Sally Reis

SALLY REIS

My name is Sally Reis and I am a professor of Educational Psychology at the University of Connecticut in Stores, Connecticut.

Well, I mean, I think that gifted and talented children, um---or gifted and talented adults, generally are a---actually I think the two concepts differ a little bit. I think in children we look at youngsters who show outstanding potential or outstanding performance in an area. I feel that it’s pretty broad, I mean, I think that in many cases we’ve been too precise in our---our attempts to identify and define. And I believe um---capability to---to do excellent work an---in a number of domains, whether it be creative writing, or mathematics, or the arts, or um---verbal abilities, all of those different areas can define gifted children. Um---gifted adults, I believe, as children grow and interact with the right environment and the right opportunities and the right types of resources, some children begin to have in themselves a belief in themselves, and a feel for a sense of destiny and purpose in life. An---and also I believe that, in many cases, this interacts with the passion area that they have, and I think that---that talented adults---um---are, in many cases, children who are able to have had their---their dreams realized and to have the opportunities to develop their talents.

Well, curriculum compacting is a---a process for differentiating curriculum for above average learners. It was developed at the University of Connecticut, actually in the mid ‘70s, it’s a---it’s one of probably the oldest and um---most recognized methods for curriculum differentiation. It is a three step process that deals with the a---identification of s---of areas in which students can excel. Um---procedures by which we um---I---eliminate content that students already know by documenting their strengths and replacing that content with a more appropriate content (background noise). Um---and oftentimes what we’re replace with is not necessarily in the area that students showed a strength in, so, what I mean by that is: there may be student who’s extremely good in mathematics, but who’s real love in life is creative writing. And what we encourage teachers to do is to eliminate redundancy in the content area that students are showing strengths in, and let the ---the students have some opportunity to tell us a little bit of wh---of what they might like to do in the time that’s saved. And we also encourage um---acceleration when appropriate, and replacement of more suitable content. My---one of my greatest concerns about talented students is that they don’t learn how to work, and I think so much of what they encounter in school is too easy for them, that in the process of curriculum compacting, what I really love to see happen is a replacement with---with more appropriately challenging content. And, whenever possible, in areas that students have an interest in. Otherwise what happens is many of them say: well, why should I bother doing my best work if all I’m gonna get is---is harder work that the teachers assign. So, compacting a---has had a research history of almost twenty years. We’ve looked at data that indicates it can be used with the top three to five percent, an---an---and it some classes with as many as ten to fifteen students in a class. Particularly if it’s in a---um---a school in which there’re a number---a higher number of above average ability learners.

I think enrichment triad model has kind of been the a---the area of my life that has brought me the most joy. Um---well, first of all, it---it enabled to meet my husband, Juranzuli, and um---um---first, because we were---we were friends, I was a teacher in a Connecticut district that used the model, and---and our---our many year friendship developed into a---um---a more personal commitment when we married. But beyond that, I believe completely in the philosophy of the enrichment triad model. Um---to me, a---too much attention in---in gifted education is placed on having kids do well in all their school subjects, a---to be good lesson learner, in other words, an---and to do well on all content areas, and to make the honor roll, and, you know, to get all A’s, and then to go on to college, and it’s---it’s---it’s a steady diet of consumerism. Um---and, you know, that more and more content, and more and more harder content. And the enrichment triad model in it’s simplest and most elegant form says: type one; we want to expose students to ideas and areas and interests that they can have an opportunity to learn to love, and hopefully that exposure will be by people or events or situations that bring---bring to them the---the love and excitement of---of the content area. Type two: um---provide training and methods or in thinking skills or in creativity, a---at---to enable them to pursue work, a---or to learn how to think or problem solve. And type three: um---my favorite part of the triad, the opportunity to find something you love and pursue it a---independently, or with a group of students. To enable students to---to feel and do and act like practicing professionals. And, to me, what the beauty of this approach has been is the simplicity of it, that it---we let children, in enrichment programs, find things that they love and we give them time in school, through curriculum compacting, to pursue it. Whether it be, div---you know---developing their own business, whether it be writing a novel, whether it be writing, creating a children’s book or creating a board game. A, I think that the---the goal of the enrichment triad model, which is the development of more creative, productive adults, ought to be something that we do much more in school. And with each year that I’ve been in gifted education, for about the last decade, I’ve been in gifted education for twenty-five years, but in the last decade, with each year I become more and more concerned that we spend too much time concentrating on more and harder content at the expense of any opportunity for creative productivity and letting kids love learning. And to me that’s what the model’s all about. The secondary model offers a---a haven for students in high schools or in middle schools, especially where again we have major content driven curriculum standards, to pursue something that they love. Either in a science fair project or an independent study or as part of a gifted program, and I think that as kids get older those opportunities, especially in standard schools, in regular---regular schools driven by a---you know, by content, those opportunities become more and more rare. So, unfortunately, we’ve seen many more enrichment triad models at the elementary school, enrichment triad model programs, but as kids get older we find that many of the kids that have been so active in these programs pursue extra curricular activities, they get into mock trial, they get into model UN, they get into future problem solving, and I believe that if you create in younger children the root and the love for creative productivity, that as they get older they’ll seek out those opportunities. And so, you know, we hope some of the kids that are stars in our triad programs a, our enrichment triad model programs, end up being the future inventors and creators and artists and authors and producers um---in all different domains.

About---about seven or eight years ago, um---I---I have um---had a long standing friendship with Susan Baum, who did her graduate work at the University of Connecticut, and this has been a---almost a single minded passion for her for many years. And um---probably because of Susan’s influence um---I---I have been a---extraordinarily moved by some of the stories and some of the students that she’s work with. We decided, at the University of Connecticut site, of the National Research Center on the Gifted and Talented, to do a study with one population that is generally underserved. And that population is---is college level students um---with learning disabilities. So we---we did a study of our university program at UCON for students with learning disabilities, and what we were really trying to do was to identify the compensation strategies that enabled some students who were bright, and all of these kids who make it into our school, our university, are very bright, but also learning disabilities. And---and we began our study primarily with that question. But in the study that we did, what we also found was that many of these young people were extremely misunderstood in school. That because they were bright, if they didn’t do well in academic areas their parents believed it was because they were lazy um---they were held back, a----a---actually half of our sample were retained a grade in school. In many cases they had socio-emotional issues, they were in need of counseling, and---and I think one of the things that was the most touching for me is to see the difference their parents made and to see the difference a particular teacher made. And in a few cases the difference that a gifted and talented program might’ve---might have made. In the process of doing this study, um---my husband and I had ha---we had our children late---later in life, a---and my husband and I had a daughter who was born seven weeks early. And she had never scored well on standardized tests in school. A---and actually we knew what her IQ was because she had been in the study of preemies at the hospital, in---at which she was born. And th---the difference between her aptitude and her achievement levels was---was monumental, in fact sometimes she scored at the second or third percentile nationally, um---and yet she has a---a---an IQ, it’s well above average. And um---I was contacted by her fifth grade teacher, I always knew if there was something wrong, always, but I never---I never really had a sense, I never thought about learning disabilities because she was so bright, because she was so verbal. So I---I must tell you that if somebody like myself, who’s done a study of extremely bright kids with learning disabilities, and doesn’t even recognize a---the signs in her own child, particularly a---with a---a child um---who’s very bright a---in terms of i---IQ, but who’s scoring so poorly and has difficulties reading, and has all the classical signs, think about what a parent of a---of a---of a youngster who’s also very bright but has learning problems is going to say. So, what it did is, it taught me with great humility what I was missing and what I wasn’t able to see in my own child. And since that time this has been a mission of mine, to---to write more about it, and I’ve gone on to study compensation strategies and to try to identify how very bright kids can compensate for learning disabilities. And it’s an area I intend to work more in, it’s an area we have very little research in and I think, in many cases, we don’t understand these youngsters. And yet those who survive an---and make it in an academic setting display such creativity and such resilience and such discer---determination and task commitment, that I think um---what makes me is the ones we’re missing, and there are many of them. So, um---when I’m finished with some of my administrative responsibilities for this association, one of the things I want to do is to go back into this work um---in---in more depth and continue to---to generate more research in the area, cause we need it.

Oh, it’s a---a great---a great pleasure to be able to talk about a new study that we’re doing. We have the opportunity, through a colleague of mine who’s a kinesiologist, to um---be able to study a---all of the female Olympians a---who are still living. And from a very um---very, very busy group of a---of women we were able to have questionnaires returned by about forty percent of our sample representing at this point about five hundred female Olympians. And a---it’s been extremely exciting, we have very long and detailed questionnaire um---asking about their childhood, the parentsing---parenting issues that arose. Um---how they were able to pursue their sport, what their academic interests are, and of course many of these women who are all different ages, you know, they’re---they’re---the youngest that we’ve been working with is twenty-two, all the way up to the oldest, who died actually a couple of weeks ago, um---was in her ear---early nineties. And what we’re looking for are parental um---patterns of talent development. We’re looking for a---opportunities for um---these young women or older women to identify barriers that they face, both internal barriers and external barriers, or looking for um---the personal characteristics that would have brought them to our attention. And um---and of course brought them fame, an---an---and I guess, also, an---another interest thing, ho---how the felt when at a fairly young age, and a certain sense their obituary was written, you know, in many cases winning an Olympic medal, or competing in the Olympics, will be the thing that they’re remembered for, for their whole life. And---how do you go on from that point, an---and what happens to the rest of your life. An---and in what way can you take what you learned through your athletic experience and apply it to your life success? How---I’ve been working with my colleagues um---Robin Shater, who is been a doctoral candidate at UCON, and Jackie van Heist, and we have um---a couple of things in mind, we’re gonna write a book on the topic, and we’re seeking funding for a very large video project which would enable us to catch some of these stories on a video tape that could be done as a documentary. So we’re really excited about and I---I think that the opportunity to study talented women has not been something a---that a lot of people have been interested in doing. So my hope is that this will generate further interest as well.

Yeah, m---um---my interested in gifted girls was started in 1976, and---an it started because a female student of mine who had a---built a robot in the gifted and talented program, received some differential treatment ra---relative to her robot from both men an---and women. A---women asked her how she built it, where she got the motor, um---how she was able to solder, and do all of the---kind of electronic logistical, and the men asked her if she built the robot to do housework. And I didn’t notice the comment that was made to her, and from that point on I became increasingly interested in the messages that---that gifted girls have gotten. And, um---I---I need to say right at---at the outset of any conversation about this that we live in the best place in the world to be a talented woman. And we live at the best time to date in our---in our nation’s history, to be a talented women. Having said that, there are obstacles and there are personal barriers and if you look at girls who excel in school and get better grades and go on to college and higher numbers it really has been puzzling why so um---so many fewer women are creative producers in their adult life. And by that I---I need to be cautious and say that I’m defining creative productivity in generally accepted um---a---terms that our society understands. Women are highly creative and productive if you think of them as in a---as---as mothers, as---as teachers, as contributors to---in all kinds of service works to society. But if you look at, you know, inventions or patents or history projects due, or---or a books written, or co---musical compositions and just about every field, we still see a---men who dominate in creative productivity. So, my interest in this is long standing and I’ve done---I’ve completed probably ten or eleven studies on---a study on female Olympians that is the most recent, a study on women who achieved em---eminence after the age of---of fifty, um---a study of, I’ve studied adolescent girls, I’ve studied creative female artists. Um---my more recent work has been studying um---the creative potential of women, and, I must tell you it’s been---it’s been work that I’ve loved doing and I just wish I’ve had more time. Um---a couple a years ago I was able to realize a long-time dream and finish a book on this subject called ‘Work Left Undone’ and I think our work is left undone in this area. I think we have a lot more to learn and the difficult part about it is that there are no right answers. Um---I think of a number of very talented young women I know who did not pursue graduate school because they fell in love during college. They put their husband through grad---and these are very recent graduates too, they put their husbands through graduate school while they worked, um---they had children, they’re very happily married and, you know, the---the issue is will they look back someday and say if only, if I’d had this opportunity. We compare that with, you know, Hispanic girls who are in high school who---who just haven’t had the chances to do things that other girls have done. Um---poor---poor girls, working class girls, girls, as I’ve said, of dif---different ethnic groups. So we---we have a long way to go even though we---we’ve come a long distance and I would love to see more people become interested in the talent development of girls. While I also recognize that the talent development of boys is very important I think there are some unique ne---issues here, and needs, and I think we need some more special programs around the country to address them.

Well I think most importantly that most um---of the best-gifted programs have a continuum of services. They---they don’t just um---eu---my partner Joe Ranzuli has talked about a continuum of services all of his professional life and I---I believe in it a---hundred percent. I think we’ve gotta look at many different a---offerings. I think we need to have some things that happen in the regular classroom, like differentiation. I think um---we need some special classes. I think we need after school offerings. I think we need programs for kids who need acceleration, which I think is a very important thing. I think simultaneously we need programs for underachieving students. We probably are at the---the---the largest point of---um---of having high numbers of underachievers in America’s history, because I think many bright kids just don’t learn to work. So I think we need counseling programs and socio-emotional programs, so I think the best programs have a philosophy, and I don’t think that the philosophy has to be the same for every school or every program, but I think the way they define gifted students has to match their philosophy and their program offerings. And I think that the program offerings have to be diverse. So I support um---programs that---that use a---a continuum of services, and yet, I also think within that continuum there ought’ a be opportunities for high creativity. I’m very much a---c---a proponent of creative opportunities for---for bright youngsters, and---as well as curriculum modification.

Now that’s been very controversial in our field. Um---the idea of---of saying what---what do we have in gifted education that can make general education better. You know there are those who say we’re diluting it, that what we ho---have shouldn’t be good for---for all students. And I agree that not every single service that we provide or that we advocate or every teaching pedagogy is appropriate, but yet how can we argue the issue of things like: independent study, or of enrichment opportunities that expose youngsters to things that they wouldn’t normally come into contact with. How can we argue about certain aspects of the enrichment triad model or creativity training or future problem solving as being a---a wonderful opportunity for other youngsters. And in fact, perhaps the best form of identification for who should eventually end up in gifted and talented programs. Um---given an ideal school situation, what I would wanna do is to have general education benefit from the opportunities we’ve had in gifted education to---to try out ideas, to---to be the people that---that had the freedom to do things that regular classroom teachers just don’t have the freedom to do. When I taught seventh grade English and eight grade English, you know, twenty-five years ago, I had twenty, oh, twenty-eight years ago, I had six classes a day. A hundred and fifty, a hundred and seventy kids in my classes, I mean, I---I was happy to get through the day. Um---when I went into gifted education it was as if I had a flood of creative options and I didn’t know about many of those creative options when I was an English teacher or a language arts teacher, or even when I began teaching sixth grade. And I think in many cases what we can do is to provide the creative spark in a school, to say there are other ways to do this. That, you know, remediation, in many cases, is the worst possible thing we can do for youngsters who are already underachieving an---already not working to their potential in a under challenging classroom. So I believe that if we can take some of the best pedagogy of gifted education, our concept---a the concept that Joe Ranzoli and I have advocated called enrichment clusters, um---certain aspects of curriculum compacting, certain aspects of type 3’s, um---guided um---independent or small group study where a teacher is a partner facilitator. I believe that we can help identify better the kids that ought to be served by gifted education, but also provide excitement and---and joy, an---and help regular um---education realize some of the benefits from our thirty to fifty year history.

Ah---underachievement of talented students is a national disaster; it’s a disgrace in the United States. It happens at a much broader base than anybody would---would under---would ever believe. And in this case I’m not talking just about underachievement, we have underachievement of many students on the one hand. The thing that causes me to have sleepless nights is the underachievement of youngsters who have so many options. And a study we did with the National Research Center on the Gifted and Talented at the University of Connecticut site and urban school district enable us to follow about forty students for---for four years, from their freshman to senior year of high school. It was not an intervention study, ins---instead what we were looking at are the factors that contributed to achievement in some students, while similar numbers in types of students underachieved. And I can tell you in many cases it was the difference of a minor thing, being in the right class with the right teacher, being able to stay with the right group of friends that encouraged your achievement. Um---finding the coach or the guidance counselor that reached out to you, and it was the impact of a person, it was the impact of having somebody help when you---you were poor, or your family didn’t have the opportunity to provide for your---your----your---your needs, and I---I think that um---the area of providing intervention for underachievers has been a relatively untouched area in our field. We---we could locate only a handful of intervention studies, so one of the things we’re---we’re very pleased about is the national research center has funded us to do a long term, intervention study with gifted, underachieving students, we’ll be starting that this year. Our other study described the problem and suggested solutions and now we’re gonna be able to try out some of the---field test some of the solutions, and then use them in a---um---a more a---research---a---appropriate way. One of the things we’ll be looking at is something that we call---it’s called self-regulation. Defined by a number of educators in educational psychology and how we can try to intervene to teach self-regulation. I think what we have to convince teachers to do is to do something, and whether it’s, you know, a group of kids you meet with for lunchtime, whether it’s a counseling group of kids, whether it’s an after school program, whether it’s a self-contained class for gifted students, I think we have to start doing something. And I believe that our field has been remiss and---and a---we’ve been remiss as researchers in not encouraging more pilots, more programs, more opportunities for these youngsters.

Well, I---I had a---some unique opportunities in this regard. Um---I was the legislative chair or the National Association for Gifted Children during the period in which the Javets legislation was enacted, and at that time we didn’t have ‘e-mail’ and we had um---we didn’t have the opportunities for communication today. And I found it to be very interesting. Um---we don’t really have federal policy, we don’t have any---if you define policy like Jim Gallagher does, and that is we make decisions about how we spend our money, we have only, probably just a very few states that have really good policy, and fewer districts. At the federal level we don’t have a policy about it, I mean, the Javets Act primarily passed because Bill Bradley became a champion, and---an people wanted to honor Jacob Javets, and Bill Bradley was about to leave the Senate and he called in some favors. You know, we---we interviewed or we met with many, many um---legislators who basically said: you know, I don’t care about this, I don’t care about bright kids, I don’t care about gifted education, kids don’t vote. Um---I grew up a lot during that time, and I---I think---I think back on it um---how much I learned, and how little we were able to accomplish, is actually pretty shocking, and yet at the end we got our---our bill. And our bill doesn’t produce a lot of money, but I think if you look at the Javets projects which have realized some wonderful things, you know, curriculum projects, and um---tremendous a---model programs across the p---the country in arts and leadership. And if you look at the national research center, which I’m really proud to have been a part of for the last decade, we’ve accomplished a great deal in terms of providing database research studies, and moving the field forward, and I---I think we’ve---we’ve got to get back to a clear identification of national policy, in that, somebody’s gotta say: that we---that this population of children and students deserves more than two cents spend out of every hundred dollars federally on education, think about that. And I think we also have to get back to the point where we can clearly say that we’ve got a national agenda that supports talent development of our more---more able to---more able children. Not because we need them to be the future creative, the producers, but just because, if we don’t do that, who will? I mean, if their products are good that’s fine, but the bigger t---to me is that we’re neglecting a---a---our responsibility that I believe is a moral imperative. We’ve go provide, you know, more support for this group, and I think that um---we need to continue to work in the area, we need more people to be working on this as well.

Yeah, the National Research Center on the Gifted and Talented was really the brain-child of um---a number of people who sat around when the Jacob Javets legislation was passed and said: in what ways can we make a difference in the lives of under served populations, because the Javets legislation was targeted at that group. We have been able, at the national research center, to produce documents that deal with the greater good, the greater organization of the field of gifted education, but na---make no mistake, our---our charge has been very clear, and we consider that to be a sacred trust in many ways. The---the Javets Act enabled us to study gifted students with learning disabilities, gifted students who were poor and African-American, who were poor and Latino, who were poor and working class, um---gifted and talented school students in some of the poorest schools in our country. Um---it enabled us to take a---a large chunk of time, effort, and um---and resources and put them into studies to talk about things like resilience, to talk about things like alternate identification. Um---it gave us opportunities to experiment with curriculum in---in---in very, very um---disadvantaged urban areas. And so, as we move from our first um---number of years in which we, we at the Yukon site primarily studied, um---what was happening to gifted students in the regular classroom and the ways in which we could modify curriculum based on classroom practices into the next set of five year studies which really enabled us to look at differentiation and how we could coach teachers in all kinds of---of schools and districts in the differentiation area, to the third phase of the study a---studies, which will be our third year---our third five year period at Yukon, the Yukon site of the national research center, we will be working on two major areas. One is the underachievement of talented youngsters, um---primarily those in underserved populations, and the second area of---of interest is gonna be for talented readers, what can we do for talented readers, and in what ways um---is the whole attention that’s being paid to struggling readers, especially in many of the districts that we---we will be working with because of the charge of Javets, in what way does that---it hurts the chances of some of our m---more talented readers. So the---the Jacob Javets um---Act that enabled the national research center has been a huge part of our life and prevent and---provided funding for studies that we would never have had in our field. Um---database studies on curriculum compacting, for example, showing that um---when you eliminate fifty percent of content for kids because of compacting, that some of those kids actually score higher on achievement tests, even if what we replace is at a different content area. We never could have done those studies, I mean, using the Iowa tests for seven or eight hundred kids cost ten thousand dollars, now how do you get those funds. And again it’s a very small amount of the---of the national budget but it’s provided so much for us in our field in terms of---we hope escalating um---our position in the national debate, and, having people understand that we, as a field, have research. Um---I’d like to think that the ten years that we’ve had with the Javets have coincided with an increase in attendance at the National Association for Gifted Children Conference, from about twelve hundred people to four thousand people. Some of that may be due to the dissemination we’ve had across of---a broad based audience, and---an I hope to se---in some small part, that---that we’ve been a part of that. And I must also say that, you know, the vision of Joe Ranzuli, who’s always believed, and more opportunities for a more diverse set of children has been inspirational with the National Research Center.