GIFTED EDUCATION PRESS QUARTERLY
10201 YUMA COURT
P.O. BOX 1586
MANASSAS, VA 20108
VOLUME TEN, NUMBER ONE
LIFETIME SUBSCRIPTION: $22.00
Recently I attended the annual conference of the Ohio Association for Gifted Children (OAGC) in Worthington, Ohio. This impressive meeting included approximately 450 teachers, program coordinators and parents. A variety of interesting sessions and speeches/presentations were offer-ed by such individuals as Jim Curry, Jim Delisle and Carol Tomlinson. The synergy and dynamism produced by these speakers and OAGC members was both inspirational and noteworthy for stressing the importance of gifted education in Ohio. The organizers of this meeting, Sharon Buzzard and Maria Pappas, produced a thoroughly enjoyable and productive conference.
My confidence in the gifted field was strengthened by the panel discussion I moderated. (The participants were Jim Curry, Jim Delisle, Bruce Kline, Jerry Landman, Stephen Schroeder-Davis and Carol Tomlinson.) The topics addressed ranged from the need for educators of the gifted to work more closely with regular classroom teachers to the importance of motivating parents (both gifted and non-gifted) to support differential education programs. The panelists’ viewpoints on these and other issues covered a wide variety of viewpoints. But the tone of the discussion showed that individuals with different opinions and approaches concerning gifted education can engage in dynamic and useful interchanges that help teachers and administrators to better understand some of the key issues in this field. The range of opinions expressed by the panelists was valuable to both the participants and the audience. It would be educationally healthy to have similar types of panel discussions at every state and national meeting. Such discussions among educators with different viewpoints are particularly necessary at national meetings to promote the survival and expansion of gifted education during these hard times.
The current national leadership seems to be taking a role of accommodating gifted education to the regular education classroom. As indicated by many teachers at OAGC, this role of appeasement is not working and will eventually bring about the overall demise of differential education for the gifted. In this regard, we need to strengthen our offense to a much higher level than is currently evident at the national level. Why is this accommodating stance being so forthrightly taken by many national leaders in the gifted field? Is this position best for gifted children and for the future of our nation? Would a new organization of educators of the gifted be better able to stem the tide of anti-giftedness that currently exists nationwide?
One of my authors, Stephen Schroeder-Davis , presented sessions at OAGC concerned with his analysis of anti-intellectualism in American schools and society. These sessions were very well attended by teachers concerned with the pressures exerted against gifted children by their non-gifted peers and regular education teachers. It is clear that anti-intellectualism is strong in the public schools and has detrimental effects on the social and intellectual development of gifted children. Teachers can help them to deal with this problem by using such instructional guides as Coercive Egalitarianism: A Study of Discrimination Against Gifted Students (Gifted Education Press, 1993) by Stephen Schroeder-Davis. Furthermore, the anti-intellectualism that exists in public education needs to be honestly addressed by school boards, superintendents, teachers and parents.
The authors in this issue are seriously concerned with future of gifted education from the early education through university levels. Joan Smutny, Director of The Center for Gifted at National-Louis University, discusses some of the articles included in her forthcoming book on educating young gifted children. Through her dedicated efforts, she has established one of the largest summer programs for gifted students in the nation. During the summer months, it includes over 2,000 students from all over the Chicago metropolitan area. Karen Kendig appears in this quarterly for the first time with an essay on homeschooling the gifted. She has taught in a gifted magnet school in Colorado for six years and is coordinator of the testing and selection program today. She has written articles and spoken at state and national conventions on a variety of topics, including underachieving gifted. Karen is currently serving on her local school district’s gifted and talented committee and is a homeschooling parent. Michael Walters concludes this issue with a discussion of Jonathan Swift’s satirical writings -- much of what Swift satirized has particular bearing on the current state of public education. Walters has been writing articles for GEPQ on the humanities and related areas since its inception nine years ago.
Maurice D. Fishe, Ph.D., Publisher
THE UNDERSERVED YOUNG GIFTED CHILD: STATUS OF PROGRAMS AND RESEARCH
BY JOAN SMUTNY THE CENTER FOR GIFTED
NATIONAL-LOUIS UNIVERSITY EVANSTON, ILLINOIS
The gifted young child has been and continues to be underserved and ineffectively served; and within this general classification of young children, there are a number of special populations of gifted whose needs have been virtually ignored. One sign that gifted preprimary and primary education is coming of age is increased sensitivity to the requirements of these special groups, which include children from impoverished backgrounds. Commonly, special populations have been underidentified due to traditional identification methods that rely heavily on IQ and achievement tests. These standardized tests are severely limited in their ability to identify any group outside of mainstream culture.
Margie Kitano and Rosa Perez encountered obstacles in designing and implementing their programs, called Project Excel and Project First, for gifted children from low income and culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds in San Diego. According to Kitano and Perez, few programs are available for these young children because of major misconceptions about their needs, such as: remedial education is required to prepare them for schooling; children need to master the English language before facing larger challenges; standardized testing of them is less reliable; and enriched curriculum at the preschool/primary level is developmentally unsound. As Kitano and Perez discovered, "research on successful strategies for improving educational opportunities for this population consistently identifies early intervention and parental involvement as critical components."
To this end, Kitano and Perez designed Project Excel, which relies on Howard Gardner's theory of multiple intelligences as a means by which to identify gifted bilingual children and enrich the bilingual classroom, and Project First Step, a Javits funded project for culturally diverse pre-school children that integrates regular education and preschool education with gifted and bilingual education. In Project Excel and Project First Step, all children enrolled in bilingual or preschool programs receive an enriched curriculum based on Hilda Taba's inductive thinking strategies and Parnes' creative problem-solving model. These strategies are then integrated into interdisciplinary thematic units. The emphases in the classroom on creative, inductive and higher-level thinking skills gives students opportunities to demonstrate their strengths. Using observation and portfolios, the teacher is able to informally identify a pool of potentially gifted children in his classroom. Teacher identification is supported by parental input and student motivation. In this way, students are not only identified, but readied for entrance into the school's formal gifted program which starts in third grade.
Critical to successful implementation of these programs has been extensive collaboration and communication among gifted teachers, bilingual teachers, preschool teachers and regular classroom teachers. For example, One Project Excel teacher "presented to First Step teachers a demonstration of a lesson combining brainstorming and Taba's developing concepts strategy for use with Spanish-speaking children who are not yet reading. The demonstration provided an excellent example of capturing children's ideas and helping them categorize by recording their brainstorming on audio tape, drawing or cutting out pictures to represent their ideas, and manipulating the drawings to create and re-create categories." Peer coaching is a critical component in honing teaching skills as instructors seek to implement new elements into their curriculums. " . . . the coaches record the positive aspects of the lesson, the children's responses to the lesson and the behaviors targeted by the teacher during the planning phase. Following the observation, the teacher describes her or his feelings about the lesson and outcomes. The coaches share their positive observations and the team of teachers and coaches problem solve about possible modifications and extensions."
Parent involvement is a must. Project staff hold three-to-five parent workshops per year to encourage parent involvement and awareness of the curriculum being taught. In its fifth year of operation, the results have been enormously positive. Evaluation methods show that "the longer the students remain in Project classrooms, the more likely they are to outperform their own Project peers on the standardized achievement test. Moreover, students identified for the talent pool outperform those not so identified in Project and non-Project classrooms. Further, teacher surveys reveal that teachers of the gifted rate former Excel students similarly to non-Excel gifted students." Considering the low incomes and linguistically diverse backgrounds of these children and their families, that is a remarkable achievement indeed!
The identification problems associated with low income, culturally diverse children are applicable as well to children who hail from rural areas. Poverty and rurality limit their access to cultural opportunities and exposure to the world beyond their own community. Lack of varied career models lowers career expectations and enforces the status quo. Not only do these children need special means of identification, but special programming for these children and their parents is also required. According to Howard Spicker and W. Thomas Southern, experts in the field of the rural education, "Every effort must be made to develop the ability of teachers to recognize talent in expression, content that is different from that which they have learned to expect. Programming must take into account the lack of human and material resources and isolation inherent in the most impoverished and rural areas."
Project Spring strove to identify gifted rural children through anecdotal information given by parents. Parents were asked questions about their children's abilities or interests in fixing, making, and collecting things, and in writing and reading. "Unfortunately, parents of rural or economically disadvantaged children are less likely to provide the same level of information that a middle class parent might. They have less time to fill out lengthy information forms, their writing skills may be such that they are unable or unwilling to provide extended and elaborate information . . . they may be suspicious toward schools and view with distrust requests for information." (Southern & Spicker, 1996)
Southern and Spicker know that even after a child has been identified for a gifted program, there is no guarantee the child will remain in the program. In fact, drop-out rates seem to directly correlate with socioeconomic status. Southern and Spicker advise that, "For rural children it is important to use instructional opportunities that are closely related to the environment and experiences of the students being taught. In this way instruction can focus on the experiences to which rural students have been exposed and use the actual resources the community possesses to make the process relevant . . .. The programs that were most successful included those where a home intervention component was part of the educational efforts. It is essential to convince family members that education is the means for their children to achieve a better life. In rural areas, particularly, it is necessary to emphasize that the development of talent can also preserve the best of what is in the local community."
Fortunately, with the advent of the computer it is not as necessary to be able to travel physically in order to enrich oneself. With CD-ROM, a student can travel to the Louvre, the San Diego Zoo or the Uffizi galleries. Through the internet and computer bulletin boards it is no longer necessary to have a sophisticated urban library. Southern and Spicker predict that computer technology can be the great equalizer and means of access for children from isolated areas; or the greatest of divisors if rural children are withheld from technology as well.
Another population within the gifted whose needs are special is young children who are gifted and learning-disabled. The dilemmas created by the disparity between potential and performance, the above-average abilities displayed at home compared to the failure in meeting school standards, and the child's frustration at his own inability to turn his marvelous vision into an equally impressive product, creates a situation too sensitive to be ignored by schools. Too often, schools discount the gifted side of the young child and focus almost entirely on remediating the deficit. This approach can seriously frustrate the otherwise gifted child and cause severe emotional distress.
Nancy Wingenbach suggests that if children are viewed "in terms of strengths and weaknesses as opposed to over-all classification," the educational approach will naturally fall into place to meet the individual needs of that child. If "the educational goal is to teach the child to process information in such a manner enabling him to cope well and interact successfully with the world in which he lives . . . no matter the mode of information input/output, the important concern is the internalization of knowledge in combination with the conceptualization, application or use of that knowledge within the context of the child's daily life." Wingenbach advises "altering the mode of processing information to fit with the strengths of the child. The gifted-learning-disabled child may have been altering the processing for years and researchers are just catching on to what the student already knows." Wingenbach warns, "Too often, the child's identified weakness becomes the hub around which all lesson plans and teaching strategies revolve. The child's particular strengths are not reinforced and the compensatory practice of using alternate modes of processing information is not encouraged." This misguided approach causes undue stress for the young child, resulting in emotional and behavioral problems that could have been avoided.
IEP's, or even Renzulli's revolving door approach to gifted, may be one of the most appropriate ways to empower the young child who is gifted and learning-disabled, to focus on his gifts. Teachers need to take more time to break down assignments or projects into discrete steps with deadlines along the way. Also, teachers should provide alternative approaches and choices for these students to demonstrate their knowledge. Just recognition and awareness of the gifted side of such a child will do much to assist that child in maintaining his own sense of wholeness and positive self-esteem.
What of the highly gifted young child? What would be your reaction if your six-month-old began speaking in three- or four-word sentences, or your newborn, on his first day home from the hospital, visually analyzed for two hours every detail of your kitchen? Would you admit to yourself that possibly your infant was a highly gifted individual, or would you prefer to wait until the child was in third grade and took standardized tests? There is no doubt that the highly gifted are "different." Stephanie Tolan has much to say about the difficulty in identifying and coping with the highly gifted due to asynchronous development. "The concept of `mental age' is useful in grasping cognitive differences in children at the highest ranges. We understand that a six-year-old with an IQ of 200 (mental age of 12) is likely to be desperately out of place in a first grade classroom. But mental age is too narrow a concept to help us cope with asynchronous development. There are many ages within any gifted child, and the interaction of those ages is complicated. Parents usually have at least some sense of the age variation. One mother explains that her eight-year-old son Tad is `eight on the soccer field, fourteen in algebra class, twenty when pleading his case for more challenging school work, and three when he can't find his teddy bear at bedtime.'"
Due to inflexible curriculums and programming, schools often provide little sensitivity to problems of asynchronism. "Consider the plight of Nicole, a six year old girl with an IQ score over 150, who reads and comprehends at the eighth-grade level but is put into the first grade with her age mates. In her school the recent emphasis on `inclusion' has dictated that all first graders use the same reading text. It is impossible for Nicole to exhibit an eighth grade reading level on the primer she is given; she can't read the words `I see the dog' eight levels better than any of the others. . . . Her handwriting, far too slow to keep up with her agile mind, is ponderous and messy; for this reason she often writes short, simple sentences rather than the complex one she is thinking. Even in open-ended writing assignments she is unable to show her level of verbal reasoning." (Tolan, 1996)
Under circumstances as frustrating as Nicole's, Tolan advocates acceleration, home schooling or even "un-schooling." One mother avers that she "wants nothing in her children's lives that smacks of school, which she associates with being forced to do things of little or no interest for little or no reason. `Shelley learned incredibly well when she was 18 months old and I wasn't trying to teach her anything. Why should I start teaching her now? Her brother likes different subjects and does different things. But he learns quite well on his own, too.' These two children make out their own schedules and devise their own learning plans. . . . When they take standardized achievement tests, their scores surprise even their mother--they are well beyond their age mates even in subjects they have made no apparent effort to study. And in subjects of current interest they are routinely off the scales. `No matter how haphazard our system might appear, I don't think it can be educationally any worse than school.'" Tolan warns that failure to nourish the intellectual capacities of the gifted young child and ignoring the dilemmas of asynchronism can have a life-long crippling effect.
Corliss McCallister and William Nash have focused their attention on the young child who is highly creatively gifted. "Grace was a child who appeared at preschool every morning with a bag full of costumes and dancing shoes. She was a joyful and tireless performer. During the course of the morning session she would change into different outfits, assemble a group of willing audience members and perform improvisational works. But when observed in the first month of kindergarten, she had changed. Her eyes were glazed over in a look more appropriate for a bored third-grader, her shoulders slumped and her head hung over. Her mother reported that Grace had asked to drop out of kindergarten after the first week and became depressed when she was told she had twelve years of school ahead of her. While her classmates were excused for gifted and talented class, Grace remained to do work sheets because her IQ and achievement scores were not acceptably high." In speaking with her mother, she summed her kindergarten experience up as follows, "I don't think this kindergarten thing is going to work out. I don't have time for the really important things in my life. I've been there a whole week and we haven't danced once."
McCallister and Nash purport that creativity in the young child is often discounted in the classroom because there is little agreement on how creativity should be defined, much less promoted and nurtured, in the classroom. In a Javits funded proposal, McCallister and Nash set out to first define creativity. After an exhaustive review of the research on creativity, they decided they must develop their own theory of creativity with the following assumptions:
1. Creativity is continuous, not dichotomous.
All people are creative; however some people excel at it. If children are to develop their creative sides, they must be valued for it.
2. Creativity is a dynamic, interactive and multidimensional process.
". . . creativity is dynamic because it changes . . . What is creative in 1994 may be completely standardized by 1996. Creativity is also dynamic because it links the past, present and future . . . the creative process is interactive because it is the interplay of the genetic uniqueness of the individual with the unique life experiences of that individual. The mix of all the internal factors with all the external conditions of living create the combination which will result in a novel product or performance."
3. Creativity may encompass intentionality, but requires awareness.
"Given that creative behavior is conscious, then, the statement can be made that the mental processes involved in creative thinking can be learned, practiced and changed by each individual. Thus while children may intuitively or naturally choose creative behaviors, these can also be motivated and modified by the educational process."
4. Creativity is higher order intellectual processing.
Creativity is not mystical. "Like intelligence, creativity entails both convergent and divergent thinking processes. Like other intellectual processes, it requires the interactions of ideas and intentions and the recognition of both concrete and abstract inter-relationships."
Their research led McCallister and Nash to define creativity as "a continuous, pervasive, interactive and multidimensional process that gives rise to invention, transformation, generation, novelty and originality. Creativity is an integral part of all human intellectual performance; a higher order of intellectual processing, influenced by biological, psychological, sociological, conceptual knowledge, and general problem-solving knowledge internal to the creator." From these theoretical assumptions McCallister and Nash developed the objectives for identification instruments, curriculum design, teacher training and student activities.
In identifying the young child who is creatively gifted, McCallister and Nash relied on two instruments in particular. First was the Torrance List of Creative Positives (TCP), which is based on Paul Torrance's Non-Test Indicators Checklist (1973). The TCP includes 70 items that describe creative behaviors in which observers rate the strength of the child's behavior. The 70 items are split into 15 categories such as responsiveness, expressiveness and enjoyment of arts activities. McCallister and Nash also developed the Contrasting Behaviors Checklist (CBC), which is "a list of 33 paired adjectives, one representing a trait of creative children and the other, its opposite." It is simple to use and can be applied to a wide variety of child activities. In general it is recommended that multiple instruments be used, assessment include information from a variety of sources and that information be both qualitative and quantitative.
McCallister and Nash implemented their creativity theory in a program for pre-school children. Although no one can guarantee that children will produce highly creative products, the teaching staff felt responsible for creating a classroom environment most conducive to creativity. "Every instructional design decision--the room layout, questions asked, the schedule, the materials chosen--were expected to contribute to increasing creative behaviors. . . . The two words that emerged from the experience of the first preschool were `opportunity' and `affirmation.' Students were to be given opportunities which they had previously been denied--opportunities to explore, to experience, to express. Affirmation, the behavior which rewarded individuals for creative effort, was considered equally important. The adults and the students were expected to affirm everyone's right to be creative, to affirm their own efforts at creative behavior and to affirm their creative products."
Several conclusions can be drawn from this project. The theory can be used as a basis for a taxonomy on creativity; or it can be used to guide curriculum writing to include creative aspects. Programs "which emphasize the creative process over, or to the exclusion of, the creative product (or vice-versa) will not be as effective as programs which take a balanced approach." (McClellan and Nash).
Patricia Brooks also addresses the concern that minority children are grossly underrepresented in gifted programs, through her innovative identification method called Project Step. In 1987, Project Step was implemented in Maryland by Brooks, as a means of identifying gifted minority students. The program focused on teachers, rather than tests, as the prime identifiers. Teachers over the course of a school year were asked to identify those children who demonstrate special abilities in five areas: learning, motivation, leadership, creativity, and adaptability. At the heart of the program was a checklist made up of 40 behavioral characteristics observable in the classroom. Project Step, which was supported through extensive teacher training, has proven to be highly successful as an identification means in placing minority students in the district's TAG program or magnet school.
Yet, after a few years of implementation Brooks discovered a disturbing pattern. "Despite the school's relatively high overall academic standing in the county (23rd out of 122), minority students were lagging far behind their white classmates in both the TAG and COMP [comprehensive] programs." Staff and administration were galvanized into action. Faculty were reorganized into teams wherein all staff members received both comprehensive and TAG teaching duties. Teachers were empowered to "research, practice, design, and implement innovative programs" that increased achievement for all students but especially emphasized support for underachieving minority students.
All students benefitted from this innovative approach. Using Howard Gardner's theory of multiple intelligences, new classes were created that went beyond the usual emphases on linguistic and logical-mathematical intelligences almost exclusively stressed in most gifted programs. Classes in art, music and drama were added to the curriculum. Teaching methods that emphasized a hands-on approach were included in order to better complement a greater range of learning styles. Opportunities for mentoring and tutoring between the older and younger children were arranged and notably 100% of the students were guided into at least one extracurricular school activity, sport, club, etc., that mirrored Gardner's theory of multiple intelligences.
The task was Herculean; the results, outstanding. Standardized test scores shot up for both minority and non-minority students; enrollment in pre-algebra class increased; teachers and administrators received numerous awards both locally and nationally for their achievements; but most importantly, the gap between white and non-white achievement was closed.
These responses to the challenge of dealing with the underserved young gifted child can hearten us. We seek to identify the diversity of gifts expressed by these children and to design and implement programs and activities that will have an impact on their talents. No single answer meets their multifaceted needs. All programs and priorities shared in this article compel the reader to begin early in identification and intervention. Teachers, parents and care givers owe it to these bright young children to recognize their needs and their potential as life-long learners, starting in toddlerhood.
This material is drawn from an anthology on the young gifted child, to be published this winter-to-spring 1996 by Hampton Press, Creskill, New Jersey.
THE HOME EDUCATION MODEL: AN ALTERNATIVE PROGRAM FOR THE GIFTED
BY KAREN KENDIG KIOWA, COLORADO
Each year I coordinate the testing and selection process for a gifted program in one of the largest school districts in Colorado. Much of my time is spent taking calls from parents. Parents who call are concerned about their child's education and emotional well being. Many of them relate horror stories of their child's treatment and lack of progress in the regular classroom. Some are concerned about the lack of challenge. Others worry about their child's behavior and misconduct. Still, others are heartbroken by their child's lack of self esteem caused by being ostracized from their classmates.
Parents and their gifted children often experience dissatisfaction with classroom situations and are very vocal about expressing their concerns. Unfortunately, many of those parental concerns may be perceived by educators as outspoken and overbearing. When parents and teachers become embattled against one another, it is often the gifted child who loses. The fact is, both parents and educators want what is best for the child and in many cases, home education is the best alternative. Consider the following scenarios.
Lilly has a passion for writing. She wants to write every chance she gets and does. When the teacher is giving directions in math, Lilly is writing. When a speaker comes to talk about Japan, Lilly is taking notes for a story she will write later. Lilly puts an inordinate amount of time into her creative writing projects; typing them on the computer, including pictures and an author profile. Her grades in other subjects are very unpredictable. This unpredictability is due in part to not listening when directions are given and to her pure lack of interest in other subjects. When Lilly is absorbed in her writing and it is time to stop and get ready for recess or music class, she often throws a fit because her train of thought has been interrupted. Lilly is a gifted young lady who is not achieving in school unless it relates to language arts and literature. She is very unhappy and wishes there was another way to learn.
Don is about as creative as they come. At home he has constructed several of his own inventions. He draws intricate and detailed pictures of every type of machinery. When asked to tell a joke, it takes him no time at all to come up with a very clever pun or riddle of his own. Kids in the neighborhood love to play at his house because he always makes up the neatest games and hide outs. At school, Don has a very difficult time taking subjective tests full of multiple choice and true/false questions. Due to his imagination and creative way of looking at things, Don is always able to justify any answer on the test. If Don were able to take essay tests or give his answers verbally, he would do much better in most subjects. With thirty other students in his class, it is rare that the teacher has the time to give such time-consuming tests. Don thinks he is smarter than the tests reveal and he wishes there was some way to prove it to himself and others.
Sally is very verbal. She enjoys talking and has a vocabulary that is quite advanced for her age. When there is a play, Sally gets the biggest part. She will learn it quicker, say it louder and be more dramatic than anyone else in the class. When the teacher asks a question, Sally's hand will be the first to go up. The teacher will wait for the others and then say, "Doesn't anyone but Sally know the answer?" Sally likes to read and does well in just about all of her subjects. The teacher picks her to tutor other students who are having a hard time. Sally is the teacher's pet, but she hates to go to school. She does not have a friend in the world. (If Sally does not get some kind of help before she gets into junior high school, she will more than likely go underground and play stupid to gain friends and become popular with the boys.)
Sheila has a wealth of ideas and information stored in her head waiting to be unleashed. She never answers a question, although she has the answer. She rarely finishes a test, though she memorized the book backwards and forwards. Her projects are good, but never exciting or out of the ordinary. Sheila is a gifted student performing at an average level because she is a perfectionist. She is afraid to get the answer wrong so she never raises her hand and worries over her answers so long that time runs out before tests are completed. Sheila is so afraid to risk failure that the creative and daring ideas in her head remain there. Her projects are safe and replicate other acceptable projects from the past. Sheila is dissatisfied with her performance and is unhappy with herself. She wishes things were different.
Tad is a computer whiz. He works with them so much that he knows a lot about everything you can learn from software today. Tad uses computer lingo and talks to the technical advisor when he comes to service the computer. His teacher arranged for him to attend and help teach an inservice course on computers for the school staff. The other students think Tad is weird. A geek, they call him. Tad wishes there was someone who shared his interest and knowledge about computers. He knows there are others out there beyond the classroom walls, but he is depressed to think he has to graduate before he finds them.
There are thousands of children, possibly millions, who are unhappy with school. Let's say that some of them are gifted and lucky enough to be in school districts where gifted programs are provided for those who qualify. (Keep in mind that there are many students who are gifted, but for one reason or another do not qualify for a particular alternative program.) If a student is in a gifted program, why would a parent be unhappy with his/her child's education?
When Nancy's daughter, Sarah, was put in the gifted pull out program she felt it was better than nothing. Now she's not so sure. Sarah misses a different subject each week to attend her gifted class for one hour. During that time, her group does some mind games and mini study projects. Sometimes they discuss current affairs. While she is out of the classroom, her classmates are often learning a new lesson or working on class assignments. Sarah either misses directions completely or has to stay after school to have the teacher repeat them. Sarah often has homework to make up for what she missed in class. She does not see any benefits of being smart. It's just extra work. Nancy wants her daughter to be stimulated and challenged all the time at school, not just one hour a week, but what alternative does she have?
Steve's son is in a school for the gifted. He is challenged all day long. Subjects are taught at a fast pace and what is not done in class, he brings home for hours of homework. Steve's son is bright and catches on quickly in most subjects, but not all. Those subjects he is slower at, he finds extremely frustrating. Due to the pace of the class, he never truly masters a skill before speeding on to the next one. Steve's son has a very distorted view of his abilities, because he is not gifted in all areas and therefore is not the brightest student in the class. Steve is concerned about his son's self concept and the amount of work he is doing at such a young age. Steve feels that his son is not allowed to be a child and is concerned about his level of frustration and anxiety.
Charles and Darla have four children and have seen two of them through the public school system and the gifted programs it had to offer. They are proud of their children's accomplishments and feel their older children received a good education. They have watched over the years, however, as children with learning problems have been mainstreamed into the regular classroom with no adjustments made in class size. They have seen a decline in respect for teachers and a decline in the rights of teachers to enforce rules and regulations. Being in business management, Charles recognizes a decline in productivity among students and a decline in morale among teachers. Darla volunteers in the classroom more than ever before and is dismayed to find the teachers totally overwhelmed by their situation. Charles and Darla know they must vote for educational reforms and increased tax dollars to support smaller teacher/pupil ratios. They also know that by the time reforms arrive their last two children will have already graduated from understaffed schools. They need help for their children now.
Help for our family came four years ago when I began homeschooling our two oldest children. At that time I had no idea homeschooling would become such a growing trend. In 1994 the Colorado Home Educators Association reported the following statistics from the Colorado Department of Education. In the fall of 1994 public school registrations increased by 11%. There was a 28% increase in private/parochial school registrations and a 214% increase in home school registrations. In a telephone conversation with a representative from the Home School Legal Defense Fund, I was told that the latest statistics from the Department of Education in 1990 reported 474,000 homeschoolers nationally. The organization estimates a 20% growth per year, nationally, which leads to a conservative estimate that one million children in the United States are educated at home today.
How can we as educators possibly agree that learning at home could be better than what we can offer in the public schools? It is a simple mathematical paradox: less is more! Every teacher in the world knows that students learn more when there are fewer of them together in a classroom. Less gets more attention, more time, more praise, and more positive results.
Classroom teachers and parents often believe that an educator must know everything to be a good teacher of the gifted. They must be experts in all subjects or at least possess a teaching certificate to qualify for such a task. Educators trained in the field of gifted education are the first to admit that teachers need not know everything to teach gifted students. Teachers of the gifted are experts at facilitating the gifted child's learning. Parents who have tried to find a good piano teacher or an appropriate educational toy for their child understand the technique of facilitation. The best teachers are those who share what they know and teach their students how to find out the rest! Is that something a parent can do?
I did not always think so. Several years before homeschooling my own children, my sister-in-law began homeschooling all five of her children. As a professional educator, I took it as a personal affront. Did she think she could educate her children better than someone who went to college four years to know how to do that? She most certainly did! Her success was apparent in her children's behavior, their practical abilities, and common sense. So I was sure that with my teaching background I too could be successful.
Although it is true that many families homeschool for religious reasons and a few are political and religious extremists, M.P. Dunleavey in his article "Staying Close to Home," reports in Publishers Weekly, that ". . . about half of the homeschoolers in America do so for secular reasons that stem from their unhappiness with the educational system and the belief that they can teach their children better. And a growing number of parents fall into homeschooling when, for a variety of reasons, their children need more attention or direction than most schools can provide."
The attention and direction a parent can provide at home for a child with special needs (i.e., the gifted child) is much more concentrated than what is provided in a traditional classroom setting. My own two children have reaped the benefits from such an approach to learning. My son homeschooled for three years from the fifth through the seventh grades. During that time he was able to remediate in areas that were not his strengths. Even though he had participated in a program for the gifted since the first grade, he had many gaps in his education. They did not occur because the skills were never taught, but they were taught rapidly and with little repetition. After homeschooling for two years, his standardized achievement test scores rose substantially in all areas. He also learned responsibility and became more autonomous in his learning. Role modeling during those impressionable middle school years was provided by his parents, great grandparents, and many male adults who worked with him in a variety of mentorship programs. At the end of the seventh grade he wanted to go back to public school. The intellectual and emotional skills he had acquired at home prepared him for reentry into the system and he is succeeding quite well now at the local high school.
Passion is what motivates my daughter. Her passion lies in animal science and behavior, a subject that was never covered during her elementary school years and is not offered today at the local high school. She continues to receive her education at home as a junior in high school, because it affords her the opportunity to work with mentors in her field of interest, hold a part-time job, be involved in numerous clubs and competitions, and still get a quality education four hours a day. Her social life is as busy as any teenager and her relationships with adults are far beyond most of her grade level peers. How is this possible from a young woman who has spent the last four years learning at home?
The answer is affective education. According to the editor of the Gifted Education Review, affective education is a topic that is still top on the list of current trends in gifted education. Self confidence, self esteem, self respect, pride, determination, responsibility and perseverance are all vital parts of my daughter's affect. As she homeschools, my daughter personally works on traits that enhance her self concept. A team consisting of her parents, siblings, extended family members, mentors, and selected friends (adult and teenagers) also contribute to her success in building her confidence to a level that affords her the opportunities of being a life long learner.
An important component of any gifted child's affective education must be the development of a sense of responsibility and service to the home, to the community and the world. Responsibility just naturally develops in homeschooled children. They are more likely to help around the house just because they are at home so much. Because so much more of their time is devoted to educating that child, parents expect and deserve assistance in running the household. Students who learn at home are more responsible for their learning. Mother or father will introduce a lesson and be available for questions, but the child is responsible for completing the task and teaching him/herself the next task, if possible. As an eighth grader, my daughter, who hated math in elementary school and declared she was no good at it, taught herself algebra with very little assistance from me. Not only did she grow to love mathematics that year, but her self confidence and self respect grew as well. If you ask her today what her favorite subject is in school, her answer is math!
For many persons, service is a natural extension of responsibility. Those who serve demonstrate responsibility beyond that which benefits the self. In a keynote address by teacher/author Nancy Johnson, she called service "passionate causes." She advocated gifted children finding a cause to serve as a way to get beyond their own troubles and worries. I think there are additional reasons for soliciting the service of gifted students. Service helps to develop the whole child, especially the affect. It usually puts students under the supervision of quality adult role models and often promotes leadership skills. And do not underestimate the value of children just feeling good about themselves, because they helped someone in need.
Even when educators and parents see the benefits of homeschooling the gifted, two main concerns still arise. How do homeschooled children learn socialization skills and will they be accepted into college? How can parents and educators support home education if in fact these problems exist?
I have not found that the social skills of homeschooled children present problems or limitations. It is a fact that homeschooling allows parents to limit and control the amount of negative peer modeling to which their gifted child is subjected. Most parents and educators do not see that as a drawback. What home education does provide are numerous opportunities for gifted students to work with and model adults. These adults may be chosen to model behavior, skills in the child's passion areas and/or positive values. Because gifted children typically relate better to adults and older peers, homeschooling provides the time and structure to nurture those relationships. When homeschooling, the gifted child often forms relationships with other children based on common interests and values rather than choosing friends just because they are the same age. Isn't that how we as adults choose our friends?
As far as homeschooling limiting a child's chances for acceptance or success in college or the world, keep in mind a disturbing fact for public educators. Many of our most gifted leaders, scientists, musicians, artists, etc. were educated at home or in private schools. Most of us have heard the horror stories of the terrible experiences Thomas Edison and Albert Einstein had in school. The point is not to shake an angry finger at public education, but support the fact that intelligent, successful people have received their education at home. The argument is of course that many of those famous people educated at home did so during a time when there were no public schools or those schools were simply not as good as they are today. This is true. It is also true that today homeschooled children are accepted into Ivy League schools and awarded scholarships.
I know of a young man who began attending the Air Force Academy in what would have been his senior year in public school. He was accepted to several schools, all of which were impressed by his homeschooling career and had prior success with homeschooling students. The colleges my daughter is interested in attending have notified us that they accept homeschooled students as they do all students, based on their ACT or SAT scores.
I would encourage any high school student anticipating entering a college to check out entrance requirements ahead of time. Those students who homeschool need to keep a portfolio of their best work, letters of recommendation from adult mentors, and a transcript with a class description of all courses they received credit for outside an accredited school. When my daughter entered high school, she enrolled with an accredited correspondence school to satisfy the basic requirements for a diploma. Most of her electives are courses we have designed together to meet her specific interests, goals, and passions.
While I sing the praises of home education for the gifted, I am not proposing that it is the only way or the best way for all gifted children to learn. Homeschooling places many demands on the family. It is possible, but very difficult to homeschool in a one parent family where resources may be limited. Who will watch the children while the parent is at work? Where will the parent find the time and energy to school his/her child after working all day? For the same reasons, it is very difficult for a family where both parents work full time to homeschool their children. I have known it to work, however, when both parents are involved in the teaching and they have complimentary or flexible working hours, or their employment is based in the home.
If economics is not a factor, personality can be. Some parents are not comfortable with the concept and many gifted children would abhor the idea of their parent being their teacher. Other parents find disciplining a gifted child very demanding. How could they possibly make it through a whole day, every day teaching their child at home? The answer is, without support, they cannot. The homeschooling parent needs the support of his/her spouse to provide time away from the children. They need support from other homeschooling parents and possibly professional help to address both behavioral and academic issues. Is the day coming when public schools will adopt a home education model to provide some of the support needed by homeschooling families? A movement has already begun in some states for such cooperation.
In Colorado, school districts are required to provide standardized achievement testing for homeschooled children during specific years. Colorado homeschooled children are also allowed to participate in any extra curricular/after school programs provided by their local school. Some school districts let students come to school for two or four hours a day to participate in certain subjects and receive the rest of their education at home. How could the students described previously benefit from such a cooperative approach to education?
Remember Lilly? She had a passion for literature and creative writing. Her frustration came from always being interrupted by things she found uninteresting and unimportant. Homeschooling could provide Lilly with hours of unstructured time to pursue her passions. She could go to school for a couple hours a day to get those basic skills in which she is not particularly interested. The rest of her school day could be spent doing independent studies with products involving the writing she loves.
How about Don? He is not successful in school for two reasons. First, traditional classrooms often teach facts and have little interest in creativity unless in isolation (i.e., art, music, drama, etc.). Second, creativity is a slow process. It can be very time consuming to create and then interpret and evaluate the creation. The fact is, the whole world is not creative nor does the whole world value creativity. Through homeschooling Don will learn the facts, but his parents can help him find a creative way to do that. They can also help him to develop the more logical thinking processes that he is uncomfortable using. He could then participate in at least one subject at school that requires him to use logical thinking skills. Don could also become a part of any extracurricular programs that involve his creative abilities.
Sally has a big problem. She is very verbal, which for the most part has been an asset to her school career. However, the attention she receives from her gift of gab causes animosity among her peers. Homeschooling could solve many of Sally's problems by immersing her in activities with other students who share her interests and abilities. Then Sally will be interacting with students who appreciate her abilities and a much healthier form of competition will abide. This can be done by placing her in private and/or public programs that offer a variety of activities for the verbally gifted. Sally would be an asset to the school's debate team or drama club. It could be beneficial for her to participate in those classes at school that require little or no discussion so she can learn to be a member of a class, not always the leader.
Sheila is a child at risk. Her perfectionism is so great that she will never know her full potential until she feels comfortable enough to take risks. I do not believe that traditional school is a safe place to start. Home should be a safe haven; a place where Sheila can try something new, experience failure, learn from it and go on. The humiliation children often face in school, more often handed out by heartless peers than an insensitive teacher, is real. Such humiliation is demeaning and often debilitating. Sheila needs a big dose of positive self esteem. She needs to build confidence in her decisions and abilities. Only then will she truly succeed. Sheila may need to stay out of the school environment for several years before she can reenter with success. At the time of reentry, the school may need to allow her to come back for one, then two, then three classes and so on until she feels comfortable and confident.
Tad is a quick, independent learner who finds himself alienated from his peers because of his abilities. Much like Sally, Tad needs to be with peers who share his abilities. It is very possible that most of Tad's intellectual peers are adults. A mentor program could be set up for Tad where two days a week he goes to someone's office to experience technical training. Tad can learn the facts he needs from the computer and can get on line with other system users to share ideas, play games, and swap information. He could benefit from attending some vocational classes that teach him the life skills required of most people regardless of their IQ. After school hours Tad could be on the school football team, join the technology or computer club and enjoy being a "normal" teenager without the "geek" stigma to follow him.
Homeschooling could also solve the problems those parents were having with their children's gifted classrooms. Nancy could offer a stimulating and challenging environment for Sarah every hour of every day without missing a thing or having to do extra work. Steve's son could work at his own pace, reviewing and repeating those subjects he finds difficult and speeding through those subjects at which he excels. Charles and Darla could provide a 1:2 teacher/ pupil ratio in their own home while educational reform is at work in the public schools.
As educators, our idealistic goal is to find the best form of education for each individual. We are naturally concerned about academics, but our concern also includes the child's affective development and acquisition of necessary life skills to become a healthy, whole, productive adult. Alternative programs exist across our nation in an attempt to reach such goals. I am not proposing that school districts offer homeschooling as their sole program for the gifted. A home education model should, however, be respected, encouraged, supported, and considered by educators as a viable alternative program for all students, including the gifted.
Colorado Home Educators' Association (C.H.E.A.) Newsletter
Cindy Stanley (Editor); 20774 E. Buchanan Dr.; Aurora CO 80011
Dunleavey, M.P., "Staying Close to Home," Publishers Weekly, (July 17, 1995), pp. 142-144.
Fertig, Carol (Editor), Gifted Education Review, Peak Educational Resources, P.O. Box 2278, Evergreen CO 804370-2278.
Home School Legal Defense Association (HSLDA); P.O. Box 159; Paeonian Springs VA 22129
JONATHAN SWIFT (1667-1745): A NEED FOR GIFTED READERS
BY MICHAEL E. WALTERS NEW YORK CITY PUBLIC SCHOOLS
“But, as those countries which I have described do not appear to have a desire of being conquered, and enslaved, murdered or driven out by colonies, nor abound either in gold, silver, sugar or tobacco; I did humbly conceive they were by no means proper objects of our zeal, or valor, or our interest.” Gulliver’s Travels, Chapter 12.
Gulliver’s Travels (1726) is a perennial favorite of gifted readers because it appeals to their sensibility throughout their lifetime. As children, it is the adventure and humorous situations such as tiny people, giants, talking horses, etc. that tickle the imagination. Adolescents enjoy the mockery and satire of this book which they share with Swift as co-conspirators against the hypocrisies of the adult world, e.g., unjust systems of government falsely constructed upon ideas of human betterment and morality. Then, as adults, the most delicious intellectual feast of all occurs: to devour this book as morsels of gourmet insights into human folly. Moreover, based on our adult experiences of the human condition, we have come to terms with the foibles that Jonathan Swift (through Lemuel Gulliver) responded to -- greed, arrogance, anger and ambition.
In our contemporary era, Swift has been attacked by both academicians of the right and the left. For those like Allan Bloom (The Closing of the American Mind, 1987), the consensus is that Swift is a pessimist, misanthrope and representative of the anti-rationalist trend. To the adherents of deconstructionism and the New Historicism, Swift is another example of the Western European-male hegemonic attitude. Both Swift’s life and writings prove that these approaches are ideologically biased viewpoints. On the contrary, Swift was an anti-misanthrope because he was constantly defending the oppressed and showing how flawed political reasoning was being used to suppress humanity. In 1714 he was exiled to his birthplace, Dublin, Ireland, during his middle age because of his political incorrectness. As the dean of St. Patrick’s Cathedral in Dublin, he championed the Irish Catholic cause although he was an Anglican clergyman. As a solution to the Irish problem, he wrote a satire, A Modest Proposal (1729), where he suggested that the Irish Catholics should sell their babies to the English as gourmet food. In Gulliver’s Travels, he attacks the Europeans as constantly fighting wars over trifles. These trifles include “where to break an egg.” The Lilliputians slaughter the population of an entire island over the issue of which end of an egg should be broken to eat. This massacre was started because the grandfather of the Lilliputian king cut his finger while breaking an egg. As for Allan Bloom’s depiction of Swift as an anti-rationalist, one almost wonders if Bloom read the same books as I did. In my reading, I encountered Swift’s critique of pseudo-science and the misuse of science. When Gulliver travels to the floating island of Laputa, he encounters individuals who distort reality and common sense. Examples of this attitude are that Laputa’s tailors are so abstract that they cannot make properly fitted clothes -- and no one on this island is aware of this fact. Another example of this distortion of reality is that the people’s food is carved into mathematical and musical shapes.
The scientists on Laputa need their servants’ help to constantly awake them from their coma-like trance; the servants hit their masters with blown up bladders full of pebbles that are attached to poles. The entire thrust of Swift’s satire is to make the reader ponder whether the Western European-male is the best there is. Do the deconstructionists perceive the Yahoo humanoid savages of Gulliver’s Travels as promoting Western European-male hegemony? Will the New Historicists realize that Swift is our contemporary? Does his ridicule of the legal, medical and political establishments in Gulliver’s Travels ring a contemporary bell?
One of Swift’s other satires is The Battle of the Books (1704). It reads like a parody of the current debate over the literary canon. In this work, the library books, the ancient classics, and writings of the “age of enlightenment” rationalists are fighting each other. The “modernists” claim their intellectual superiority based on the invention and uses of gunpowder. One must read Swift as a gifted reader -- not as an ideologue. The gifted reader will see him as the progenitor of Franz Kafka and George Orwell. These writers represent the anti-totalitarian and pro-human point of view.
BOOK REVIEW FROM GIFTED EDUCATION NEWS-PAGE
Leading Minds: An Anatomy of Leadership by Howard Gardner (1995). Basic Books: New York.
Although this study of leadership has wide applications to education and society, Gardner’s book is of special interest to educators of the gifted because it provides many insights into the leadership characteristics of highly able individuals in science, social change, politics and business. The author helps readers to understand the intellectual roots of leadership by analyzing its cognitive basis in a book that has three parts, each containing two or more chapters. Part I, “A Framework For Leadership,” explains how leadership follows a developmental and cognitive pattern, and discusses the basis for leadership in stories. Part II, “Case Studies: From Domains To Nations,” examines the characteristics of great leaders. Part III, “Conclusion: Leadership That Looks Forward,” discusses two leaders (Monnet and Gandhi) who were concerned with international issues and solutions to common problems related to freedom, democracy and world peace. Part III also includes a summary (Chapter 15: Lessons from the Past, Implications for the Future) of the constants of leadership, twentieth-century leadership, and guidelines for effective leadership. The two appendices present a tabular summary of the characteristics of leaders discussed by Gardner.
In the first chapter (Introduction: A Cognitive Approach to Leadership), Gardner delineates the dimensions of leadership such as the direct-indirect continuum, and he discusses the types of stories leaders tell about themselves and their audience/followers. George C. Marshall, Eleanor Roosevelt and Martin Luther King, Jr. were direct leaders while J. Robert Oppenheimer, Robert M. Hutchins and Alfred P. Sloan, Jr. began as indirect leaders but moved to the direct end of this continuum later. In subsequent chapters, the author examines dynamic leaders who sparked major changes in their domains of interest rather than individuals concerned with maintaining the status quo. He has made an in-depth analysis of the characteristics of the above leaders and of Margaret Mead, Pope John XXIII, Margaret Thatcher, Jean Monnet and Mahatma Gandhi. Moreover, he has included an extensive discussion and analysis of the leaders of the Second World War including Chiang Kai-Shek, Winston Churchill, Charles de Gaulle and Adolf Hitler.
Gardner argues that leaders exert their primary influence through the stories they tell and the embodiment of these stories in various traits. For example, Winston Churchill emphasized the grandeur of the British Empire and genius of the English people, while Franklin D. Roosevelt stressed the idea that “government should be activist, especially in times of crisis.” (p. 337). Margaret Mead stressed that we can learn a great deal about our own lives by studying other cultures, and Eleanor Roosevelt believed that we must unite to help the downtrodden -- women and blacks who are discriminated against and third world citizens. Gifted students should learn about these stories because they have had a great influence on national and world history.
Gardner’s book provides a creative and unique opportunity to analyze leadership in terms of interpretations of the self, the group, values and meaning, and conceptions of the world. He summarizes his position on the importance of stories in the following statement: “I have argued that a key -- perhaps the key -- to leadership, as well as to the garnering of a following , is the effective communication of a story. While my definition of a story is broad, it calls attention to a common core. I maintain that the most fundamental stories fashioned by leaders concern issues of personal and group identity; those leaders who presume to bring about major alterations across a significant population must in some way help their audience members think through who they are. . . .” (p. 62). Gifted students should ask different questions about the leadership characteristics of contemporary national figures such as -- What are the major stories conveyed by President Clinton, Robert Dole, Newt Gingrich, and Colin Powell? How do they translate their particular stories into action? What is the impact of these stories on American citizens? How do they influence the national psyche? They can use this excellent book as a guide for analyzing these and other leaders’ stories. Gardner has accomplished the difficult task of identifying common elements of apparently different types of leaders. As a result, he has helped all of us to better understand ourselves.