BOOK NEWS AND REVIEWS
TEACHING YOUNG GIFTED CHILDREN IN THE REGULAR CLASSROOM: IDENTIFYING, NURTURING, AND CHALLENGING AGES 4-9 BY JOAN FRANKLIN SMUTNY, SALLY YAHNKE WALKER AND ELIZABETH A. MECKSTROTH. FREE SPIRIT PUBLISHING, 1997. MINNEAPOLIS.
There are two primary reasons why this book should be read and applied by teachers and parents. The first is related to this reviewer's experiences in offering graduate courses to regular classroom teachers on the needs of gifted children. These teachers were very concerned with selecting proper instructional techniques and curricula for the exceptionally able children who were not placed in their school's gifted program because they missed identification cut off criteria by one or two points. They needed help in effectively working with these children but few instructional resources were available. The book by Smutny, Walker and Meckstroth provides teachers with a comprehensive resource for designing a stimulating educational program for their gifted children. It also presents extensive procedures and recommendations for identifying and establishing effective learning environments - the authors emphasize that both parents and teachers must be involved in the identification process, and they show how certain techniques such as Centers for Multiple Intelligences and Curriculum Compacting are necessary ingredients for a successful gifted program in the regular classroom. They rightly stress that activities which develop children's creativity should not just "jazz up" the curriculum, but should emphasize critical thinking and discovery.
The second reason why this book needs to be widely disseminated throughout the public schools is that it addresses an age level of giftedness that is a critical period for mental and social development. This level is given little attention by most school districts. The young gifted child is usually ignored by gifted programs because administrators do not have the expertise to design a differentiated curriculum for the preschool and primary levels. Teaching Young Gifted Children in the Regular Classroom helps fill this gap by demonstrating specific methods and approaches in Social Studies, Language Arts, Math and Science. The authors base instruction in all of these areas upon first stimulating gifted children's imagination and creative thinking, and then directing them into critical thinking and discovery learning activities. Chapter 6 ("Promoting Discovery and Higher-Level Thinking in Math and Science") has a clear explanation of how this process should occur:
"The creative imagination is a powerful source for exploring the properties of an object, a living thing, a concept, or even a symbol. In the last two chapters, we've seen the value of having students identify themselves imaginatively with someone (or something) they are studying. Pretending is a very natural activity for young children - one that expands conceptual thinking. When you empower your students to draw on their creative resources, you can deepen what they've already learned and help them explore their knowledge in new ways.
"As students begin to understand scientific and mathematical properties, you can encourage them (especially those who don't yet write much) to use a variety of media for their work - visual arts, short skits, mimes, or dictated stories and poems. Your goal is to allow students to step into the world of a math or science topic and explore its properties and attributes through the arts." (p. 102).
Other informative chapters address problems of assessing and documenting development (using standardized tests, portfolios and systematic observations), cluster grouping (for effective individualized and cooperative learning), working productively with parents (through dialogue and parent-teacher conferences), understanding young gifted children's social and emotional needs (addressing topics such as stress, sensitivity, control and perfectionism), and working with gifted children from diverse populations (e.g., ethnic minorities, economically disadvantaged children, young gifted children from rural areas, gifted girls, and gifted children with learning difficulties). The book also contains many reproducible pages (e.g., "Checklist of My Child's Strengths" and "Plan for Compacting and Extending the Curriculum"). In addition, extensive references and a bibliography are included, and the appendices contain lists of numerous resources for identifying and teaching young gifted children.
All three authors have many years of experience in educating gifted children. They have emphasized the development of children's creative behavior as the basis for academic learning, and they have clearly demonstrated how creativity and academics can be successfully integrated into the differentiated curriculum. This holistic approach to teaching young gifted children reinforces the main premise of the book - that such children can be effectively taught in the regular classroom. Smutny, Walker and Meckstroth have written a highly readable and comprehensive book for identifying and educating the younger children among the gifted. We highly recommend it to all teachers and parents who want to give the best possible education to their gifted children in the preschool and primary grades.
Gifted Education Press Quarterly - The Fall 1997 issue contains as its lead article, Chapter One ("Nine Myths About Giftedness") from Dr. Ellen Winner's book, Gifted Children: Myths and Realities (1996, BasicBooks). It discusses some misconceptions about gifted children that have been harmful to their education and development. This important chapter should be read by all teachers and parents who want to improve the education of gifted children in their schools. Contact Gifted Education Press to order a subscription to this periodical. See our Web Site (http://www.cais.com/gep) for more information about subscribing to Gifted Education Press Quarterly, and ordering our books on educating gifted children.
American Visions: What America's Greatest Art Reveals About Our National Character (Spring 1997) - This special magazine issue by Time, Inc. was organized and written by Robert Hughes, art critic for Time Magazine. It is based on the eight part PBS-TV series that appeared from May-June 1997. Each chapter covers a particular aspect of the role of art in our nation's history and culture. Photographs of various paintings, artistic works, and architectural creations accompany Hughes' discussions of such topics as the Wilderness, Craft, Visionaries, Grandeur and Innovation. For example, the chapter on Grandeur displays paintings by Whistler and Sargent, and photographs of the Hoover Dam and a Tiffany Lamp. A chronology of American Art that parallels major historical events is also presented. This magazine is a comprehensive resource that will help gifted students understand the history and greatness of American Art. Order American Visions from Time, Inc.; Time and Life Building; Rockefeller Center; New York, NY 10020-1393.
Little Activity Books (Ages 4 and Up) - These attractive and durable booklets for preschool and primary level children serve as an antidote to inert states like watching television. Each booklet costs $1.00 and concentrates on activities in the following areas: Stickers, Foreign Language Activities, Sticker Paper Dolls, Paper Doll Cut-Outs, Postcards, Bookmarks, Full-Color Storybooks, Mazes & Puzzles, Stencils, and Stained Glass Coloring Books. There are many other wonderful booklets in this series. The publisher, Dover Publications, Inc. (31 East 2nd Street; Mineola, NY 11501) is known for its excellent reissues of out-of-print books and craft materials.
REREADING WALDEN TO DISCOVER THE GIFTED SENSIBILITY OF HENRY DAVID THOREAU
BY MICHAEL E. WALTERS CENTER FOR THE STUDY OF THE HUMANITIES IN THE SCHOOLS
"After several rereadings of Walden - generally one needs several - the reader discovers a key to its riddle in the form of Thoreau's address to him." Perry Miller, Afterword to Walden (Signet Classics, 1960).
In many situations, gifted students do not read for mere information or data processing but for deep personal needs. One of their most important traits is that they feel the urge to reread in order to fulfill their need for personal meaning. Therefore, the gifted student thrives on experiencing a written narrative as a personal encounter. This encounter with narrative is an I-Thou experience that involves being personally addressed by the author. Henry David Thoreau (1817-62) had a writing style that gives gifted readers the feeling they are reading something written especially for themselves, and they perceive Walden (1854) as an inspirational and personal message. This book contains many chapters that appeal to the gifted such as, "Where I Lived, and What I Lived For," "Solitude," "Higher Laws," and "The Pond in Winter." These chapters address issues which have been an integral part of America society and culture from Thoreau's time to the present.
Thoreau's writing style makes this encounter between him and his readers possible. He was greatly influenced by his own personal encounters with different writers that he read. Among these were the German writers and thinkers - Immanuel Kant (1724-1804) and Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749-1832). From Goethe, Thoreau understood how to combine two approaches that appeared to be in conflict. These were the classical Latin and Greek writers, and the Romantic writers. Goethe demonstrated to Thoreau how one could express the Romantic sentiments of being inspired by nature and the human emotions. In addition, Goethe showed him how to describe these sentiments with a style that was (in a classical sense) precisely and clearly written. From Kant, he was influenced by the Critique of Pure Reason (1781) with its stress on the role of intuition in developing human knowledge. Also, Kant's Categorical Imperative taught Thoreau how it was one's duty to have personal integrity, or as he described it, "marching to a different drummer."
Here is a poem I wrote after rereading Thoreau:
I suffer the joys of living - through you my mentor,
Discover the hidden secrets of the wonders of the obvious,
Meditate upon truths that can be found in my own backyard,
I am inspired by your courage for revelry and the simplistic.
You are my educator, my brother, my fellow pilgrim in celebration of Creation,
There is validity in your wholeness,
Clarity in the lucidness of something as original as sunlight and moonbeams.
Maurice D. Fisher, Publisher, Copyright © by Gifted Education Press, October-November 1997