Bruce Shore

BRUCE SHORE

I’m Bruce Shore an educational psychologist at ---(?) university at Montreal Quebec. 

Been there at this point some three decades and uh I guess I’ve played a role in this association that we’re meeting . . . . .. I’ve played a role in the leadership of National association for gifted children, role councilor gifted and talented children and the association for the gifted of council for exceptional children ……..

Well it’s very hard to define who are gifted and talented.  There are no uh single answers to that questions and uh I’m not gonna try to be a textbook and repeat them all.  Um I I think what I’ll do is focus on the the kind of definition that appeals to me.  That I thin makes sense.  And the uh most useful definition for me it’s I think to think of um highly abled young people as uh on trajectory toward expertise.  The the main problem with that definition is that is doesn’t have the quality of easy measurement that things IQ have.  Um and it also is filled with ill-defined concepts, things we really don’t now what they mean.  We don’t really know what expert it.  Uh the somebody on their way to an expert is sometimes called a novice but we really don’t know what a novice is.  Um the literature in cognitive psychology and applied cognitive science that evolved in which these terms evolved uh is has has come up with many different terms and so far there is a problem is the gifted literature and the use of the cognitive idea of giftedness in that it’s portrayed as a single track that you go from some kind of a beginner to some kind of an expert.  Um I still th—I think we’re still gonna have to find ways of defining different kinds of experts, defining different paths to expertise and also defining whether or not if you end up on one path or another can you cross over.  I’ll give you an example.  Um one of the paths seems to lead to a kind of expertise where you’re very fluent very proficient in a certain domain.  Um but doesn’t include the notion necessarily that you’re a creative contributor to that domain.  Uh uh the other side might be that you’re creative contributor to that domain but do you have to pass through the stage of being very knowledgeable fluent before you can be the a creative contributor.  So we don’t know where things fall one after the other we don’t know if one is a prerequisite to the other.  We really don’t know what a novice is.  We don’t when some of the intellectual skill that are common to experts like um having very well interconnected memory.  When does that kick in?  Does it kick in at age three?  Does it kick in at in you know in school years?  Does it kick in at uh at uh adulthood?  So a million unanswered questions.  But I think the most promising answer to the question of what is giftedness is that it’s a um it’s what you observe in children and perhaps in adult when they’re on a trajectory toward adult expertise.   That’s um I like that definition.

Uh I guess you could tackle a syncronist development as a concept from many point of view.  Um basically is means it it’s not a new concept.  It’s something that we’ve had in developmental psychology for a long time per perhaps the better part of the of the century of of the twentieth century.  The idea that we don’t develop at the same pace in all areas and so a synchronist development is going to take different meanings depending on your definition of giftedness.  So if your definition was IQ and you’re interested in the verbal verses mathematical spatial differences than you might say that verbal abilities don’t develop at the same rate or at the same time uh uh as uh spatial mathematical kinds of abilities.  In terms of the definition that that I prefer which is a uh uh a cognitive science based definition uh the the key thing is that the cognitive domain it self and part of it uh you might see tremendous leaps, tremendous advances, tremendous interest, tremendous dedication, in part of kids.  Um but it doesn’t necessarily mean that in other areas that it happens at the same time.  Or necessarily and uh the other areas being the social or emotional domains or such things as uh uh e—even the motivational side of it or um or interests uh and even within the cognitive domain you might find severe interest if you like that expression in say mathematics. You might find uh performance levels there that don’t go with others.  So insynchronisitic just means don’t expect um parallel development um and I guess the first person to really put a finger on that term was Paget(?) with the idea of uh uh decolage(?).  A word that simply means coming unstuck.  Colay(?) means to glue or to stick so decolage(?) is you come unstuck in fact it’s the word for when an airplane takes off it it’s a decolage(?) it’s a take off.  So the um what Paget(?) was saying is you’ll see an an uneven jumping ahead in different domains of children’s activity and we have and the biggest problem in terms of schooling or parenting is that we we see brilliance in one area and we presume that the children will get on well with other kids at a different level or or it just ain’t necessarily so.

When should a gifted child be skipped?  Well not all gifted children should be skipped.  Some gifted children should be skipped sometimes.  Uh and the problem is do you skip them in everything or can you do it in part of what they do.  Can you accelerate a piece of them without accelerating all of them?  That becomes an administrative um commitment on the part of a school to arrange those kinds of things.  Um I thin they should be advanced when the nature of their ability is the kinds of things that are measured by IQ.  So if if if you’re talking about the kinds of abilities or talents that indicate substantial knowledge in a domain, rapid learning in a domain, uh and the domain in a fairly conventional one that the school is dealing with um for example mathematics that’s with in the reach of kids um some forms of literature studies are within the realms of kids ability to accelerate um perhaps in social studies the the traditionally do—defined domains uh I think you can justify the the skipping kind of things because uh the kids uh we should never try to quote teach a child what they already know.  So if if you’ve got the the conventionally rapid learner than acceleration or skipping makes sense but you have to take great care to make sure that the child wants it, the parent wants it, the school will actually accommodate the need not discriminate against the child for being young in the class or uh or perhaps small uh in size and uh you absolutely need a safety net.  Uh and and when parents call me and ask me about something like skipping um the first thing I say is give the child the choice to try it and say if you don’t like it you can go back to your class.  So it’s always on the basis of try it, see if you like it, and if you don’t like it bail out.  Um and I wouldn’t use the word bail out with the kid but I think it’s important that that’s the principle behind it and not to um if the child doesn’t like it to put put him or her in an embarrassing situation um but usually you know the literature is pretty clear.  If those conditions are met, kid wants it, parent wants it, and has safety net, and the school really does something different there must be two to three hundred studies at this point um that say it works and a prob--- the reason there are probably that many studies is because so many people don’t believe it works and they keep doing the study over again and every time it works.  But uh it’s um there are other things that are problematic but they aren’t problematic necessarily for the children.  They’re mostly problematic uh for the school systems.  Some school systems are funded on enrollment rather than on graduates so if you fund on enrollment then there’s a disincentive to the school system to accelerate a child.

Uh what is effective curriculum, effective programming, uh people have written text books about that rather long text books about that and uh I think it’s best perhaps if I limit the answer to uh the particular book that I am uh Ann Robinson and Virgil Warden, Julie Carnell, took in the eighties ending up uh organizing a book by the early nineties.  Um where we tried to see what were the main kinds of curricular advice that the gifted literature in book form was giving and then we distilled from that about a hundred, a hundred and one um recommended practices so to speak.  They weren’t recommended by us they were recommended by the book literature.  Uh at one point we called them one hunder---  one hundred and one damnation’s.  Uh but it was um what we tried to do with that is then look at the research literature.  Is there a research literature that supports or refutes these as practices?  We ended up finding a small number of practices that were highly supported um those practices were largely connected strangely at first to identification practices related to the use of IQ and multiple methods.  Uh and we were puzzled as to why this was happening and of course it was it’s an artifact it’s an artificial out come of the fact that so much of the gifted literature for eighty ninety years was dominated by the IQ as a selection device and and there for particularly definition of giftedness.  So if that’s your definition then you automatically validate the use of the selection device.  So even though those were highly supported by the literature we weren’t convinced by that that that told us any more than the following.  That IQ is a defensible item to include in a select process.  Um and to the extent that identification is part of a program that’s fine.  Uh we were a a little bit we were more interested in some of the out comes we found there were some thirty odd thirty four I think practices that had some research support.  The problem in the literature on gifted education is that there isn’t a systematic program of research cutting through it.  There’s pot shot here pot shot there um a few places where research is the number one concern but for the most part it’s a happenstance literature.  Um it doesn’t make it a bad one it just means that in order to seek out a strand you have to go fishing go looking for it.  Uh when you do that you do find some practices that stood out uh in particular and they they’re not only good because they seem to be supported by research, they seem to consistent with some of the best curricular thinking that’s taking place you know in in in as as we go from the twentieth to the twenty-first century.  Um one of them is that there seems to be some benefit in grouping bright kids together.  At least some of the time for at least some activities.  Um and in other words gifted all children need their peers as fellow learners and uh peers are not defined by the date on your birth certificate.  They’re defined by your interests, they’re defined by your um uh those things you’re good at and if we think of gifted kids as being on a trajectory toward adult expertise you have to say how do adults define their peers and they certainly don’t define peers by their birth dates.  Some time after age twenty or so uh you’re friends my be sixteen or thirty eight or ninety two and other things, interests, uh common values those become the basis for for friendships and uh for being together and for spending and choice.  Some people get together because they want to sing in the choir or they want to belong to some religious institution or or they want to uh go on an archeological dig and uh I think we have to try to respect that a little bit more with kids but grouping bright kids together at least some of the time for common purpose seems to um work well.  The other thing that uh popped up that’s very consistent with contemporary curricular thinking is involving bright kids in uh inquiry driven kind of curriculum.  Where they uh it’s been expressed by some like ---(?) Julius solving real problems with a real audience.  It’s been expressed by other people in other forms but there is evidence that when the kids can own part of the curriculum and bright kids can invent parts of the curriculum that might not even occur to other children that this is a valuable and useful uh part of curricular uh programming.  Uh the other one the other things are I guess two that of the thirty four that I would pick on one of them is uh and I guess George Betts is the one who’s really toting this particular line is building autonomy.  Uh helping youngsters to uh to take responsibility for their learning.  And it’s connected to the inquiry thing.  Uh so if you have and inquiry driven curriculum you have to build autonomy you can’t keep an inquirer under reigns.  Creativity doesn’t work that way.  Um e--even corporations uh the most successful corporations realize that their most valuable is the unfettered brain power of their of their employees and they will compete for those kinds of employees and it’s I guess schools don’t compete that much uh for that kind of pupil or they don’t compete enough internally in in the sense that not competing with each other but saying can we do better.  You know it’s like golf, can we can we lower our handicap.  Uh the other thing is the adjust the change in the teacher role.  Uh in terms of what what part of the literature seems to be indicating and it’s not just the literature on gifted ed. it’s the literature that comes from well I interviewed the uh artistic director of the circ de seole (?) and she gave a talk at a conference that we ran in Montreal and uh she pointed it out beautifully.  She said when the kids are young up to about age eleven these are kids in the circus school.  She said when they’re up to about age eleven twelve uh the critical Pedagogy(?)  is to make everything a game.  So like she was talking about young contortionists and everything has to be fun and try this and let’s make a game out of that and put it to music etc. and and things of that sort.  Somewhere around eleven or twelve uh the need shifts for those kids who stay, who carry on, who say I because the advantage of the quote fun and games but I don’t mean I pajoratively(?) that approach is that it builds motivation it builds commitment it build I really like doing this kind of thing.  Now when you get past about age eleven or twelve though you won’t progress in the domain in the discipline in the field if you don’t develop fairly high level technical skills.  So what happens at that point is the emphasis goes the shift the teacher changes from let’s have a good time to let’s sharpen this skill, let’s sharpen that skill.  And then somewhere around fourteen or fifteen that autonomy thing kicks in and the role of the teacher changes again and it becomes one where the the best performers take responsibility for their own program.  They decide what they want and the teacher is consulted when needed.  And it’s and and you sit back and you say gee think of somebody in music let’s make music let’s play then there’s a certain period where you have to sharpen the technical skills and then there’s a period where you want to say okay call for the coach and let’s just look at other domains look at hockey, Wayne Gretski, how to coach.  The very best performers have a coach.  Before that they had somebody who perfected their technical skills and before they had that they had somebody who who helped them build their passion for what they were doing.  And the same thing should probably happens uh I remember that uh happy and tragic movie Dead Poets Society uh there’s a teacher on one hand developing the passion and on the next hand developing the skills and the at the next stage saying run with it.  It didn’t always run to a safe place but it was run with it.  Um and I think we have to the most critical thing is that we haven’t in gifted ed. paid enough attention to the changing and multiple roles of the teacher and that it there are these three different rolls.  Whether it’s circus mathematics, violin, piano, hockey, uh basketball, those changing rolls take place and we haven’t paid attention to that but the literature suggests that we should.  Um I guess the last thing I would add I I miss counted in this list is uh I like the idea of kids aiming for some kind of a professional end product.  There’s support for that.  That the um there really is an audience for what they’re doing or there can be.  It can be simulated or can be real uh but they shouldn’t busy work doesn’t work.  That would those would be the kinds of things that the literature points out in terms of uh curricular initiative.  Curricular meaning not just the content but but the environment for the learning the teaching as well.

My research interests.  My primary research is to try to catch up with all the writing that isn’t done because stuff is piled up in boxes on the floor and in the desk but there is a theme to where I’m going at this point.  I’d say it’s a two levels.  One of them uh for the past fifteen maybe even twenty years at this point, it it flies, um I’ve been trying to I’d say since the early eighties, trying to uh map in a way the ways in which the thinking of very bright kids reflects if not ---(?) some substantial part the uh the way adult experts think.  That they um they work with a hypothesis when they’re solving problems.  They they’re they’re knowledge is well interconnected uh they uh have good metacognitive skills and knowledge things of that sort.  There’s there there they’re monitoring their thinking as they go along.  Um the I’m I’m rapping that down.  Um it’s largely mapped in at least there it’s sort of like the cellular phone network.  Uh if driving across the continent from time to time you won’t be able to get any reception but pretty well soon you’ll come into another area where you can make a phone call again and and our understanding of how bright kids thinking is like that of experts is their uh and I’m playing with one last part of that really which is that expertise there seems to be two kinds.  The the cognitive literature if you go to the research in cognitive science they’re very convinced at least they were that expertise was domains specific.  But some work in the past ten years or so has been arguing that there are some aspects of uh expertise that are domain general.  In other words ways of thinking rather that specific detailed knowledge about a now—poetry or mathematics or nuclear science or uh or conflict resolution or what ever your domain happens to be.  Um that there are some things that cut across that and uh actually one of the nicest papers in that was written by Daniel Keeting who was a grad student of uh Julian Stanley and if if you go back to the early uh uh study of mathematically and precocious use ---(?) Keeting is one of the authors now he um left the gifted field and moved to the Ontario Institute for studies in Education fifteen years ago or something.  And he’s been writing about expertise and he came up with the idea of domain general uh kind of knowledge and put that uh mon---(?) on it and I think I think it’s a good idea and it seems to me that to some extent what we observe in gifted kids is the domain general kinds of expertise as well as the domain specific and that from that comes a thread to where I’m going.  Uh in the domain general skills that I think are important in developing some kinds of expertise is the business of becoming a contributor to knowledge.  Of being a knowledge producer rather that merely a forgive the merely uh sometimes being an effective knowledge consumer is fine but we’re particularly value and honor the um the role of knowledge producer.  Um and uh we we talk about being in a knowledge age and a knowledge industry and so forth.  Uh I’m particularly interested in the process of um inquiry. And uh my colleagues on on my research team um Mark Olson, Joe Raskin, they’re they’re more into the the interaction between the student and the teacher.  What happens, what goes on in the classroom of an inquiry driven teacher and my interests are a little bit more psychological less social psychological, I’m interested in what’s going on in the head of somebody who’s engaged in inquiry and right now I’m looking at a very narrow question with in that namely how does a student or a parent or a teacher or a consultant understand that strategic demands of being engaged in inquiry driven learning.  Um and we’re starting to try to determine well if you’re going to engage in inquiry what do you think you’re going to have to do.  Uh we have seventy-six things that we’re looking for but a couple of examples uh do you realize that you have to ask a question.  To what extent do you think, do you uh expect to have to share what you find out with other people?  Um do you think you might have to collect original data?  What and one of things were interested in is do teachers and students share their understanding of the fine points are of that involvement.  Do parents and teachers have the same view because if they don’t and you have a knowledge fair or a science fair in your school and uh teachers think that the strategic demands are this.  Kids are expecting that and parents expecting something else then they’re going to have some conflicts over this.  Um some of our research has been looking particularly in the past couple of years at the barriers to successful involvement in inquiry driven learning and we took as an example science fairs and uh one of the things that um uh Marcie Delcourt and I found a few years ago was that we didn’t ask the question we were just talking to kids about participating in science fairs and about twenty five percent of the kids we spoke to who had been required to take part in the science fair not those for whom it was a choice uh told us that they cheated.  They said well they either didn’t really do the work they just cobbled it together or they got more help then they really should have gotten so we’ve just completed another study we figured okay that we didn’t ask that question and in this kind of a constructive research uh paradine(?) you you can’t take too much faith in what you find out by accident you have to go and test that hypothesis so we we did and we asked some children who took part in science fairs if they knew anybody who had cheated or if they had cheated themselves and uh surprisingly twenty percent of the samples said yes uh that they themselves had engaged in what we would call cheating in participation in the science fair and we asked them why and uh what it boiled down to was that they didn’t have the resources or the time to engage in it.  Uh to do what they to do it properly they didn’t think it was right but they didn’t feel they had a choice.  They had to participate.  They had to produce something on a given time.  A couple of things that are interesting about that one is that it’s very there is a literature and you see it in the popular press from time to time that real scientists cheat and when you uh you know there was this famous study of this cold fusion stuff there were a number of things that have been uh well they they happened.   I I uh a year doesn’t go by without two ore three uh stories of some kind of fraud or near fraud uh in the science world and there’re famous ones in psychology of people you know missing subjects and uh studies of twin studies and things like that and go looking for things and that they’re just not there.  Um what we what you find in the adult cheating literature is that scientist when they cheat are cheating because the felt under pressure to perform and they didn’t have the resources to do it which is exactly the same reason that the kids are giving.  And so the question is are we training kids that and it gets back to the fact of working toward end products that are professional.  We have to be very careful not to put so much emphasis on the end product that we don’t allow a kid whose engaging in an inquiry driven process to say it’s not working can I stop here do you know I don’t have to flunk I’ve spent three months on this it’s the end of the school year can I get A for effort please uh because if if they have to come up with something to put on display and they can’t display the failed experiment then we may be encouraging them to in fact practice deceptive behavior and uh so it’s it’s I’m interested in the in the in understanding the the fine points of what it means to be engaged in an inquiry driven task and I’m interested in some of the pieces of uh some of the banana peals that you can trip over when you try to do it.

The the view from the perch over the boarder it’s um it’s a hard question to ask ---(?) it’s one that might be able to answer a little better if you update this in five years.  Um let me answer it in two or three parts.  The first part is uh I have two uh graduate students right now who are in fact th th they came in moderate desperation as some times happens.  Help us find a topic and uh one of the things that I wanted to do for several years and had started with a colleague uh an earlier version of was a bibliography of what work was being done in Canada.  Wh what’s the nature of the Canadian corpus of uh scholarly work whether it’s research or reflection on giftedness and gifted education.  And uh we did a first draft ten years ago and it’s been gather dust and uh these two students uh have got quite interested in that topic and I through a little curve ball at them I said well if I just did it on the side I could just create a bibliography but you have to make some kind of an original contribution here.  So we negotiated for a while and talked and uh their final project is to in fact try to characterize what are the broad themes that Canadian literature on gifted ed. has addressed in the past thirty, forty, fifty, sixty years.  Uh it goes right back to uh to German studies actually because uh some of the termites were in in Canada particularly in Sesqachuan, um but the um so I I really don’t know fully the answer to your question as to whether things are different.  There is a very different educational system.  We don’t have a federal office of education it just doesn’t exist um if the United States citizens think states are strong then they should see the rights that Canadian Provinces have.  Uh Canada is a confederation you had one in the mid 1860’s for a while uh we still got one and Canadian Provinces have their own parliaments and on matters of education are are independent states uh some have eleven years of schooling some have thirteen though they are changing to twelve, some have twelve.  They don’t there is a council of administers of education but there’s no federal educational in presence in terms of de-----(?) of models no uh no -----(?) act nothing like that.  So it’s almost impossible to talk about Canadian education because it varies considerably in in many ways from from province to province.  Uh my sense of things is that as far as gifted ed. is concerned um we’re probably in terms of American presence in the 1950’s uh before Sputnik.  Uh we’re we’re taping this interview in the middle of convention with 3,000 or so uh people, 2,500 of whom are probably teachers of gifted students.  I don’t think we have 2,500 students in gifted programs that I can name right off the top so it’s a very different ball of wax.  Um and uh you know I I come here and for motivational rejuvenation I salivate with envy at the fact that from every little town in Georgia there are teachers at this particular uh meeting and it’s it’s wonderful to see.  Um it it’s really not I think --- Let me take that sentence over again.  It’s the questions I think are similar but there are important differences uh in the states there are concerns for example about blacks and Hispanics being uh brought into the main stream of school life and economic life and uh uh it’s we don’t have the same ethnic and cultural mix it’s not that our uh African- Canadian or Caribbean population doesn’t have some of the problems that Black-Americans have it’s that they’re a tiny almost invisible part of the population uh we have a uh maybe Oklahoma and Canada have more in common in a way because we have a visible uh native Canadian uh presence in some parts.  Our northern territories are governed in majority by uh by aboriginal peoples um the uh the big differences in Canada are language that Quebec and parts of New Brunswick are are French speaking with English minorities uh bilingual education in Canada has completely different meaning from what it has in the United States.  It’s learning two majority languages not integrating a minority in to a presumed majority um both languages are protected in the in the official languages act, the United States does not have an official language.  Uh there there are all kinds of of differences uh in system and in the ---.  I think that the very best schools that you have in the U.S. are beyond the means of the Canadian Education System but neither have we anything like the very worst because there’s a greater homogeneity it’s all tax supported on the other hand uh you know the advantages I guess is we don’t have children who don’t get medical care because of universal health services but it’s a it’s hard to make the comparisons.