Carol Tomlinson

CAROL TOMLINSON

Carol Tomlinson, faculty member at the University of Virginia, an associate professor of educational leadership foundations and policy, and with the nation association for gifted children I’m president elect.

Well I think one of our um challenges in this field as in any other field is that I really think there is no such thing as the gifted and talented child and we’re increasingly understanding that gifts and talents come in a wide range of disciplines that they manifest themselves in different ways.  Um they clearly have developmental timetables.  I think there is such a thing as an early bloomer and a late bloomer.  Um I think there are kids who’s talents manifest themselves in unstructured situations and so there for they don’t do so well in school and some who flourish in school and clearly we have kids who um are impacted by lack of opportunity and culture or by the fact that they are struggling to learn a second language.  Many things that can bury their talents um from view.  So I think that what we’re coming to understand is that a gifted kid-o is one who has the capacity over time to understand things more deeply, to make unusual connections, to be highly productive in their insights and in their productivity, um and to shape their environment in some way, whether it’s their own lives, their community, or an entire discipline.  Um, best practices in identification I think have to follow that.  I think that rather than looking for the single test score which does probably identify significant number of children accurately.  We have to be really interested in looking at many snapshots and portraits of kids over time as they grow and develop and so I think we need the test scores which have some validity for some kids we need opportunities to look at kids at work and see what they produce, we need to talk to community members who often know where talent manifests itself that the rest of us may not know, we need to listen to children and one of my real beliefs is that we need to have really high quality curriculum that lots of kids have a chance to participate in so that curriculum becomes an a catalyst for identifying talent but also so that is becomes at catalyst to developing talent as well.  So I think um we need multiply modes identification and in my opinion our job at identification needs to be purposeful inclusion of kids with capacity rather that intentionally trying to exclude the wrong kids because those wrong kids often bloom into the right kids in appropriate circumstances.

We to me differentiation of instruction is vast common sense.  Um I was born six feet tall and it has always been very clear to me that a single size of garment for people my age was just not really very appropriate for me.  Um when I grew up I had a young friend who was uh about as unusually short on the growth curve as I was tall and we grew up being called Mutt and Jeff.  Um our clothing rack even though we were the same age just made no sense at all (sirens in the background) and differentiation acknowledges the same thing that in any particular subject or pursuit in any particular moment.  There are kids who are academically large.  They just have a great reservoir or knowledge, a huge curiosity, a passion for that lots of experience and there are kids who are academically short at the moment.  They um perhaps have not had the opportunities or perhaps it’s just a subject in which they don’t have huge capacity or they don’t have the interest.  One of the neat things about teaching is given the right sort of academic nourishment some of those short kids will grow and you can’t ever quite tell when that happens but at a given moment some kids are just ahead and other kids are struggling and everybody along the way is in-between and really seems to make no sense to say we must all learn the same thing in the same way over the same time period.  So kids vary in their readiness.  In addition to that we know a lot about the fact that they have different interest and that interest is a huge huge hook for um luring kids into learning.  And so rather than simply saying here’s the agenda take it or leave it we would do much better if we could invite kids in with a variety of interests and help them sort of hook their interests on to what we are teaching.  And then we also know a really great deal about the fact that not all of us learn in the same way, that some of us for example have different learning styles.  We’re visual or auditory we need uh quiet or noise, we sit still or we wiggle when we learn.  Um in regard to learning also we know that learning can be affected by intelligence preference, whether you look at Robert Sternberg’s work and assume that we may have varying prequivities(?) for creative or practical or analytical intelligence or look at the work of Howard Gardner and believe that we have wiring that sends us towards different things.  That seems to matter in how we learn.  And our learning is often impacted by our gender and our culture.  So we really know a huge amount in education about differences in readiness to learn at a moment, differences in interests, and differences in learning profile and differentiation just says well could we use that please.  Um could we make classrooms flexible enough to deal with those three things even though we may have learning agendas that we have hopefully created rather than having imposed on us.  But even though we may have learning agendas um we just don’t all do it in the same way at the same time um through the same interests and teachers who can accommodate those things I think are much more expert teachers and so in my opinion differentiation is talking about building expertise in the capacity of teachers to create classrooms that are more responsive to more kids.  Short version.

I think that gifted education has an instructional identity.  I’m not sure that I think we have always um been at our most articulate in stating that and here’s what I mean.  Um everything in education is or at least if we’re lucky ought to be evolutionary.  And I think thirty years ago gifted education was really sort of on the front edge of understanding cognitive psychology and what it means for learning to happen in a person rather than to them and at that time did do a very articulate response of saying um you know when you’re creating curriculum it ought to be in response to a child as well as in regard to the nature of the discipline.  And if you have kids who are real good thinkers regurgitation isn’t the end of the line.  And if you have kids who make real connections you ought to help them make the connectivity and if you have kids with curiosity you ought to let them pursue that.  And thirty years ago we had uh a really dynamic forward looking way of talking about those things when nobody else was much interested, a much more behavioristic approach to teaching and learning.  Over the intervening thirty years um many more folks have joined that camp of thinking and we seems to be really really clear that in fact um all kids learn best when they think and that connectivity helps all kids create frame works of knowledge and that curiosity can be fanned in many many kids.  And so in recent years um what we have found ourselves doing as a field is continuing to use only the language of thirty years ago where we say gee-whiz bright kids should think at high levels and do inter-disciplinary curriculum and use technology and use multiply resources and those sorts of things.  And many of our critics rightly look at us and say well could you please explain to me why that shouldn’t happen for all kids and if we stop there I think we have stopped being on the forward edge of the vocabulary, but my real belief is that we all have the obligation as we understand it now to insure that all kids in fact do have that kids of high quality dynamic, rich, demanding, product oriented, hands on curriculum.  But as kids develop um we really have a need to sort of up the anti so that as um we understand it we continue to push kids into zones of discomfort in regard to that curriculum so that they’re always having to stretch beyond the known and learn something new.  Um and so in my way of thinking the identity of curriculum for gifted kids is not necessarily all together in the base of the core curriculum um meaning that good, sound, rich, dynamic, hands on, product oriented, ---(?) making curriculum which probably ought to belong to the vast majority of kids but rather in how we coach kids from that to continue to deal with complexity of ideas, to continue to have to apply what they learned to even more unusual heuristic(?) situations.  Um to have to bring together things um that cause analogy making or cause them to th—consider things that we don’t usually consider in juxtaposition with one another.   In a way you can kind of look at um golf for example, we have the golf handicap, everybody plays the game of golf and everybody works to learn the principles and the skills of golf but as soon as you demonstrate proficiency um in a couple of tournaments with that then they change your handicap so that you have to work up again um and it isn’t so much that the basic game plan is changed as it is that people feel the need to cause you to have to continue to struggle in order to grow in the game which has huge room for um individual development.  So I think gifted education does have a curricular identity.  I think we just need to be increasingly articulate um in understanding what our role is to advocate for extraordinary curricular opportunities for all kids and what it means to coach for individual and continual growth within that frame work.

I think gifted education and general education really have to be seen as extension of one another as as parts of the same conversation and in my opinion we really need to sit at the same table for just a whole variety of reasons.  Um I I don’t know how we can conceive ourselves separate from the general education enterprise because to the degree to which it lags and doesn’t flourish our kids will lag and and can’t flourish.  So I think we have to be contributors to that overall endeavor because it’s health effects the health of everything but in addition to that um the practices of general education are huge and can inform much of what we do and that’s a place where we can go to learn and take the things that are the best and the most exciting and then ask the question how do we adapt those how do we escalate those so that we are extending the capacity of each kid in that learning journey somewhere.  But conversely I think we have to be at the table because it’s our responsibility to understand how to develop that highest end talent that really is not the job of anybody else in the field of education.  And so we if we’re really not at the table the message we give is that we’re so separate that you know we aren’t willing to collaborate and we loose our opportunity to talk about that kind of cooperation so that we’re learning from one another and understand one another pursuits.  It is the case that a regular classroom teacher has a slightly different world than a gifted ed. teacher.  We need to understand each other’s worlds.  But I think one of the most fruitful things that um that at least that I have been involved with of course there are always many fruitful things going on but is the actual in class collaboration between specialist and general classroom teachers.  Um I’ve seen places where the curricular know how developing that really rich curriculum has been something that the gifted ed. teacher has really studied over a period of time it’s where their expertise lies.  Regular classroom teacher may not have had that opportunity so to sit down together and say how do we make this really meaningful.  How do we ask the important questions here?  How do we set this up so it’s much more inviting than it has ever been before?  Um it’s something that the gifted ed. teacher can contribute to but at the same time the regular ed. teacher has this amazing perspective of this huge range of kids and the challenge of um making school change and and responding to um pressures from governments and that sort of thing and gives the gifted ed. teacher a perspective that we’re all from um preserved from unfortunately so I think um you find the greatest opportunity for change when people with those different perspectives can actually not just sit at the table and discuss the issues but get together in a classroom and really try to make change there.  And while I’m not a believer of that we’ll ever probably reach a time when the general classroom can be all things to all kids.  I think it’s clearly the case that most highly abled kids will spend most much if not most of their school careers in a regular classroom and if we can’t make those places better then we’ve lost such power in the day for high end kids, we’ve lost a huge amount, when it’s the same we’re losing for other kids that we ought to be a part of supporting as well.  So I’m pretty big on the collaboration.

Pre-service teacher preparation is um an amazing challenge um on a really lot of levels some of them kind of um understandable some of them a little bit odd.  One problem with teacher preparation programs is that we are training young people in very abstract and subtle principles which they have no context to understand.  In my opinion some how if we could develop a country where teachers worked as aids or assistants in classrooms for five years and then went to school to learn something or if they um got their first three or four years of the university out of the way and then taught as an apprentice for a year and then came back for that last part it would make sense.  People at the ---(?) have identified it as what they call the feed forward problem.  Um bright young beginning teachers can learn the information but it doesn’t feed forward they don’t know what it’s for because they don’t have the context.  So that’s really problematic because even if we teach our best knowledge it makes almost no sense to novice who learns it because of the lack of context.  Um a second thing that I think is kind of problematic is that many of the folks who teach our young teachers have not themselves been teachers for a very long time and so sometimes that doesn’t help the establishment of the context because you don’t have that very real sense of the classroom in the leaders part and there for the connections aren’t fostered.  Um another problem is that as we sort of stated it in some studies we’ve done young teachers have to develop the gross motor skills of the profession but as soon as they get into the classroom they’re really called on for the fine motor skills and so the opportunity to develop those fine motor skills is um tenuous a best and with out really really excellent mentorship programs our young teachers develop the gross motor skills of frontal teaching and control by power and teacher is tell and kid is absorber because those are what we’ve seen all of our lives and they we we always resort to the thing that we know even if it’s not particularly effective.  Um we also have difficulty striking the balance between um the content knowledge that teachers need and pedagogical(?) knowledge and so more universities now are moving to five year programs where are young people have to get content degrees before they get teaching degrees but the odd thing there is we find that often the content knowledge that they were taught in a college major is not a match for what they’re ready to teach and so there’s still really a gap there.  But for my way of think one of the most difficult um facets that I don’t know that this actually applies to pre-service teaching as much as it does to that journey is that our young people are being thrown into an amazingly complicated and not particularly pleasant world always in a standards driven high stake demand society and so right now we’re finding that we’re learn – loosing a third to a half of young teachers with in about the first three to five years and in some instances what we’re finding is that we’re loosing the brightest of our young people very early in their teaching careers and that really is (construction noise) some things that we have to look at ----

We’re loosing so many of our really bright young people because of the huge pressure they have to deal with diverse populations to prepare kids for standards test um to work in environments which don’t foster their creativity but rather sort of make them template teachers and I think that something that we really have to look at at a time when the student population is growing the need for teachers is growing and so many of our veteran teachers are retiring.  I really think one of the great challenges that we have now with young teachers is how to commend it as an affirming rewarding professionalizing career and I don’t think we’re doing that very well either.

Middle school um education and gifted education have always sort of been involved in um uh uh a dance to two different tunes I guess would be a way to say it.  Middle school at it’s heart is an equity movement and has always headed it’s core trying to give a last shot attempt to young people who um often come from difficult circumstances and who will probably no longer be nurtured in school when they get to high school and so this sort of last ditch effort to say here’s a place for equity, here’s a place where we can affirm who you are we can give you interesting things to learn and we really want to focus on what’s perceived to be sort of equity for kids who come from groups that come to school with stresses that makes school more difficult for them.  Gifted education by it’s nature is an excellence movement and um so what we have sort of had so say by necessity is uh what ever else we do we have to attend to high end kid and equity in excellence in our country have always been in engaged in some sort of struggle or combat or whatever.  And for a long time in the middle school movement that was really quite and issue.  Um gifted ed. was very entrenched in saying only grouping will work for our kids, only traditional instruction and middle school was very entrenched in saying this is not a place for traditional instruction and we will not tolerate grouping and you can’t be a good middle school if you have grouping and so for a long time we kind of carped(?) at one another there.  I think in recent years we have really um developed a collaboration where we have been willing to say to one another let’s find ways in which we can talk about equity in excellence for everybody.  Equity of growth for high end kids, um equity of opportunity for kids who come from environments that challenge them, um personal excellence for high end kids, but personal excellence for every kid that’s there.  And as a result of that conversations about differentiation of instruction, trying to attend to academic diversity in a classroom rather that ignore it has been one way of looking at that.  One of the complaints that gifted education has articulated about middle school education in the past and and middle school has said this about themselves actually, that as middle school has attended to where to put the lockers and how to do student advisory periods and that sort of thing and has not articulated a really clear sense of what high quality curriculum in the middle school would be that what sort of unattended to for a long time in the middle school movement.  Um in recent years two things have happened there, one of them encouraging the other one um sort of threatening.  Encouraging has been the publication of some statements by the middle school movement of the nature of effective middle school curriculum and it’s elegant stuff, it’s really quite wonderful and it would be a wonderful starting ground for high end kids for all kids it’s um just a good statement of curriculum ought to be as I’ve seen come from any organization.  The sort of threatening part of that which is sad is that in the lack of that curriculum over so many years, middle school achievement is not looking good now.  It’s not looking good for gifted kids; it’s not looking good for anybody else.  So the middle school movement is under some attack because it seems to be failing its students in the academic preparation.  I think one of the great questions is whether the elegant conception on paper of high quality middle school curriculum can now be transmitted to folks in the field and they can be helped to develop the skills they need in order to teach that.  Um in time to do something about those achievement goals and if so the collaboration between gifted ed. and middle school ed. could be very fruitful again in both of those ways.  I think both groups have something to bring to the table um and I think um I I’m quite that the disagreements aren’t completely over and that some times the words still fly, but I think the tone has been amazingly better in the last five or six years and that the possibility it there for really fruitful collaboration in areas that would benefit both groups.  I think in the end equity in excellence have to be concerns for every child and we have address settings that don’t sacrifice any one group for any other group.

Independent study is uh um tool that we often use with bright children and I think um sometimes there’s a little dichotomy between why we ought to use it and why we do use and a little bit of problem with how we use it.  We probably ought to use independent study to help kids pursue their own passions at high level of complexity in ways that pose questions that um they have not thought of before that perhaps we haven’t even thought of before that connects them with people in technologies and modes of inquiry that really allow them to become the kind of independent learners that their capacity prepares them to be.  Um I’m afraid sometimes we use independent studies as baby sitting so that when the kid finishes something we just plunk the independent study on the desk and say now go do this and um that robs them of of the sort of pier commrodary that can be very rich and also of alleviates the teacher’s feeling of need for responsibility for them.  You’ve got this so just go be independent.  And it’s a nice strong feeling that every child needs a teacher in their life.  That the teacher needs to be engaged with what every child is doing and not plunk some in the corner to be independent.  That also speaks to the difficulty that we’ve had in using independent study.  Well we don’t have any real evidence that just because you learn faster you’re necessarily independent and we certainly have no particular evidence that kids understand how to do all the things that independence calls for.  And so again in my life I seem to be seeing everything on continuum but I think we need to understand when we look at children where they are in a journey toward independence and to say to ourselves you know some kids don’t even have the skills of independence and so I really have to begin with helping them explore those skills and then there are other kids who can do um really structured independence.  If I spell out the task really well and give them time lines and guide lines they can do it but but sort of a fill in the blanks or fill in the holes different um independent study.  And then as you move further on up a continuum there’s sort of a guided independent study where the student begins to generate the questions have a plan for looking for the answers have some sense of what quality would be.  But they still very much need a teacher in their lives to say lets spend a little more time here or have you thought of this resource or I think your question’s a little large.  Ultimately what we’re hoping for is the person who’s um virtually independent in inquiry and can do all those things themselves.  Raise the questions, find the resources, assess the worth of their work.  But even at a major research university I find that very few of us are totally independent.  We do better with the collaboration and the feed back and input from other folks.  So I think we ought to probably look at independent study as a a journey in many many facets that once again has to be coached by a good teacher and that we can’t solve the problem of attending to the really active and on going needs of gifted kids by just putting them in the corner and giving them a little independent study guide.

As a new president um coming into the office really not for about ten months yet so I have a little while to think.  Um there’s there’s several goals that I have.  Um one thing that I have have enjoyed is the fact that the last several presidents have tried to work in a seamless administration where the work and ideas of one person have been picked up by the next one and continued and so in that regard um I’m very eager to continue um working with others to develop um NAGC’s first curriculum document of it’s own.  A curriculum model of it’s own.  We’re probably half way through that and I’m really eager to see that finished.  Curriculum’s a passion of mine and this particular document embodies many ideals that I have about education and gifted education.  It’s something that was begun by Sandra Caplin and um I’m really eager to continue that process.  Sally Reese who is my immediate predecessor has a particular interest in social and emotional issues regard regarding gifted kids and um has been working with some leaders in the field to develop um a centisis(?) of our current research in the field of social and emotional needs.  My particular interest with that is looking at what we don’t know and we don’t know a great deal.  We have very little really wonderful solid continuous research on that topic.  And so I’m really interested in trying to help the organization be a catalyst for further research that’s high quality to fill in some of the gaps that we have and to give some really imperical evidence of of what we need there.  Um another interest of mine is a collaboration, particularly between middle school and gifted education and I’d like for us to see if we can find a way to continue that particularly in the area curriculum because it would benefit both groups.  Um I also have a real interest in trying to help us understand um what sometimes seems dichotomous in our field, which is the children with evident talent who are so hungry to have that developed and the children with dormant talent who need people to mine for it and hunt for it and for me it’s um very important to keep both of those things in our presence and to talk about both of them but to help us understand that as a field we can’t really succeed unless we attend to both well.  And so I’d like to particularly see if there’re ways that we can um while we keep the evident talent in our face and find ways for example through the curriculum document to continue to support the development of that.  Um continues support really practical ways to look for that dormant talent and nurture talent through out its journey.  Um including the disguise kids.