Scott Hunsaker

SCOTT HUNSAKER

I’m Scott Hunsaker; I am an Associate Professor of Elementary Education in Educational Foundations at Utah State University in Logan, Utah.

Well, the---the way I’ve looked at that is how those words are used in, in what I call public discourse. And that’s anytime people in the public are talking to one another and in the mass media, or when we as educators are talking to the public, or they’re talking to us. And---and just trying to find different ways those words are used. It’s really interesting because, um---there are a number of different ways, and sometimes part of our confusion about what those words mean comes from the way we use those terms. Um---when we’re, when we’re visiting with lay people. For example: sometimes gifted and talented are just used as a phrase, gifted and talented. We call that a merged term, even though it’s three words, we treat it like its one word and there’s no difference at all. Um---sometimes we use gifted and talented interchanged, like they’re synonyms. More typically you’ll hear things like: gifted is all those things that are intellectual, where as talent is everything else. And, a---gifted is what is academic and talent is everything else. For years I looked more at the leveling kind of concept where um---on the a---kind of like on the normal curve, the, the first level is that above average and then you’ve got the talented and then you’ve got the gifted and then you’ve got the---got the genius. And a---and so it’s a level thing, a---talented isn’t quite as good as gifted. Um---so there’s that particular concept about how that’s divided, and that’s how I used to believe for many years when I used the terms, is that: that gifted was---with the particularly exceptional, extraordinary performance and talent just wasn’t quite---quite that level. I’ve come to a---to really like the um---the theory of Doctor Francois Ganier, where he talks about giftedness being the aptitude, the thing that we’re endowed with, the thing that---that we get genetically, or depending on your fa---your---you faith tradition that we---we get from God, or from both. And---a---and then those are---a developed through different catalysts, through different opportunities that we’re given through our own motivations and so on. And finally, those are manifest, in talents, which are the areas of expression of those gifts that you were---were---were given at birth. So it’s kind of where I am on those kinds of---on that issue now.

Identification is probably the a---the one area that---a---is probably the most controversial in our field in---in my opinion. Um---when we did some work at the National Research Center in Gifted um---the National Research Center on the Gifted and Talented at the University of Virginia, one of the things we discovered as we were asking people to tell what their programs were is, everybody was always changing what they were doing on identification. It always seemed to be in flux no matter what people were doing, it’s just always something that doesn’t seem to be satisfactory. And I think there are some reasons for that. One is; people generally ask the wrong question when they start dealing with the identification issue. The a---the question they like to start asking is; what test should we use, what instrument should we use, and how should we use that instrument? I think the very first question they need to ask is; what do we mean when say the word gifted? How do we define that term? And so, if I define that term, I understand what I mean by the term gifted, then what I do for identification flows from that. And---and very frankly I don’t like the word identification, I prefer the whole notion of assessment and where we’re looking is---what we’re looking at is a broad gathering of evidence of a mul---of multiple kinds that tell us what a students needs are. And as a result of that assessment of that---those students needs, then we make some determinations of how we can best help that student to grow, to develop, to take advantage of those, the wonderful strengths they have, to overcome any particular concerns they might have so that we are looking at more of---identification or assessment being; let’s identify our need and then let’s provide services, as opposed to let’s label and place in a program.

A creativity is a---a wonderful term, um---and in defining creativity there are really three aspects that I like to use when I’m thinking about creativity. One is the whole idea that pretty much everyone accepts that there is something novel about an idea; there is something original or unique about it. But there’s also that second one that sometimes people don’t really like to consider as part of creativity, that it’s---it’s also something that’s useful, it’s---it’s got value and it’s got application, the idea. So it’s not just in the abstract, but something that we bring down to a---to a level of being able to---to---um---use that idea. And then a third one proposed by um---Bessemer and Oquin in---in some of their work us that it’s well elaborated so that I don’t just have this idea that can be useful, but I do something with it. It’s in the marketing, really, of the idea. That---that I---I give it some polish, I give it some expression in a way that pe---help people see that it has value. When I have the idea, of course I know it has value myself, but part of the creative process is be able to communicate that value um---to other people.

Some of the key features that I see in---in gifted programs um---start, probably where people---um---often don’t think of starting in their gifted programs. It’s usually, what are we going to for them, and who are we gonna do it for, that they ask first. And I think a key feature that people need to take a look at is what I call the context of the program. What is it we’re already doing in our school district in terms of educational reform movement, in terms of general education? And how does gifted education fit within that? What are the political structures in our district that influence what it is we might do in gifted education? Having a discussion of those kinds of contexts ar---are very important. Then we need to move to some of our foundations, which is the question about: what is it we mean by giftedness? What is our philosophy of giftedness? What are our legal requirements? We often don’t check what those are when we’re developing programs, and so it’s important to figure out what the legal requirements are. What ar---what does the research say is good---a---gifted education. So a lot of work has to be done at that---at those two levels in order to identify first of all policy, and then second of all a sense of mission for your program. Having those two things in place then I can start talking about: how are gonna get that done? What are the administrative components? What are the program structures? What are the support services that I need? A---so that whole administration piece is something I have to take a look at, all based on that philosophy and that sense of mission. A---what kind of leadership do we need to bring to bear on this program? Um---an---and then, as we understand those kinds of structures, we can start saying: ok then, how do we identify? What is the curriculum and the instruction? Um---those kinds of issues come into play when we understand what it is we’re really gonna be about. Finally, all of it focused on whe---where it really is---a important to focus. And that’s on the child themselves and having a real understanding about how the child then benefits from that, in a variety of ways. Based, again, on their needs, the relationships they have, their strengths, their interests, um---their learning styles, their abilities, so on.

I think the number one piece of ---of advice I would give to parents, and ha---you know being a parent, much easier to say than to do, I---I understand, but it’s really to follow the lead of the child. It’s to find out what the child’s really interested in and give them opportunities in that. And as they pursue that interest, to support that. Um---with my own family, we---we’ve made them aware that we’re willing----we are willing to support your interests, as long as you continue to show that you’re motivated, that you’re growing, that you’re making progress, that you’re putting effort into it. And as long as you’re doing that, then we’ll start moving forward with you. If we have to start fighting with you and arguing about, you know, whether you’re going to practice or not, whether you’re gonna do your exercises or not, or whatever it is, um---that you’re in, you’re showing us you’re not---you don’t have that personal motivation. And so the lead you’re giving us is: we’re not gonna invest more resources in that. So there’s really an important point of---of following the lead of the child. I---I had a recent um---interview with a parent who is just very concerned that is daughter is not being challenged in mathematics, he himself is a brilliant mathematician and just wants her to have more math and science kinds of courses. Her great passion herself is in the languages. And so I keep trying to help this father see, you know, you just can’t, this isn’t what you should be pushing for this child. It’s her passion that you need to be following, and she can make her brilliant co---a---contribution in---in another field. And you need to learn to support that. Otherwise you’re creating an opportunity for conflict, you’re being a pushy parent, instead of a supportive parent. So following the lead of the child becomes extremely important. Um---beyond those kinds of things that a parent can do personally for a child, is obviously being involved with his school by letting the school program know what kind of resources you have available, that you can bring to the program. And by finding out from the school what kind of resources they have available for you as a parent. And making sure there’s two-way communication between you and the school. So many times schools are used to informing parents about what’s going on, and often don’t ask parents for information. And so it’s your responsibility as a parent to let them know about you, and about your child, and about skills that you have and contributions you can make. And---and work with them to make those contributions. I’ve had an experience as a parents---of doing that, and the teacher looking absolutely befuddled and not knowing what to do with me, and therefore doing nothing. On the other hand, having teachers who are very enthusiastic and say, you bet, come on in, this is something that would be wonderful for---for the children and your child in my---a---in the class where my child is to experience, and---and so that’s worked out---a---really well that way. Obviously parents a---have to plan financially um---for developing, for the developing abilities of their child, and---and we start nickeling and dimeing parents to death fr---from the very beginning, and---in kindergarten and so on, with the little financial contributions we ask them to make in con---to make in contributions of time. But it’s important even from that age to start thinking about college education, to think about---um---the kinds of things that we need to do financially to prepare the child for the kinds of experiences they’re going to have. The service opportunities they may have later in life that will require a contributions as a family, post-secondary education, l---l---lessons, um---outside of the school setting, and so on, are all extremely important to plan for early. And then finally, I think parents really have a responsibility. Because it does affect their child to be politically active in their community and in the state and in the nation. To study issues, to volunteer in the community, to serve on school boards and PTA boards and gifted advisory councils. To a---to run for office, to make sure they vote, to write letters to the editor, to really be an advocate for gifted education, and education in general, in the community. So that everyone benefits from the kind of thing they do, and including their own child as a result of that kind of involvement.

Um, an endorsement program in gifted education is, is really critical to being able to serve gifted students well. And, and the reason for that is because through an endorsement program, what I see happening to teachers, is major changes in the knowledge that they have about gifted students. When they go through an endorsement program it makes them look at all children differently from a positive point of view. And to recognize that as I look at those children from that positive point of view, I---I recognize the strengths and the interest and the needs and the styles, tha---in---through which those children learn, and---and---so I---I start seeing that child as an individual. That has to be followed, of course, by not only just recognizing those things in---in every child, but then having skills th---in order to do something about it. Cause it’s one things to say: you know, I can see that little Miriam is just such a fine spatial thinker, but if I have no way of---of approaching that, no way of---of learning how to adjust a lesson plan or a curriculum, or how to suggest projects to her, she might do the take advantage of that particular a---strength that I’ve noticed, then it doesn’t do me any good to have recognized and have the knowledge in the first place. So, skills for differentiating curriculum is one of the most important things that they get out of an endorsement program. So that they’re able to act on the knowledge, the observations, that they make of the children. And finally, the whole---the whole disposition thing, that the whole----the whole attitude that I can act, I will act, it is important to act, on behalf of the child. Um, one of my favorite stories related to a----a---favorite phrase of mine, and sometimes not a favorite phrase, was an assistant principal in Virginia. I was walking down the hall with him to observe one of his fine teachers, and, he said: ‘well, you know our belief here is that every child is gifted.’ And I probably just heard that one too many times, so I looked at him and said ‘that’s wonderful.’ ‘Now tell me, what are you doing to identify those gifts in everyone of your children, and then using that information about the child for the child’s benefit in their educational program here?’ So that whole disposition to act, not to just say, not to just preach, not to just pontificate, but to act on what you believe---a---becomes a very, very critical thing, and I’ve seen teachers have major changes in their belief systems about children as a result of going through, um---the endorsement program. Probably the most dramatic is a young lady who wrote a very---um---biting essay about ability grouping essay when she was first in one of our programs, who eventually has now become one of the most strong advocates for the importance of flexible, instructional grouping, including ability grouping when appropriate. And sees it in the context of addressing certain needs. And that that’s one more strategy in a whole repertoire of strategies that she has available to her for addressing those needs. So, a---major changes in the---in the knowledge skills and dispositions is---is what comes out. And---and they are very different as teachers. Now some of the discouraging stuff we’ve learned through a research study that was done on our campus in a doctoral dissertation was that: when a teachers go through that endorsement, and then are placed back in the regular classroom, they often really don’t apply the principles of differentiation in a regular classroom setting. Um, somehow we’re not getting the message to them that these skills are also appropriate in the regular classroom, not just within a gifted program setting. So that’s something we have to work on, to let them know that whatever you’re education assignment, these are the knowledge skills and dispositions that will help you use, that will help you help children---a---regardless of those particular level of their ability. A---it certainly is something that’s helpful to the gifted, but every child can benefit from---from the skills that we give these teachers.

Um---I think if there’s one thing that re---we really need---um---it is teachers who don’t lose the hope and the energy a---a---and the desire um----that they come out of our colleges of education with. I mean they just have such---um---a passion about wanting to make a difference. And it is---it is really kind of sad to me to see in the way we introduce them into the teaching profession that that---that that great passion that they have for wanting to make a difference is so overcome with bureaucracy, with discouragement. Um---I---I feel my job as a teacher educator is really to inoculate the people against all that, that, you know, they---they need to be exposed to it all, you bet, but they have to learn---um----that---that I still need to hang on to that energy. To that love for the children, to that love for the profession, of that for humanity in general, that will help me get through those discouraging moments. And will---will---and that I can still make a difference, even in the face of this discouragement. A---a---and that they really focus on being human beings, um---with their students, and---and really focusing more on being truly child centered, I think, with that passion. We so often in our---in our educational system let system um---concerns, and system decisions drive our decision making, what’s the bus schedule, how do we get kids to lunch? What have we been doing for two hundred years in this school? Instead of really looking at what kids need and how we can translate that passion we have to make a difference in to doing things for kids instead of all the bureaucratic things that go on, and all the discouraging things that are going on out in society. Teachers need to know that their job is for the five and a half, six hours, those kids are in their classroom, those kids feel safe, they feel secure, they feel challenged, they feel engaged. And that a difference can be made in their lives, at least for that time, regardless of what else is going on.

Um---it’s interesting that I list my membership in the Mormon Tabernacle Choir on my professional vide, and I do that for a couple of reasons. Um---um---one is---cause---cause I’m proud of it for one. (Laughs) But, but the opportunity to serve in the Mormon Tabernacle Choir um---puts me in contact with gifted and talented adults on a frequent basis. And---and being able to sit among that kind of people and talk with them, and to sit at the feet of---of conductors---a---like Craig Jessup, and Robert Shaw. And then the wonderful organists that we have in our organization um---is---is just an experience that ties directly to my professional mission as a gifted educator, because I get to watch giftedness grown up every---every week, twice a week. I get to be---be part of that and see what teachers---um---what teachers can do. What they can do to make a difference in---in children’s lives as I see wh---what happens to these people who have grown up. And I’ve talked to some of them about teachers, and the difference in the---that teachers have made in their lives. And---and they’re always very grateful that they had teachers who supported and sustained those---those kinds of talents. Um---the other reason that is so important to me, and one that’s---and---and---a reason that it’s on my professional vide, is um---an interesting question that was asked in our choir school, and we have to go to a choir school, a---once every five or six years and receive instruction in---in---in good basic singing, and---and---um---musical theory and so on, just so that we keep our skills sharp. And I remember in a discussion a---one of the instructors, Joan Otley, asked: why do you sing? (Background noise) And I remember my thought was because that’s when I feel most complete as a person. (Long Pause) Singing---um---particularly in that organization, is a combination of the physical, because you’ve got to have the physical voice in place, it’s a co---it’s---it---it involves the intellectual, because you’ve got to bring to bear your analysis of the piece, your analysis of the text, so that you sing well. And you’ve got to know the musical theory behind what’s going on so that you can perform the pieces well. It’s---so it’s certainly an intellectual exercise. It is a social exercise when you sing in choir, because you’ve got to learn to blend and cooperate with the people who are all around you. And---um---it is primarily a spiritual exercise, because we are singing, in this particular organization, in praise to God. That is our mission. And---and so it involves our entire selves, a---in a---in a glorious way, and---and ultimately, I think, that’s what we want to be doing as professional educators, is making sure we’re taking a look at that whole child. And finding the ways to help them develop in all those---in all those areas, in a balance, not necessarily an equal balance, but in a way in a harmony actually is the word, since we’re talking about choir, in a harmony that---that helps them be able to---to make a difference, that helps lift other people. And---a---and that’s, you know, that’s why we’re in education ultimately is to lift other people, if we can always retain that mission. And---and the choir is another that I get to---that I get to do that, it’s a glorious experience. Glorious is the best word I’ve ever used, I’ve ever found to define what goes on there.