Beverly Shaklee

BEVERLY SHAKLEE

Beverly Shaklee:  Beverly Shaklee, Kenn State University.

The gifted and talented are uh children um who are developmentally advanced when compared to their chronologically aged peers. And I use that definition because I’m an early childhood educator and we always have to benchmark giftedness against something, some normative. And in this case, it is uh, uh appropriate growth and development over time in any area of human endeavor.

My—one of my favorite subjects is portfolios. Uh I believe it’s a uh—an appropriate method for instruction and also an appropriate method for the identification. And we’ve been using portfolios in Ohio to help identify children uh of under represented populations and also of young children. And basically they’re constituted in um three or four ways. I guess you would talk about them in terms of using teacher observations, uh using student activities, using parent/community input, and also using uh teacher observa—observation systematically over time. So with young children we talk about it in terms of being able to look at a pattern of uh behavior uh and activity over a period of time.

I think probably the most important components of portfolios are related to the fact that all of the stakeholders are involved in it. And when we use the word stakeholders, we mean all of the people who know the child well. And particularly with the young child, because we know that their uh development is uneven, uh it’s not stable yet, uh they are sometimes very focused on physical activities and then sometimes they work on their vocabulary and sometimes they’re busy with their friends that what we really need to be able to do is to get everyone who knows that child well actively involved. So we start with asking um parents and community members and that could include babysitters, it could include church members, it could include anyone who knows the child well, to give us feedback on specific kinds of identifiers that we know will um, uh if—if—in the development of the pattern evidence over time.  Identifiers come from the research literature.  Uh they’re well known um in the field, but what we’ve tried to do with young children is to collapse them so that teachers are not looking for a million different things. They can look for um a child who’s exceptionally inquisitive, the child that’s always asking questions. They can look for a child who is always thinking of a new way to do things. Um with little ones in particular and these are children primarily that I work with that are under the age of 9, then we’re talking about the fact that they may not always have a product yet. They haven’t quite um necessarily gotten the physical uh skill to uh draw that picture or to build that model or to uh be able to right that book. But they can talk that book. They can tell you about their imagination. They can tell you what would be in that picture.  So parents and community members and teachers have to capture those observations. We help them capture them in writing uh through a survey format, through anecdotal records, through actually taking photographs of what the children do. Uh even in their uh little smallest of steps as we go through that process. And then we sit down—probably takes three to um about three months and then we sit down and say, “OK, let’s look at the pattern of this child’s development.  Where do we see strengths?  Where are their areas of need?  What will we do with that child then instructionally?”  So portfolios and their components really only help us build a picture of the child so that I can make better decisions as a teacher on how to instruct that child, what kinds of things to offer in the classroom.

Oh, I feel very strongly about it. Um I’m—I’m not a strong proponent of uh early identification in a sense of early labeling and simply because of young child’s development.  That’s why. So I’m a much uh stronger proponent of the notion of working collaboratively with early childhood educators, with parents, community, and looking at that pattern of develop over time. They’re not going to reach stable um kinds of performance we think until—they can be 10, they can be 12, they can be 15 if—if we really look at development appropriately. Um, of course you always do have from time to time that stellar child that’s just uh a prodigy, just so outstanding. And I think Jim Gallagher said it best, he said with young children if we would just stop and watch, they will tell us who they are.  And I’ve always believed that. So I think you can’t nor should you um, um do uh pullout programs. I’m not a strong advocate for those kinds of things. I think that they need the sense of community, they need the bonding, they need the connection to uh their peers, they need the connection to their teachers, and to their parents, to the people who are caregivers who um, uh they fell strongly about. And so I think it’s much more appropriate for those of us in the field of gifted child education to work within that setting rather then to take the child out of that setting.

My favorite group is underserved populations I guess. Um, we have a number of them. I think historically our field has uh, uh in most recent years (clears throat)—excuse me.  In most recent years we’ve tried to uh work with children who have historically not had access to gifted childhood education. Those would be children of color, they would be children who are classified as minority children, they would also be children who are uh at lower socioeconomic settings often times, and surprisingly enough it’s often young children. Um because of the barriers we have to assessment and identification, we have a tendency uh not to work with them until they get to 3rd or 4th grade.  So we have this um range of children who are under represented in gifted child education.  We have some very good projects that are working toward uh trying to work with teachers. Um we—we talk about it in terms of helping teachers to clear the lens, to make sure that as they’re looking at the growth and development of the child of poverty that they are also seeing the gifts and talents that that child has brought to the situation. For example, one of the issues that we have is children of poverty are often very resilient children. Um they may have—we—we know of children who get up in the morning at 6:30, they get um their brothers and sisters ready for school, they make sure they have breakfast, they make sure they have their homework ready and then they come to school without their own homework because they’ve been taking care of their siblings. Well, teachers need to know that because that’s an amazing uh amount of not only resilience, but uh organization and management, leadership, within a family situation that um sometimes doesn’t get translated to school. So that’s one example uh helping teachers to see past what it is he or she needs to have happen in that classroom and look a little deeper at what that child is really being asked to do in a home setting or in the community setting and then how can we capitalize on those skills in the school setting.

Educational partnerships and gifted program advocacy.  We’ve worked uh a number of years with a number of different organizations to build program advocacy. Um one of the things that we’ve tried to do is to reach out to businesses. Uh we’ve had a collaboration historically uh, for example, in uh Cleveland with IBM, Cleveland public schools, Kenn State University.  Uh one of the things that’s been amazing to us is we’ve reached out and tried to build those bridges. Uh the first thing that we learned was that our language was different uh and what our expectations were, were different. And so we had to spend time together as members uh supporting children, first in general.  Supporting good, solid, sound, general education before we could even talk about the field of gifted child education. And so we uh first had to learn one another’s language.  We had to learn one another’s priorities. Then we had to come together around some things that we had in common to work toward that. In one particular project—the project was based in technology and in computer use in the schools, and our business partner wanted to give us all sorts of software that uh children would just be able to access quickly and it would give them all the answers. Well as educators we sat there and said, “No, no, no, no, no.  We don’t want software where children get all the answers. We want software where children have to search for answers.  Well, see they were coming from a totally different perspective in doing that so we built a—a business uh advisory group. We spent uh a year together talking first before we decided on what projects and what initiatives.  And then we also had to start thinking about um—it maybe just political but its—its actually quite true and that is everybody has to have something to take back to their constituency.  So at Kenn what is it that I need to bring back to Kenn State University that informs my students, that informs my teacher education program? In IBM, what do they have to take back to their clients or their constituency about what they do in the schools? Cleveland, what do they have to report to their school board?  So we not only had to work on what those joint projects were but we also had to work on what those joint products would be that would not only be beneficial to the students that we were serving, but would also be beneficial and understandable to their own clients, to their own constituency groups. And um we continued to do that work with partnerships and with advocacies, but I do believe it’s a people to people project. I think that it is uh the kind of work we have to do when one person uh begins to know and respect another person and then you build on that and then you go from there. The same way we work with teachers in the classroom. It’s a people to people project. You can mandate things but in actual fact we know that the mandated changes don’t work as well as the grass roots uh knowing someone, having a colleague and a friend. Those kinds of changes work for the best.

In looking at successful programs for gifted students, I’ve been involved most recently in the um National Association for Gifted Children and their effort to create standards for programs. And we have not only uh adopted standards at the national level for gifted education programs, but we’ve also written a uh—an addendum to those standards to help districts and schools understand um what is a—a minimal standard and what is an exemplary or a vision. Uh we’ve done that in order to give uh programs a way in which to begin thinking about where they are. Uh in our field in gifted child education, we have often lacked um specifics. We’ve had a lot of good research going on, we’ve had a lot of theory that has been in the field, but we haven’t always said, “You know, this is what you absolutely should have in place—must have in place in order to uh provide sound programming for students.”  So we’ve written uh seven areas uh starting with identification and moving clear through programming, evaluation.  And each one of those areas has a specific minimum and says things, for instance, uh in the program design section it says that gifted child education programs must be adequately funded comparable to other programs within a district of the same size and serving approximately the same number of students.  For us in the field that is a huge uh difference then what we’ve had in the past because now it give a program coordinator or an administrator or a school board a way to go back and look to say, “Well, where are with programs of comparable size?”  And often times people think that uh that’s going to be the rest of special education.  Well, it’s really not. Uh we’ve done several uh program evaluations and, for instance, we have found that uh often times the high school volleyball team is funded three times the amount of the program for gifted children. Now when you ask the school why and you show them the data based on the standards, you have uh changed the communication to another level. And probably a much more powerful and important level for all children in the school in terms of what the school’s vision is, what their uh goals are for students, uh what they would like to have accomplished. So I believe that the new national standards effort is going to help us in the field in terms of um those areas—sorry I have to do this because I don’t know them any other way—which would be uh student identification, uh—can’t do that—social/emotional guidance and counseling, uh curriculum and instruction, program design, program administration and management, and then we also have uh professional development opportunities for teachers.  So as we look at each one of those elements, we will be able to determine where a district is, what they would like to accomplish. Um they are intended as guidelines and benchmarks.  They are not uh written in stone. They are written in a flexible manner in order for schools to use them for evaluation and for um strategic planning.

The uh (clears throat) needs of young gifted children are different then the needs of children at older ages uh in part because of the issues of development. Uh, when you talk about a young child and you are talking about this uh—there’s a wonderful uh cartoon and there’s this little child and he come to school and the teacher is saying um, uh something about, you know, “I want you to learn your alphabet” or “It’s time to read this book” and, you know, and he looks up at her and he says, “I was just born five years ago.” Uh, when you think about the amazing growth and development of young children between birth and age five when they usually come to at least public school, um you’re looking at a tremendous, tremendous changes both physiologically and biologically and socially and cognitive.  That little being pretty much stays that way.  And that means for a teacher, for parents of young gifted children, you never quite know who you’re talking too.  One minute you’re talking to this child who wants to talk about very advance um uh concepts and ideas.  Uh, there was a little boy one time and he was giving explanations of infinity and he was five years old and he was saying, “Well, you know, infinity is if you tried to fill up this—this uh glass—uh piece of glass with balloons and you would fill it and fill it and fill it and it would never be full.”  That’s pretty good for five years old when we—when we think about that. The next then, he’s running in from the playground because his friends won’t play with him.  Now as a teacher, as a parent, you have a tendency sometimes to want to give that rational explanation of “Well, you know, they just—they’re not sharing today and da-da-da-da and tomorrow it will be better.”  And then you look down at this little boy and you say, “No, what he needs is a hug.  Right now he needs a hug.”  So when they’re young like that they are um increasingly complex.  The other thing with the little ones is they haven’t learned to hide yet. When you get to middle school often times uh giftedness can be hidden. Uh they can mask it, they can pretend.  They could pretend to be a very good student but not ask a lot of questions. They can pretend to be a very poor student and have millions of questions going on in their head.  Little ones aren’t like that. They haven’t learned the uh, uh game of school yet. They haven’t learned uh that it’s not OK to want to please your teacher. Um they—they give us everything they’ve got and I often say that. They bring to us everything they are. They don’t hold anything back. You know, and so it’s up to us to capitalize on that. So I think that while all children are um delicate in a sense, that their self-concept can be damaged, that we can do them harm if we are not careful. I think that the little ones are particularly open and particularly sensitive to all of the nuances of likes and dislikes, to adults who don’t understand them, to adults who are afraid of them uh or defensive because they seemingly know more then the adult does about a particular topic. Uh as you get older the kids are uh more stable in their performance. Um they have other issues that they are dealing with.  But they’re discernibly different uh but always complex. 

I believe that uh under achievement is one of the areas that uh we still need to do serious investigation about. I do believe it exists.  Um the why it exists or the—you’re responsible for it’s ex—it’s existence uh I’m not sure that we’re very clear on. Uh as you know—or as we know that uh the original work that was done by Joanne uh Ranwitmore-Aushwortz is uh, uh was related to school and the school environment and how that created patterns.  Uh our research indicates that that still does exist, that we have uh schools that are offering curriculum that is um watered down, that is not powerful, that is not particularly interesting. Uh we have schools that are uh doing wonderful work with curriculum that engages students and motivates them to learn. I think that little ones do um learn the pattern of under achievement in school.  I think that is one of the places that they definitely learn it. And by under achievement I’m talking about a child that you know and you have had evidence of their ability to perform at a developmentally advanced level and they’re not doing it. And then you ask the question, “Why? Why are they not performing at the level that they could?”  And, of course, historically we’ve had uh definitions, “They were lazy.  They were under motivated.  It’s the parents’ fault. It’s the teacher’s fault.”  The reality is I do believe it’s a learned behavior. I think you learn to under achieve. I think that when you’re not challenged, when you’re not engages as a learner, when it’s not interesting and motivating to you.  With uh—“Can everything be that way?” is often a question. You know, I mean I have to balance my bankbook. Is that interesting to me?  No. Is it motivating to me?  Absolutely not.  Well maybe, sometimes.  But the reality is um there are some tasks in this world we have to do, that we have to accomplish and we have to get them over with and that’s what we do. I don’t think we tell children. I don’t think we explain to them the difference between having academic engagement, having motivation and understanding the fact that “You know what, you just have to learn your times tables.”  Sometimes I believe if we were more honest with our children, we would have less under achievement because we would be able to simply say, “This is a task, it’s not a particularly interesting one but when we get this done we will go on and do something else that is more engaging and more interesting. “  Instead of always pretending that school is this tremendously wonderful, curious, and interesting place which it can be but it isn’t always.  So I think the patterns of under achievement are reinforced in school and often times um I—I think that—there are research studies out that indicate, you know, it’s still somewhere between 30 and 60 percent of the academic curriculum a gifted child has already learned. So they spend the first six weeks in school learning something or being reinforced for things that they already know. Well, you—we would not pay attention to that and as adults we have that choice. Children take the only choice they have and they show us in their behavior that we are not engaging them in learning. So that’s what I think about it.

Working with parents and working with kids I—my perception is that we uh overwork our children um in having uh a lot of feelings about the fact that our children need to be children.  Uh in my teaching career I have had children who have been engaged in after school activities five days a week, on Saturday and Sunday they’re in church. That may sound good but what we know about the growth and development of children is that they need down time.  They need time to be curious. They need time to relax. They need time to explore their own interests. They need play and play is means by which children develop their cognitive structures. So without play then they um are only absorbing information from others rather then creating information on their own, which is what they do during the act of play or when they’re constructing something new or when they’re reading something for the first time. My concern is that we over involve our kids and don’t give them enough um down time, as it were. Along with that, I also council parents in the ways that—in order to help them think about the fact that um they are not res—in order to help a child develop self discipline and self management and self responsibility, they have to have time to do that. And that means mom or dad or grandparent or caretaker cannot always be the person who’s managing that child’s time. It’s OK for a child to come to you and say, “I’m bored.” Because what you should say as a parent is, “Well, what are the things that you could do to not be bored?  But I’m not going to do that for you because if I do it for you then you don’t learn how to engage yourself. You don’t learn how to manage your own time.  You are always expecting the adult to come and take care of that for you.”  Well that has long-term ramifications for kids and uh believe it or not, when we talk about students who come as freshman to college, one of the biggest issues that we have with them and one of the reasons that they often fail at the college level is because they cannot manage their own time. They cannot direct themselves. They don’t know how to be self-managed or self disciplined.  Well that starts in early childhood.  If I’m always telling you what to do whether I’m your teacher or your parent or your caretaker, then you never learn to do those kinds of things for yourself. So with parents, while I want them to help their children um be actively engaged and while I think that they should to the best of their ability certainly read with them and have—give them the experiences that they have the ability to give them in terms of the outer world, I also encourage them to make sure that they’re not overly involved in that child’s life, that that child has to develop some of their own resources.  The other thing that that gives to the child is a sense of self-empowerment and self esteem.  There’s nothing more powerful for a child then for a child to say, “I can do it myself.”  That is power for that child.  And I think that that’s where we want them to be.

My wish for education would be that uh American—the American people value their children and value education and put their time and effort and resources behind it for all children. I don’t believe that we do that in the United States and I’ve seen it in other countries where they do. I think we—our children ought to be first. First before the roads and bridges and the buildings and the politics and I think if we would do that everything else would take care of itself.