George Bitts

GEORGE BITTS

Hi, my name is George Bitts and I’m from the University of Northern Colorado. I’m a professor in special education in the area of gifted and talented. Um my major areas are counseling and guidance of the gifted and uh the facilitation of children as life-long learners. And uh over the years of uh—been co-developer of the autonomous learner model for the gifted and talented.

Well, the gifted and talented to me are um—there’s so much diversity in this group we call the gifted and talented. And uh the last two years I’ve been doing a—almost a renaissance to my knowled—knowledge base in looking at what I’ve known and what I know now. And I would say we have intellectually gifted, we have creatively gifted, and we have talented. And most of what we have been doing and are doing now are for the intellectually gifted and those high I.Q. kids. And we also have creatively gifted children that would be more diverted in nature that we’re now finding. And the talented we’re not sure as a group, but these are kids that might have only one area of expertise or one area that they will uh really thrive in. And so we have to cast a very wide net. And not only do we have intellectually gifted, creatively gifted, and talented, but then we have those that are achieving, those that are under achieving, and then according to Jim Dilyle—and I believe this whole heartedly, we have children that are non-producers, that they could do the work, but they’re not going to and they’re going to fight the system. So I think uh there are many different definitions here but uh the main ones that—that I uh like are intellectually gifted, creatively gifted—and that comes from A. Paul Torrence that saying, intellectually gifted and creative—no it’s the creatively gifted and that’s what—what I’m looking for in the children I work with.

Well, the social and emotion needs. Um first of all that is too narrow of a topic for my point of view and it’s what we’ve been doing for years. But what we’re really talking about is the social and emotional development. And it’s not only needs, but it’s needs, it’s issues, it’s concern, it’s potential, it’s multi-potentiality, it’s uh all of these different things so it’s the development of that child. Um, and uh so I think we’re beyond the needs. And when we look at uh what are the basic needs, to me we can go back to Abraham Maslow and we can look at the hierarchy of needs. But one of the things Maslow did uh before he died is he talked about metaneeds, higher level needs. And I think the gifted kids sometimes transcend the basic and move more towards the hierarchy, uh the metaneeds and uh they have a need for beauty and the need uh, uh for right and wrong. And uh then they’re different many times uh because of issues. And of the issues, that if you’re a rapid learner there’s an issue that you’re done before the other kids. If—if you’re very bright in this area or that, you’re different. So it’s not only the needs that I’m looking at, also uh the issues and the concerns that uh we can have for this—these children that we call gifted and talented.

It depends on how it’s used from my point of view. Um, multiple intelligences is nothing new. It’s something that we’ve known but we’ve had knowledge here and here and here and here and then Gardner has put it together. If you go back to 1972 and the Marlin Report to Congress about the gifted—gifted and talented education, we had six different areas. And we had the intellectually gifted, the child with productive thinking, uh the visual and performing areas. Uh, we’ve always been looking at that and Gardner has put it uh in a different way but its—its been there. This isn’t new knowledge and his knowledge comes from what has uh already been done. Um, if people go into districts and say, “Oh, we now have MI, multiple intelligences and uh, uh we don’t need gifted programs” then yes, it does take away. But at the same time, we know that there are some kids that are not intellectually gifted but beautiful writers or beautiful artists or dancers and it helps us to cast a wider net. So I think it’s the way that uh—that you use it. Uh, uh I don’t uh necessarily use it all the time. I still go back to Marland and uh 1972 and—because I’m very comfortable with looking at that diversity of gifted children. Our programs that we have in the summer are for children in all these different areas. We could call them multiple intelligences if we wanted to uh but we’re very comfortable saying these are the areas of giftedness that we’re looking at.

The autonomous learner model um—I think it’s very important to know that—Jolene Kirtcher and I developed it at our Vatawest High school in Colorado and the model was developed by the kids and for the kids. And many models are developed at the university and then come to the school. This one was developed in the school and then went to the university. And we had two different groups of kids we put together, those with 4.0 that were achieving in school and the ones that I found that we called the disenchanted because they weren’t succeeding in anything and they were dropping out of school. And we got the two groups together and said, “How can we enhance your education and what is it we need to do?” We didn’t have the questions, but we were the guides or the facilitators for the journey. And we were able to uh modify the system. Our principle at that time asked two important questions when we started the model. And that is, “Do we try to change the child or do we try to change the system?” And I’m convinced we’re not going to change the child nor should we. It’s the system that we have to change. The autonomous learner model is a model that puts together not—and looks at not only the cognitive, but the emotional and the social and the physical domains of the child. And the autonomous learner model has one specific goal and that is to facilitate a child to become an independent self-directed or autonomous learner. And we have five different dimensions started with orientation so that the children understand why we’re doing these different things with them. Uh, they understand the second dimension, individual development. What are the skills, the concepts, and attitudes that they will need for life-long learning? They understand in the third dimension, enrichment activities, that it’s not enough to study what the teacher wants them to study, but what they want to study and to explore and to investigate this world uh of knowledge which uh all of us as adults and also as children will spend a lifetime learning what’s out there. The fourth uh dimension of the model is seminars and that’s where we see if it works. Do they have the skills? Do they have the orientation, the foundation? And can they apply and now develop a seminar to present to their peers? And then the fifth dimension is where we’re headed and that is the in-depth study. And the highest level of learning is the in-depth study. And I don’t know of a gifted adult who is fully functioning that doesn’t have an in-depth study. E. Paul Torrence is one of my mentors and I’ve known him since 1983. And he has said to me several times that gifted children do not have interest and hobbies alone, they have passions. They fall in love. And passion learning is the highest level of learning. I love the autonomous learner model and it usually shows because I get to do what I uh need to do and want to do and it’s my lifetime in-depth study.

Well, Jolene and I developed the model—the autonomous learner model in 1980 and its been used throughout the world. In 1996 we revised it after working with parents and teachers and uh the learners. And uh this last year we wrote a book called, “The Autonomous Learner Model: Optimizing Ability.” And it’s uh—it was our in-depth study at the time and it was going to 148 pages, it was going to take a year. And it’s 336 pages and it took two years. And it has everything of value that we’ve done the last 20 years to facilitate children to become life-long learners. And it’s teacher-friendly. It has over 150 activities and it’s based on the autonomous learner model and the five dimensions. And uh we have activities and orientation, individual development, enrichment, seminars, and in-depth studies. And so it’s a guide to have—to facilitate the child as an independent learner.

Well, one of my passion areas is the—understanding the emotional and social development of gifted children. And uh Maureen Niheart and I uh developed in 1988 an approach to look at different profiles of gifted children. Uh we’re reviewing the literature now and looking at what are the strategies uh for facilitating the cognitive, emotional, social, and physical growth of these children. Uh we basically think that the goal is the independent autonomous learner. But some of our kids uh become the successful student and they do well in school and they’ll win awards. But then we’ll ask the question after high school, “Is there life after high school?” And some of them have learned to convergent and not divergent and they have learned um how to play school but not to operate in life. And uh they are losing creativity and autonomy and they need that guidance and that facilitation to be autonomous learners. Other children in our pro—profiles approach are called the challenging. The successful buy into the system and the challenging don’t. They fight it all the time. And if they’ve done the odds, they won’t do the evens. And getting them to do 10 worksheets on the same concept, it’s not going to happen. And so we have children many times that aren’t identified as gifted because gifted programming sometimes is a reward for children who do well in school. Our next uh, uh area in the profiles is the underground, the child that hides their ability because the belonging need is more important then the cognitive and “I want to be with my peers and I cannot risk and be the brightest one in class.” Another area is the twice exceptional and this is the child that may be learning disabled or learn—have learning differences but is also gifted. Or maybe emotionally disturbed or have emotional problems and also be gifted. And so we’re looking at a mix, or a mixture, or a marriage between gifted education and special education because so many times we talk about the same uh children. And then we also have our at-risk children. And these are ones that they’re no longer bored or frustrated and they’re not challenging, but they’re at-risk and they’re now very resentful and angry. And the system has failed them and they have failed within the system. And all five or these areas, I believe, can be and will be moved more towards the autonomous learner as we learn more and more ways to understand the children and uh develop more and more strategies uh for the profiles approach.

Well, under achievement um right now is looking at school and you’re an under achiever if you’re not reaching your potential in school. But we don’t look to see what the child is doing outside of school. And I’m not sure that our uh gifted children are all under achievers. I think many of them are non-producers. And I have a hard time uh at times with the—the concept of under achievement. I’m—I’m researching that, I’m looking at that more and more. Uh right now I’m on sabbatic and I’m spending my time understanding the emotional and social development. And I understand the definitions of under achievement and I also know that some of these kids could do the work but they don’t. And according to Jim Dilyle, they’re non-producers. And uh under achievement is one way of looking at them uh and I do think some children are under achieving, but some are non-producing.

Differentiation of curriculum and instruction is a technique, it’s an approach, it’s something now that has become uh the gifted and talented bandwagon. It’s one component but it’s not a complete program. It—it means that we are going to try to meet the needs of our children and we would differentiate the curriculum. And usually the differentiation is done by the teachers and we go to workshops, we learn new techniques and we redesign our curriculum. Differentiation to me is not only teacher differentiation but learner differentiation. And true differentiation comes when the learner says, “This is what I’d like to study, this is how I’m going to study it. Here are my uh 5 objectives, my 25 uh activities that will take me a 6-month timeline. I’m going to need these resources and this mentor and my final presentation will be on November 15th and that to me is differentiation. When the child responds as a learner, not only to what the teacher has developed, but what the children or the learner wants to do. And so we need to take the differentiation that we’re teaching now and teach it to the children and also to the parents. And to me it’s a component of becoming a uh life-long learner.

Oh, at home um Donnie and I—my wife Donnie and I are parents of two gifted children. Uh Kristy and Jordie are both grown and uh the number one thing that we have strived to do—and I use the word strive because sometimes it’s difficult, but we believe in Carl Rogers major concept of unconditional positive regard. And that is, learning to accept a child as that child is, not how I want that child to be. And dealing with the total child and not this behavior, that behavior, but the total child and learning to accept that child. We as adults sometimes will make the decisions and modify the children, maybe right, maybe wrong, but we don’t accept them. And many times we have conditional regard. “If you do this, I’ll love you. If you don’t do this, I won’t.” And unconditional positive regard is that acceptance of an individual. And we never will feel better about ourselves then when we have unconditional positive regard. I’m very fortunate in my life that my mom and dad accepted me. And I did poorly in school and uh that was OK because I was learning, I was seeking, I was having fun, I had friends, and I was never judged. And I didn’t do well until my Masters and my Doctorate and I found that area that I now know is a passion area and that’s emotional and social development of people. And I can look back and my parents had unconditional positive regard and they still do. And my mom uh told me a couple of years ago, “Well, you know, your self-esteem really comes a book I read you when you were young.” And I said, “Well, what book is this, mom?” And she said, “Well, it’s about the little engine that could.” “I think I can, I think I can.” And last year for my 86-year-old mother for Christmas I got a pewter plate and in the middle’s the little engine and around it are the words, “I think I can, I think I can.” And you turn it over and in my mom’s handwriting it says, “I knew you would.” And that’s unconditional positive regard.

My wish for children and especially for gifted children is to give them the opportunity to be with other gifted children. This is the 24th year of our summer enrichment program. We have two two-week programs. We have 300 children at a time uh grades 5 through 10. And they come to the campus, they live in the dorms, they have 100 classes, 42 teachers, they have 36 counselors, and it’s a magical moment because they’re with other children like themselves. And when we evaluate the program, every year we re-learn that it’s not the classes, it’s not the counselors or the teachers, but it’s being with other people like myself and learning to belong and feeling good about me. So it goes uh back to that emotional and social development which to me is more important basically then the cognitive. And one of my mentors for, Virginia Satere, taught me many years ago that the non-cognitive comes before the cognitive. And if—if we’re accepted and we’re in a positive environment, then we will seek the cognitive and uh our summer enrichment program is an opportunity for the kids to learn to be with the chil—with each other, to learn to accept each other and to grow. And in our program we talk about from the very beginning that when you leave S&P, you will leave with a glow. And the new kids don’t always understand. The glow means that from these experiences with these other people like yourself, you will leave feeling better about yourself, about these other people, and within you there will be a glow. And over and over it happens. Uh a 5th grader was walking down the stairs uh, uh this summer and said to her mom, “Mom, I have a glow.” And the mom said, “Well, what’s the glow?” And she said, “I feel better about me and my world.” And that’s what I want.