GIFTED EDUCATION PRESS QUARTERLY
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VOLUME TWELVE, NUMBER ONE
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MEMBERS OF NATIONAL ADVISORY PANEL
Ms. Sharon Buzzard -- Supervisor of Gifted Education, East Liverpool Ohio Schools and Past President of the Ohio Association for Gifted Children
Dr. James Delisle -- Professor and Co-Director of SENG, Kent State University, Kent, Ohio
Dr. Jerry Flack --Univ. Of Colorado-Colorado Springs
Dr. Howard Gardner -- Professor, Graduate School of Education, Harvard University, Cambridge, Massachusetts
Ms. Diane D. Grybek -- Supervisor of Secondary Gifted Programs (Retired), Hillsborough County Schools, Tampa, Florida
Ms. Dorothy Knopper -- Publisher, Open Space Communications, Boulder, Colorado
Mr. James LoGiudice -- Director, Program and Staff Development, Bucks County, Pennsylvania Intermediate Unit No. 22 and Past President of the Pennsylvania Association for Gifted Education
Dr. Mary Meeker -- President of SOI Systems, Vida, Oregon
Dr. Adrienne O'Neill - Johnson & Wales University, Providence, Rhode Island
Dr. Stephen Schroeder-Davis -- Coordinator of Gifted Programs, Elk River, Minnesota Schools and Past President of the Minnesota Council for the Gifted and Talented
Dr. Bruce Shore -- Professor and Director, Giftedness Centre, McGill University, Montreal, Canada
Ms. Joan Smutny -- Professor and Director, Center for Gifted, National-Louis University, Evanston, Illinois
Dr. Virgil S. Ward -- Emeritus Professor of Gifted Education, University of Virginia, Charlottesville, Virginia
Ms. Susan Winebrenner -- Consultant, Brooklyn, Michigan
Dr. Ellen Winner - Professor, Boston College
New Year Greetings to all of our loyal readers and supporters! I am happy to announce that all previous eleven volumes of GEPQ will be placed on the ERIC system going back to our first issue in April 1987. This will make the excellent articles written by our authors during the last ten years available to a wider range of educators, parents, graduate students and professors across the nation, and in a certain sense -- timeless. We are especially grateful to Sandra Berger and her colleagues at the Council for Exceptional Children for placing these GEPQ issues on ERIC.
As a leading authority on assessing highly gifted children and adults, Linda Silverman (Director, Gifted Development Center in Denver, Colorado) has written many articles on the pitfalls of identifying these individuals. In this issue, she discusses some of the difficulties of obtaining accurate indications of a child's level of giftedness, and the importance of using professional judgment in determining whether tests such as the Stanford Binet or WISC have been optimally used in the assessment process. Her knowledge of the characteristics of gifted children demonstrates that test results must be carefully used in conjunction with this type of knowledge to obtain the best assessments of giftedness. Silverman's work also shows the importance of conducting in-depth clinical studies of giftedness. The best education for these children obviously depends upon obtaining accurate clinical and psychometric assessments of their abilities, motivation and social development.
Linda Silverman has recently been selected by Riverside Publishers to apply her extensive knowledge of gifted children in helping to revise the Stanford-Binet Test of Intelligence. As a proponent of the rigorous assessment of gifted children, she follows in the tradition of the originator of this test, Lewis M. Terman. She will discuss her philosophy of identifying and educating the gifted in the Spring 1998 issue of GEPQ.
Bruce Gurcsik, Coordinator of Gifted Programs in the Arin IU 28, Pennsylvania, has written an insightful article about the problems of using inclusion with gifted children. He has published many articles in GEPQ. The last one discussed Outcomes-Based Education in the Volume Nine (1995), No. 1 issue. The article by Linda Lucas discusses the problem-solving approach she has used to spark gifted students’ interest in learning. She has previously taught at the middle school level in the Richmond, Virginia Public Schools and is now teaching mathematics in an elementary school in Lake County, Florida. This issue also includes a special book review from Gifted Education NEWS-PAGE that summarizes some of the best publications in the gifted and related fields. Michael Walters concludes with an essay on the English Victorian writer, Wilkie Collins.
Maurice D. Fisher, Ph.D., Publisher
USING TEST RESULTS TO SUPPORT CLINICAL JUDGMENT
LINDA KREGER SILVERMAN, Ph.D.
GIFTED DEVELOPMENT CENTER DENVER, COLORADO
Clinical judgment is the basis for diagnosis in medicine. Test results are useful within the context of other information obtained, such as presenting symptoms, medical history, family history, and patient interview. The test results themselves are of limited value unless they are interpreted by a skilled clinician who has had experience with the presenting problem. Yet, in diagnosing giftedness, too often the test results are expected to be able to do the job alone. Clinical judgment, if used at all, is subservient to the numbers. As in medicine, accurate assessment of giftedness is dependent upon the skill and experience of the examiner in interpreting protocols of gifted children within the context of all the other information obtained.
The Gifted Development Center in Denver, Colorado originated on the campus of the University of Denver in June of 1979 and serves as a field placement training facility for students in the Professional Psychology program at the University of Denver and the Counseling Psychology program at the University of Colorado. In addition, we have provided postdoctoral training in assessment to leaders in the field of gifted education from the US, Australia and the Philippines. We have assessed nearly 2,500 children. Throughout the last 18 years of training and supervising, it has become increasingly clear to me that a thorough understanding of gifted development must be a prerequisite to training in assessment; otherwise, boilerplate interpretations are likely to ensue in which numbers take precedence over clinical judgment. Such interpretations are often inaccurate.
The best evaluators of gifted children that I have ever encountered can estimate a child’s level of intelligence through clinical observation, a brief discussion with the child, an interview with the parents, developmental milestones, family history, or some combination of these sources of information. Test results are interpreted within this broader framework and judged to be valid only if they conform to the clinical picture that has emerged from a more comprehensive appraisal of the child. If the test results fail to support the examiner’s clinical judgment, then further evaluation is sought to determine the cause of the discrepancy. The more experience an examiner has with gifted children, the more effective his or her clinical judgment will be. Obviously, this type of assessment is more time consuming, and, therefore, more costly than typical school evaluations.
Traditional test interpretation involves averaging of verbal subtest scores and nonverbal (performance) subtest scores and then combining the averages in order to obtain composite Full Scale IQ scores. Relative strengths and relative weaknesses are determined by the degree of discrepancy between specific subtest scores and the subject’s verbal mean and performance mean. The child’s scores are compared to the norm to determine if they are above or below the average for their age group (Kaufman, 1994).
While traditional interpretation may be suitable for school-based assessments with 95% of the population, it often leads to severe underestimates of the abilities of gifted children because there are unique issues in assessing the gifted that are not common knowledge in the profession.
First and foremost, variations in scores from one instrument to another are much greater among the gifted than among any other group (Silverman, 1995a). Some of the most popular tests suffer from ceiling effects that only diminish the scores in the gifted range. What may appear as a “relative strength” on one test may turn out to be an astronomical strength on a test with a higher ceiling. The talent search model serves as a clear example of this principle. Two 7th graders who score at the 97th percentile in mathematics on a 7th grade achievement test may attain radically different scores when they take the Mathematics section of the SAT as an above-level test in one of the talent searches: one may score 300 and the other 700 (VanTassel-Baska, 1984). The grade-based assessment indicates that the two students are in the top 3 percent of students their age and probably qualifies them for a gifted mathematics program. But the SAT results reveal that one of the two students needs considerably more advanced work than the other. The same situation often occurs with intelligence testing with gifted students. Highly gifted students’ scores frequently vary more than 2 standard deviations on various instruments (Silverman, 1995a). For example, a Canadian child achieved a Verbal IQ of 153, a Performance IQ of 116, and a Full Scale IQ of 138 on the WISC-III. I retested him on the Stanford-Binet (Form L-M) and discovered that he had a formula IQ score of 223+. We recommend that when children obtain two or more subtest scores at or above the 99th percentile on any test that they be retested on an instrument with a higher ceiling, such as the Stanford-Binet (Form L-M) (Rimm & Lovance, 1992; Silverman, 1995a; Silverman & Kearney, 1989, 1992a, 1992b).
Second, discrepancies among subtest scores are much greater among the gifted than among any other group. The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-IV) (American Psychiatric Association, 1994), which establishes the criteria used by mental health professionals for various diagnoses, provides clear admonition against averaging subtest scores when they are highly discrepant.
When there is significant scatter in the subtest scores, the profile of strengths and weaknesses, rather than the mathematically derived full-scale IQ, will more accurately reflect the person’s learning abilities. When there is a marked discrepancy across verbal and performance scores, averaging to obtain a full-scale IQ score can be misleading. (p. 40)
This advice appears in the DSM-IV under the section on mental retardation. We recommend that the same caveat be used with the gifted. When discrepancies among subtest scores exceed 9 points, or when Verbal IQ and Performance IQ scores vary 15 or more points, the child’s strengths and weaknesses should be discussed separately rather than averaged. The strengths should be used as the best indication of the child’s giftedness.
A different problem occurs when discrepancies which are typical in the gifted population are interpreted as signs of abnormal brain functioning. Gifted children typically have higher Verbal (V) scores than Performance (P) scores because the verbal tests are better measures of mental age (cognitive ability) and performance tests are more dependent on the child’s physical coordination and speed. The increased emphasis on bonus points for speed in modern tests depresses IQ scores for reflective children or children with slow processing speed or poor motor coordination (Kaufman, 1992). It is the gifted whose scores suffer the most because they have more competence while they may not have more speed (Reams, Chamrad & Robinson, 1990). On the WISC-III and the WPPSI-R, the bonus points for speed have increased sufficiently that large discrepancies between Verbal and Performance IQ are quite common in the gifted. However, numerous gifted children are currently being misdiagnosed as having a “right hemispheric disorder” (a very serious malady) based on these discrepancies. We recommend that children be allowed to continue after the time limits, and that both timed and untimed performance be reported. If the child is able to complete the items correctly if given sufficient time, then the possibility of right hemispheric disorders is eliminated. We also routinely send children with large V-P discrepancies to a behavioral optometrist to see if slight visual perceptual weaknesses may be responsible for the disparity in scores. We have found that 6 months of vision training, faithfully practiced every day, has increased Performance scores one or two standard deviations in a number of gifted children.
Many gifted children have dual exceptionalities. They are both gifted and learning disabled. Hidden learning disabilities can be covered up by children whose extraordinary abstract reasoning enables them to find other ways to solve problems. This ability to compensate may prevent true disabilities from being diagnosed. In addition, disabilities can depress IQ scores so that a truly gifted child does not score in the gifted range. A history of chronic ear infections, for example, has a much greater impact on IQ scores in the gifted range than in the average range (Silverman, 1995b). It takes a good detective to be able to ferret out disabilities in gifted children and recognize giftedness in disabled children. We recommend that family histories be taken routinely to determine the degree of giftedness in the family and the presence of disabilities in the family, since both have a strong hereditary component. In addition, we collect very detailed information on otitis media (ear infections) in all children assessed. All of this information is vital in interpreting test results of twice exceptional children—the group most likely to be misdiagnosed (Silverman, 1989).
Certain subtests are more relevant for the assessment of giftedness than others, and certain combinations of subtests indicate mathematical or visual-spatial talent. These strengths need to be given more weight in the determination of giftedness than composite scores. We recommend that when time and money are limited (or when assessing children from different ethnic backgrounds), Vocabulary, Similarities, Comprehension, Information and Block Design—the five subtests in which more than 50% of the variance is linked to general intelligence (Kaufman, 1975)—should be administered and used to select gifted students rather than the entire WISC-III, since most of the other subtests are only weakly correlated with general intelligence and tend to diminish IQ scores in the gifted range.
Environmental factors during assessment can have a stronger impact on the scores of gifted children than of other groups, because the actual knowledge a child has may be considerably more than the amount revealed during the testing. Among the factors that can prevent gifted children from demonstrating all that they know are: (1) choosing to hide their abilities out of fear of the consequences of being labeled gifted (e.g., being removed from a current placement and being placed in a new environment; greater expectations of parents; losing friends; etc.); (2) unwillingness to guess for fear of making a mistake and appearing foolish; (3) anxiety at being evaluated; (4) feeling uncomfortable with the examiner; (5) feeling uncomfortable with aspects of the physical surroundings. While these variables can affect all children, where the actual ability is very high, the discrepancy between ability and performance can be enormous. For example, one child refused to answer most of the questions on the IQ test with one examiner, obtaining scores of 0-3 on most subtests, while he obtained a score of 151, in the highly gifted range, with another examiner at another agency. His mother reported that he was uncomfortable in the first setting. We recommend that enough time be spent developing rapport with the child before assessment to assure cooperation. Children can be asked to bring a favorite toy or a photograph album to share with the examiner (Meckstroth, 1989). Some of our examiners have resorted to having the child’s toy answer the questions or a hand puppet if the child becomes afraid of making mistakes. The room should be carefully checked for comfort level, lighting (no flickering bulbs), noise, etc. The child should be allowed frequent breaks as needed and know how to find the bathroom and his or her parent. If anxiety causes a child to freeze up, the examiner should move to a different section of the test and return to the anxiety-producing items when the child is more at ease or postpone the rest of the exam for another day.
Some highly gifted children refuse to respond if a test question is too easy. They think it is a “trick question” and read many deeper meanings into the question than are helpful (Lovecky, 1994). They may get depressed IQ scores because of knowing too much about a subject rather than too little. For example, Melody Wood, who assesses highly gifted children in Maine, asked one child, “Who discovered America?” The girl thought a long time and then said she didn’t know. When the test was over, Melody asked her the question again and she replied, “I know it wasn’t Christopher Columbus. That theory was disproven, but I just can’t remember who it was.” We recommend that examiners explain to children that some of the questions were designed for much younger children and will be very, very easy, while others were designed for much older children and may be too hard, but that it is good to guess. Sometimes practicing simple guessing games like “Guess what I ate for breakfast?” helps a child relax enough to guess at more difficult questions, and these “guesses” can often be right.
How the examiner feels about the child can have a dramatic effect on test scores. Some gifted children are extremely intuitive and pick up on facial expressions, body language, and other signals that the examiner is unaware that he or she is emitting. If the examiner is hungry and is annoyed that the child is answering so many items correctly that the test is taking longer than expected, the child is likely to oblige by missing sufficient items so that the examiner can go to lunch. On the other hand, if the examiner thoroughly enjoys the workings of a gifted child’s mind and delights in every correct answer, the child responds to the twinkle in the examiner’s eye and tries his or her best.
There are many nuances in both testing and test interpretation with the gifted that are not common knowledge. False positives are very unlikely: scores in the gifted range do not occur “accidentally” because one can’t fake abstract reasoning (Silverman, 1986). However, false negatives are abundant. Many more children are gifted than test in the gifted range. Underestimation of gifted children’s abilities, unfortunately, is much more common than accurate appraisal. When the examiner knows enough about giftedness to recognize this inherent danger in testing, all test results are subjected to confirmation with other data. If, for example, a child’s reading achievement score is 160, but the IQ score is 125, the IQ score must be an underestimate. It is impossible for a child to achieve beyond his or her capabilities. (This is why the term “overachiever” is an oxymoron.) Therefore, we recommend that the highest indicator of a child’s abilities at any age should be seen as the best estimate of the child’s giftedness. When other measures fall short of this indicator, the examiner needs to search carefully to determine possible causes of the underestimate.
The measured IQ of parents or siblings, early achievement of developmental milestones, profound curiosity, deep moral concern, remarkable associations or generalizations, perfectionism, keen attention to detail, unusual empathy, vivid imagination, superb memory, early reading or fascination with Legos, school achievement, reading interests, and parental anecdotes of unusually advanced reasoning should all be taken very seriously in determining the abilities of a child. With sufficient experience with gifted children, an examiner can create a composite picture of the level of the child’s abilities, and IQ test results are nested into this schema to add further information. In the end, diagnosis of the degree of a child’s advancement must be based upon clinical judgment, not just on psychometric data.
American Psychiatric Association. (1994). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (Fourth edition). Washington, DC: Author.
Kaufman, A. S. (1975). Factor analysis of the WISC-R at 11 age levels between 6 ½ and 16 ½ years. Journal of Consulting & Clinical Psychology, 43, 135-147.
Kaufman, A. S. (1992). Evaluation of the WISC-III and WPPSI-R for gifted children. Roeper Review, 14, 154-158.
Kaufman, A. S. (1994). Intelligent testing with the WISC-III. New York: John Wiley & Sons.
Lovecky, D. V. (1994). Exceptionally gifted children: Different minds. Roeper Review, 17, 116-120.
Meckstroth, E. (1989). On testing. Understanding Our Gifted, 1(5), 4.
Reams, R., Chamrad, D., & Robinson, N. (1990). The race is not necessarily to the swift: Validity of WISC-R bonus points for speed. Gifted Child Quarterly, 34, 108-110.
Rimm, S. B. , & Lovance, K. J. (1992). The use of subject and grade skipping for the prevention and reversal of underachievement. Gifted Child Quarterly, 36(2), 100-105.
Silverman, L. K. (1986). The IQ controversy—conceptions and misconceptions. Roeper Review, 8, 136-140.
Silverman, L. K. (1989). Invisible gifts; invisible handicaps. Roeper Review, 12, 37-42.
Silverman, L. K. (1995a). Highly gifted children. In J. Genshaft, M. Bireley, & C. L. Hollinger (Eds.) Serving gifted and talented students: A resource for school personnel (pp. 217-240). Austin, TX: Pro-Ed.
Silverman, L. K. (1995b). Lost IQ points: The brighter the child, the greater the loss. In D.J. Lim, C.D. Bluestone, M. Casselbrant, J.O. Klein, & P.L. Ogra (Eds.), Proceedings of the Sixth International Symposium on Recent Advances in Otitis Media (pp. 342-346). Hamilton, Ontario: B.C. Decker.
Silverman, L. K., & Kearney, K. (1989). Parents of the extraordinarily gifted. Advanced Development, 1, 41-56.
Silverman, L. K., & Kearney, K. (1992a). The case for the Stanford-Binet L-M as a supplemental test. Roeper Review, 15, 34-37.
Silverman, L. K., & Kearney, K. (1992b). Don't throw away the old Binet. Presented at the 39th annual convention of the National Association for Gifted Children, Los Angeles, CA, November 6, 1992. [Appeared in part in Understanding Our Gifted, 4(4), 1, 8-10.]
VanTassel-Baska, J. (1984). The talent search as an identification model. Gifted Child Quarterly, 23, 172-176.
Linda Kreger Silverman, Ph.D., a licensed psychologist, directs the Institute for the Study of Advanced Development and its subsidiary, the Gifted Development Center, in Denver, Colorado. Over 2,400 children have been assessed at the Center in the last 18 years. Editor of Advanced Development: A Journal on Adult Giftedness, she also edited the popular textbook, Counseling the Gifted and Talented, and Advanced Development: A Collection of Works on Giftedness in Adults. For nine years she served on the faculty of the University of Denver in gifted education and counseling psychology. She has studied the gifted for over 35 years, and has contributed nearly 200 articles, books and chapters.
Note: This paper was presented at the 12th Annual Conference of the World Council for Gifted & Talented Children, Seattle, WA, July 30, 1997.
INCLUSION: A WRONG TURN FOR THE GIFTED IN THE 21ST CENTURY!
BY BRUCE GURCSIK GIFTED PROGRAM COORDINATOR
ARIN INTERMEDIATE UNIT, PENNSYLVANIA
Gifted child education has always been an area within the profession that has received its share of support and perhaps, more than its share of criticism. Some educators have offered strong encouragement for a broad range of instructional options including wide ranging enrichment or content area acceleration. While significantly different in focus each approach has its proponents and advantages. Many successful programs offer a mixture of options as educators seek to meet the needs of the gifted. However, there are those who are adamant in their feelings that the gifted learner will be successful in spite of the obstacles, thus requiring little or no program intervention. Furthermore they maintain that such programs are elitist and should be generalized to the entire school population.
Today as our schools seek to remake themselves a new philosophy resulting from efforts to normalize education for children with disabilities has emerged. This philosophy is called inclusion. Inclusion cannot be described as a program, strategy or an even a technique, since it is being developed broadly as a principle, fundamental to a school’s operation, rather than as an individual component within a system. The National Association of School Boards of Education (NASBE) has a broad vision when it comes to inclusion. Their inclusive approach to education strives to produce better outcomes for all students through the creation of a system that is based upon the needs of the whole student (NASBE, 1992). This approach includes a broad view of the role of education which includes emphasis on several areas including academics, social and emotional development, personal and collective responsibility and citizenship. The ultimate application of this concept is the creation of the inclusive school which will have undergone a reform or restructuring process that results in a complete redesign based on heterogeneity. Unlike its grouped or tracked predecessor in its ideal state the inclusive school is flexible, barrier-free and takes a holistic approach to preparing students for the future. Thus, inclusion may go way beyond the placement of special needs students in the regular classroom with an informal but convoluted connection to the gifted. It may reshape the entire structure, philosophy and operation of a school or district.
Clearly this is a complex issue that requires careful analysis. A brief history of special education for disabled students will help provide a perspective on an evolutionary process that has resulted in the extension of inclusion as a valid approach toward meeting the needs of the gifted in the regular classroom.
Prior to the 1970's most children with disabilities were educated in segregated facilities. These learners were separated from their peers and existed in a parallel system of education. Not only has the nature of special education changed, but even the designations of the participants have morphed from “retarded” to “handicapped” to today's designation of "children with disabilities". Throughout this period these students have moved from regional institutions to local centers; from centers to full and part time assignments in special classrooms with mainstreaming; and finally placement with support in regular classroom. Conventional wisdom and research support inclusion as the preferred educational approach for disabled learners and clearly it is long overdue.
Now we are seeing application of the philosophy of inclusion to programs for the gifted. Increasingly inclusion is offered as an alternative to pullout programs for this exceptionality. In order to analyze its validity we need to return to the fundamental reasons that inclusion exists for special needs students (to develop the academic, and social components of their education) and compare them with the needs and abilities of the gifted.
Gifted learners have significant academic needs that must be met if these learners are to flourish. By definition they are “exceptional” in their needs and require a learning environment with instruction that is tailored to these needs. My own research and experiences suggest that we would have no difficulty reaching consensus on the importance of the following basic requirements for effective support for the gifted:
an environment that emphasizes the highest levels of achievement
in-depth learning activities that focus upon higher levels of thinking
opportunities to learn at an appropriate, fast-paced rate in an accelerated cadre
excellent preparation in subjects that lead to future high level academic studies
opportunities for stimulating interaction with their intellectual peers
All of these suggest that the learning environment must be not only stimulating but responsive to the uniqueness of the gifted learner. Since the regular classroom typically does not provide for these needs, the provision of a special class has been a standard option in enhancing educational offerings for this group. In some cases the class is based on an accelerated curriculum or may stress enrichment of age and need-appropriate themes. Thus we have been assigning the gifted to special classrooms that focus instruction toward challenging them in an environment that differs from the regular classroom in content and structure. While some call this a pullout program, a better description would be "pull in", since we are pulling students toward educational opportunities that are more consistent with and responsive to their needs. By doing so we have been able to better address the needs of the gifted. Now some educators suggest that the gifted can be retained (included) in the regular classroom environment for all of their studies thus eliminating the need for special classes.
With this in mind an analysis of inclusion is important in understanding its potential in meeting the needs of the gifted. By examining the two major areas of focus for inclusion programs (social and academic) we can see how they measure up to meeting the needs of the gifted.
In order to develop a comprehensive perspective on inclusion we need to look at one important priority – the development of opportunities for socialization that it affords students with disabilities. Through inclusion they can:
experience full citizenship in school and community;
form a wide circle of friends;
learn to rely more on friends than teachers;
take new risks
For excluded learners who require significant support in order to reach their potential these are exciting and extremely appropriate opportunities. These socialization experiences meet the requirement for a normalization of their educational programming. Thus, rather than being excluded and placed in an unnatural environment (the special education program) the development of their social domain will be well served in the regular classroom. Through regular association with the students of all abilities they will have multiple opportunities for social growth.
No such needs exist for the gifted. Typically they do not require an escape from a segregated environment that limits their potential. Unless a specific gifted child demonstrates extraordinary characteristics entry into the public school system is facilitated in ways that are typical for all learners. Their placement in the regular classroom and involvement in a variety of community athletic and social activities insures access to a typical environment in which to grow. Thus, provision for normalizing experiences is not necessary. The gifted do not require any intervention to guarantee their access to a normal learning environment. It is automatically present.
Academic development is a major concern for students who are disabled. Opportunities to share in the wide ranging learning experiences found in the typical school are essential for this group. Isolated instruction through a separate system places limits upon their achievement. Furthermore, special education teachers can directly observe the richness of the regular education curriculum. This leads to the development of the following academic needs for disabled children:
mastering activities not offered in special education classes
experiencing academic challenges
enjoying the satisfaction of achievements
As with the opportunities for social development a disabled student's involvement in an environment that is based upon inclusion is designed to improve his or her achievement. The atmosphere of the regular classroom and its curriculum are richer than those in special education and thus facilitate achievement. Regular education students serve as role models by illustrating the academic aspect of education. The school experience will have a positive effect upon the newly included learner. As with the social domain no such academic needs are typically displayed by the gifted. Often they find the regular classroom unchallenging, stifling, and generally inappropriate to their needs. Gifted students commonly come to primary school with broad if not full mastery of most reading objectives. They grasp new concepts easily and do not require many repetitions for success. If anything they find the pace too slow and uninspiring. Thus, assignment to the regular classroom as a source of academic challenge is not consistent with the needs of this exceptionality. Inclusion in an inappropriate assignment with the wrong objectives is never desirable.
One other aspect of the academic area that should be addressed is the need for gifted students to participate in classroom instruction that has a strong cooperative learning orientation. Cooperative learning strategies are being suggested as solutions for a missing ability among American workers to work together successfully. The theory suggests that by experiencing academics in a cooperative environment the "skill" will be developed. While this may be so there is a wholly undesirable aspect to cooperative learning structures that are inappropriate for the gifted. They are inappropriate because they provide training in cooperation at the expense of an emphasis on higher order thinking skills and challenging content. Below I have excerpted a chart from "The Structural Approach to Cooperative Learning" by Kagan (December/January, 1990). The chart lists the structure and the functions that it serves. I have added a column labeled Appropriateness for the gifted in order to relate the structure and functions to the gifted. Of interest to the reader will be the levels and types of thinking that are involved.
Cooperative Learning Structures as they Relate to the Gifted
Functions (academic and social)
Appropriateness for the Gifted
Concept development: initiation, active listening, increased involvement
little or none
Concept development: initiation, active listening, increased involvement consensus building, perspective taking
Numbered Heads Together
Mastery: review checking for knowledge tutoring, consensus building
little or no benefit
Say and Switch
Multi functional: assessing prior knowledge, recalling information, active listening, elaboration
inconsistent with the needs of most gifted learners
Multi functional: practicing skills, recalling skills, team building, turn-taking
never a priority for the gifted
Clearly, many of the structures that are practiced in the inclusive classroom are inappropriate to the needs of the gifted. They are designed to accommodate learners and enjoin them with the regular program to which the gifted already belong. They tend to serve purposes other that challenging our high ability learners to do their best work. Frankly, these cooperative learning components do not meet the needs of the gifted.
Most educators would agree that providing a quality education for all students is our primary goal. The restructuring that we see in schools in every community is strong evidence that we are committed to improvement. Inclusion for disabled learners is one strategy that will help us accomplish this goal. However, the extension of this strategy or concept that is inconsistent with the needs of the gifted and does not further our progress toward the goal. The needs of the gifted and those of the disabled are too dissimilar to be satisfied by the same approach. Well intentioned reformers must look beyond broad generalizations and examine their thinking thoroughly. “What’s good for the goose is good for the gander” thinking just does not make it today. We know too much about the needs of the gifted to accept this approach as another global cure. Frankly, inclusion for the gifted is a wrong turn that we shouldn’t make!
Buswell, B.E. and Schaffer, C. B. (1991). Opening Doors. Strategies for Including All Students in Regular Education. Peak Parenting Center, Inc. Colorado Springs, CO.
Gurcsik, B. (1989). A Comparison of the Achievement of Gifted, Elementary-level Pupils enrolled in Accelerated or Enriched Classes in a School District in Western Pennsylvania. University of Pittsburgh.
Kagan, S.(1990). The Structural Approach to Cooperative Learning. Educational Leadership, Vol. 47, Number 4. Alexandria, VA.
National Association of State Boards of Education (1992). Winners All: A Call for Inclusive Schools. Alexandria, VA.
Copyright @1996 Bruce Gurcsik, Ph.D.
MOTIVATING GIFTED LEARNERS THROUGH PROBLEM-BASED LEARNING
BY LINDA LUCAS CLERMONT, FLORIDA
As a teacher of gifted students in a middle school, I am constantly challenged to teach these lively adolescents in ways they find relevant, interesting, and challenging. Although I have developed my own units for some time, I began to become frustrated with much of what I encountered in my search for materials and resources. I wanted to find something I felt my students could sink their collective teeth into. To begin my search, I turned to my most valuable resource, the students themselves.
I was interested in finding out how my middle school gifted students felt about their education and schooling. In most cases, we, as adults and as educators, tell our students what they need to know, when we think they need to know it, and why they should want to learn it. In few instances do we ever ask them their opinions. I made appointments with some of my gifted students to spend their lunch time with me in an informal conversation about school. I wanted to know what they were learning in school and what they were learning that they felt would be of value to them later in life.
My students had very strong opinions about what they are asked to learn and the rate at which they have to learn it. The most common complaint with the system was the review and repetition they endure year after year, and the resultant daily boredom. The students reinforced the studies that indicate most of them show mastery of 35 to 50 percent of the curriculum before they begin the class. They voiced frustration with spending their time in school going over the same information year after year. As they described their school year: the first semester they review what they learned last year, and the second semester they add a little bit of information to what they already know. This, coupled with the expectations by their teachers to memorize increasingly useless information, has lead many of the brightest students to lose any interest or excitement in the hours they spend in the classroom. When asked directly what they were learning in school, the answer was most often “nothing I don’t already know.”
That so many of our students work below their potential has grave implications for the nation. The scholarship, inventiveness, and expertise that created the foundation for America’s high standard of living and quality of life are eroding. Most top students in the United States are offered a less rigorous curriculum, read fewer demanding books, complete less homework, and enter the workforce or postsecondary education less well prepared than top students in many other industrialized countries. (Ross, 1993)
These bright students want to learn. They are serious about their education. In their interviews with me they said over and over again that they wished they could apply the knowledge they possess to real world situations. They want to find out what there is in the world for them to do, because they know there is more out there than the traditional expectations. They want to discuss important issues, real issues; they want to know what is ahead of them as future workers, future citizens. In their comments these student voiced frustration with most of what they were required to do in school.
I told them about what the predictions were for their future: technological developments at increasingly rapid rates; of a global economy; of the need for rapid problem solving and identification of problems; of the flexibility to change jobs frequently as demand for certain skills disappears and new skills are needed. Their reaction was understandably one of puzzlement. If this is what is predicted, then why aren’t they learning these skills in school? Preparation for their place in the society of the future is a very important issue with these students, and they want to be prepared.
One way to integrate the content of their classwork with their desire to apply their knowledge to real world situations is through the use of Problem-based Learning units. Problem-based Learning (PBL) is a curriculum development and instructional system which simultaneously develops both problem-solving strategies and disciplinary knowledge bases and skills by placing students in the active role of problem-solvers confronted with an ill-structured problem that mirrors real-world problems (Finkle & Torp, 1995).
This problem is presented in the form of a scenario. The problem must be one that engages the students, is changed by the addition of new information, is not easily solved, and has no “right” answer. The students assume the role of problem-solvers, while the teacher is a tutor and a coach. In seeking a solution to a problem, the student applies and learns research and communication skills, develops strategies, and tests and rejects hypotheses. The student also uses interpersonal skills while working as a member of a group.
Last spring I wrote a PBL unit for use in a class in which my students were studying the history of Richmond. Although this area of Virginia is steeped in history and studded with historical markers, shrines, and registered sites, my students knew little about it. Through videos, books, field trips, and research, as well as direct instruction, the students became aware of Richmond’s place in the development of the state and the nation.
After this more traditional approach to the content material, I presented them with the problem scenario. The problem placed them in the position of a council member representing a historic area of the city, an area that was also experiencing the proposed expansion of a convention center. Thus, the stage was set for a confrontation between historic preservation and the future economic growth of the city and surrounding areas.
To understand the problem better, we went to the Jackson Ward area of downtown Richmond and saw firsthand the site in question. The students studied this area, once known as the “Black Wall Street” of the country, and learned about the famous citizens who lived and worked there. We pored over blueprints of the proposed expansion and photographed some of the historic buildings and houses that were threatened. The students contacted officials at city hall, studied testimonials from area businesses in support of the plans, and calculated how much it cost to move buildings.
Finally, they were ready to come to a decision. The students met in small groups and drew up plans for their resolution to the problem. Representatives from each group met, presented their group’s plan, and struggled to come up with a compromise. These representatives returned to their groups, reworked the resolution, and met again with the other representatives to hammer out a final solution. This opportunity to participate in a “representative democracy” was an important part in helping the students understand their roles as future citizens. How often in school do students get to experience this most important privilege we have as citizens?
The students wrote a final resolution to city council outlining their proposal for the solution of the problem and invited council members, business people, the director of the convention center, parents, and school officials to their presentation. Not only did they plan the presentation of their resolution, but they were responsible for every detail involved in the big event. Teams of students located chairs, tables, video equipment, wrote welcoming addresses, sent out invitations, measured the number of drinks in a two liter bottle, ordered a cake, and arranged for a clean up crew. In short, they did it all.
Did all the students agree with the resolution? No. Did all the students remain constantly engaged in the learning process? No, nor did they all learn the same things from the experience. Each of them approached the problem and the problem-solving in a way unique to the individual. Some of the students were more interested in the cost of moving houses, while others were more concerned with the people whose houses would be moved or torn down. They all, however, saw the connection between what they were doing in the classroom and what they would be asked to do when it is their turn, as adults, to make these same kinds of decisions. I asked for their comments on the unit, and their responses were overwhelmingly positive. I will describe several of these with you:
“I liked this PBL unit because it made me think. At first I was really frustrated, because there was no correct answer. After a while I realized that the fact there was no answer caused this to be interesting. I didn’t feel that there were boundaries restricting me to a certain level of thinking. I had a lot of fun!”
“This gave me experience and an idea of what the real world is like. Although I believe this was time well spent, I didn’t really enjoy it. It was hard and confusing at times, but that’s real life.”
“I felt that PBL helped us all do better in class. We worked together and got to know each other better. We learned and had fun, and I think that’s what makes it an almost perfect class.”
“This unit has shown me what complicated problems society has to face every day. I realize what an extremely hard job it must be to have to constantly find solutions to some of society’s huge problems.”
What was this experience like for a teacher? It was one of the most exciting and exhilarating units in which I have been involved. (Part of the my reaction might have been accredited to relief, as writing a PBL unit often involves a lot of telephone calls, meetings with resource people in the community, and locating materials for the students, which can be a time-consuming process.) As coach and facilitator, part of my responsibility was to keep an eye on the clock, as the students were so involved in the classwork they lost track of time. I enjoyed watching students turn into competent problem-seekers and problem-solvers. Every day, when the last students had gathered their bookbags and left, I stood basking in the energy that was still electrifying the room. This was a way to challenge my students. I had found a framework to offer my students their desire for real-world experiences.
PBL can be challenging for a teacher. The preparation, as mentioned before, can be time-consuming. Learning to ask questions instead of giving answers is a role reversal for most teachers, and often an uncomfortable one. Careful observation of student group interactions can yield clues about their progression through the problem, as well as their success in handling interpersonal issues. Listening and anticipating where the students are headed in their investigations is an essential teaching skill to learn, as once in a while they need to be “nudged” back on track. Problem-based Learning is rewarding.
If we expect our children to become lifelong learners, then we must give them a reason to want to learn. Many students hold the belief that no one wants to listen to them, to their ideas, to their solutions to problems. Someday these same students will be our leaders, our workers, our scientists and inventors. When and where are they supposed to acquire the skills they will need as adults? Does sitting behind a desk listening to a teacher drone on about past events help our children learn to be citizens in the twenty-first century? With courses centered around problem-solving, students have the opportunity to learn and apply skills they will need in the future. They will learn how to find information they need when they need it, they will learn to ask questions, to weigh decisions and predict possible outcomes. They will learn to construct their own meanings from the data they collect. They will learn to evaluate other’s solutions to problems. In some cases they will come up with real solutions to real problems and find out that people will listen to them.
These are the sources cited in the article:
Finkle, S. H.and Torp, L. L. 1995. Introductory documents. Center for Problem-Based Learning. Illinois Mathematics and Science Academy.
Ross, P. 1993. Programs for improvement of practice. National excellence: A case for developing America’s talent. Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office.
The following are sources/resources for further information and teaching materials.
For Problem-based Learning units designed for elementary and middle school students, especially in science, mathematics, and language arts.
The Center for Gifted Education
The College of William and Mary in Virginia
232 Jamestown Road
Williamsburg, Virginia 23187-8795
For information on William and Mary’s e-mail discussion groups contact Linda Boyce:
For information on the Problem Log Newsletter, an Internet users group and other PBL topics:
Linda T. Torp, Ed.S.
Strategic Coordinator for PBL Initiatives
Center for Problem-Based Learning firstname.lastname@example.org
Illinois Mathematics and Science Academy email@example.com
1500 W. Sullivan Road
Aurora, IL 60506
Phone: (630) 907- 5956 or 5957
FAX: (630) 907- 5946 or 5062
PBL WEB SITE http://www.imsa.edu/team/cpbl/
BOOK NEWS AND REVIEWS FROM GIFTED EDUCATION NEWS-PAGE
VOL. 6 (1997), NO. 5; Web Site: www.giftededpress.com
“Time flies.” With this issue we present a summing-up of the best books reviewed in GIFTED EDUCATION NEWS-PAGE over the last six years. This list should help those readers who seek highlights of past issues. Here are outstanding books published since 1989 that we recommend for everyone concerned with the development and education of gifted children. They are listed primarily in the order in which they were reviewed.
The Unschooled Mind: How Children Think and How Schools Should Teach by Howard Gardner. Basic Books, 1991. The author discusses how research on thinking and cognitive development can help those with the highest abilities, but have difficulties learning mathematics, the sciences and the humanities because of their immature ways of reasoning acquired during the early years from five to seven. This is an important book which all educators concerned with developing a stimulating curriculum for the gifted should read.
Multiple Intelligences: The Theory in Practice by Howard Gardner. Basic Books, 1993. A comprehensive summary of the applications of the theory of multiple intelligences. Gardner's original work on this topic, Frames of Mind, was published in 1983. We have always been impressed with his engaging style of writing about multiple intelligences because he writes from the perspective of a humanist psychologist and scholar of the arts and humanities than as a narrowly focused psychometric theorist.
Education of the Gifted: Programs and Perspectives by Joan F. Smutny and Rita H. Blocksom. Bloomington, IN: Phi Delta Kappa, 1990.
A Thoughtful Overview of Gifted Education by Judy W. Eby and Joan F. Smutny. New York: Longman, 1990.
Your Gifted Child: How to Recognize and Develop the Special Talents in Your Child from Birth to Age Seven by Joan F. Smutny, Kathleen Veenker and Stephen Veenker. New York: Ballantine Books, 1989.
Many parents are effective advocates for gifted children but they do not usually read enough in the field. These three books by Joan Smutny (Director - Center for the Gifted; National-Louis University; Evanston, IL) and her colleagues should be used as a set for providing parents with information they need about the gifted field. All three volumes are written with enthusiasm and considerable knowledge concerning what it takes to raise and educate the gifted.
Recommended Practices in Gifted Education: A Critical Analysis by Bruce M. Shore, Dewey G. Cornell, Ann Robinson and Virgil S. Ward. Teachers College Press, 1991. Every educator of the gifted should read and use this book. The authors have done a superb job of organizing and discussing numerous concepts of identification and differentiated instruction, and of relating these concepts to current research and accepted practices.
Terman's Kids: The Groundbreaking Study of How the Gifted Grow Up by Joel N. Shurkin. Little, Brown, 1992. An excellent resource for those individuals who would like to learn more about the gifted, and to read a concise description of Terman's research. Shurkin has provided readers with a complete description of the technical details of Terman's longitudinal study of about 2,000 intellectually gifted individuals.
Creating Minds: An Anatomy of Creativity Seen Through the Lives of Freud, Einstein, Picasso, Stravinsky, Eliot, Graham, and Gandhi by Howard Gardner. Basic Books, 1993. An engaging and inspiring book for many reasons. It contains beautifully written biographies of profoundly creative/gifted individuals. One can read these biographies solely for their literary merit and content without being too concerned about the usefulness of Gardner's creativity model. However, we believe this model represents the most serious effort in the last twenty years to understand highly creative people.
The Creators: A History of the Heroes of the Imagination by Daniel J. Boorstin. Random House, 1992. Besides being of great value to educators and parents interested in the humanities, this book would be a very useful resource in advanced secondary and college level humanities courses.
Gifted Children: Myths and Realities by Ellen Winner. Basic Books, 1996. A unique and essential work in a field that has an abundance of textbooks on identifying and educating gifted children. Winner’s book is similar in quality to a few exceptional works in the gifted field such as Gifted Children: Their Nature and Nurture (1926) by Leta S. Hollingworth and Differential Education for the Gifted (1980) by Virgil S. Ward.
Some Of My Best Friends Are Books: Guiding Gifted Readers from Pre-School to High School by Judith Wynn Halsted. Ohio Psychology Press: Dayton, OH, 1994. A comprehensive guide on the importance of books in the lives and education of gifted and intellectually curious students. Besides providing extensive information on how books can be used to foster their emotional and intellectual development, Halsted gives the reader useful background information on the history of current issues in gifted education.
Leading Minds: An Anatomy of Leadership by Howard Gardner. Basic Books, 1995. 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. Gardner argues that leaders exert their primary influence through the stories they tell and the embodiment of these stories in various traits.
Emotional Intelligence: Why it Can Matter More than IQ by Daniel Goleman. Bantam, 1995. Provides information that teachers can use to design emotional training in differentiated programs. Of equal importance, it can help gifted children to understand the neurological foundations of emotional responses, particularly the short circuiting that occurs when sensory stimuli bypass the cognitive areas of the brain and directly impact on the emotional areas (amygdala).
Sophie's World: A Novel about the History of Philosophy by Jostein Gaarder. Hardcover Edition (1994) -- Farrar, Straus and Giroux: New York. Paperback Edition (1996) -- Berkley Books: New York. A work of both fiction and nonfiction -- both genres are interwoven into an exciting story about a fourteen-year-old girl's encounters with the great ideas of Western philosophy. We highly recommend Sophie's World for use in the humanities curriculum because it provides intellectually advanced students with an overview of philosophy through the eyes of a charming and bright teenager.
WILKIE COLLINS (1824-89): A VICTORIAN WRITER SPEAKS TO THE GIFTED ADOLESCENT OF TODAY
BY MICHAEL E. WALTERS
CENTER FOR THE STUDY OF THE HUMANITIES IN THE SCHOOLS
“The light thus produced was deliciously soft, mysterious, and subdued; it fell equally upon all the objects in the room; it helped to intensify the deep silence, and the air of profound seclusion that possessed the place. . . .” From The Woman in White (p. 31) by Wilkie Collins. Bantam.
During the fall of 1997, two shows based on Wilkie Colllins’ books will be presented on PBS: The Woman in White (1860) on Mystery! and The Moonstone (1868) on Masterpiece Theatre. Therefore, here are two good opportunities for teachers of the gifted to help their students connect the television and print media. These novels are especially poignant for teenage gifted students because Wilkie Collins was a popular fiction writer as well as an excellent literary artist.
Collins is representative of the quality that sensibility plays in the personality and creativity of an artist. Both his grandfather and father were painters. He originally studied for the law but never practiced. However, this legal training gave him analytical and deductive skills. The art background from his father, who was one of the most famous landscape painters of the 19th century, enabled him to see narratives in visual images. As a youth, he traveled and lived in Italy for several years. During his writing career, he was part of a circle of gifted and talented writers such as Charles Dickens, Charles Reade and William Thackeray. He was Charles Dickens’ personal friend and colleague. They traveled to Europe together, and performed plays on the London stage, each taking different parts. His major novels were serialized in periodicals that Dickens edited. Collins suffered from painful gout and eye conditions – yet he forced himself to continue his writing activities. In a preface to a revised edition of The Moonstone (1871), he tells his readers how his sense of duty to them inspired him to finish this novel.
His writing style has been described as “sensate fiction” which means the reader encounters elements of horror, pity and terror. In addition, he enlarged the Gothic novel to also include elements of social manners. The experience of reading Collins is very appropriate for gifted students. They can examine all aspects of his novels – the visual beauty, the psychological insights, the analytical solutions to mysteries, the emotional ingredients of suspense, the locales (India and England) and how he used them. All of these elements can produce good exercises for stimulating the sensibility of gifted students. Most of all, his novels have emotional tones that appeal to the gifted adolescent – for example, a suicide in a quicksand swamp, portentous dreams, mysterious letters, cunning disguises, addictive drugs, and romantic obsession. Collins also described in The Moonstone how circumstances influence character. His female characters are among the most sensitive and sympathetic in English literature since he told this story from a woman’s point of view.
The PBS stations have video tapes of both productions, so teachers of the gifted can easily obtain copies for their classes. This interaction of electronic and print media will be a joyful, instructive and insightful experience for the gifted teenage student. Collins speaks to our times as well as his own.