Jeanette P. Parker

JEANETTE PARKER

My name is Jeanette P. Parker from the University of Louisiana at Lafayette. I direct the center for gifted education.

Well, back in 1972, Sydney Marlin who was the Commission of Education of the United States Office of Education did a study on uh gifted and talented. And I’ve always found it interesting that they use the terms gifted and talented synonymously and this is frequently done around the country. Um, one of the things that they said was that the gifted and talented are children who are, first of all, identified by professionally qualified persons. Uh, secondly they have demonstrated high levels of potential and if they require differentiated educational programs uh which are programs that are different from what would normally be in the classroom. Um, and while I agree with most of that, in Louisiana we have a different situation. In Louisiana we identify gifted as academically gifted, those who are either uh students with high I.Q.’s or students who are high achievers. Um, and the talented are those who are talented in the arts, uh we now have visual art and music—um blank. Visual art in music—what am I missing? (interruption) No, visual art, music—I’m sorry I’m really goofing here. I can’t believe here. Visual art and music, theater, and they’re going to be adding dance. And that’s actually part of our special ed law, that uh these children are entitled to special programs just as the academically gifted are. Um, I like that differentiation. It’s the only one in the nation that has that. Um, I also like uh Joe Renzilli’s definition of giftedness. He says that gifted children um are—are those who are displaying gifted behaviors, which are a combination of our interaction of three characteristics, above-average academic ability, um above-average creativity, and task commitment. And I think that’s very important as well. Indicators of giftedness frequently you’ll see high verbal ability um, uh very high intellectual curiosity, independence. Gifted children don’t like routine, they don’t like drill, they like to be handled to be differently. They want challenge; um they want to think for themselves. They’re critical thinkers. But sometimes they’re very sensitive as well and have some very special needs that uh—that need to be looked into when we’re considering programs for—for the gifted.

OK, gifted students have needs that are totally different. They’re um—they—they learn faster then the average children do, um they uh master the essentials and they need to be challenged. (clears throat) Excuse me. They master the essentials faster and need to be challenged at their own levels. They need to be considered uh—their learning styles need to be considered. Um, the—the ways in which they prefer to learn as well as the ways in which they learn best. Uh, it’s important to consider also their affective needs, the social/emotional needs of the gifted. Uh, they need to be placed with children of their own intellectual ability with their intellectual peers rather then just their uh—their age peers as—as most are. And those are some things that I think are very important uh in considering what we need to do for gifted children.

Well, differentiation uh essentially means um doing things that are different from what would be ordinarily done in a traditional classroom. Um, not only things that teachers don’t have time to do, but frequently things that are not appropriate for doing uh in regular classroom settings. Uh, sometimes it’s because there are things that are uniquely appropriate for gifted children because of their high ability levels. Sometimes it’s because um of their um—their special needs in terms of interacting with their intellectual peers. Um, I found that when I started teaching gifted children, alone um—outside of the regular classroom setting that they were a whole lot different from what I thought originally. And I found that problems came that I did not know gifted children had. Um, that when they got together with their intellectual peers they became totally different children and uh, uh to differentiate means to—to have truly different programs. We’re talking about qualitative differentiation and not quantitative. It’s not a matter of more of the same, but a matter of a totally different quality. And we can differentiate in—in terms of the content that we uh give to the gifted children to study, with—in terms of the processes, the products if they produce many different ways to differentiate. And it’s important not to—not to confuse differentiation with simply pacing—going through the curriculum at a different speed. But uh actually individualizing for—for the particular children.

Well, I think one of the most important um elements of a successful program is the teacher. I think the—the teacher is a very key point. Teachers have to be specially trained. They need to understand the special needs of gifted children. They have to have dispositions that are suited to working with highly talented students. Um, teachers who are uh challenged themselves by the gifted children—children—teachers who are threatened by gifted children, uh who are afraid to say, “I don’t know, but let’s go find out together” uh are not successful in teaching gifted children. And I like to go back to Joe Renzilli’s definition of giftedness when talking about teachers of the gifted. I think a teacher of the gifted to be successful need to have that interaction of above average ability and creativity and task commitment. And I think without that um you’re not going to have a successful gifted program. Uh, I think the classroom atmosphere is extremely important. It needs to be open, uh flexible. Uh, gifted children need to have open-ended experiences because they will um—if—if—if you give them a ceiling, they’re going to bump their head on it and bounce back down so to speak. Um, so I think it’s very important to uh give them open-ended experiences. Let them choose whenever possible. Give them a lot of freedom, but along with freedom has to come responsibility and they need to take responsibility for their own actions. So I think these are some of the things that are very important and, of course, having um the qualitatively differentiated curriculum is important. And then I think another factor that we need to consider is that when you have uh a situation where you have three or four teachers scattered around a district who do not have any contact with one another, you don’t really have a gifted program. I think one of the things that’s extremely important in gifted education is that we have planned programs and that uh the teachers work together as teams uh to—to plan what they’re going to do and to carry through and evaluate as they go through so that there’s a consistent program.

Well, first of all as you know, I believe that professional development in gifted education should be at the graduate level. I think that people go into—who go into gifted education should be experienced teachers. I think that it’s very important for teachers to understand what normalcy is. If you don’t understand normalcy, then you don’t understand deviation. If you don’t understand what an average child can do or where a child of average ability can do—there’s no such thing as an average child—if—if you don’t understand what uh the child with average ability can do then I don’t think it’s possible to understand how far you can take gifted children. So I think that’s a very important uh thing to—to re—to remember, that we want experienced teachers um, uh who are working at the graduate level. Um, I—I think it’s important for graduate programs to adhere to standards. National standards have been developed. We uh, as you well know since you participated with me in that um developed uh NAGC—developed National Standards for Graduate Programs in Gifted Education. And I would like to see those pro—those standards um proliferated throughout the United States. Uh, there have been many districts, many states, that have adopted them are—have adopted programs that are based on those standards. So I think that that’s extremely important to have standard-based uh programs for training people to teach the gifted. Um, I also think it’s important to encourage teachers of the gifted to—to model what they want their children to do, uh to model life long learning in uh a love of—of education. Uh, I—I think that—that what the teacher models has a lot to do with the way that the children turn out.

All right. Um, I—I think that again we can go back to the concept of professional development and say uh the graduate uh programs in which these teachers are trained should have certain components because there are certain things that teachers need to know and be pro—areas that they need to be proficient. Um, the—the courses that are most common in graduate programs around the country are courses on the major needs of the gifted child uh which frequently get into—go into a little more depth on the social/emotional needs of the gifted child which are very different from children of average ability. Um, certainly uh courses on strategies for teaching the gifted, strategies for differentiating, programming, and instruction for gifted children. Um, strategies for uh program development and curriculum development. Um, and I think they’re more and more uh who are bringing in courses on creativity now. Creative thinking and problem solving is a big part of what we do in gifted education. And then I think the final thing that is—is most common—there are some others, of course. There are courses for um uh—for developing skills for working with uh special populations of gifted children as well. But in terms of—of the trends around the country, I think those are the most common ones uh with one more that I think is essential and that is the practicum or internship. Um, in Louisiana um our certification standards allow them to—allow teachers to wave the practicum if they’ve been teaching in the gifted program for three years. But my philosophy about that is uh if they take the classes and then they go back and they teach exactly the way they were teaching in the regular classroom setting, then they’re not differentiating. And to be sure that they are, they should have some supervision at the university level. So I think the practicum or internship is extremely important. I think all of those things need to be. Uh we—they need to know, to understand the gifted child completely and understand what kinds of practices are going to help the gifted child to—to reach her potential because that’s where we really are—are headed with it.

Tarrence Creative Scholars Program was kind of a dream of Dr. Paul Tarrence. Dr. Tarrence was uh—is uh one of the leading—one of the world’s leading authorities on creativity and creative problem solving, particularly the identification and nurturance of creativity. And Dr. Tarrence had a dream for many years that he would like to see a Tarrence Creative Scholars Program that identified youngsters who had high creative ability, high creative potential. Bring them in and give them that nurturance and teach them strategies for developing creativity. Um, I was fortunate to be one of two people to be appointed uh to begin that program. And now my university has the only Tarrence Creative Scholars Program in the world. Um, we have uh a residential program that is for two weeks each summer. Children are identified from all over the state of Louisiana and we will go outside of the state as well if people are interested. Um, uh we’re using the Tarrence Test of Creative Thinking and this year we will be starting to use a different form of the test, which will have both verbal and figural components to the test so that we will pick up children who are uh creative in different ways. Uh we bring them to the campus for two weeks and they have daily classes in which we teach them the creative problem solving process. Uh, we teach the synetics, lateral thinking. Uh, this year we’re going to add an arts component to it and this year we are also going to have uh with—with our new uh test that we’re going to be using, we’re going to develop state norms rather then using national norms and we’re going to um, uh allow students who come close to the cut off point but don’t quite make it, who can provide a portfolio of either creative writing or visual arts, um highly creative work, to come in to the program. So we’re doing some very exciting new things. Um, the thing that I find so exciting about the Creative Scholars Program is the eval—is the evaluations we get from the parents and the children. And what they’re telling us is not only does the program improve their creativity and nurture their creativity, but it um helps them to develop a healthy self-concept. Um, I’ve had parents tell me amazing stories about the things that have happened to their children as a result of two weeks of—of nurturance. They come back knowing that it’s not only OK, but it’s great to be creative and it’s very exciting. Um, I had one mother who told me that she attributed her daughter’s complete and rapid recovery from anorexia primarily to the results of the program because it was—uh, it helped her so much uh with—with improving her self-concept. So we’ve been—uh, we’ve been very pleased with the results. And—and in fact it also um goes so far as to help them to um learn how to cope with school and they—we find that we’re getting better achievement results in school from these children who’ve been in the Creative Scholars Program. It’s been a very exciting experience.

OK, let me do that. OK, first of all, um with regard to under achievement (clears throat) I would say to teachers, never make the assumption that a child who is gifted is automatically going to be a high achiever because it does not always hold true. Um, I think it’s important for teachers to recognize that there is a different between under achievement in children of average ability and children who are gifted. Um, children who are gifted should be judged as under achieving if they’re not reaching their potential and uh so that makes the identification process a very important part of it. That we need to know what that potential is and, of course, their um—the tests that are used are—are very limited and we don’t know enough about how to truly manage their intelligence. But um I—I think that with um better diagnostic instruments, we can find what that potential is and use that to determine if a child is reaching potential. Um, I think it’s also important for teachers to remember that uh while they want to challenge their gifted children, they shouldn’t be pressuring them. Um, I—when I was teaching gifted children, I remember distinctly one young 6th grader coming in and saying, “Mr. So-and-so down the hall said to me, if you’re so smart that you’re in that gifted program, why can’t you answer this question?” And teachers in the regular ed program need to understand as well as teachers of the gifted um what achievement is with respect to gifted children. And then um finally I think when—when uh a teacher finds that a child is not achieving according to potential, uh the first thing that has to happen is to look for the reasons for it under achievement because they can be many. Um, gifted children can be learning disabled. Um, when Marlin did his report, one of the things that he said was that there were many kinds of giftedness and he identified specific apt—aca—specific academic aptitude as one of those. So you might, for example, have a child who’s highly gifted in math and science but dyslexic, or highly gival—highly gifted verbally but very weak in math. And so I think it’s very important to—to recognize um the areas in which children are strong and use those strengths to help to build the areas of weakness.

There are many things that parents can do at home. Um, I think one of the most important things parents need to do is to—to communicate with teachers on a regular basis. Uh, they need to help their children to organize, learn to organize themselves, learn to plan, learn to manage their time. Uh, they need to—to—to let children be children and not think that just because they’re gifted they’re suppose to little adults. Um, they need to give them time to incubate, time to—to daydream and to do things that they want to do on their own. Uh, they need to give them praise when it’s deserved and when criticism is—is necessary. I think they need to be very careful about the way in which it’s given. Be very constructive in the—in the manner in which criticism is given. Uh, they need to encourage uh independence and uh help children to—to grow up assuming responsibilities for um taking care of parts—part of the household duties. Um, they need to—to um—to learn to make decisions on their own, to be critical thinkers. Um, primarily I think the best thing that parents can do is to give them just a whole lot of love and—and encouragement and—and back them up uh every step of the way. And uh with—with that I think they can help them a great deal.

Unfair practices. (laugh) Throwing something at me off the top of the head. Oh, let’s see. If I could change just one thing about gifted education—um, I think one of the things that I would like to see changed is attitudes within the general education program toward gifted children. Um, frequently teachers of the gifted and teachers in the general ed program do not see eye-to-eye—eye-to-eye and do not work together. And if they would work together as teams, I think that the gifted children would have just a much better chance at—at reaching their potential. I think part of the reason why gifted children have problems is because those two segments of their education don’t get together. They—they—they—pulls apart and they fight one another almost. Um, I think that’s one of the biggest problems we have in gifted education. Something else that we need to do is to find better ways of identifying children who are from uh minority backgrounds, children from uh special populations of, for example, learning disabled children, children who have um physical disabilities. Um, there are—the identification process is sadly lacking and there’s a lot of inconsistency around the nation the way things are done. Um, I hope that we’re making some progress in that area, but it’s very slow.