Dell Siegle

DELL SIEGLE

My name is Dell Siegle and I’m with the University of Connecticut and I’m currently what’s called a professor in residence at the University of Connecticut and I do work for the National Research Center for the Gifted there and I coordinate the summer’s programs on gifted education. My last name is S I E G L E. Most people, it is pronounced Sigley, but most people when they first read it would say seagull.

Uh the question of who are the gifted and talented uh I’m reminded of something I read by Hazel Felqusen, John Felqusen’s wife, and John’s pretty well known in the field of gifted ed but Hazel isn’t that well known. She wrote a couple of books for teachers and has a there’s a great quote in one of them that said uh it’s not so much a matter of identifying who is or who is not gifted, uh the the importance is finding out who needs services and providing those services. And so that’s the view I hold on gifted and talented that the purpose of education ought to be to develop student’s talent not and the purpose of gifted ed is not necessarily to uh annoint a gifted student. My uh wife and I have been working in Massachusetts at a uh a school in an immigrant town, it’s just out of Boston and uh there’s a little girl there in third grade who right now we’re considering accellerating her in grade skipping and skipping her into fifth grade. When she came to school in first grade she couldn’t speak English uh and so she certainly would not have been identified as gifted and talented in first grade even with uh the nonverbal tests, but because she was given uh a quality education uh her talents surfaced and now at the point of third grade she is reading at about an eighth grade level. And she’s doing mathematics at a sixth grade level and so when schools do a good job of educating students, talent emerges and when that talent emerges then I think we have a duty to identify them and provide services for them. In curriculum differentiation we use to always talk about process. Product, you know and uh content. And we don’t think of that in terms of identification, but I think we ought to be thinking about that in terms of identification, the identification, uh for example the content well when we think about gifted and talented kids they have a larger storehouse of information and they sometimes have interests in isoteric topics uh for example and so that’s a way to identify where we look at processes uh many of them learn material faster, they retain the information uh more easily, and so they’re also processing differently. And also in the product area you may have a child who doesn’t have a vast storehouse of information and maybe doesn’t process very quickly but produces phenomenal products if given time and opportunity. So I think identification ought to actually be tied to process, product, and content just like our differentiation is sometimes tied to that.

I don’t think the notion of multiple intelligence takes at all away from the area of giftedness. I know Jim Delile has been writing some things about that and uh I am not an expert on what he’s written but I would have do disagree with the concept. You know unless gifted changes over time if if we were a hunting and gathering society gifted would be the one person who could go out and find the best food source to eat and if we happen to have a liking for meat uh gifted might be the best hunter of the bunch and we no longer care about the hunters and gatherers and so society has changed and right now is when the information age uh we’re valuing less for example people who have great memories and vast storehouses of information because we have the databases which give us that. So we’re valuing creativity and process and problem solving and who knows what’s around the corner as our technology evolves and our society changes. And you know some people hold this entity view of intelligence that it’s fixed and static and that’s ridiculous. And I think if you hold that view then you might feel that multiple intelligences and wide varieties of talent hurt our field. But if you believe that intelligences are fluid and can change and can do something about helping kids improve and develop their skills then and that there are a wide variety of skills and all those skills are valuable and that we ought to be valuing an artist as much as a musican or as someone hwo has outstanding intellectual skills. Then then I think the area of multiple intelligences actually been has been beneficial and um that that whole field I think has started somewhat with Cal Taylor from from Utah where you are and uh I don’t think he’s given enough credit for it Howard Gardner’s given a lot of credit for multiple intelligences and that’s a great theory but I think Cal Taylor is out there a little ahead of him on the cutting edge and uh they should, unfortunately he’s passed away, but he should be given more credit for that so more I I don’t believe multiple intelligences uh would be the defeated gift in education if anything I think it gives us more legitimacy.

Uh special needs of uh gifted student, I think there’s a need for them to be with other individuals who share their interests, so their learning styles, their passions. Uh but I think we’ve really missed the point and uh in one area and I it’s actually uh academic challenge. And my wife recently started a doctorate program and uh she’s a very bright woman uh prior to starting her doctorate program she probably read every book in gifted ed, every major textbook. Uh she just, for the fun of it, took uh statistics courses and multi-verence statistics courses so she’s gone into, she’s gone into a doctorate program with much of the knowledge that people come out of the doctorate program. She went in with more statistics than I left with and so as she was starting the program and thinking about starting the program I says Hun I’m really worried about you being academically challenged, uh you know I don’t think that you are going to be academically challenged in the program. And one day she said to me Dell I don’t want to be academically challenged. And I sort of was taken back and she said I want to be intellectually stimulated. And she didn’t realize what she had said but it just rung so true to me that in gifted ed we have this push for academic challenge all the time and then we wonder why kids aren’t feeling better about their programs sometimes and why they’re not producing like they ought to. Not that some kids aren’t, but I think instead of thinking about academic challenge we ought to think about providing intellectual stimulation for gifted children. And even though it’s just a slight twist in terminology I think it makes all the difference in the world in the in the way that we deal with them and and we intellectually stimulate individuals we play off their interests and we offer them ambiguous situations to work with and they work on unanswered questions and novelty is part of intellectual stimulation. Actually my wife and I, her name’s Betsy, and we’re currently working on an article on that, what is intellectual stimulation and how does it differ from academic challenge and I think that that’s an important fact that we probably have left out of gifted ed. Uh and we ought to consider it.

First of all I’m a pr proponent of pull out models uh so I think mainstreaming uh, there’s nothing wrong with it but I just do not think that classroom teachers have the skill or the time to do it. Uh disadvantages of pull out models first uh I think the major disadvantages that there’s sometimes the perception of elitism. Uh I don’t think that has to exist and in a way the teachers uh work with the kids and and and how they um work with parents can do a lot to eliminate that elitism. When the kids would come into our pull out program when I was um a GT specialists, one of the first things I told them was that we had a gifted program for certain kinds of smartness and that they were fortunate enough to have that kind of smartness they might say intelligence but they are little kids in uh so we say smartness and that there were other kids out there in their class that weren’t in the program and that didn’t mean that they weren’t also smart but that our program was designed for a certain type of smartness and and they happened to match that. And so we worked on their little egos and they understood and so they didn’t feel like ha I’m better than someone else. So the elitism sometimes happens with the pull out program. The disruption to the classroom is another problem. Uh often when we pull out kids they miss content. Now we know that a lot of that content they may not need so if teachers will compact and if the pull out occurs during the compact the time then that is elevates that problem to a to a great extent. But there still’s some disruption in the that goes on. So so that’s a problem. Another thing is that when we’re meeting gifted students needs in the program when they go back to the classroom their needs often aren’t met because programs work in isolation. So as a gifted coordinator you have to work with classroom teachers and make sure that differenciation of services for the kids are being provided to some extent in the classroom as well. The problem with leaving them in the classroom all the time is that teachers often don’t have the specialized training that’s necessary to work with the kids. Secondly they don’t have the time to do it because they have the classroom of 30, 35 kids in many instances and uh that’s it it’s just too difficult to try to individualize for all these kids. So it is just too chaotic, so I don’t think they have the time of the skills and and sometimes they don’t have the resources because working with gifted and talented individuals you need a large variety of resources to match their interests and and to keep them um challenged and going in their various areas. So uh I just think it’s too much to ask of a classroom teacher, not that she’s not necessarily capable but it’s a lot of ask of someone and uh I I don’t see it happening. Uh Judge Robinson uh and I were working on an article and uh in the situation uh a middle school eliminated their gifted program and so they asked the they asked the kids how much challenge they were perceiving now so the kids that had been in special advanced or excellerated classes were now mixed with all students. And we asked those students who had not been in the advanced class how they were perceiving their level of um challenge in their courses. Now we had also asked those who had been in those courses and separate classes who were now mixed and an interesting thing, those who had been in the advanced courses reported that they were not being challenged and and the quality of their classes was not as good as it had been. However the kids who hadn’t been in the advanced classes reported that they were getting better quality now that the mix happened. And so I think Julie Oaks’ was the one that’s criticized gifted education because uh we sometimes the best teachers are in gifted programs and so that can be a con too but it doesn’t have to be. If we had quality educators in the regular classroom and if we have quality educators in the gifted programs I don’t see that as as a con. But I do believe in pull out programs because I I think it’s probably the easiest way to meet some of the individual needs the gifted students have.


Uh my view about us successful programs for the gifted first I think it has to be a qualitative effort. As a QT coordinator that was the hardest thing for me. I started out in gifted ed as a first year teacher with very little background and because I was insecure in what I was doing the last thing I wanted to have was a group of parents helping me. And it was out of my own security, insecurity uh and they often wanted to become involved and I tried to keep them at a distance. Eventually as I gained some confidence in what I was doing I realized that I couldn’t do it all by myself. There were all these things that I wanted to do and I had so many different interests and talents within the program and I did not have those skills. So I finally figured out that a one person can’t make a gifted program work and that I needed help from the community and the best way to reach the community for me was through the parents. And so we started Saturday classes and after school enrichment programs and we offered some of those to all the kids in our district and we offered some of them just to the kids in our program. And the parents organized all those. So I think one of the successes of the program is total parent involvement. And sometimes uh we hear teachers and administrators complain by given parents uh uh you know maybe they are trying to get special services for for their children uh but in fact my experience has been they just want to help. They just want to get on board and be part of this process. So I think a successful program does involve parents. A second component is, uh I remember in the early years of our program uh a teacher said something about I don’t know what’s going on in that program on yours, well that program of yours let me know that I have a problem right there that the program involves everybody in the school and so you need to involve the teachers who are not directly providing services for the gifted and talented, they have skills that can be brought in and can do some special things with kids and you can have them coach OM teams, Odyssey Mind teams uh so educating the gifted really is a community affair, it involves parent, community, and other teachers. Uh a second point about this is that I think quality programs have uh something called internal consistency that the goals of the program are aligned with the identification procedure, which is aligned with the services that are being provided, which is also aligned with the evaluation of students success in the program and also an evaluation of the program itself. Uh and quality programs do have an evaluation component built in. A lot of times when invaluators are called in to evaluate a program they say what are the goals of your program and no one seems to know. You have to have correct internal consistency there, I mean I’ve know programs that are kids can’t make it in unless they have uh a high score on a creativity test for example and yet it might be a a totally accelerated academic program. Well those high scores on a creativity test don’t matter in that type of a program and so sometimes we forget about it and we want to do this thing called multiple criteria, multi, I believe in multiple criteria but I don’t believe multiple, multiple criteria is designed such that everyone has to peak on every piece of the criteria that we’re looking for special talents. Your program identification does need to match your services and and a lot of times that doesn’t happen. We have programs where you get in because you have a high IQ and then you have creativity training once you are there and and that just just doesn’t seem to make sense because if you have creativity training you have to have the influence there and it’s not necessarily for the higher IQ kids. So I think there’s a two major things, the internal consistency and also involving the community and and the staff in the program.

I I I have a strong interest in underachievement and I was talking to a college and about about underachieving and he said well isn’t it sort of the opposite end of achievement? He said aren’t we really talking about achievement when we talk about underachieving? And I thought well you know there might be something to that. So uh I’ve been doing some work on that and trying to say why are people successful and why do people achieve. And there are a number of theories out there and so I’ve been been combining some of those and and I think there are 3 or there are 4 key components of an achievement or inted attitude I call it. And this is assuming that someone has the skills ot achieve and simply is not achieving. Uh ok there are individuals that there are reasons they’re not achieving, disabilities for example, or other things or maybe uh their educational preparation up to this point hasn’t been adequate, but but assuming that a student does have the ability to achieve and they’re, I’m going to say choosing not to achieve, uh they are choosing can be taken a lot of different ways, but uh the very first thing in order to achieve is bend your self efficacy. You really have to believe that you can achieve and if you don’t believe you can if you have the skills to do well you’re not doing to do well. But just knowing or believing that you have to do the skills have the skills is sufficient and some work I’ve been doing as besting the coach has indicated that gifted students generally do believe they tend to uh uh there’s a time that I went around doing a lot of workshops on how to increase student’s self efficacy and my diseration work was all on that and I know that with minimal training the way teachers dealing with kids can increase their confidence in their skills. Uh but with the population that we’re talking about, gifted, their self efficacy is not a problem. You ask them are you do you have good math skills? Yeah I’m good at math, and they will tell you that. So but the first thing you have to do is you have to have the confidence. The second thing is that that it has to be personally meaningful to you. And you can call it by a lot of terms sometimes I refer to it as goal value, goal valuization, it was kind of hard to say that word there, uh that that they have to personalize it. And there are 2 things that happen when you think that it’s important basically is what we’re talking about here. Sometimes you personalize it because you’re just interested in it. So there are some kids that they are interested in it. Let’s take mathematics, yeah I have the skills to do well in mathematics. And I’m interested in that. But that personalization piece, it can also be that yes I can I think math is important for my future. So it works two ways. Yeah I am either interested in it or it fits into my perception of my future and what I need and how I am. So yeah I’m good at mathematics and I need math in the future so that’s why I’m going to kick it in gear. So now we have two of the components, we have math is important to me and I can do it. But there’s still a a couple others and one is your perception of your environment, do you think you can succeed in the environment? And a lot of people pay too much attention to that but uh in fact I can believe that I have good skills in mathematics and I can think math is important but I can’t learn math from you because you don’t teach the way that I learn. Uh or I can’t learn math the way someone teaches it or I can’t do the math this way or this kind of math I can’t get do so there’s this other, you have to believe you can succeed in this environment and that you can learn from this teacher or you can learn from this kind of content. And I think that holds people back a lot. In jobs you hear people I can’t succeed in this company, I’m going to switch to another company so our perception of the environment and how friendly it is is is very big and kids have that perception and particularly underserved population kids they may believe that they can’t learn from this teacher from this school because the school or the teacher is very different from the environment they know. My wife says well that’s just an excuse people give that that it’s just an excuse and it’s not a real reason. But if in your mind you believe that you can’t learn in this situation then that’s a problem. Uh and then the fourth piece has to do with self regulation. Uh so yes I have the skills to do mathematics, I’m self efficacious, yes I believe it’s important, it’s personally meaningful to me, yes I can learn math here, but you know I have a perfectionist problem for example, uh which is one of the self regulations skills that exists. Uh maybe you just think it’s good enough, so we have the standards within self regulation that are important and there’s a whole series of standards that some kids are perfectionists, some aren’t, uh so standards exist. We have the whole area of self regulation also. That some kids aren’t capable of delayed gratification some kids are so that’s a separate component I see in self regulation is is that. And the the third component of in self regulation has to do with the strategies, their study skills for example. And some kids like certain kinds of study skills so I think when we have the 4 components of self efficacy, personally valuing the situation or the having an interest or believing for your long term that it’s good, uh we believe the environment is friendly and we can succeed, and we’re able to apply the self regulation strategies then we have an achievement orientation so we’ve been working on an instrument to measure all of those components. As and we want to use it for diagnosis because it seems to be if you don’t have all of them you’re not really achieving. Uh some are stronger than others so the idea is hopefully this instrument can a student can complete the instrument and based on that we can say ahh alright we can see a problem here with evaluating goals in mathematics and so that’s where we need to do some of our counseling and work with parents to help, or maybe it’s one of the other components and it seems to be showing up to have some promises. But that’s something I am very interested in.

Uh uh I’m not a parent so I never uh actually had a gifted child born to me, however as a a teacher there are a number of my students that at one time or another in their lives there was a parent missing and I stepped into that role. And so I have some expereinces as a serragate parent. Uh at the very young I think that parents need to provide a wide variety of experiences to their children and I think that’s the most important thing they can do. That when they are very young take them to museums, read to them, we know for example the uh early childhood longitudinal data that’s just been released that starting in kindergarten there is already a wide gap in students readiness coming to school nad there are kids who know there colors and kids who don’t know their colors and the kids who know the letters and spell, sing the ABC song and talking about colors and when we describe things or talk to talk to our children are are we using adjectives and adverbs. Is it a blue car or just a car out there? And that makes so much difference in providing experiences like going to museums and libraries. So uh I think that’s essential in the early childhood part, but one once you have a child it’s essential that the child know that he or she is valued for the person she is not for the gift and because later on that can cause some major problems when they don’t do quite as well as they expect and uh and in my teaching career I’ve had 2 suicides that of children who who were children and both of those cases it was an extremely frightening experience for for the kids who were in the program with them and uh and in both cases it was dealing with perfectionism and dealing with who they were and when the world when they didn’t produce what they thought they were um they opted not not to face the world and it’s a tragedy and a loss of an emormous amount of talent. So parents need to let kids know that they’re loved for who they are and not uh what what they do uh uh I think that’s very important too.

If I could change one thing in education to strengthen the lives of gifted students I think it it comes from my work with Joe Enzuie uh uh I earned my PhD from Enzuie and the most valuable thing he taught me was that we need to pay attention to students interests and schools completely ignore students interests. I say in gifted programs a lot of times uh we identify the student and then we immediate the student and when Enzuie talks about the schools have a deficit model that we find out what kids can’t do and we beat them over the head with it for the rest of the school year and I think that’s totally true that if we would stop and look at student’s individual strengths and develop those strengths, that’s what we should be about. Instead of having a remediation model because I I think the other steps would come along. I’m not saying that we don’t need to teach them other things, but we can teach it in conjuntion with their skills and we are simply not looking at kids talents in schools uh of all different groups and we’re we’re not trying to develop those talents and uh that’s what I would change about education.