E. Jean Gubbins
University of Connecticut
We are know as The National Research Center on the Gifted and Talented (NRC/GT). With all the technology available, however, we are essentially an international center. Our research is conducted in the United States and soon finds its way all over the world. Recently, Siamak Vahidi created a web site (www.gifted.uconn.edu) for the University of Connecticut, highlighting the NRC/GT, Confratute—Summer Institute on the Gifted and Talented, Three Summers Program, and a new project—UConn Mentor Connection. All of these programs and opportunities for administrators, teachers, and students have a common purpose—talent development. The interest in talent development is universal. Our first contact on the new web site was from the Republic of Singapore and the second from Leeville, South Carolina. People are eager for more information about the research findings and the educational opportunities to further their own knowledge and expertise. The NRC/GT web site contains our mission statement, abstracts of all our publications to date, our products list, text of the Winter 1996 newsletter, names and addresses of the participating universities and research teams, and links to home pages posted by the University of Connecticut, City University of New York—City College, Stanford University, University of Virginia, and Yale University. Through these links you may learn about features of each university such as academics, admissions, cultural events, and sports.
Technology makes information readily available using a few keystrokes. If connecting to the NRC/GT by computer keystrokes is not an option for you, consider accessing our videotape collection. During the first five years of the Center, we developed a series of videotapes to keep you informed of our research results and to provide you with concrete examples of translating research into classroom practices. From our first live videotape on Curriculum Compacting: A Process for Modifying Curriculum for High Ability Students (Reis, Burns, & Renzulli, 1992) to subsequent ones on The Explicit Teaching of Thinking Skills: A Six-Phase Model for Curriculum Development and Instruction (Burns, 1993), Curricular Options for “High-End” Learning (Gavin et al., 1994), and Enrichment Clusters: Using High-End Learning to Develop Talents in all Students (Gentry, Reis, Renzulli, Moran, & Warren, 1995), we showcased classrooms as students and teachers experimented with strategies to promote the talents of young people. Videotape footage recorded the steps to reducing the repetition of mastered curriculum, defining and infusing thinking skills in multiple content areas, applying the strategies of curriculum differentiation, and designing and implementing enrichment clusters for a schoolwide focus on talent development. If you still need to know more about the NRC/GT, we have that information available, too.
Just over a year ago, we assembled our research teams and held our first conference entitled “Building a Bridge Between Research and Classroom Practices in Gifted Education” to provide people with another venue for first-hand information on the latest research findings. As presenters discussed their work with hundreds of practitioners, two film crews and a host of NRC/GT staff members conducted interviews with several researchers. We asked our researchers to reflect on their work and synthesize findings related to:
- nontraditional assessment;
- high potential, high risk learners;
- challenging learning opportunities; and
- professional development.
The videotape module entitled The National Research Center on the Gifted and Talented: Reaching the Destination (Gubbins, 1995) provides topical commentaries from our researchers. The module is designed for teacher trainers or as a self-study approach. Previewing the tape and reviewing the presentation guidebook provides a quick overview of the major topics. Segments of the presentation guidebook are followed by discussion questions and selected resources. Scanning the discussion questions aids you in deciding which findings you would like learn more about. The presentation guidebook serves as transparency masters to share with audiences or as print resources.
A sample of topical comments will hopefully spur further discussions among practitioners as you plan, develop, implement, and evaluate programs and services for students with known and emergent talents. The topic of nontraditional assessment is of primary importance under the Jacob K. Javits Gifted and Talented Students Education Act. How would you describe your present approach to screening and identifying potentially gifted and talented students? Do you have a comprehensive, defensible approach that is sensitive to the student populations of your district? Donna Ford, University of Virginia, reminds us:
A multi-dimensional assessment system should be created including information from parents, teachers, students, and peers.
Designing and developing a multi-dimensional assessment system requires careful review and consideration of potential instruments that reflect the goals and objectives of the programs and services. The instruments should not be restricted to pencil and paper tests implemented during a single session.
We need to take a proficiency view, take a look at the strengths within cultures, take a look at the strengths of students, and find reasons within those strengths to provide services to students. (Scott Hunsaker)
Looking at the strengths of students is a change in mind-set for some of us because much of our earlier training as teachers centered on looking at the deficiencies of skills among students. Now we realize that a focus on strengths allows us to enhance students’ abilities and work towards eliminating deficiencies by engaging them in the curriculum.
When the focus on talents is not the primary philosophy of the school, students’ strengths may not emerge. Sally M. Reis comments:
As the students got older, the learning disability became more pronounced. . . . They oftentimes did not gain the compensation strategies they would have needed had they been participating in a program—they started to have more problems in school.
High potential, high risk learners can sometimes be overlooked unless we incorporate multi-assessment procedures and use the curriculum to elicit the skills and abilities.
Carol Tomlinson notes that creating challenging learning opportunities can be accomplished in many ways such as pre-assessing students’ skills, amplifying learning opportunities, providing choices for students, and differentiating professional development opportunities.
Working with students’ strengths and interests helps us to consider responses to questions such as:
- What is the level of challenge in our curriculum?
- What documentation exists that describes the challenge level of our curriculum?
- In what ways can we differentiate the curriculum to offer more challenging learning environments?
To make changes in screening and identification procedures and curricular options requires professional development opportunities for administrators and teachers.
We are asking teachers to think of students in terms of academic abilities, interests, and style preferences. This is a tremendous change for teachers. We need to provide teachers with time to make these changes. (Jeanne Purcell)
Changing instructional approaches and providing curricular options requires time:
Providing time and opportunities for professional development and follow-up opportunities with peer coaches results in more effective adoption and implementation of new strategies. Definite differences between the quality of teacher training and actual practice have been documented:
We continually try to show practitioners how to translate research findings into practices. With our multi-media approach, we reach our target audiences. Another text resource also lends itself to providing you with “everything you need to know about the NRC/GT”: Developing the Gifts and Talents of All America’s Students: NRC/GT 1990-1995. This monograph summarizes the scope of the NRC/GT and synthesizes the findings and themes across studies and commissioned papers. The findings and themes complement the topical commentaries by our researchers from the videotape described above entitled The National Research Center on the Gifted and Talented: Reaching the Destination by focusing on:
- characteristics and identification;
- special populations;
- program impact, options, and outcomes;
- professional development; and
- policy, program organization, and management.
Following this synthesis of the research, we provide readers with abstracts of over 50 publications and accompanying guidelines, recommendations, or conclusions. These briefing sheets offer a concise format for readers as you search for the most pertinent research-based findings to improve and enhance your programs and services for students with known and emergent talents. We will continue to provide practitioners with information about the NRC/GT through our web site, videos, and texts as we proceed with our research agenda through the year 2000.