Dan Treffiger

DAN TREFFIGER

OK I’m Dan Treffiger, T R E F F I G E R. I’m the President for the Center for Creative Learning in Serasota, Florida.

When we talk about gifted programming and planning for it I believe that we need to think about the district level, the school level, and the classroom level. And I think uh the key part at the district level is to be able to set out some ground rules that all the schools will be able to work within and under so that when a child should move from one building to another we don’t suddenly find out that he or she has left talented and giftedness in the moving van someplace. Um the analogy that I like to use is what I call the rules of baseball. If we’re gonna play in a league all there are certain rules that all the teams have to follow uh there are certain decisions that are up to the team itself to make. Uh if I want to call my team the Atlanta Aardvarks that’s ok, uh and if I want my colors to be purple and blue and orange and yellow that’s fine. Uh but on the other hand I can’t say well when you come to Atlanta to play ah you better have a be prepared to run the bases in the reverse order that you do elsewhere or that all of the visiting team needs to wear concrete shoes. Uh this is not allowed there has to be certain parameters that everyone is going to have to agree about what programming will involve. I think the biggest mistake that I see in planning for programming is that people get into endless battles and uh get themselves completely caught in a trap uh about the question of identification and labeling. And to me that’s probably the least exciting and maybe potentially in the long run the the least important part of the whole process. I’d like to see them think about programming. What are we doing that is helping children to grow? Uh how are we confident that we’re providing appropriate challenging and developmental learning opportunities for for children and young people? And and we’ve had much better luck if we start thinking about let’s look at the programming concerns than the identification. Underneath that district level we like to see each school have a building action plan. And in that building action plan we like them to look at what are programming positives are, what are the things that we’re already doing in our school that are exciting and that give children’s talents an opportunity to grow and be stretched? And then instead of saying well what are you not doing or what’s wrong we like to talk about the wish list. What do you wish you could be doing to engage student’s strengths and talents in a in a better way and in a newer and richer ways? Uh some of those things are very easy to do and when people start asking the question they say oh gee we could do that the only reason we aren’t doing it is because we’ve never done it before. Those are the easy wishes to grant. The other things are the the things when people say well we’ll do do that when pigs fly uh and those are the things they have to work at and be problem solvers about extend. Down at the classroom level I’d like to see group planning take into account how we’re responding to diversity of characteristics of partners, how we’re providing opportunities for creative and critical thinking, for problem solving, for decision making, for group projects and self directed inquiry in every classroom in any school for all kinds of children. So I think for me good planning is a multistage and multilevel kind of process.

We’ve developed a model for programming or an approach that we call levels of service or LOS. Um this does not refer to kinds of children or levels of giftedness of talent, but it’s really an organizational way of thinking about the kinds of programming, activities and services that we deliver. Um we have very imaginatively titled the four levels of service level 1, level 2, level 3,and level 4. Uh in a fit of unbridled creativity. Level 1 refers to services to all children. Things that every good classroom should be doing day in and day out for all children. Um the things I inumberated enumerated in part in in my previous response. Um level 2 uh is what I might call self selecting or invitational kinds of programming. Um where any student might participate but not every student necessarily will. And that would include things like destination imagination or future problem solving or inventing program or computer club. Uh a variety of activities that draw students together on the basis of their shared interest or strength or talent in any particular area. Levels 3 and 4 are more individualized in their uh uh implementation um the key difference between what I talk about in levels 3 and 4 and traditional gifted programming is that rather than basing participation on some generic indicator like an IQ score or an overall achievement battery um the indicators for participation are based on what is necessary for successful performance in that activity. So that if we’re giving uh we don’t just make them invitational, we don’t just say well I’m giving an advanced calculas course and anyone in the school who would sort of like to drop by for awhile can drop in. Uh on the other hand for the course um the math people could tell us very particularly what kinds of skills, what kinds of readiness the student should bring. (interruption)that tend to be group kinds of experiences that might be advanced seminars or special courses at a higher level ah for students who are able to move along at a more complex level or a faster pace. Level 4 represents the very individualized services that we need to provide for students who are one of a kind, one in 1000, one in 10000. Uh some people say I will never see a student like that but we can and we do see students like that and I want instruction to be appropriate and challenging for them too. If Mrs. Mozart comes into the classroom and and say well I know that Wolfe is only a first grader, but did you know he’s writing symphonies I don’t want my answer to be well he can go to the gifted resource once a week and do critical thinking activities with the other kids because we don’t do symphony writing in grade1. Maybe the challenge has to be how might we help Wolfe learn symphony writing. Uh and that means whatever the accommodation is that we need to provide. So I see those as involving ah decreasing numbers of students by their very nature and sometimes we talk about the four levels as all, many, some, and few, but it doesn’t necessarily imply um a higher IQ score, a different category of ability, it implies the different kinds of instructional activities that are available and can be provided when it is necessary and appropriate to do so.

To implement this approach one of the things that we strongly suggest is that schools begin by looking at what they are already doing. When whenever we engage in the planning process and in consoling with school districts about their programming ah it is never never failed to happen uh people will start taking stock of activities and services that are going on and and at a certain point in meeting someone will say you know I had no idea we were doing all those things and people will say oh you do that gee that’s really great. Um we’ve been talking about doing something like that we’d like to know more about it. Uh people feed on each other’s activities, um particularly at the classroom level with teachers involved in a planning process um the the teacher often knows much more about what’s going on in his or her own classroom but not necessarily very much about what’s going on in other classroom around the school.. And and so often we find(interruption)There is more already happening in a school then anyone knows about. Um and and one good activity can feed to other people both within a school and across schools so we start by by looking at what you’re already doing. We also try to get people looking at what we call the current reality and the preferred or desired future state. Number of people in the literature have talked about comparing desired future and current(interruption)so that that what we try to do is to get them to say where are you now, where would you like to be in a 3 to 5 year window and then to benchmark that, how are we going to move gradually from where we are now. What are the things we are going to put into place, how are we going to look at their impact? We also try to ask districts from the beginning(interruption)We also ask them to look at the beginning from the districts thinking about what the what the evaluation and documentation process is like. And instead of just saying how are you going to evaluate which for many people implies good ro bad uh we say look at documenting impact, commit yourself to continuous improvement and remain alert to opportunities for innovation. And those are the 3 important parts to us uh of ongoing evaluation that that we’d like them to be thinking about from the very beginning. Everything that we’ve found so far tells us that the development of good programming is not a quick fix and and a sudden implementation of sudden cute little packaged games and tricks that is a faculty wide commitment of 4 to 6 years to really get to the point where you’re where you’re functioning where you want to be and then as an ongoing challenge to maintain and sustain and to innovate.

Uh creative problem solving is a topic near and dear to my heart. Um I got involved in creativity research oh a decades go back to when dinosaurs walked the earth uh and I needed a doctrinal dissertation uh and uh my advisor said I could do my dissertation about anything at all that I wanted to but if I wanted any help from him it had better have something to do with creativity. And I said Dick I have just developed a burning passion to study creativity. And I guess since I’m a slow learner I’ve stayed with it for 3 decades now. Uh creative problem solving is really a deliberate structured framework for managing change. Whenever we talk about solving a problem ah dealing with a complex task, looking for new ideas to do something we’ve always wanted to do, we’re talking a process of change. We see a not a fixed static prescriptive set of steps that everyone has to memorize and go through dutifully and um you know just the way they memorized it in some kind of overall 1 through of a process. But rather we see creative problem solving as a suite of tools uh a set of options um I don’t know ah Microsoft which is probably registered trademark of Microsoft Company um in in a program office I I think illustrates what we’re talking about that there’s Powerpoint and uh there’s excel, there’s Spreadsheet and there’s Word and and if you’re doing writing a letter you don’t use the spreadsheet program for that. Uh in the same way we we see creative problem solving as a suite of thinking tools um that involves giving clarity about what the problem is, that’s what we call understanding the challenge, uh sometimes when you have a clear challenge you need new possibilities that’s when you use ah the part of the suite that we would call generating ideas. And there are other times when you have some ideas and need to know how to make them from interesting ideas into workable ideas and you need action, that’s when we talk about what we call preparing for action. In the middle of that whole process ah is what we call planning your approach. That’s a medacognitive or what we call a management process. Helping people to think about their thinking while they’re doing it and to be deliberatley managing the way they choose and apply the tools from those 3 different suites. If I can take the computer analogy again um planning your approach is kind of like the operating system of the computer. It’s always on, it’s always running. But it stays in the background until you need it similiarly planning your approach you’re always thinking about is is what I’m doing appropriate is it helping me move forward are these the tools that I really need to be using to accomplish what I want to do now and guiding you then in either continuing or modifying or maybe even in discontinuing this kind of thinking that you are doing. So creative problem solving through 50 years now of research and development with more than 700 published studies uh ahs has been a constantly evolving and dynamic process that we’re trying to make a natural and flexible and descriptive process. The thing that’s really neat about it for us in gifted education is that it can be used effectively by adults, it can also be used effectively by children as young as first and second grade. So it is truly a a life span robust process for dealing with complex, and ambiguous and open ended challenges.

We find that there are 3 important factors in encouraging creative learning in a gifted program or in any classroom. You need to think about the climate in the classroom and whether or not it is an environment where creative thinking is valued and encouraged and sometimes even whether it is even plain permitted. Um I I shudder in fear when I go into some classrooms and someone says alright boys and girls it’s time for creativity now put away your spelling workbook and take our your creativity workbook and do a few pages. Uh we think creativity needs to take place in an atmosphere that values curiosity and inquiry and where there is a substantial commitment to trust and engagement and high level of challenge. So so creating and maintaining a climate is one key part. The second key part is that there needs to be a broad base of leadership for inquiry. We’re moving away from teaching and learning being about what the teacher gives to the student and more and more seeing varied students assuming responsibility and learning how to set goals and manage tasks and create products and share and work and help with each other. So it’s and atmosphere in which leadership is everybody’s business not just the teacher’s business. The third part is giving students tools to work with and making sure that the tools of creative and critical thinking and creative problem solving are are available and accessible and usable by students. In part we we often begin that by teaching the tools directly so that the students know what they are, helping them apply those in content areas and looking deliberately at how to move from one content area and transport some process tools along with you to other content areas. Then the second stage involves working on some realistic problems. Problems that are real life like and that are engaging to students even though they might be hypothetical or contrived, role playing situations where students can practice applying problem solving in real life settings without necessarily the consequences that real life carries. I’d also like to see any school get to the point where it is also engaging students in working on real life not just realist problems and problems where there are consequence for the problem solver where they’re really going to carry out and do their solution in their classroom or in their school or maybe even in their community. Where where students start to learn that creative thinking and and creative problem solving are are not just exercises to activities you do but are very important life skills.

I think the role of the parent in supporting creativity can be extremely important. And it can also be an exciting and and a lot of fun thing to do as well. Uh I think one of the things that can happen to encourage playful thinking in which you look at options and alternatives. Uh to just as in the classroom is at home to look at possibilities that go beyond just one right answer to say what are many different ways we might respond to this question. What are some different ideas that we might have or varieties of looking at a situation. Can we think of some ideas that we’ve never had before? Um I think sometimes children get to the point where where they ask the parent to do some thinking for them and parents get into the trap of trying to do the thinking for them and I often see that lead to some very unhappy consequences. You know ah that’s what I call the rainy day game where where the kids say oh it’s raining out I don’t have anything to do and and now if the parent buys in and says well why don’t you go play your Uncle Wiggly game I can guarantee you the kid will now say I don’t want to play my Uncle Wiggle game and so pretty soon you’re playing why don’t you no thank you with your child. Um I like to say now wait a minute, God did not put me here to come up with ideas for you to reject. Um if it’s a rainy day and you don’t have anything to do well we can sit and we can generate some possible things for you to do and we won’t criticize any of them we’ll just list them all and then if you need some help deciding which ones to do I can help you decide which ones to do um but we aren’t just gonna play I think of ideas and you reject them. Uh so I think it’s drawing children in to open ended thinking. Um i think it is also a matter of exposing children to a wide range of experiences and activities uh i think a lot of that starts with turning off the television set on a regular basis um and getting out and going places and doing things but also when you go out and go places and do things it’s talking about those experiences, it’s getting the child to talk about what questions do you have about that what would you like to learn more about, what are the interesting things that you saw when we did this? And it’s making sure that the process and the experience and linking it to questions and other opportunities that they can learn about. A parent doesn’t have to know how to answer all those questions but the parent does have to know how to say well let’s think about how might we find more out about that. I think another thing I’d like to see parents do would be to actively engage in some real problem solving in the family. Where where children and adults sit down look at a problem, examine the data, pose the problem statement, come up with some ideas and them look at how they’re going to select and implement a solution. Rather than a a role definition that says I am the parent and I am always in charge and you are the student and it’s your job to do only what I told you to do. Uh so I think we have to model being problem solvers and engaging children in problem solving. Um some of the the playful thinking that I talked about can be even just sitting at the dinner table and picking up a fork and saying gee I wonder what else could we do with this, how else could we use it, looking at alternate uses for something or how else could we get us how else could we get our soup served properly uh if we ran out of soup bowls and we had more people who needed or if we didn’t have enough soup spoons to go around and how else might we serve and consume the soup. Uh just for fun just to get kids thinking about other ideas and alternate possibilities. Trust again is a very important part of the underlying process for for creativity. And I and I think that comes from showing children that you do calue their ideas that you value the process of thinking of ideas and that you are willing to listen and and really listen not just say um hum and and then say ok now now we’ve heard you’re idea now we’re going to do it my way. But really taking your thinking into account and guiding them and helping them to come up with good possibilities.

In gifted education or talent development if I could change just one thing now ah it really is very easy, very clear for me to know what it would be. We have been operating for decades now around what I call the medical model that says you have to identify them stamp them on the forehead grade A choice gifted and talented before you can serve them. Identification has long been the engine that pulls our whole train and the longer I work in this field the more I believe we are missing the boat there. That the question is this child really one of them what ever them is, is not really the question that is of driving concern to me. The the compass point that I use where I want my magnetic north to be that all my efforts are pointing toward is really about programming, it’s about serving children about bringing out the best in them and helping them to discover and develop the best that they can be. So I wish we could unhook the cars on that train and make programming the engine for the train. I wish that we could be as busy and as involved and as excited as we could be programming for active, exciting, high level, challenging learning for all children and as we do that I’m convinced that first of all talents and strengths would emerge in some children that we’d never seen before. I’m also convinced that many of the children we’re now serving, most of them probably, would continue to show us their their and their strengths and would still be served. I’m not talking about taking services away from anyone, I’m talking about efforts that would help more children reach higher potentials and performance in a much broader array of talents and strengths then we’ve ever seen in in gifted ed before and in regular ed. And I think that would create such an exciting pool of of experiences and opportunities that frankly I believe that many of the questions that we’ve traditionally asked about identification might turn out to be unnecessary and irrellevent because they’re really classification questions not diagnostic questions.

The The Center for Creative Learning is an organization that is uh now about 10 years old. Uh it actually began in the finger lakes region ah my wife and I wanted a summer cottage and we found 3 acres of beautiful land and and uh on the shores of the lake in central New York state and and we said how are we ever going to get all of this and the banks would laugh at us when we wanted a mortgage for it. Um we said well we’ll do workshops, we’ll do training and we’ll bring people together and show them that the problems that have to be solved in Suschachuwan are not really greatly different from those in in Maryland or Mississippi even if we use a little different language to talk about them. And so the Center for Creative Learning was born as a a practical strategy for us to to find a summer place and it it’s one of those places where hobby kind of careened recklessly out of control and and became a consuming life passion. In 9 years there in the finger lakes in New York we had people from 37 ah states and uh 6 Canadian providences and I think 6 or 7 countries outside of North America. Um we moved to Florida ah in 1990 and uh we now provide a variety of a consulting services. Uh we work primarily or almost exclusively with non profit clients uh probably 90% of what we do is schools, but we’ve also worked with museums and science centers and increasingly with church groups as well. Uh we’re we’re finding there is some new energy about creativity in new modes of leadership and developing, recognizing, developing and recognizing talents in people across a life span. Uh so that that’s sort of our niche in the market is uh non profits, uh we do research, we do consulting and program development, we do program evaluation, uh we do networking and information services. And we do a variety of publications.. we publish some things on our own and we have some publications in cooperation with the Proof Rock Press in Texas. Uh so we’re a multi pronged organization. We have about 7 key team associates ah but they’re spread out all over the the US so we are pretty pretty near being what you read about as a virtual organization.