John Feldhuesen

JOHN FELDHUESEN

I’m John Feldhuesen from Purdue University and my position there, uh, was distinguished professor of education and of psychology, as well.

Well, uh, the question of, uh, whether we should think about talent as an alternative conception to giftedness, uh, I feel strongly that as children grow, mature, uh, that the shift ought to occur to look more closely at what their emerging talents are. Uh, gifted is usually a general term, uh, referring to just high ability, uh, whereas talent begins to get us to focus on the specific abilities of youngsters and we have more than enough test technology nowadays, uh, for our emphasis to shift away from just identifying youngsters as gifted and as they grow, particularly to the late elementary grades and into middle school, to think more and more about their emerging specific talents in art, mathematics, science or whatever area it might be.

Yeah, that--that’s a--uh, a system, if you will, that I’ve been promoting for many years, TIDE. Uh, and what it is Talent Identification and Development in Education. And the basic idea, again, is that we like to have much more emphasis in the identification process, uh, on what--or on identifying the specific talents of youngsters. Uh, a--as they approach the middle grades, upper grades and junior high school, uh, their specific talents, uh, in particular areas are beginning to emerge to become clearer and both through tests and rating skills and performance in school, uh, it becomes increasingly possible for us to say, well, this youngster is very talented in art. This youngster’s very talented in drama. Uh, this youngster’s very talented in mathematics. And, again, using a combination of tests and, uh, rating skills and measures of performance in school, uh, we can become increasingly able to identify what the specific talents are and to plan educational programs and--that particularly give them a chance to develop in those specific areas.

The question of how multiple intelligences, uh, relates to, let’s say my idea is TIDE and my conceptions of, uh, talent identification and development. I’ve considered it a great boon, in many ways, because it has gotten us to focus more on specific abilities and not just to continue to look only for the generally gifted child. Uh, those different intelligences that Howard Gardner has pioneered actually have been around for a good, long time. Uh, but he put them together, packaged them, if you will, theoretically and practically, in a way that has seen tremendous development in the United States and even in other countries. Uh, I think that it’s very important to see that in gifted programs that gives us more and more guidance on how to go about identifying specific talents. I had--I was having lunch once with Howard Gardner and I asked him, ‘Why didn’t you call these things talents?’ And his reply was, ‘Well, I guess that would be all right.’ Uh, and later in an article that appeared a year or two later he u--he said, uh, ‘Intelligences or talents, whatever you choose to call them,’ so I don’t think he’s, uh, a stickler on what the proper terminology is. But as applied in school, uh, the concept of multiple intelligences is often, uh, a concept used for the children in general, not just gifted or highly-abled children. And very often, uh, a notion that every child should have training or experiences in all of the different intelligences. And, uh, of course, my argument is that, uh, yes, children need a general education in all their general abilities, but they need particular attention given to what their specific talents or their specific intelligences are.

Well, uh, the International Baccalaureate Program is a very excellent and challenging program for highly gifted youngsters who are gifted in the academic realms, particularly. Uh, it provides both a good general educational program and the opportunities to specialize in the areas that are, uh, the particular talent strengths of gifted youngsters. Uh, it’s a program that runs over a good period of time and brings youngsters into contact, uh, in special classes with other highly able youth. So, overall I see the International Baccalaureate as an excellent program. Uh, they make no effort in that program to call gifted, uh, youngsters, uh, by that title, gifted, but on the other hand, it is an excellent program. Uh, and generally high schools don’t, uh, have much enthusiasm for labeling or identifying, uh, youngsters as gifted, but yet high schools often do an excellent job of educating highly abled youngsters.

Well, uh, our--the Super Saturday program at my university, Purdue University, has been running, I think, for 23 or 24 years now. I originated it, developed it and am delighted that it goes on all through the years, but I’m even more, uh, thrilled that it has spread to other cities throughout the country and, as a matter of fact, in many areas of the country they also call it Super Saturday. However, in recent years we’ve even had Sears Roebuck and other companies, uh, calling in their Saturday sales Super Saturday, uh, but that makes no difference to us. The--the main idea is, uh, that, particularly for youngsters who are in schools where there’s no other special kinds of programs, it does offer the possibility of good, challenging and enriching, uh, experiences on Saturday mornings for such youngsters. Now, of course we’d like to see, uh, this simply be a supplement, uh, to other good services in the school, but very often, we know from our experiences over the years, that this is about all that many youngsters are going to see in the way of a good challenging opportunity with a, uh, let’s see, high-powered teacher, high-powered curriculum and to be with high-powered peers. And so we--we feel very strongly that the Super Saturday program does provide valuable experiences for gifted and talented youngsters.

Well, the basic issue--I’ve just published an article recently on--based on some research we did on, uh, boredom of gifted and talented youngsters in school, and we know that is a problem for many. Uh, accelerated programs include admission to school early, coming into kindergarten or first grade ahead of schedule, uh, being grade advanced while children are in the elementary grades, entering middle school or high school early, condensing high school to only two or three years, and then, finally, entering college early, and, for some youngsters, even doing college in just three years instead of the usual four or five. All of those are forms of acceleration. There’s an abundance of research that tell us that for a large portion of bright, talented youngsters, some form of acceleration is very helpful, desirable. Uh, I think it even plants in their minds the idea that they have special abilities and that their long-range achievement goals probably ought to be very, very high. Uh, so, overall, uh, I--the research that I know and know quite well, I think about acceleration wherever, whenever it occurs, is that it’s a positive experience for about 90 to 95 percent of youngsters. Sometimes it’s done without proper caution, without proper testing and assessment, and, uh, then it--there can be problems, but, uh, if done carefully--we’ve published guidelines for grade advancement of youngsters, and I think if people followed our guidelines, they’d never run into any problems. And I know our guidelines are widely used around the country now.

Well, creativity has been linked to giftedness properly, uh, in the sense that we expect gifted, talented youngsters to go on to high level creative achievement, and, uh, a long time ago our leader in our field, Joel Ranzooli (ph) , uh, proposed that creativity is one of the basic, one of the fundamentals of giftedness and that makes good sense. We--I surely think that is so. Uh, I think that creativity, uh, is a phenomenon that we still don’t understand as well as I wish we did and particularly, we’re not sure of what, uh, fosters the development of creativity, uh, in the early years in elementary school and even in the middle school and high school. Uh, although we do have some faith that has grown over the years, and some experience, that comes from good people like Paul Torrance, Don Trefinger and others, that tells us that, uh, if youngsters have guidance and real experiences, in a sense, hands-on experiences, in creative activities, that this probably augments and helps develop their creative abilities. Uh, Don Trefinger, more than anyone else, along with some others, has developed training systems, uh, and procedures to help youngsters develop their creative talents and, uh, so I think there’s considerable faith that that is the way to go. At the same time, my own personal, uh, judgment is that very often, uh, there’s a neglect of what I regard as another critical element, and that is, uh, I don’t think you can be creative unless you know a lot. And, uh, some people equate that with rote memorization and I don’t necessarily mean that, although I’m--I’m not sure that rote memorization is even bad, I--I think maybe it’s even valuable for people. But in any event, what I’m saying is simply that you have to know a lot, have a lot of information if you’re going to put ideas together in creative ways to create new products, new ideas, new ways of doing things. So, uh, I think along with that, good cognitive skills, in general, good reasoning skills and so forth, are very, very valuable. Uh, but all--above all, I have been emphasizing for quite a few years that a strong knowledge base is important. Finally, it is, I think, fairly clear that adults’ creativity, particularly, does seem to be associated with some personality characteristics like a high degree of independence, uh, I think that, uh, surely is one of them. Uh, seeing things in new and unique different ways, uh, I think even the motivation to create is a unique personality configuration. So, yes, I would surely agree that there are apparently--and we--we have really identified in this field of research, a large number of characteristics that seem to, uh, be associated with adults, at least, who are highly creative. Uh, so, I think that, uh, yes, personality factors are also a large part of it. Probably we, in a sense, end up by saying that creative talent, creative production is a very complex process involving much more than just intelligence of the human being.

Uh, the teaching of creativity and problem solving, I think, has come a long way. I think we know more about how to engage youngsters in activities, in learning experiences, and even how to provide them guidelines, procedural directions and so forth, uh, to help them be more creative. So, teachers, uh, can indeed, uh, buy into the future problem solvings program which is one very, very good program, uh, the OM program, uh, is now lightly used in the US, and really throughout the world, and, uh, all of these programs for gifted and talented youngsters, they’re actually programs for all youngsters, not just for gifted and talented, I should make that clear, but I think their potential for gifted and talented youngsters, is just tremendous and, uh, so I have a great faith that we can now help youngsters learn how to identify problems, how to brainstorm better, to evoke a large number of ideas, how to zero in on solutions, and finally, how to design good solutions to problems. Uh, all of these things I think we now have a, uh, a science, if you will, uh, that is quite advanced and so I would hope that all teachers, uh, get an opportunity to learn about, uh, the teaching of creativity, engaging youngsters in creative, uh, thinking skills and what have you, and, uh, of course, above all, I’d like for the teacher, herself, as well, in her own teaching and in designing her curriculum and daily lessons, to be a creative individual as well.

Under achievement among gifted and talented youngsters is a problem that a lot of people have been studying for a good, long time. Uh, I remember 30 years ago people at Columbia University doing some substantial research in that area, uh, and, uh, in more recent times, I’d say in the last decade and a half, uh, probably the pre-eminent person has been Sylvia Rimm, and, uh, the work she’s done on under achievement. Uh, it is a hard concept to understand among the gifted because very often, uh, on achievement tests and intelligence tests, the--the youngster scores very high. And so very often what is perceived has under achievement, and I want to stress that word ‘perceived,’ is under performance in school. Uh, surely we agree that it would be desirable for youngsters to be good students, to follow teachers’ directions a good share of the time. Uh, there may be times, to be sure, when their creativity, uh, is, uh, trying to come into the foreground where they may have different ideas from teacher, but otherwise, uh, we still expect them to be, uh, predominantly, uh, productive citizens and participating in good school activities. So, uh, I guess the ideal, uh, definition, if you will, of under achievement would be to have high measure of ability, intelligence or artistic talent or whatever it might be, uh, but low achievement. Uh, and that is low performance on achievement tests or, uh, sloppy performance in art class, uh, inadequate performance in drama, inadequate performance in science and so forth. Some way or other we detect potential, we think the child has capabilities to perform at a very high level, but isn’t. And so I think we go on quite perplexed, uh, troubled by this concept, uh, because we are even aware that some youngsters, uh, in sometimes quite famous cases, have come through school appearing to be under achievers and ending up in adulthood to be highly productive, creative individuals. Uh, so that does not lead us to want to encourage, uh, under achievement, to be sure, but it does say to us that understanding this phenomenon, uh, may be such that--that we want to be careful in that whatever therapy or remediation we offer, that we don’t turn off something that, uh, later will be a com--an important component of, uh, achievement in adulthood.

Well, we surely are embarrassed at times, uh, by the absence of minority students, and particularly African-American students, uh, but I would say Hispanic as well, uh, in gifted and talented programs. Uh, and I don’t think we have as great a problem with under representation, I think this--the problem of, uh, female or male representation I think is righting itself and in fact now we’ve got a lot of types of programs where girls outnumber boys, though I don’t think that’s as great a concern, but, uh, minority representation, I think is--my wife and I attended a--a youth concert yesterday and were--uh, and there were about, oh, I would say there were 40 to 50 children, uh, on stage singing. And we were ama--this is also in a community with a large black population--we were amazed to see only two African-American students in that whole group. And that appeared, to us, to be a terrible under representation. Uh, in other cases, I’ve done evaluations of programs all over the country and I have to tell you that I visited many programs, uh, where there was an African-American population, but practically no representation in the gifted program at all. Uh, I don’t know what all the problems are. I know one community where, even though eligible, the African-American youth have been steered away from the gifted program and told not to participate. Uh, although I think that might be a rarity, I don’t know. Uh, I think, uh, that it is a problem that a lot of people continue to study. Uh, I know that, uh, I offer a solution, however, and have felt for quite some time that I can offer a solution, and that is to get away from the very narrow definition of giftedness as high IQ. Uh, it does appear that if people were to take on my TIDE concept, that is Talent Identification and Development in Education, and looked at a broader range of abilities in the arts and even in practical domains, in technological domains, in, uh, home economic and--and the whole range, that we stand a much better chance of identifying a greater diversity of special talents in youngsters. But I think as long as we stick to this, uh, simple concept that high IQ is it, I--I--I know for sure that people do use rating scales and other things to go along with that, but yet, uh, they tend to do a rating on a youngster, uh, who is performing that--in ways that a high IQ makes possible. So, I’d like to see that broader range, my TIDE concept, uh, used and used to identify a broader range of talents and for gifted programs to get away from the very, very simple, general giftedness concept.

Well, parents play a mighty role in the long run. I don’t think that gifted and talented youngsters stand much chance of growing up to be creatively productive, to become the experts, the aces, the high achievers in adulthood unless their parents have contributed mightily to their development. And--uh, so that begins almost at birth or right at--maybe before birth for all I know. Uh, I had some friends from the state of Ohio who felt that parents should already begin communicating to the fetus, uh, by, uh, speaking or playing tapes over the mother’s, uh, abdomen to get a communication through, but, uh, we have no--I don’t think any good research to support that. But what we do know, is that parents, first of all, in the model that they set from--practically from birth on, what the child sees is a good artistic, good intellectual, good achieving behavior. Uh, parents are powerful models. Uh, in addition, other members of the family that parents can help children get to, uh, can be powerful models. So, uh, the parents and the extended family, in general, are extremely important. Now, beyond that, parents control, particularly in the early years, what experiences the child gets to. Does he or she get to art exhibits? Does he or she get to the Saturday program that we talk--we talk about, the Super Saturday at Purdue University. Uh, do the parents provide a lot of books in the home? Do they read to the child? Do they talk about significant issues, uh, in our time? Uh, do they see to it that the child reads? Uh, do they show a lot of interest in what is going on at school and, uh, try to make sure that things are going well there. So, there’s a whole host of things that parents can do, uh, and should be doing, uh, if they have any hope that the child will go on to very high-level achievement. There comes a time even when parents have to fight the battle of acceleration. Uh, it may often times take a lot of effort on the part of parents to get a child admitted early to, uh, kindergarten or first grade or grade advance. And incidentally, I like the word grade advance rather than grade skip, uh, because sometimes that can be done by spending the first half of a year in, say, third grade and going on to fourth grade for the second half of the year and then, in a sense, then no grade was completely skipped over. But, uh, parents may often have to fight the battle, uh, for acceleration. A father that I know well in my community, who has really grown quite famous for his battles now, got his children admitted to Purdue University, uh, a daughter and a son at ages 12 and 13. Now, universities and colleges are better about that than high schools or elementary schools. Uh, both of those children entered engineering and have done superbly well, straight A students, ages 12 and 13 into a university. So, uh, again, parents often have to fight those battles. Kids aren’t prepared to walk into, uh, the dean’s office or the president’s office and say, ‘Here I am. I want to enroll.’ So, uh, in many, many ways parents play critical roles, uh, and I would say, ideally, two parents doing the thing. I--I’ve--you know, we’ve some research published, just recently, of how important the intact family is and, uh, so I would love to see that and I--my wife and I have been together for a goodly many years and we think our daughters have done well, uh, because we devote a lot of our lives to nurturing their development.

I feel strongly that programs for gifted and talented youngsters don’t set goals or strive for high-level achievement for creative expertise. Uh, they talk about meeting the needs of gifted and talented youngsters, but typically, it’s needs right now. Need for good curriculum, need for good teachers and what have you. Uh, I think that the idea should be planted early in the minds of gifted and talented youngsters and their parents, that they have the potential for very, very high-level achievement, that they literally can become the stars, as it were, and that, I think, takes a commitment both from the child and the parents because to aim for very high high-level achievement means the parents are going to have to put in a lot of extra effort. The youngster’s going to have to work very hard. The school’s going to have to help a lot. And it does seem to me, as I visit and I--I evaluated so many gifted programs in recent years, and there is never much thought apparent about going for broke, as it were, for those very, very high-level goals that are possible. So, I think that should be planted in the minds and should begin to guide the effort. Uh, it might, for example, lead, uh, gifted and talented, uh, children and their parents to seek out famous people in those fields. I once thought I was going to be a, uh, star in drama and, uh, I went to a play, uh, in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. I was born in Wisconsin. Uh, and the actor on stage just impressed me tremendously and, uh, I didn’t have my parents with me at the time, but I went around back stage and asked if I could, uh, speak to that actor. And the stage manager said, ‘Well, just a moment. I’ll ask him.’ And in a short moment he came back and he said, ‘Yes, Mr. Yul Brynner will talk to you.’ And, oh, I tell you, that was--you know, I--I didn’t end up being a dramatic star, but it had a tremendous influence on my life, and you see, an awfully long time later I was just a--a young lad then, and I still remember that incident so well. So, a variety of things that plant in children’s minds, that they have the potential to go on to very high-level creative achievement. School programs and parents should be thinking about how to bring that about.

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