Franc Gagne

FRANC GAGNE

Well I’m Franc Gagne, I’ve got a PHD in Pshychology, I’ve been teaching at the University of Quebec in Montreal for the last 20 years or so.

The concepts of giftedness and talent are are really very complex in a way even though um people in the field like to use them as synonyms and I’ve been fighting for the last 15 years to bring about the change in that saying that giftedness and talent are quite different things and the way I see these 2 concepts is talking about gift as natural abilities, the strong genetic component. As compared to talents as being systematically developed abilities in any field of human activity. So natural abilities on one side, giftedness and the word gifts conveys the idea that something’s been given. And the idea of talent unfortunately has been used too often to describe also giftedness so that’s the major change that makes this model um a bit difficult to be um to be bought by people, you know to become popular. The idea of talent in the popular literature and outside gifted education is to talk about natural talents and developed talents with the same word, which I don’t like. So natural abilities are are are four types. I’ve been using this taxonomy of intellectual giftedness, creative giftedness, social affective giftedness, and sensory motor giftedness. And that’s important because I feel that when we talk abut a person being gifted we should always qualify the type of giftedness. We use in our field to just think about intellectual giftedness and think that this is but, we are using the idea that there is much more to giftedness than just intelligence. In terms of talents, well the the the areas of talents or the fields of talents are as large as the fields of human activity. You know it can be arts, it canbe professions, it can be ah people work in I’m trying to find the English word for metsia, but uh um crafts, you know, it can be sports, any area where you have skills to learn to become proficient or competent then you have the possibility of people becoming talented which means that they will be in the top 10% of those who are trying to master these skills in the same way people uh are considered gifted will have above average abilities, those natural abilities in the top 10 % of the population at large. Usually same age population in terms of natural ability.

So you(cough) when we think of indesis of giftedness and talent then we’ve got to think in terms of what’s natural and what’s systematically developed. Um the best the best know index of intellectual giftedness is an IQ test, it’s intelligence as measured through these tests that have been developed over the years and are recognized as quite good measures of uh intelligence or cognitive abilities in the area of creativity. There is also some tests and there is a renewed interest in terms of trying to measure creativity in a more psychometrically efficient way. Uh in the area of socioactive abilities, that’s where there is much more difficult it is still too young and has not been recognized for long enough for psychologist to develop good measures of socioactice abilities. I mean there’s emotional intelligence for example and there’s a pro professor Mayor in north north eastern US who’s been working for the last 5,6 years in putting together a test of emotional intelligence. That would be interesting when we finally succeed in doing and finally succeed in sensory motor domain you know tests of fitness which I use in grade schools measure differences between youngsters in terms of how good they are in different motor abilities. In the uh uh talent side well I mean it’s so easy to measure a talent um in in classrooms it’s it’s the GPA for example, it’s grades, it’s achievement tests. In um in in sports you done I mean every sport has it’s measures in terms of comparing people in terms of achievement you know it’s speed, it’s number of things, it’s baseball, you have all these measure to uh identify the best baseball players or basketball players or swimmers or whatever so in in the talent area there’s usually a lot of good measures to identify those who emerge as talented within that specific field. OK?

So the concepts, the concepts of giftedness and talent um are the backbone of a model of talent development in which the gifts, the natural abilities are building blocks of the talents of the skills that are developed. And this process is achieved through long deliberate practice and learning and training and things like that. So it’s a long process that can last for months, years, depending on the level of talent you want to achieve. If you want to become world renowned in some area then you’ve got many many years of practicing and learning and training in that specific area. But this process of development is facilitated or endured through 3 other components in the model. The first one is called intrapersonal catalysts. The catalysts include motivation, interest, values, what is called technically volition, but could be described more sim more simply as persistence, effort, resistence to failure, bouncing back you know, also components in the intrapersonal catalysts are um self management, time management, organizing your schedule when you’ve got many things to do, um temperament, aspects of personality which are the more basic and genetically anchored, the temperament and also personality traits and other aspects of personality. There in create what I call the intrepersonal catalyst which will act on the process of development and help it or hinder it depending on which one plays, for example if someone is not very interested into some kind of area like math for example in school it might make his amount of study decrease because he doesn’t like it. As opposed to someone who loves it a lot, or a person who is very persistent as compared to a person who is as difficult as putting much effort into work. The other catalyst is called the environment catalyst and it’s a group of four elements. Similar and environment specific persons like mentors like parents, like teachers, the third one is called programs, and in it’s specific activities, structured activities that will facilitate the process of talent development like special programs, special schools, summer schools, things like that are ah into these environmental catalysts uh the program part. And the fourth one is called events, like winning a prize for example or getting scholarship, getting money or one the dark side of it having an accident, I I I discovered that in sports for example it’s a major element of being able to pursue in a sport or another. I mean you’ve got in an accident, it might be the end of the career in sports. So these are the four elements in the environment and the last component, the third one is chance. Bad luck or good luck and that component of the model has moved around in the figure of the model over the years and now it’s got its own little place in the model distinct from everyone else because I’m beginning to feel that chance is a major element in talent development in three ways. First the chance of the genes you get, I mean you don’t own the genome you get from your parents and it’s a major chance component. The second one is the parents you get, I mean the kind of parents you get, the kind of of of social demographic aspects of them. I mean are they rich are they poor, are they good at parenting or not, are they divorced are you in a monoparented family or whatever, so that’s a chance component when you are born, you don’t choose your parents. And the third element of chance is all the rest of the events in life that meeting someone or not, so in the environment catalyst there is a big element of chance which you cannot control except to some small degree. So this is the elements in the model in terms of the developmental aspects.

Giftedness and talent are normative concepts. Normative means that you are comparing people to an average, to a norm like saying someone is obese or someone is poor or someone is rich we’re situating a group as compared to an average. When you do that you need to assess the threshold at which that special group begins outside of the norm. And unfortunately in gifted education there’s been not a large degree of agreement. Some people will say well you know there are something probably like 15-20% gifted individual or talented individuals, others will be much more selective going as low as 1%. Like Terman did in the 20’s for example. So there is a large difference and just think that the difference between 1% and 20% means 20 times more people would be considered which is a huge difference, I mean already twice as many would be big, but 20 times as more is huge. SO there is a need somewhere in this field to come to some agreement and there is no way to have an objective answer there needs to be consensus because the threshold is a fuzzy zone between begin above average or clearly in the gifted or talented area. So my decision was to propose some kind of middle point. Saying between the more generous and the more selective I propose a 10% threshold and it’s related to the metric system because I’m French Canadian and we use the metric system and it’s used all over the world except in the US probably(laugh) so I chose that system and found that then from that first threshold in terms of deciding are you part of the in group being in the gifted zone or the talented zone then within that zone I create four additional levels, which are again at 10% of the previous level. So it’s one in 10 1 in 100, 1 in 1000, 1 in 10000. It makes for balanced um system of levels. Each level is the in the same relationship of the proceeding one as compared to those who are using IQ’s for example you know with the 125, 135, 145, highly gifted and things like that. The proportions are quite different so I’ve been building this system saying there are 5 levels. The lowest one will be called mild mildly, the second one moderately, the third one highly gifted or talented, and the fourth one exceptionally, and the last one extremely. So you’ve got these five levels and I think it’s quite important in our field to keep in mind when we do research when we start thinking about case studies to keep in mind at what level the person is because it’s not the same thing when you are exceptionally gifted or talented in in an area as compared to just being mildly gifted or talented, I mean a young person or even an adult who is playing good piano who got the BA degree in piano, it’s not the same thing at all to achieve that level as compared to becoming an internationally renowned soloist in piano. This would be the extremely high level of talent in in piano. OK, so this is the way I I I the system is built but also the importance I give to the prevelence of giftedness and talent as having to be part of the good definition of what giftedness and talent are.

So the model includes five causal components: the gifts which the letter J, G, the intrapersonal catalyst with the letter I, the practice and learning with the letter P, the chance component with the letter C, and the environmental catalyst as the letter E. So these five causal components can create an acronym GYPCE. G Y P C E which in fact represents my own convictions in terms of their relative importance as causes of talent development. So I’m putting all of my cards on the table saying that if I had to choose I would prefer to be gifted if I had to become talented. That would be my first more important component and then going down the GYPCE scale and intrapersonal components, effort, motivation are the second most important element to becoming talents and then the practice element in terms of the number of hours you are putting, and then the chance component, and then the environment component. And probably people will be very shocked by the fact that I’m giving so less importance to environment but these are my convictions based on what I’ve read and seen in research on the development of abilities. OK? That’s it for that.

Now being gifted or being talented means that you can at the same time have multiple abilities. You can be at the same time physically gifted or physically and physically and or physically intellectually gifted. But on the other side it’s the same thing, you can develop talents in many areas and there are people who are quite the object of envy of their peers because they seem to become talented in so many areas. Anything they touch, they become talented. So we did a study a few years ago trying to find a few of these people who are at the same time in the top 10 % of the talent area of at least 2 different talent areas. When I say different it means they cannot be two sports, it cannot be two musical instruments, it has to be distinct not closely related fields of abilities. So we found these individuals and they were interviews with their parents with the persons the adolescents themselves, they were in the high school, college level persons and some of them were really high achievers you know they were in the national for something or they had won big prizes in music or they had one big prize like validictorian in high school and things like that. So some of them were very high level achievers in their different fields. And the one thing we found was that all the parents without acception mentioned that their children were totally accomonous in terms of deciding how they would organize their life to pursue these different activities. And each on was like we had not planned that we had not um anticipated that kind of comment but it put an enourmous amount of importance to the I component of the intrapersonal catalyst componency. These people can organize their life, they are intrensically motivated, they are persistent, they do all the activities they need to keep achieving higher and higher in their different fields, whether it’s in school in arts, in sports, and this is so that what I would call the self management component of the intrapersonal catalyst appears to be a major thing when you want to pursue many talents and achieve highly in each of them.

The expression identification of the gifted is already an interesting term by itself. It conveys different ideas when I look at it through my model. When we think of identification in the school environment, let’s stay there for the time being, in fact what is being done in practice is identifying what I call IGAT student. IGAT means IG intellectually gifted AT academically talented students. That’s what we do in practice. How come? Because we use intellectual abilities tests, IQ tests, groups or individual ones and this is a good measure of intellectual giftedness. And then we use grades, achievement tests, things like that that go get the academic talent aspect of these abilities. SO in fact we’re looking at 2 different things. Gifted kids, intellectually, and talented kids academically and we are using those 2 in fact we are identifying 2 types of persons. The gifted and the academically talented. These are the persons who are usually selected for special programs in schools. So the instruments I’ve named them, they are IQ tests, and the other instruments that are sometimes brought in like rating scales by teachers and things like that just are peery ferry, they are also looking at some of these aspects in terms of behaviors of intellectually gifted kids or the kids of behaviors of good learners in school which make them achieve like being motivated and things like that. The intrapersonal catalyst part of my model which connects giftedness and talent, so this is what I see in terms of uh what is done uh for identification. But I mean we could think of other types of identification. Like looking at other types of natural abilities which is not being done usually in gifted. OK, but when we go to these other areas we can see that in sports for example they will start looking at youngsters and they will ask the phys ed teachers who are the more adgile or the more physically fitted or have the best physical aptitudes because in sports they don’t care about not having the specific skills of a given sport, what they want is people who are physically gifted, that’s what they’re looking for. So they will have these fitness tests or they will ask phys ed teachers to point out those who are better and they will try to woo them in their sport and say well come and train in our sport because then we will teach you the specific skills of that sport. What we want form you is those natural abilities that will help you. It would be the same in art ah I don’t know about all the art, but in music there are well know music aptitude tests that have been used off and on in music schools to try to identify those who show more aptitude for musical training. So these are are the ways that identification can progress. But there is another way in which um identification can be done and is sometimes done, it’s through pace of learning. People begin training in something and you pinpoint those who shoe special apptitudes just though the speed through which they progress uh during the first phases of their training and so the fastest will be like look at that person has good potential. So in the in the learning process itself that would be the learning, training, practice, you can like um imply infer the presence of gifts just through the ease and speed of learning. And this is in my view what I call the trademark of what giftedness is when you don’t have tests. You measure the apptitudes. Look at the person who’s trying to learn something new and look at the speed at which that person is learning and you will have a good idea of what giftedness in that area.

OK let’s try it on language. What I call the D DMGT the Differentiated Model of Giftedness and Talent which is my model to explain the transformation of gifts into talent, that model has potential major impacts on the way we should look at talent development. That impact has not yet uh uh happened, it’s still potential. There are, there’s lots of resistence, but what I think the impact should be or could be is first when you think giftedness you should think many types of giftedness when you think talent you should think many types of talent. And then you should qualify that type and say that person is intellectually gifted or physically gifted or talented into music and talented to this. That would be one way of understanding the whole breath of the the domain. Second thing we could think in terms of language impact is in terms of understanding from the model, from the components of the model the gift the catalyst and the chance and the practice that talent is the result of a very complex developmental process. Sometimes we are trying to understand what is happening to a child by saying oh this is what happened, we have one cause. But when you think about the model you are thinking that the results you are looking at is probably the result of concurrent action of the five causal components, the gifts, the intrapersonal catalyst, the environmental catalyst, the practice effect and the chance component. So we should always try to keep in mind the complexity of the process and recently I prepared a chapter for the handbook in gifted education and I entitled my chapter Talent Development A Complex Choreography Between Five Causal Components. So it’s really a choreography which some have more importance than others but it also changes from person to person and from field to field. So these would be some of the majors and the last element in terms of using the model and the language in the field is also when we qualify the level of giftedness or talent we should use a system of levels. I mean I’m proposing my five system metric based system. But I mean if you have a three level system like um moderately, highly, extremely, at least we would keep in mind that there are differences depending on the level.

The concept of differenciation is a concept I do not like at all. It might surprise you if I say that but we used to use some years ago the concept of enrichment. It could be that enrichment has lost it’s popularity because it’s not politically correct enough, I don’t know why, but I’m very surprised that in this field they are using more and more the concept of differenciation which is much more global, vague and not specific to gifted education. Differentiation of the curriculum can um concern any type of special population. It can be for mildly deficient people, it can be for physically misadapted people, so I don’t like the concept the word deferenciation because of it’s vagueness. I prefer to use enrichment. And I would prefer that people come back to it. When I think of enrichment there are four types of that which I use when I talk about enrichment and they call the four D’s of enrichment because of the letter D which begins all of them. Enrichment in density, enrichment in diversity which is called sometimes horizontal enrichment, enrichment in difficulty, and enrichment in depth which corresponds to let’s say Renzennie’s titrick activities for example which would be enrichment in depth. So density, diversity, difficulty, and depth would be four different forms of enrichment which are usually combined in different activities or program. It’s rare to find a pure presentation of one of these four types. But for example enrichment in density is typical of what is Regerly calls curriculum compacting for example which is used, it is compacting or creating more density in terms of the amount of content that is presented by unit of time. But at the same time if you present more content in density then you get into more difficult contents so you’ve got for the student a better chance to access rapidly in a short time more difficult concepts. So this is my view of differenciation.

Underachievement is in a way a very simple thing and in a way a very complex thing, always it’s the same. My model is quite interesting because it makes underachievement very clear. When you think of students who are intellectually gifted in the IG part and who are not achieving in school, they are not academically talented then you’ve got this diverse between the giftedness part of the model and the supposibly talented part that should follow automatically. But you have these kids who do not follow from their gifts to some talent in an area. What I see as a problem is the fact that school curriculum form K to 12 is really easy for gift intellectually gifted person. It’s really easy so that not achieving in my view of a very serious problem. The the etiology of it, the causes of underachievement are not simple. I’ve seen simple explanations in terms of environment, it’s the teacher, it’s the school, it’s the parents. I don’t think it’s that simple. I would include at least two major components and the catalyst level of my model intrapersonalist catalyst. Problems within the person in terms of motivation, in terms of personality difficulties, in terms of physical difficulties when you think of ADHD for example. Or ah problems that might be brain related or um misfunctioning of the brain level. So you have causes that can be within the person and outside the person and the diagnosis is not simple to make and in my view should bring in a professional person. Psychologist, school pshychologist, to look at the whole aspect of it. So when I think of teachers, if I have one council to give, one suggestion would be more in terms of always being aware that behind non achievement might be high intelligence, not often, but sometimes. So they should always be watching for signs of giftedness in terms of being good at something else out of school, having some irregular occassional very bright reactions or getting suddenly interested in a specific subject. These are all little signs that should you know make you say whoop there’s something there and this not achieving child is possibly an underachiever. Then I would recommend that this person be assessed by a big professional.

Elitism is a word that really means when it’s defined offering some special favors to those who are already favored. I mean there’s no way to define elitism positively you can’t go out of it. But what elite has a ver positive meaning and I have positive meanings in terms of talking about a group of people who are really at the top in their field whether it’s in arts or sports or academia. So the elite is positive, elitism is not. Why I mean when people say oh gifted education is elitist my first reaction is the question why is it that in schools special programs are tagged, labeled elitist, where as in arts, in music, visual arts, or in sports, the opposite is true. I mean there is no elitism there, there is special programs to produce an elite in that area but there is nobody will accuse them of any form of elitism so why the difference? My answer in a very short answer would be there are three major myths or misunderstanding, or misconceptions that contribute to maintaining that attitude. The first one is that many people still believe that genetics has nothing to do with intelligence. I hope that there are fewer of them as the years go by that research is showing that more and more that genes have something to do with differences in intelligence. But when you believe the genetics has nothing to do then you must attribute differences to the environment. And then there is the second misconception that all gifted kids come from rich families. And in a way it’s not completely false, there is some truth, but the relationship when we say the corrolation in terms of measurement between the socioeconomic level of the parents and the IQ of the child the corrolation is 125 average over 100’s of studies which is a very low. It says that there are huge differences within a given socioeconomic level in terms of having kids who are very low in intelligence and others who are very bright and that would be the same in less affluent areas so the relationship is not that close. And the third misconception is related to the the dream in education and especially in the US education there’s this dream that you should finally some day reduce to nothing the gap in performance in high achieving and low achieving students. And reducing the gap is a kind of ideology. And people are trying to do whatever they can to do that and what do they do is putting lots of investment into those who are not achieving a lot. Lots of professionals, lots of money to try to bring them up to par as far as much as they can do. But the success of that is limited. There is some success, but it’s limited. My reaction to that is that the ideology of reducing the gap is contrary to common sense or to scientific sense because if you believe if you accept the fact that there are natural individual differences in abilities in in intelligence then what you what should you observe when you let these people learn at their own personal rate. What you should see is just like in a race. I mean those who can run faster after sometime will be further in front of those who are in the back and as the time goes back goes as the time goes by the distance between the slowest and the fastest will increase so the gap will increase and it should increase if we have a system of education which attends to the individuals needs of each learner. Those who learn fast and those who learn slow. So trying to reduce the gap is like going against nature, it’s like and then in a way in order to do that we have to cut gifted programs because these programs will increase the speed and pace of learning of those who are already learning fast. And well the gap will increases and we don’t want that at all. So you cut the programs there.

If I had a dream about changing something in the field of gifted education it would be to implement learning at one’s own pace. That pacing is the ideal for me of an education that respects every child’s abilities to learn. And if we could finally accept to accept to offer services that allow each child to go at it’s own pace then we would have a system that is very respectful of all students.

(He then repeats this last answer in French)

 

 

 

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