attitudes towards diversity are not limited to his prejudices about children with disabilities. He also asks, "Why every imaginable incapacity and deficiency -- many of them freely chosen and highly resistant to our corrective efforts -- is tolerated and embraced, while the fact of high ability is not only not revered, it is denied, ridiculed and abandoned?"
The fact that Schroeder-Davis equates diversity with "incapacity" and "deficiency" and sees differences as things that need to be "corrected" is very troublesome. I certainly do not feel that those with high ability should be denied, ridiculed or abandoned -- I do not feel that any human being should be treated that way -- but I would extend to all children the same treatment that Schroeder-Davis would like offered to the children identified as "gifted."
Schroeder-Davis' comments also make me sincerely wonder what contact he has had with children with disabilities and their parents, and about his beliefs about the value and educability of all children. Were I a parent of a child with a disability, I would have serious qualms about Schroeder-Davis' commitment to my child and his/her education, and, further, to Schroeder-Davis' willingness to think about the broader community into which my child will move and become a part. Perhaps, the existence of a highly trained professional with extensive graduate education training who talks about children with disabilities with such scorn and fear is the best indication of the critical need for all students to meet, know, appreciate and connect with students with disabilities. We cannot afford any more adults who hold the attitudes such as those expressed by Schroeder-Davis as we move towards a multi-cultural, diverse community.
To begin with, Schroeder-Davis' understanding of the current Full Inclusion movement is quite limited. The term "least restrictive environment" which he uses and then applies to "gifted" students in order to describe the regular classroom as "severely restrictive environments" for gifted students has been largely replaced with an analysis of the changes that need to be made in "typical" classrooms which make them good learning environments for all students. These changes, which include changes in pedagogy, curriculum and staffing, are all designed to meet the needs of a wide range of learners within a unified community. While I will concede that such classrooms are far from common place, there are a growing number of places in which such classrooms are operationalized. Rather than restrictive environments for any student, they tend to be exciting, student-centered classrooms which make use of learning centers, critical thinking skills, cooperative learning, multi-level teaching, multiple intelligences, multi-modality teaching and so on. Schroeder-Davis' comments about the inappropriateness of cooperative learning for gifted students, for example, is further indication of his inability to separate bad pedagogy and poor imple-mentation from a goal of inclusion and a commitment to diverse learners.
Also misleading, perhaps intentionally, is Schroeder-Davis' references to students who are "emotionally disturbed and potentially violent as well as those who are simply hostile to education" as representing the crux of the inclusion movement. This is a scare tactic, plain and simple. It is designed to convince parents of "gifted" students that axe-murders and knife-wielding crazy children will soon take over their child's classroom in the name of inclusion, and that separate programs for gifted students are the only solution. This is another example of partial data followed by an erroneous and not necessarily logical or inevitable conclusion.
The AFT's concern that some school districts have "rushed into inclusion without a firm foundation and are now experiencing problems" is a concern I share deeply. Inclusion, thoughtfully implemented, requires planning and preparation time, support for teachers and administrators, changes in curriculum and pedagogy, re-organized staff arrangements and a firm commitment to the principles of diversity and community. Not all schools have moved towards such conscientious implementation. But the conclusion Schroeder-Davis makes (and others as well) is that inclusion shouldn't be done. My conclusion is that knowing all we know about the nature of school change and the need for comprehensive systems' change rather than superficial tinkering, we better do inclusion well. And, doing inclusion well should include serious attention to meeting the needs of students now served in gifted programs within the inclusion model, not simply the abandonment of the services they now receive.
Lastly, I would like to thank Schroeder-Davis for labeling me a "reformist." It is a label I will accept with pride. I will also accept "idealist" (one who believes that things and people can do better) and "visionary" (one who works towards a vision or goal). I remain committed to re-inventing schools in which all students are accepted, nurtured and valued for their unique gifts. Certainly this includes students currently labeled as "gifted" --- I want these students to be secure in their talents, warmly welcomed by their classmates, encouraged to do their best, challenged by high demands and high expectations, and seen as complete people, rather than scores on a test or subtest. An important difference, though, between Schroeder-Davis and me, is that this is what I want for all students.
TRIBUTE TO A GREAT AMERICAN HUMORIST, JAMES THURBER (1894-1961)
BY MICHAEL E. WALTERS NEW YORK CITY PUBLIC SCHOOLS
"Humor is emotional chaos remembered in tranquility." James Thurber
The United States has produced a wonderful array of literary giants who have expressed themselves through humor. It is important to include the study of these individuals in the gifted curriculum because they will appeal to the sensibility of gifted children. One of these giants was honored in September 1994 by the United States Postal Service with a commemorative stamp issued in memory of James Thurber. This stamp contained Thurber's own self-portrait.
He is part of the American tradition of great literary humorists represented by such writers as Mark Twain, Ambrose Bierce, Ring Lardner, H.L. Mencken and Garrison Keillor. All of them had two remarkable traits easily taken for granted: the ability to write creatively on a highly artistic level, and the expression of profound social criticism and philosophical insights.
Gifted children should learn that other societies in world history have not valued humor as much as ours. For example, the two ogres of 20th century totalitarianism, Hitler and Stalin, tried to outlaw humor. Adolf Hitler was fearful of Walt Disney's Mickey Mouse and felt that the rodent was an insult to the Aryan Superman concept. The Russian writer, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, was sent to the gulag for a comic reference he made in a personal letter about Joseph Stalin's mustache.
In contrast to the totalitarian dislike of humor, there is a strong positive link between humor and the democratic sensibility. Our country has long been fertile and friendly soil for humorists. The national legacy includes such gems of humor as the frontier tall tale (e.g., the story of Paul Bunyan), the Afro-American folk tale represented in modern times by Langston Hughes' simple stories, the social satire written by women humorists such as Dorothy Parker, and the ironical theater of our contemporary playwright, Neil Simon. There is also an acting tradition of American humor starting with Mark Twain's stage performances, proceeding through Will Rogers' vaudeville and stage career, and culminating in Bill Cosby's recent family humor on television.
Besides Thurber's literary achievements, there are several other reasons for studying and honoring him. He was an excellent caricaturist whose drawings were the inspiration for social commentary cartoons in The New Yorker and other periodicals. His depictions of dogs are considered to be classical cartoons. This genre is another example of how easy it is to take cultural achievements for granted. The American cartoon tradition as represented by Tom and Jerry, Woody Woodpecker, Donald Duck and the Flintstones is appreciated worldwide as an art form.
In 1927 Thurber became a staff writer for The New Yorker and remained one for over thirty years. In addition to writing his own books, essays and stories, he helped to develop fellow writers such as E.B. White, Dorothy Parker, Edmund Wilson, and Peter De Vries. In the 1920s and 1930s, writers and cultural figures (among them were Thurber, Ring Lardner, Oscar Levant, the Marx Brothers, Dorothy Parker, Edmund Wilson, George S. Kaufman, Tallulah Bankhead, Noel Coward, Edna Ferber, etc.) gathered for lunch at the Algonquin Hotel near The New Yorker's offices. This was probably the most famous luncheon group in American history! The "Algonquin Round Table" included people from all areas of the media and entertainment business -- journalism, theater, radio and movies. These discussions helped to stimulate a cultural renaissance in the literary arts that influenced Thurber and his colleagues to develop The New Yorker into a great magazine of literature and intellectual discourse.
In the area of drama, Thurber wrote one of the most significant plays ever produced on the American stage, The Male Animal (1940). It is even more relevant today than when it was first performed, since it is a humorous but penetrating critique of the American idea of maleness and the sports cult. During World War II, he also composed fairy tales that analyzed the totalitarian personality, e.g., The Great Quillow (1944).
This great American writer and literary catalyst was troubled throughout his life by visual handicaps that led to blindness in his last decades. Yet he did not allow this physical problem to hinder or limit his artistic productivity. The world renowned poet T.S. Eliot was one of James Thurber's admirers. In his 1951 tribute to Thurber, we get a sense of this humorist's greatness: "It is a form of humor which is also a way of saying something serious. There is criticism of life at the bottom of it. It is serious and even somber. Unlike so much of humor, it is not merely a criticism of manners -- that is, of the superficial aspects of society at a given moment -- but something more profound. His writings and also his illustrations are capable of surviving the immediate environment and time out of which they spring. To some extent, they will be a document of the age they belong to."
RECOMMENDED BOOKS --
Thurber, James. The Secret Life of Walter Mitty. 1939.
_____________ . Fables for Our Times. 1940.
_____________ . The Great Quillow. 1944.
_____________ . The Thurber Carnival. 1945.
_____________ . Thurber's Dogs. 1955.
_____________ . The Years with Ross. 1959.