JOYCE VANTASSEL BASKA
OK, Joyce Vantassel-Baska. I’m a professor at the College of William and Mary in Williamsburg, Virginia.
OK. Well the issue of who the gifted and talented are is a big issue as we all know in terms of this field, but I like to think about it in perhaps the simplest of terms. And that is to suggest that students who are gifted and talented are those who are evidencing advanced development in one or more areas um or domains. And so we can talk about students who are intellectually gifted and who in fact may be advanced in a number of areas or we can talk about students who are primarily gifted in one area, whether it be in the academic area, the arts area, the leadership area. And in terms of the need then, based on that advanced development for additional uh or greater um depth in terms of their educational programming.
OK. Perhaps I should talk first about the identification um issues which really was a part of your first question too um, relative to how we identify for students who are gifted in one or more areas. I think that there are several sort of best principles or best practices in identification that we’ve learned over the years in the field of gifted that are important to consider. Um, one of them certainly is the issue of using multiple criteria. That we have learned that using a single test or any single measure is insufficient to make judgments about um a student’s uh aptitude or intellectual range. And so the use of at least three criteria or more, typically a good mix of objective and subjective criteria, tests on the one hand but judgments by professionals who know the student on the other make a good combinational um notion about um making decisions. A second principle that I think is important to adhere to as well um has to do with a screening process followed by a more formal identification process. We have many um instruments in the field, which are very good for screening, many of our group tests, for example, but not so good for pinpointing the identification particularly as it’s matched to a particular program option that students might be provided with. So this issue of carefully sorting what is a screening instrument—uh, what is a screening tool versus what is really a good identification um tool, I think is an important um issue as well and a good principle for identification. A third (clears throat) principle of identification that um I think is important to honor is the recognition that many students because of either um low income backgrounds, minority backgrounds, second language backgrounds, or some sort of disability may be over looked if we only use traditional measures for identification. So another best practice really has to do with the use of non-traditional measures—measures. Um, and that could be non-traditional tests that are primarily non-verbal in format. It could be the use of performance-based assessment approaches which really give the student the opportunity to show what they can do and to demonstrate their capacity um, or (clears throat) some sort of portfolio of work that shows again their capability over time. So all of those constitute non-verbal measures um and non-traditional measures that might be very helpful in terms of the identification. Another principle that I think is worth considering in identification also has to do with early identification. And even though in this field it’s somewhat controversial and many school districts don’t do it, the reality is that the abilities are there, many times at early stages, need to be recognized and need to be um serviced for appropriately um when they are available. And even though the tests may not be as reliable at early ages, um the reality of advanced development is, and consequently the intervention for those students uh in those areas of promise uh are very important and even more so for students coming from uh more deprived backgrounds or more at-risk kinds of circumstances.
Well, I like to—to think about curriculum first from the standpoint of a definitional set because I think that the term curriculum can mean many different things to—to many different people. I like to think about curriculum as being a set of organized experiences that have been put together deliberately based on the nature of a particular learner. So when I think about curriculum for gifted and talented students, I think about some areas related to the learner that I think are important in terms of trying to plan effective curriculum. One of those has to do with the area in which the learner excels and paying attention that area or areas um in which they are capable of functioning at very high levels. A second has to do with their level of aptitude. Um, there are differences obviously among gifted and talented students in respect to how able they are at a given stage of development. And that has tremendous implications for how we structure curriculum um for them. So degrees of ability also matter in terms of thinking about curriculum um development. And then I also like to think that in terms of the learner um many learners—many gifted learners are uneven in their development, mental pattern, and consequently that unevenness has to be paid attention to as well. For example, there may be students who might be very good in terms of independent learning but be total flops when it comes to being placed in a group for certain kinds of cooperative or social learning. By the same token, there may be um gifted learners who are very good um discussing um an idea and, you know, gain a great deal from that social interaction but could not handle independent study on their own. So paying attention to what those relative strengths and relative weaknesses are within a gifted child’s profile again I think is an important consideration—first stage consideration in terms of curriculum. A second issue in curriculum that certainly pervades this field and has from the beginning is the issue of differentiating curriculum. And as you can guess based on what I’ve already said about the nature of the learner, my sense is that the differentiation of curriculum comes from taking cues from the nature, the level, and the um, uh profile considerations of that learner. So differentiation in the best sense of the term means differentiating according to the needs of a gifted and talented um learner. But by the same token, we understand and we know that much programming for gifted and talented um students occur in groups and we plan programs for groups, typically not for individual students. And therefore principles of differentiation have been very useful in terms of curriculum planning as well. Those principles that I think matter the most at this stage, particularly with the new national and state standards movement um are those that really again are required and that go beyond what those standards tend to suggest need to be in place for all learners. So where as we have said um in the standards that all learners should be exposed to higher level thinking, they should be exposed to interdisciplinary curriculum, they should be exposed to opportunities for metacognition (clears throat) and they should be exposed to opportunities for project work. When we think about that in relationship then to the gifted and what is differentiated for them, I still think there are four core issues that have to be attended to. One of them is the issue of advancement or acceleration of their curriculum um allowing them to more forward at their rate as opposed to the pre-determined rate based on age and grade level that a school district may have determined in a specific area might be relevant. A second would have to do with the issue of depth. Um, these students are capable certainly at focusing for long periods of time on material that they’re really fascinated in and having the opportunity and the time to do that within the context of their learning pattern again is a very important accommodation for them. A third is (clears throat) what I will call interrelated um thinking or simultaneous processing. Um, that these students are very capable of handling analysis synthesis and evaluation within the context of one task demand as opposed to seeing it always as separate task demands spread out. So this notion of their capacity to um—to think in several modes all at the same time is something we see as a hallmark of these students in terms of being exposed to high-level curriculum. And the last point that I think perhaps is worth making in terms of this differentiation issue is the issue of pacing. Because of their quickness and their readiness to learn, they can move much more rapidly through material and through (clears throat) um learning then can a more typical learner. Many studies suggest they learn twice as fast uh in this, you know, a given set of material then does an average learner. So accommodating that pacing becomes again another differentiation feature of um good curriculum for um gifted and talented students. As um you may know, I’ve worked for the past 13 years on a model of curriculum that I think attempts to respond to these differentiated characteristics of gifted students. It’s called the Integrated Curriculum Model. And it’s an attempt to um say that there isn’t one model that’s appropriate for the gifted, but rather there are several that have been developed within the field. And if we fuse those uh in important kinds of ways, then we’re more apt to end up with rich, complex curriculum um for these learners. So ensuring that there’s an advanced content dimension, ensuring that there’s a higher level thinking and uh creative product dimension, and ensuring that there’s also an emphasis on the world of ideas and issues and problems that are framed by um the real world, again all of those components make for the very best curriculum that we might have.
Well, we’ve um—I think education has been less successful when it comes to long-term positive change then many of us certainly would like. However, I do think that there’s some promising avenues in terms of making schools more responsive to individual needs of learner and certainly more responsive to the kinds of learners that we’re concerned about within this field. Um, one of those kinds of changes that I think I’ve seen progress in um over the past five years let’s say is in the use of instructional technology um within the context of classrooms. We’ve gone from seeing technology as a uh phenomenon unto itself as a way of um working with the gifted as a—as a sort of new curriculum area to now seeing it as a fundamental tool to really help students begin to discover learning for themselves and to be able to unlock some of the keys to um answering their own questions in ways that were never possible before and that now are at the—the uh flick of a switch or the press of a button depending on how you think about it. So that’s an area that I would site that I think is um—is quite promising in terms of what’s been developed. Um, a second area of change that I see is very promising is the use of expertise in schools, in different kinds of ways from what we’ve seen in the past. Um, in the literature this is referred to many times as collaborative teaching or co-teaching, or resource uh consultation models. I like to think about the model though from the standpoint of gifted education as an opportunity for people who have particular kinds of—of expertise to be better matched with students who have strong interests and ability in those areas. So the idea, for example, of having practicing scientists in the classroom or people coming in funded by National Science Foundation monies to work side-by-side, who’ve been trained in science, to work side by side with classroom teachers in order to ensure that students get hands on demonstration component of science learning that they so desperately need. Or the attempt to use differentiated staffing patterns within elementary schools, for example, where a teacher is really very strong in mathematics. Loves mathematics and therefore has the opportunity through a flexible schedule differentiated staffing approach to be able to work with the very best learners in mathematics regardless of their age or their grade level. Those kinds of personnel um—uh, use of flexible personnel I think is um a very promising direction as well. A third area that I find um important for a change—I see less of it but I think that it needs to be stated anyway as a very promising direction, um is the emphasis in staff development on three things. First of all, that there is a staff development plan that is a multi-year plane that emphasizes um what it is that a school or a group want to see happen in terms of a particular area and that a plan is in place that moves teachers fundamentally in the direction from novice to expert. So the whole notion of thinking about staff development as also a series of organizing curriculum uh steps or curriculum modules um for teachers as well as just for students is an important part of making that a reality. A second part of it, I think, is to move away from the notion that we can do staff development on the run. That we can, in fact, um you know, take a teacher, give them a quick lesson in um critical thinking, for example, in 45 minutes and then turn them loose on a group of students uh when they’ve had limited background in terms of either engaging in those processes themselves or, in fact, um teaching to them uh, uh in—in some kind of formalized way. That’s an example of where again this developmental issue of staff development becomes extremely critical. And a real linkage between the content to be taught and the best procedures to teach students within that subject area need to be adhered to within the whole notion of what is provided. So that’s another area that I think we need to um spend a great deal more time with in terms of trying to improve. Um, the last area that I think is critical and it’s been sited in many studies as absolutely essential to make change work is to have in schools some system for monitoring curriculum instruction and assessment, work as it goes on. We currently do not have that sort of level of monitoring in place in many buildings. And consequently there is no way of knowing whether or not the changes that are being advocated, whether it’s in the standards, whether it’s in um in-service workshops, is really being implemented at the classroom level. And until such a system is put in place it seems to me we will continue to flounder and not be able to benchmark the progress in a meaningful way relative to student learning. (interruption) I don’t know if that’s what you wanted in that question.
OK, um there are I think a number of issues um in good staff development for any um building any teacher that we should be considering—and again, I’m not always sure that we are. Um, one of them that I have thought about for a long time in this field is essential that we have is a clear plan that is developmentally organized. And by developmentally organized I mean that we need to have in place a sense of phases that teachers need to go through in order to be effective with gifted learners. One of those phases, the beginning point, of course, is awareness. And the awareness phase is something that’s important certainly for all teachers uh who work with gifted students, important for all administrators as well. But a second phase, which sometimes we never get to, is what I like to call the program phase. That is, if the program goals or the curriculum goals for gifted students are to enhance critical thinking, to enhance creative thinking, to teach research skills and to ensure that (clears throat) content is presented at a faster pace and in greater depth and complexity then um what would normally be provided, then we need to be sure that teachers are schooled very specifically in how to provide that kind of differentiated curriculum and instructional pattern. So it is a very program-specific kind of emphasis then at phase two that I would advocate as needed in terms of our staff development programs. At phase three I think we need to begin to teach—to treat teachers as professionals once they have reached a particular stage of mastery in working with gifted and talented learners and to do that through more of a seminar approach in terms of our in-service work where the focus might be on case studies or on problems, or on special needs students and having a collaborative um context in which experienced teachers begin to address those problems uh in terms of all of their complexity uh and hopefully come up with reasonable kinds of resolutions and reasonable kinds of solutions. Those three phases then, I think, are very important in terms of um our staff development training. At phase four, once a teacher in fact has worked through not only demonstration of mastery relative to higher order thinking strategies, problem-solving strategies, research skills strategies, etc., um and participated in these what we’ll call problem solving seminars, then I think a teacher in fact could be, you know, termed a master teacher and begin to train others in terms of um, you know, the field of gifted and talented education. One of my concerns is, however, that we do not insist that people move through those phases before they’re turned loose to teach others and I think that um has caused us some problems in terms of again the level at which the field has advanced in terms of um, you know, teacher work. A second issue (clears throat) in staff development um it seems to me is related to recognizing the same differences in teachers that we recognize in um the very students that we serve. And by that I mean, there are differentiated needs that teachers bring um into the environment and based on those differences, it seems to me we need to be flexible as well in our staff development patterns. The herd approach to staff development I don’t think is very successful. We herd 300 people in an auditorium for a motivational speech, followed up by um a—a possibility for choosing workshops um according to their interests um not necessarily according to their needs as it relates to um a particular program. So a more careful, individualized um approach to working with teachers on providing um staff development opportunities I think is absolutely called for. And if I had my way every principle um would sit down on a regular basis with teachers and talk about what it is they feel um they need, um how that matches up with what the goals are of the curriculum, how it matches up with the expectations of the school and the expectations for delivering um curriculum within specific subject areas uh, and what that implies then for the kind of staff development that would be most efficacious um for these teachers. Linked to that, of course, would be principles who are very aware of what’s going on in each teacher’s classroom and would be able to um provide input to them in terms of their perspective on this issue of need um and uh optimal match for staff development training as well.
The uh—the issue of counseling gifted learners is one that I think has been very much neglected in this field. Uh we’ve had a literature on this uh really since (clears throat) at least the 1950’s, if not before. Certainly suggested before but not really focused on specifically until then, but the literature does not match up very well with what goes on in practice. In that I think it is an area that is uh almost totally neglected when it comes to having a system in place for addressing the counseling needs of gifted and talented learners. But we have our wonderful individuals who take on the task uh on their own. Great teachers, uh some program coordinators, for example, who feel that it is important, it’s their responsibility to do something about conscionable principles who uh hold small group counseling sessions for students. All of these things happen, but they don’t happen according to, again a plan that I think would help a lot in this area as well. Um, there are probably three aspects to counseling the gifted that need to be considered in terms of school planning. One certainly is related to planning for psychosocial needs. Some people would suggest that that’s the big one. (clears throat) I certainly think that it is the one that we need to start with in ways that we haven’t always in the past uh and pay attention to in terms of both how we plan curriculum within classrooms as well as how we structure opportunities for students across classrooms. Um, there’s probably in terms of thinking about psychosocial counseling, again a number of directions that one could go, I happen to think that starting with some of the common issues and problems and concerns of gifted students that we know are there based on the literature base that we do have is a good beginning. So for example, being sure that there are ways that (clears throat) there is an emphasis on helping students cope with their giftedness, cope and understand their exceptionality, um through the nature of a school-based program is an important consideration. Helping them with an issue like perfectionism, coming to understand the positive aspects of it and then negative aspects of it and again to um deal with it effectively is important. Helping students learn how to take risks and understand that intellectual risk-taking is a very positive behavior in the real world and one that will um allow them to ultimately become more creative in terms of whatever area they ultimately choose to um pursue. Um, focusing on (clears throat)—excuse me—their deep feeling um which relate to sort of both sensitivity, but also intensity of feelings and helping them understand um what that means and how they can negotiate those feelings in the real world without feeling the need to go underground or to develop the hard shell uh to deal with um difficult situations um again is a um—an important aspect of this sort of psycho social development of the gifted. I happen to think there’s several means or strategies that we can use to sort of address these issues in schools. Um, one of them—a strategy that I think is very successful is the use of bibliotherapy. Gifted students love to read. If we can channel their reading patterns in such a way that they encounter through literature—through great literature, uh protagonists who are experiencing the same kinds of problems that they’re experiencing, it provide an outlet for discussion at a safe distance, shall we say, in terms of um discussing the problem, but not making it so personal that the student becomes defensive or in some way backs away from um the—the whole nature of what’s going on. Um, (clears throat) a second strategy that I think um can work also are deliberate small group um counseling um sessions that can be held by, you know, by people in the building uh or in the school districts who are trained to work with gifted students in this way. And through the use of simulation, through the use of discussion, um through the use of even case studies, um gifted students can come to see uh what some of these issues and problems are and come to see that there are ways that they can be resolved in their own lives that again will alleviate some of the difficulties that they tend to um experience. Thirdly I think that um for some gifted students the need for individual counseling is clearly called for um because the problems are too great, um or the issues in terms of their own situation are well beyond what can be handled in a group setting, uh and therefore an individual um opportunity for counseling either within the school or a referral outside the school may also be um quite appropriate. I’d like to also mention here that I think um a lot of the psychosocial issues of the gifted, in my view at least, are derived from this uneven developmental pattern that they tend to bring. By that I mean that they’re very—some students are so strong intellectually and relatively weaker when it comes to um social/emotional development. Not weak in comparison to average learners, but weaker then they are intellectually. And that desynchrony provides or gives them um again a difficult road to hoe, if you will, in terms of being able to understand themselves. I also think that’s a kind of general pattern of unevenness, but at a more specific level. We have many gifted students who also have certain kinds of learning problems, um, gifted students who are learning disabled in some way, or gifted students who have uh Attention Deficit Disorder, uh you know is acerbated by hyperactivity. Um, those kinds of problems can cause tremendous internal turmoil in terms of not understanding why they can’t function the way that they think they should be able to function based on their intellectual capacity. And so (clears throat) in—in terms of dealing with those kinds of issues and those kinds of problems, again I think we need to join hands with people in special education who have particular expertise on the kinds of strategies and the kinds of approaches that are most effective with students who suffer from some of those disabilities because our population also suffers from that disabil—disability. But we also have to figure out as a field how best to take what is um the strategy in special education and translate it most effectively for students who are very high functioning in other respects um at—you know, in—in cognitive areas. And that’s a tricky business um and again one that requires this kind of individualized attention that I alluded to earlier. The um second planful approach to counseling that I think is really called for um in our schools is the issue of academic planning. We have reached a stage where the stakes are very high for all learners in terms of moving through the K-12 system and doing well in that system such that they are ready to move on into higher education. And particularly for gifted and talented students, if they want to get into selective colleges, there has to be attention to um issues of adequate preparation. And what was adequate preparation 10 years ago or even 5 years ago is no longer adequate preparation today. So being very mindful of what these trends are in terms of college admissions patterns, for example, I think is important that schools pay attention to in terms of counseling and working in academic planning with gifted and talented learners. What does that mean in terms of the real world? Well it means certainly that (clears throat) you want your gifted and talented students to begin a pre-calculus math track as ready—as soon as they’re ready um to do so because again if they don’t begin um certainly by 7th grade, the likelihood of their being able to take advanced placement calculus, for example, while still in high school isn’t very great. And even for students who won’t major in math or for whom math isn’t even one of their better subjects, um having that calculus opportunity in high school is probably um a very important kind of um option um for them to consider. Um, another manifestation of that has to do with foreign language. We um many times delay the start of foreign language in American schools such that our students can’t take more then one foreign language. The reality is that again for them to function well in a global society having at least two foreign languages when our um international counterparts many times have three or four, gives them at least a slight edge uh in the right direction. In order to take um full advantage of foreign language opportunities, uh it means that they need to start them around 5th and 6th grade, at least one foreign language, so that again by the time they graduate from high school, they will have been able to have a full compliment of four years in at least two um foreign languages. So those are two areas that I would site where this issue of academic planning has to be very carefully thought within individual strands of the curriculum and uh accounted for in a very planful way for um our very best learners in schools. The third area of counseling that I also think is important has to do with college planning and career planning and to help students begin to think about hat not at the last minute when they are juniors getting ready to um take their PSAT’s or seniors getting, you know, ready to fill out college applications, but rather very early on, as early as the middle school years, when they can attend programs at various campuses and begin to see what college life is like. When they can begin to um uh read more about uh individuals who are eminent in particular careers through reading biography and so forth, to begin to see what is the match with me and this career, not just in terms of “Am I good at the underlying subjects that relate to the career?” But, “Do I really have a strong interest in the career?” “Do I have the kind of temperament that would allow me to do well in this career?” “Is, you know, my personality one that would match up well with demands of this particular career?” This kind of thoughtful consideration about um colleges and about careers um again is a long-term process, one that can begin very early um in terms of a child’s um school years and be handled in a way that again does not um pressure the child in the very couple of last year’s of high school, but rather carefully prepares them for the kinds of decisions that they’ll be making at that stage uh in their lives uh and—and in a way that they may find very enjoyable. I haven’t mentioned mentorships and internships, but I think again more and more as we think about college planning and career planning, these kinds of opportunities are also absolutely critical for our young people. I had one young woman who thought she wanted to be a pediatrician, spend an internship, a whole semester with um a pediatrician—female pediatrician. At the end of the semester she did her—her internship project and she ended it by saying, “I enjoyed this very much, but I now realize this is not the career that I want to have.” And she listed the very specific reasons that she felt it would not be right for her. I thought that was one of the best growth experiences that that young woman probably had during her high school years and it saved her um a number of years of anguish in terms of trying to decide whether or not this was a direction she really wanted to pursue. So I think the more that we can provide those kinds of experiences to our young people at stages of life when the stakes are so high, um is all to the good. (interruption) That sort of gets me through that next one on career too, if that’s OK? I mean, because I (clears throat) Yeah. Probably more then you wanted to hear.
Um, under achievement among gifted and talented students is probably more of a problem then we either have admitted or certainly have been able to cope with in terms of um school-based programs. I tend to think that the statistics from the Marland report in 1972 were um close to the truth when it was cited that about over half of students identified as gifted and talented by I.Q. scores of 130 or higher would be um considered under achievers, meaning that they’re making um grades uh or achieving at levels that are not up to um their tested aptitude. I did a study at that time when I was a program coordinator in Toledo, Ohio, at one of higher socioeconomic high schools, and found that in that setting uh 63 percent of that high school sophomores who were at I.Q. level 130 or higher were under achieving and seriously so, making C’s instead of A’s. Um, problems of truancies, problems of um not (clears throat) getting work done. Um, all kinds of um issues that we typically associate with under achievement appeared to be ramped in that particular setting. And I’m sure that that is still pretty much the case. I think the—the interesting issue about under achievement is how we characterize um the causes of it and how we think about the causes of it. I tend to think that there are typically one of two ways to think about under achieving um children. One way to think about them is to say that there is probably something (clears throat) in terms of a learning problem that is—that is gone undetected and that learning problem may be affecting either their cognitive capacities or their affective capacities. So whatever the nature of the problem, it tends to be interfering with that learning um uh situation in one way or another. So it could lie on cognitive or affective side or both. The other way that I think about it is that the lack of appropriate stimulation or the lack of a supportive environmental context can also create under achievement problems for gifted and talented students. So my suggestion is that um fundamentally under achievement can be an—an intra um—uh, intra student problem or it can be an environmental problem. Obviously in either case um schools need to be sensitive to it and try to intervene in whatever ways that they—that they can. But I do think that it’s also helpful to recognize um that you have both of those potential avenues to explore in terms of uh the solution. When I give advice to teachers about handling um under achievement problems um I usually uh provide a short list but one that I think—that I hope will be meaningful. If we assume that the problem rests in the environment, then my advice to teachers is to literally beef up the challenge level in the environment and see if in fact that makes a difference in terms of the lives of gifted and talented students. To find them a peer group, for example. Um, one other student or two other students that they can work with, that they relate to well, that may in fact um help to bolster their capacity to perform in the context of classroom work. To give them alternative assignments that may be more interesting. Uh, project work that they have chosen um that they in fact can pursue on their own. Um, to vary the routine of the classroom uh in a way that, again, might make it more stimulating for gifted students. To use good diagnostic prescriptive techniques in terms of the core subject areas. To discover, you know, are there some issues here with learning problems um that this student is experiencing that is overlooked because fundamentally they’re very bright or appear to be very bright at least in terms of (clears throat) general tests of intelligent. But are there things that we can pick up uh in terms of their functioning in classrooms and they’re processing information in classrooms that might be helpful in terms of working with them um more effectively. And if that means, for example, that a student is bored to tears because they’re already so advanced in a given area, diagnostic prescriptive techniques can lead to then um again a prescription of more advanced curriculum which can be uh therapeutic in and of itself. So if we think about under achievement then from this standpoint of what the environment is failing to provide, I think teachers can intervene in terms of again um, uh hoping to provide a more greater, more stimulating and challenging um context um for these learners. On the other hand (clears throat) if in fact um the problem is more within the child, that is the child needs um some assistance in terms of particular areas or assistance in terms of processing skills, there also, I think, are strategies that teachers can use that have been very um effective in terms of working with special education students and have worked well I think also for some of our um students in um gifted education. Things like emphasizing and working with them on metacognitive skills, helping them understand how to plan, um monitor, and assess their own learning. Helping them to take the time to reflect on work that they’ve done and work that they haven’t done and to plan out the gap uh in between which tends to be a major problem for a lot of students who are um under achievers. Uh, I mentioned giving alternative assignments earlier. Another issue certainly with students with uh processing problems is to allow more time to complete assignments, to not be so rigid about deadlines but to try to help them—again, adhere to deadlines as much as possible, but also to give them a little bit of wiggle room as they may need it in order to um complete a task or to complete an assignment. And even to keep these students (clears throat) in a context where they have fewer distractions in order to complete assignments um as a part of ensuring that the work gets done as well um can be a strategy that teachers can employ. The final strategy that I think is very important in relationship to this issue of under achievement is that teachers are working very closely with parents in terms of keeping them informed about what’s going on uh with their child in school so that the parents can effectively monitor that behavior in the context of home. Many parents of under achieving, gifted students I think are not fully aware of the extent to which their child may be experiencing this underachievement problem. And so the more that teachers are in contact now by e-mail as well as by notes home, as well as by carefully sharing what it is—what the expectations of a particular class or course might be, all of those I think are um very strong ways that teachers can help parents become a part of this process and again so that the two are working very closely together to help the child um deal with this problem uh in a—in the most efficacious way.
Well, talking about um parental advice is a little dangerous obviously because every parent has an individual child and um some of the general guidelines don’t apply as well to individual cases as we might like. But with that coviate, I will give a few pieces um of advice that I think—that I’ve found helpful over the years um both in terms of being an educator looking at gifted children, but also being a parent myself. I think the—the first piece of advice I would give to any parent is to always make unconditional love made manifest um your first rule. And no matter how gifted the child may be, no matter how you—or how problematic the child may be, um that issue of unconditional love is an important um issue. And—and with that I think comes the recognition that you’re not dealing with a phenomenon, you’re dealing with an individual child and to keep that distinction um very clear in your own mind. Um, a second piece of advice I think has to with um creating challenge in the home environment. Um, Tricksa Mahia’s work has certainly pointed out that not only is challenge important in the school environment, it’s also very important in the home environment of achieving gifted students. Well, what can parents do to create challenge? Um, I like to think that there are a number of things that they can do. One of the most obvious, of course, is to have in the home um challenging kinds of um materials, opportunities, um reading to the child, um discussing with the child what’s been read, um sharing current events with the child through uh again materials, whether it’s magazines or whatever, or just conversation based on um, you know, what’s going on in the world. Um, museums and libraries um again are wonderful ways that parents can um interact with their children on a regular basis and provide them wonderful outlets for learning. A study was done recently that showed that the major emphasis in terms of achieving in science by the age of 10—the most critical variable in a pathanalysis study was parents taking their children to science museums. So the role of parents in terms of this level of challenge is very crucial at early ages uh in terms of really making a difference. I also like to think that in the area of challenge that parents um through regular interaction conversation with their children can make a big difference. Um, I think back to Ralph Tyler, one of the last conversation’s I had with him when he was visiting William and Mary, was a conversation about what he remembered from his own childhood that mattered to him. And his father was a Presbyterian minister and there were five children in the family and around the dinner table every night uh his father would ask, “What did you do today? Um, what did you learn from what you did today? And how will you use what you learned today to help other people?” And he said that those three questions forced him and his siblings to think through in a very serious way the nature of what they were engaged in. And he said he never forgot that his entire life. Well, I think about that when I talk to parents because I think that um again many parents of gifted children don’t have means to necessarily provide expensive alternatives or um, uh programs that um are available in the external environment. But they do have internal resources that in fact can help their child um become a better person, become a better learner through just probing more deeply um the nature of where they are and how they’re relating to the world around them at a given point in time. So challenge I think is an—an important piece of advice that I would give to parents and the different ways in which that challenge might be provided. Another word that comes to mind that is important in terms, I think, of—of um talking to parents has to do with helping students build commitment. Um, one of the problems that many gifted students experience early on and really that persists well into adulthood is a problem with what I’ll call dilettantism. If you’re very bright, you can be very interested in many different things and flit from one thing to another. And many gifted children are guilty of this; many gifted adults are guilty of this. So the issue, I think, for parents is to help students see that they can’t do it all in their lives. That they have to make choices and to help them make the good choice, make the choices that fundamentally match up what you’re best at with what you really enjoy doing and with where you think you can make a contribution in terms of your life. So that issue of building commitment I think is important and parents can be good models for that but I think they can also be good listening posts in terms of helping a child begin to understand where those matches um, you know, would best lie. Um, (clears throat)—excuse me. Um, another piece of advice, I guess, that I would uh, uh provide uh to parents (interruption) No, that’s OK. Um, another piece of advice that I would provide uh is that I think parents need to recognize that they are, whether they want to be or not, um important teachers of their children and many of us in the educational business have sort of discouraged parents teaching their children by saying, “Oh, well will teach the child to read, we’ll teach the child to do math, you know, you don’t worry about that just worry about other kinds of things.” My view of this is that I think parents should think long and hard about what they do have to offer their children, what they do want to pass on in terms of their understanding. Uh, and in—and so in that sense, to be able to teach a child um that which you love. I had a parent come up to me at a meeting recently and said, “You know, I heard you say that but I wasn’t sure you really meant it and I didn’t want to say this in the large group, but I’ve started tutoring my child in French because she responds to it so well and I was a French major and taught French for awhile. Been away from it but still, you know (clears throat) know it well enough to teach her. Do you think it’s a good idea?” I said, “I think it’s a wonderful idea because it provides a context for your sharing uh with your child something that matter to you.” So the issue of commitment I think is um very important. Um, travel is another area that I recommend to parents um to think about with their child. Just as going to museums and libraries can be a very stimulating kind of um situation so the whole role of travel in the lives of families can be very—very powerful and stimulating um learning context um for children and whether that’s travel by car or other modes of transportation um I think doesn’t matter as much as how parents get students involved in terms of the planning of the trip, the execution of the trip, um the taking of pictures related to the trip, the debriefing of the trip um after the fact provides again a very natural family context to um carry through um—carry through on something uh in a way that is both challenging, stimulating and interesting um to the child.
Um, another piece of advice that I would offer for parents has to do with being very careful about monitoring what’s going on in their child’s life. We know that constructive use of leisure time is a major variable that separates out achieving from under achieving um gifted adolescents. Because of that, um as well as, because of the issues associated with um uh providing for students—gifted students at school, I think that parents need to be vigilant not just in terms of leisure time but also in terms of school time and that means knowing what the homework assignments are, being sure that your child has done the homework assigned and has done it at a reasonably high level. Knowing what the long-term projects are and what the expectations are associated with those projects. And again, helping your child uh in ways that um can in fact um move the projects forward. Most parents say, “Yeah, I know how to do that. I go out and buy the tri-fold boards uh and uh that takes care of the—the, you know, my involvement.” I think the involvement of parents needs to go beyond just the purchase of the tri-fold board um but also into um gaining a deeper understanding of what their child knows and what um the child doesn’t know and um what kinds of questions need to be asked in order to promote the learning at a deeper level. In terms of monitoring leisure time, I think parents need to be vigilant about how much television a child is watching, how much socializing their doing um that is not accomplishing uh any—any task or any project of any kind. Um, and to be sure that there are opportunities during leisure time for good conversation with friends, good conversation with adults, good opportunities for um community involvement, for church work. All of those things um are an important consideration in the life of um gifted children. And I think many times parents think that they can back away from their child when they become teenagers. In my view and in my experience um your children need you more when they’re teenagers then they do even at younger ages. So for parents to stay involved right up to and beyond the time that the child um goes off to college I think is a tremendous part of the nurturing process that goes into um developing talented learners.
I’m very pleased to be um editor of um the World Council on Gifted and Talented Journal—“Gifted and Talented International.” We put out um two issues a year and the focus of the journal is very much on research uh that’s going on around the world and uh also program development and aspects that are going on in terms of programs for gifted learners around the world. And uh I’ve been very, very uh excited by the nature of the manuscripts that we receive uh from uh now up to about 30 different countries. Uh, in the past three years we’ve been able to publish uh manuscripts representing the work of scholars from um those various places.
Mandy Marvel: ATLANTA #2 PAGE 1