Penny Kolloff

PENNY KOLLOFF

Penny Britton Kolloff associate professor of curriculum and instruction at Illinois State University in Bloomington Normal, Illinois. Where I teacher undergraduate and graduate courses and work on a lot of other projects university wide and statewide. I currently serve on the uh board of the Illinois association for gifted children and I’m an advisory board member for the center for talent development at Northwestern University.

Who are the gifted and who are the talented. Probably the biggest question that that we have in our field of gifted education and there are so many different definitions. I don’t subscribe to a precise definition. I I know there are people who make very fine distinctions between giftedness and talent and other I guess being the third category. Um as I think about these individuals I think of gifted individuals as those who are precocious um early developing, um who’s abilities stand beyond those of the other individuals with whom they’re compared and then that’s why I have a more relative as suppose to an absolute definition. Um in some schools there may be children that need gifted services who’s if we were to use and IQ indicator who’s um IQ might be 115 where as in another school um the children’s whose needs are different might be those whose IQ’s are around 145 and you could any other measure of giftedness and apply it to the same um principle but it’s the people whose needs are sufficiently different because of their level of um ability um that they need something different in their educational program.

Who are the gifted and the talented? Probably the biggest question we have in gifted education. I I believe that the gifted and the talented are those who are early developing. They’re precocious in their abilities. Whether those are abilities in the academic areas the general intellectual area um the creativity uh the leadership any of the areas in which we recognize some thing called giftedness and talent. I don’t believe in a precise definition. I don’t think we are equipped to make very fine distinctions between people we designate at gifted or talented. I think my definition gets to what what who are these people and what are their needs and so for me the gifted and talented are those who compared with those around them are higher in ability therefore who have needs that are different from the needs of the other students. That’s why in one school district or one part of the community you might have uh children who if we use IQ as a measure for example and I’m not necessarily uh saying that that’s the way to identify uh but if we use that as a measure the gifted in one school, those who are different from the others in terms of their abilities might be children whose IQ’s are around 115-120 something like that where as in another building where there are a lot of children whose IQ’s Hoover around that 120 the gifted in that building those who require different kinds of services might be those whose IQ’s are 140 or 150 um so I have problems being extremely precise about what is the exact definition of of gifted and talented. Otherwise uh other than the fact that it’s children who are at a precocious developmental level usually intellectually and creatively.

Identification of the gifted is a difficult issue and question and I’ve served as a director for programs for gifted children in a number of capacities throughout my professional life and I’ve served as a consultant to many school districts and programs seeking to identify gifted and talented. The identification of gifted is a for a purpose and I think in talking about it’s always important to remember that the only reason we’re identifying students is so that we can do something with them for them I hope not to them. But to do for for the purposes of doing something. And so an identification must be based on varieties of information. I’m sure some of it needs to be I know some of it needs to be objective. Some of it can certainly be based upon people’s perceptions of a child’s abilities and needs relative to the other children around them. Um so parents can be good identifiers. Teachers can be excellent identifiers of giftedness and talent. Identification when I talk with students in my graduate class about identification I say things like um identification isn’t a magical uh system that we can discover the perfect identification system. We’re always going to mis-identify children. We’re always going to think we’ve found children who need services when in fact they don’t and we’re always going to miss children who do need services but our our method of finding them just isn’t sufficient to locate them. And so I believe in a very um wide net um let’s look for all the children whose needs might be met by some particular program or service that we have to offer. I uh I’m not a fan of IQ testing. I think uh in order to do it well one must do it individually and that becomes almost prohibitively expensive for most school districts unless there is a mandate in a state to provide the same kinds of testing that are offered to other areas of exceptionality and so children who have high IQ’s um might have to find them in different ways. I do believe in off level testing because I’ve become concerned when I go into a school district for example and they describe their identification process as the children who do well on the standardized in-grade achievement tests. If your score is between 95th and 99th percentile you’re in the gifted program or you’re in the pool and I don’t think and I don’t think we have evidence that that’s the best way to find them. That might allow us to find children that we might need to take another look at but uh we need to use other indicators as well. Because there are children who don’t test well but who very much need different programs and services and so rather than having some kind of a magic test score number that serves as a gate way in to a talent pool or into the potential for being identified. Um I believe identification has to be base on some indicators of ability that could be measured by tests standardized achievement tests being one. Um some information from people who know the children well whether it’s teachers or parents or other’s that may have some contact with them and then take that information and forming a pool um and taking a further look at those individuals and then looking again to see have we missed someone. I’ll tell you that I was humbled by an experience early in my program directing days um a child came to me in a hallway of the school in which I worked. He was a fifth grader and he came up to me um and said I need to be in your program and I I didn’t know him and I hadn’t found him in any way I said I said tell me more about that. He said I’m like those other kids that go to the class that you teach. And I said let me talk to your teacher and I went to his teacher and we thought why not he has he has taken the initiative to come to me it wasn’t a phone call from mom or it wasn’t a uh some body else saying oh you missed this child, it was the child himself and he came into my class spent three weeks with out opening his mouth and I thought what have we done here and then he opened his mouth and never closed it again. He was wonderful and I was because of the nature of the school I worked in I was able to follow him through out his grades through high school graduation and actually beyond and he was an extremely gifted young man that we had never found with our so called fairly sophisticated identification system and so I keep that child in mind and all the others that we don’t find uh when we talk about how are we going to identify the children and I think the key is finding as many as we can and then taking a look at what programs and services are going to meet their needs.

Successful programs for gifted and talented children probably have a number of common features. Um one would be a program philosophy and a set of goals and that sound sort of a like a given but I I encounter a number of programs in my work that have perhaps very precise identification processes but have not done the work to set forth a program philosophy and a set of goals for a program and I think that is a first step in developing programs and services. So a program goal and philosophy would be a key feature of successful programs. Another would be a careful attention to what kinds of things happen in that program with children and in some cases that’s going to mean a curriculum that’s laid out. That is sequential. That has some potential for growth built in to it that teacher’s in a program if that’s how the services are delivered um have had some input into and adhere to at least in terms of not a prescribed these are the activities you will do with the children but again going back to programs and uh goals and objectives. Here’s how we’re going to move these children through their schooling in a program for gifted and talented. Another key feature of successful programs would be that they have a diversity of services and I guess programs. And I would make a distinction between services that are offered to help those children meet their needs um and develop their potentials and program. Programs to me are more of a set of curricular activities. A program might be in the area of mathematics for example. That would take children who are mathematically talented through classes and differentiation’s that would begin when they are in elementary school and in high school. Program has more of a uh set of prescribed, certainly goals and objective, uh then then do services. Services are things that we can do with children on an in and out kind of basis and for some kids that’s what they need. They need opportunities to be in future problem solving um odyssey of the mind, those kinds of of experiences so those those would be different kinds of services. So that would be another feature of successful programs.

In elementary school programs and services for gifted children I think we do more focusing on a broader uh range of experiences. We seem in our identification of children for program and services at the elementary level to be bringing together children who perhaps are very different from each other but we put them into some kinds of of programs at the elementary level that are going to help them develop a variety of thinking abilities, creative uh talents, uh project activities, that generally in my experience have seem to cut across disciplines. When young people get to middle school and high school their talents are seem to be taking on more of a of a direction. That’s when their talents seem to to be quite distinct relative to the individual students. So we have those mathematically talented young people who need mathematics at a higher level at a faster pace who need more math experiences as they go through school um and we may have to look then beyond what our local school has to offer and and look for services that can be offered by nearby universities. The the abilities in the areas of gifts and talents in the secondary students seem to require a more direct and perhaps discipline specific um accommodation.

Collaboration among professionals specifically educators on behalf of gifted children is a is a wonderful opportunity to bring together multiple talents in multiple areas of expertise among adult professionals. I my own work uh in public schools and in laboratory schools situation I was blessed with uh colleagues who had discipline specific strengths. For example I worked with a team of humanities teachers at a high school in Indiana. I brought to the team my expertise in gifted education. They brought to the team their brilliance in the areas of the humanities and so together we were able to work out program initiatives, specific courses to meet the needs of the high ability students, the gifted learners in that particular school. At the university level I have the opportunity even right now I’m involved in a project with several colleagues where oh let’s see their representatives are from history, secondary education, early childhood education, and I’m in elementary education basically. And we’re working together to develop modules to help educators meet the needs of all children. So our our topic for this particular project is the diversity of learners and we bring together our specific expertise in, special education is involved in that as well, because in our area special education and gifted education are indifferent um departments. And we we’re talking about how to help teacher meet the needs of diverse learners in their classrooms. So then another important collaboration. So I think anytime we can get lots of people with particular strengths, specific strengths working together it can only benefit those who are the recipients of of that expertise.

If I were to have one wish granted that would benefit gifted in-- individuals gifted learners in schools it would be that education would get over the idea that grouping children by ability at any time and place is wrong. I think and I this is how I know I’ve been around for a long time because I’ve seen uh homogeneous grouping and then the back lash and the the move to heterogeneous grouping and then we had some periods of time where it wasn’t a bad thing to group individuals by ability and now we’re back in the anti-grouping mode and my wish for gifted individuals would require that they be together and they be given a rigorous, challenging, stimulating, engaging, curriculum to excite them, to relieve them from boredom to relieve them from the necessity of sitting and waiting for other learners to catch up with them. Um I want them to experience the joy of taking on a challenge and meeting that challenge and experiencing the frustrations that the rest of the learners take for granted um and then the joy in the accomplishment of what ever task or um challenge was placed in front of them. And I think the wish then is for for every gifted individual to have the right to struggle, to learn something and to learn something new and exciting at a young age as as young as possible um so that they they feel that exhilaration that comes with something that they’ve done well that they’ve accomplished that they’ve over come um and and so that they can have a really truly appropriate education based on their needs.

I love being asked to respond to a question like what what should parents of gifted children do and of course it’s very easy for me to say because I’m not a parent and I I have to put that disclaimer in because I have not raised children of my own but as a as a teacher who has watched children for many many years, gifted children for many years I think the most important thing parents can do beginning at birth or maybe even before birth is expose children to literature. Read to children. Read with children. Give children access to books beginning at the very earliest stages of their lives. I was blessed as a child to be raised in a home with parents who read all the time and my favorite childhood memories have to do with skipping beside my father to the local library which fortunately was two blocks away. Um evenings after dinner to choose books to sit with him while he read um my memories of my mother from early early days until the end of her life where she always had a book or several books very close to her um and I think that’s the most important thing that parents can do with their gifted children. I’m not a um believer in enrolling them in lots of special enrichment opportunities I think children today are over scheduled. I don’t think they have found quiet time to read and reflect I think there are too many distractions. I see the results of it in my teaching uh with young people freshmen through seniors in college. They’ve not developed those habits of literacy that we’d like all children to get but particularly our gifted children. I don’t think there’s a a more precious gift that parents can give to their children than exposure to literature and emphasis on reading.