Barbara Clark

BARBARA CLARK

OK, I’m Dr. Barbara Clark and I’m professor Emeritis from California State University in Los Angles.  I am currently the President of the World Council for Gifted and Talented Children.

Well there’s kind of two ways of looking at it, the the gifted as we deal with them in schools.  This is a label that we use for children who are developing at levels that schools really aren’t prepared to handle.  And it’s like any other acceptional group, they have to have the label so that they get appropriate attention.  But in my mind this is probably a group of young students that um are are behaving as human beings could behave and as a matter of fact probably even ah we would be more normal if were because of the enormous potential that we’re not developing.  So if they had an opportunity early on we’d have a lot more children that would be performing at the level that we are now calling gifted.  In my opinion. 

Um as  far as the identification of these children I think it’s an observational issue more than it is a test issue.  A lot of children, especially at this level, are not going to give up their secret ah easily. And they are in many ways masking the kinds of things that their potential is about.  I do think we can get clues from the numbers um those kinds of achievements, those kinds of scores, are certainly going to tell us there’s something going on.  But to actually serve them appropriately, we need a lot more information than that, so observation by people who want to know what these children need are the way to do that.  Very early on parents are awfully good at it.  And they can tell us a lot about it.  So I think we do need to use that kind of data along with our um test data.

I don’t really think it’s about giftedness at all.  I think it is about stretching the concept of intelligence to some degree.  We need to stretch it a lot further but I do believe that it has allowed us to break away from some of the previous more limiting concepts.  The problem is in practice it is being used sort of over simplictically.  And we are again trying to identify children in little boxes and I think that’s unfortunate.  But if an environment can use those concepts to broaden it’s base to allow children more experiences then it’s a very good thing, but I really don’t think it’s about giftedness.

Well first of all they have to be open.  They have to be growing.  They have to be challenged by learning, excited and enthusiastic about it.  Uh I don’t think they have to be brighter than the children but it certainly helps if they’re bright enough to understand that the children have problems just because they are working differently. And they understand a little more about how that difference might feel to the child.  Children who are gifted tend to when they’re ranking teachers first talk about the first thing they want a teacher who understands them, a teacher who will care about the kinds of things they care about.  So I think that’s essential.  I would like, if I had the best of all possible worlds, a very bright person who is themselves uh questioning a lot of things that they are facing so they can work with the child on that.  I think perfectionism, for example, really isn’t a problem if you’ve got somebody on your side and talking to you about how striving for excellence can be a good thing.  It’s only when it gets to be in your way to moving that it becomes some kind of a limit.  The teacher is so essential to these children.  And I think the idea of them being a companion ah ah ah person who will be a guide ah ah mentor is essential for this.

Optimizing learning is a whole issue that I think is just so exciting because it was born out of um the new brain research.  And begins to tell us more about the potential for learning and teaching.  And so I find that when you’re looking at ways to optimize you are moving out of known patterns, you’re really trying to find out ways that are more effective and more efficient.  The brain research gives us a lot of information about that and unfortunately I don’t think we’re using it very well yet.  The integrative education model was an attempt to take that information and make it opperational in the classroom.  We tried it out for 7 years with highly gifted youngsters and got their feedback on it so that we ah could begin to talk to people about the most essential things.  There’s so many things that we don’t know and people could add to it all the time.  But we do know that they do have to have the four major brain functions that are involved in learning and that’s just not been what we’ve been doing.  We’ve been very focused on cognition, which isn’t a bad thing, only that if we isolate it we miss the potential of the power of the brain and so when you then talk about optimizing and you use the integrative model uh our hope is that you begin to integrate all the different parts of the brain and the youngster then, no matter what their highest level of skill ability interest, they can start growing in those directions and we don’t miss the things that are innate talents of theirs.  I really feel that the um possibility here is just limitless.  It’s just unfortunate that out structures have not included all of those possibilities yet.

When you think in terms of the way that the brain operates, uh we could sort of organize it although it’s extremely interactive.  We could think about just organizing it as a a four parts of a system.  And the the one of the things about multiple intelligences I need to be very careful that everybody understand they’re not separate, they really do function the way the brain functions as an integrated whole and that’s why it’s important that all of that be included in the teaching and learning.  Um but the kinds of things that we have in addition to our cognitive and even the cognitive has really both of the hemispheres function when working together, um so that you have linear rational kinds of learning, but you also have the visual, spatial, gestalt kind of learning.  And those two really need to be addressed together.  Makes them much more powerful for the youngster to operate that way.  And when the companion of course to that which needs to be integrated in is the affective kind of emotional, social, leadership, all of that piece, and affective we find it it rides, sets up sort of the wave for the cognition to follow.  So it is important that we address that.  And then there’s the physical and some times people don’t realize who much the muscular system contributes to ah retention, contributes to understanding, it’s incredible if you act something out or if you participate in something, how much more you understand and in much greater depth.  And then of course my newest, the part I’m most interested in, fascinated by, passionate about, is that intuitive piece.  Uh the prefrental cortex has within it some of the most human elements about us.  Connections to things way beyond us.  And we’re really not dealing with that but the youngsters are and it seems to me in my experience, the brighter the youngster is the more that they’re inquiring about, interested in, really wanting to get involved with, knowledge in the area of intuition.  Uh they know there is a link between themselves and things that are greater.  They know that there’s part of them that functions in really different fascinating ways.  Um where you know all at once and you know you know you can’t quite know why you know or how you found out.  Uh where you synthesize information in ways that you see things differently than other people and you don’t know why they don’t see them that way.  But all of that piece is often left out and people don’t have the advantage of moving into it.  So if you can bring all of that together in the lessons you present and in the 7 years that we worked with our experimental school on the integrated ed model we found that the better we got at it, the children weren’t surprised they were kind of like oh good you finally got here.  They were much more able to function at the higher levels and to take it then even beyond.  They’re pushing the limits and we need to be right there with them helping them inquire, helping them see. I don’t think we know all about that.  But I think we need to be investigating with the youngsters.  Model it um approve it, value it, make it possible for them to be inquiring.

Well visual thinking is a part of this whole cognitive piece. Because we do have that logical that rational linear piece that we often exercise and an awful lot of our knowledge has come from.  We’ve got wonderful knowledge base in that area, growing all the time.  But the people who move into that far enough have to begin to pick up this other imagery, visual kind of ah thinking that some of the physicist talk about quite often and when we listened um to Edgar Mitchell uh talk about his experiences as an astronaut you hear a lot about the importance of that imagery, that visual piece of, helping us understand.  And it’s a way to explore uh thought processes and theoretic constructs that allow you to move beyond just the logical kind of step by step.  If we teach step by step thinking all the time and we keep doing it that way, that’s what we’re really teaching is that people step by step rationally think.  And the larger theoretic constructs are beyond that.  And so the visual thinking, the way in which you can image in your mind and curiously a lot of our major intelligence tests have items that require you to think that way.  All of higher math is involved with visual thinking. But in schools we don’t value it enough to take time for it and so the exercises youngsters need the way in which they begin to image um need really to have that time.  When I was younger there was time for that and we had a radio, ah it was before television, and so in your mind you did image a great deal and you never thought anything about it, it was only when they would make a movie of what you were ah like when Snow White came into a movie or when some of the other the the princes were never as beautiful as when they were in your mind.  But the visual piece needs to be exercised now.  Because we so often give everybody what the vision would be and then I think we have to listen to what the youngsters visions are.  They sometimes have ones we would never have and if we don’t listen we’ll miss their thinking.

The um advice that I would give to teachers who have conversations and um meetings with the parents of the gifted do listen a great deal. And you’re the professional as a teacher and you have a lot to contribute, but the parent is the first teacher and the parent has um marvelous knowledge, they may not even know they have they may feel they have mostly problems trying to figure out why these things are happening and you can help them with that. But I think that the role they play in the child’s life um is important for you to know as a teacher so that you can be more effective in what you are doing.  I guess too I would want you as a teacher to think about how it must feel to be a parent of a youngster that doesn’t fit in, that is always having to be trying to understand what other people are or aren’t doing because that’s not the way they see the world, their perceptions and their ideas aren’t accepted, often times made fun of, frustration that that parent feels when they try to find an appropriate place for their child and there aren’t any.  And sometimes they didn’t even realize before they came to school that this was a child that was extraordinary.  Not in the sense of not fitting in and I believe the teacher needs to help that parent feel more comfortable with this um honor that parent and make them feel like it’s something they have contributed to that’s really very positive for all of us.  Um and and make them feel they’re not wasting your time by helping you understand what they’re concerns are about those children.

When you think about collaboration between the area of gifted education and the area of regular education or any of the other exceptionalities I really think that we have a great deal or should have a lot of things that we’ve been involved with that they need to hear and we need to, the the talent development area for example, um we picked up a lot of clues about how to look at children in different ways and help children grow and develop. And I think that the the collaboration helps that.  We also have to hear from them how we can better help those children fit in. The fitting in, not to mean they must adjust and adapt to the way that other people do things, but that they have a place that they feel comfortable contributing in those kinds of relationships.  We also are all together in trying to deal with the differencitation among children.  I think the oddest misconception is that children are all the same except for those that have the labels and in fact there’s so much about children that are that have similarities and if we could begin to notice among ourselves what those similarities are and bring those strengths to the children and then allow it to go in a lot of different directions.  Trying to put everybody into one mold has caused us to need these different labels and I believe we could get into a pattern of looking at alright what is it we can all do and what do all of us need to do in different ways it would be easier for everyone.  Collaboration also is a political thing.  If we don’t build our strength with all of the others and help others see where we can contribute and where they contribute to us ah we’re gonna be continuing to be out there by ourselves and in many cases that isolation has caused us to lose opportunities for children.  So collaboration I believe in that sense is a useful thing.

It’s interesting the whole discussion of standards these days as assessment.  Uh the point that I found when I first began several years ago to lead our university into this as the assessment coordinator, um I went to a lot of conferences and back several years ago when they started this standards movement what they were looking at is a concept I could get very excited about. They were talking about a teacher sitting down, looking at what they’re doing and deciding what is it that’s essential to what they’re doing that those youngsters need to learn.  And putting it down so that then they share it with the youngsters and the children would be their partners then in trying to get there.  Not only would the content standards be known by both parties, but also then how to get there.  What the teacher would consider to be a fair way of learning what ever those skills or abilities would be.  That knowledge base would build.  And then the child would have some choice about how they would be able to learn.  It also then carried over into the assessment piece.  How do you know that you know, how would you show the teacher that you know and there again choice could be exercised.  This seemed to me to be a very exciting way to go.  Standards that would be content and performance standards representing the kinds of things that you felt were most important for this youngster to be about and how they could do it that were acceptable to you that was acceptable to you.  The um notion then began to change somehow so that instead of the rubrick telling you what levels of accomplishment meant and again letting the child know what you accept as an a as a b and as a c, we began to look at standards as being somehow punative.  Uh everybody had to be here and it was more like standardization.  And now we’re into this thing where now people are saying well should we have different standards for the gifted and different standards, if we’re goin to have a whole body of things that people need to know then maybe there are different ways of knowing, maybe there are higher levels of accomplishment or achievement.  But essentially it is that standard content piece that gives you information and that’s all it does. It doesn’t grade you(interruption).The, so so we’ve gotten uh the notion of now into standardizing and and it makes everybody look at standards as somehow a limit for where they can go.  And everybody has to go the same place.  Everybody has to be doing the same thing and es that at the beginning was not what I understood it was to be at all.  I thought it was going to be an excellent way to form partnerships between teachers and youngsters, give a lot of choice in the classroom, really make it possible for gifted youngsters to go as far as they could go, but it isn’t being used that way in practice unfortunately.  And so for many people because somehow administration has missed the the concept um and teachers often have missed the concept, it’s being used as some kind of a lever or some kind of a limit and I think that’s most unfortunate, it had great promise.

When you talk about teachers and what they need to know in the area of gifted education(interruption)

Well as President of the World Council for Gifted and Talented I have learned an enormous amount.  One of the things that people can experience in that group, it’s not part of any mission statement, but the true understanding of how very differently we view the world all the different countries have perspectives, have values, have ideas, that maybe even have the same words and yet when you begin to talk about it and try to plan you find that their way of looking at it is so different that you have to honor it and incorporate it.  In the United States I think we have in some ways disadvantages in that e have so much diversity here that we think we understand multicultural kinds of issues.  And in fact I think that deludes us because the people who are here from other cultures are striving to understand us, they’re trying to become more of this particular culture perspective belief system.  But when you’re working with peoples all over the world who are in their countries they’re not interested in becoming what you believe, they’re interested I your understanding what they believe and honoring what they believe.  So that kind of learning has been valuable and in many cases sort of painful as I’ve gone through this because I had to face a how very arrogant I was and I never thought I was.  So this notion of true global education is a very different issue than what we’ve been looking at as multicultural education.  I think that needs to be a central core of what the world council can bring.  We need  a great deal more networking among the poeples.  We do meet every two years and that’s very very valuable for that kind of an exchange.  But there need to be more avenues for that.  With the electronic pathways opening up I think we can start moving more that direction.  The idea that somebody who is working in um Russia on a project and somebody who is working in China on a on the same kind of idea and a youngster in the United States that would like to be involved in that, all of them trying to do something in cooperative is one word, but more moving together interactively to create something.  Not just tolerating each others contribution, coming up with a synthesis, but really interacting to create something that’s very different than if they had touched each other’s life.  Um this way of we could be we uh uh we the world council could provide the kind of leadership that would allow youngsters all over the world to really begin to understand those values and the diplomacy that we’re dealing with right now that makes it almost impossible for us to live together in the same world, maybe if we start with youngsters working together we can in fact move further toward seeing what people are about, what human beings are about.  And it’s important for gifted youngsters to do that and people who are involved with gifted youngsters.  Because again these youngsters are pushing the limits, these youngsters are the ones that are seeing beyond what we do now.  Trying to find out more about human, who human beings are and as that happens then we don’t have to get stuck in those old ways of doing and they can begin to see the new  ways of working together and we really can begin to have an understanding of each other.  Not that we would ever need to change, that we have differences, but the differences could maybe enrich all of us.  And I think that would be extremely valuable as a mission for the World Council.  We do now have a structure that’s right in place and solid and we can depend on. We’ve got people that are involved that are very caring and so it could happen, it needs people to find ways for it to happen now.

Oh, without a doubt we would start understanding what we already know.  The brain research has brought us so much information about our potential and how to optimize that potential that we’re not even dealing with.  The before conception information, the inutero information, the early early infant information.  All of that that tells us the importance of the stimulation and how that stimulation affects youngsters.  And then through all of the ages of human life we’re learning so much more about ourselves and we have these people that have these ideas and visions and even basic data that we’re ignoring as we stay in the pathway that we have been.  As we continue to struggle with ideas like nurture or nature as we begin, continue to get ourselves stuck in some of the old arguments, they’re really not valid arguments anymore and we need to pay attention to what we know and encourage those people that are trying to find out more.  Even though it’s not what we believe, even though it stretches our belief into areas we haven’t even thought we would want to go into, at least allow those who do and not discourage and not feel that we have to limit people to our limits.  I think we must let go of that and as educators we are the ones that should do it.  Education to bring forth that which is within and there’s so much more there then we’re allowing.