NRC/GT: Developing Expertise Using the “Big Red Notebook”

Fall 2002 Masthead

E. Jean Gubbins
University of Connecticut
Storrs, CT

How do you like to learn?

  1. Read
  2. Listen
  3. Talk
  4. Role Play
  5. Write
  6. All of the above

Learning is complex at best. We have all been to school; we think we know how we learn best. We may have one or more preferences for learning something new and a different preference for refreshing knowledge and skills that need updating. We also recognize that learning occurs in school, home, and community environments, as well as the world at large. As individuals, we have considerable expertise in transferring knowledge and skills from familiar to unfamiliar situations. Practice, reflection, feedback, and redesign serve as critical components of these learning approaches. However, we cannot guarantee that our personal preferences for learning are a match to that of our colleagues or to one or more students in our classrooms. We can increase the likelihood that learning preferences are appropriate for individuals by designing multiple ways to meet the same objectives. This was the goal in designing and developing a multi-phase study of professional development practices and in creating a professional development module as an intervention tool to develop expertise in using the pedagogy of gifted education in general education classrooms.

The research team at the University of Connecticut (Westberg, Gubbins, Burns, & Reis, 1995) thought about learning and teaching preferences and posed the following question:

How do we provide professional development to teachers throughout the country by creating training materials for others to use within their own school districts?

We created an intervention with the ultimate goal of making it available to others interested in using a set of strategies that represent some of the pedagogical principles of gifted education that will offer challenging learning opportunities for all students. We studied various gifted and talented models and systems of designing and developing teaching and learning models and curricular approaches. We reviewed recommended practices in general education and thought about how we could make them more appropriate for gifted students whose academic needs surpass those of their peers in one or more content areas. After much discussion and debate among our research team, we concluded that we wanted to accomplish the following in a professional development module to be used by educators:

  1. Provide an overview of conceptions of intelligence or giftedness.
  2. Create an analytical approach to studying, critiquing, and modifying available curricula.
  3. Develop a variety of assessment techniques to serve as informal and formal ways of determining students’ prior knowledge.
  4. Determine students’ learning strengths by creating profiles of abilities, interests, and talents.
  5. Design high-end learning opportunities for students by matching academic needs to curricular and instructional options.
  6. Offer enrichment opportunities for students to engage in developing solutions to real-world problems that require long-term involvement to impact the pre-selected audience.

Our goals were lofty; however, we knew that our combined professional experiences would be an asset. Our prior teaching emphasized the following:

  • overarching concepts, big ideas, or themes;
  • learning how to learn skills, including research skills, critical and creative thinking skills, and communication skills;
  • student generated problem-based learning opportunities, which require an analysis of issues, problems, or concerns that engage the attention of an individual or a small group of students;
  • preference for students thinking and working like practicing professionals; and
  • focus on the continued growth of self-esteem and self-concept.

We also recognized the difference between schooling and education so well stated by Brandwein and Morholt (1986): “The gifted young . . . experience both schooling (intended learning moderated by the community) and education (unplanned learning often at individual risk)” (p. 23). We wanted all students in general education classrooms to experience schooling and education. We understood that not all students would experience the same thing, in the same way, and at the same time. In designing a professional development module, we wanted to ensure the following:

  1. Challenging curricula were available.
  2. Curricular options were in response to learning needs.
  3. Students’ research interests guided extensions of curricula.
  4. The learning/teaching dynamic was central to teacher and student change.

Next, we had to figure out how to accomplish all of these goals. As professional developers and teachers ourselves, we often shared information through lectures, small and large group discussions, simulations, videos, slides, and transparencies highlighting main points, examples, and definitions. Conference attendees, workshop participants, and students had opportunities to read, listen, talk, role play, and write. Given our experiences, we approached the idea of creating a professional development module the same way we would normally design training materials. We wanted to ensure that the module provided sufficient details for educators who were novices in their understanding and experience with gifted and talented education. We also wanted experts to recognize how they could make modifications or extensions of the materials to suit their high level of familiarity with curriculum development based on learners’ needs and the education of gifted and talented students. The steps in this process of creating, refining, piloting, and implementing the final version of the professional development module are fully explained in Gubbins et al., (2002).

Upon completion of the research study of Maximizing the Effects of Professional Development Practices to Extend Gifted Education Pedagogy to Regular Education Program, we, once again, reviewed and revised the intervention materials. The intervention became known as the “big red notebook” because of its packaging. Within a 4 in., 3-ring, red notebook, there is a brief history of various viewpoints on intelligence and giftedness; guidelines for assessing the quality, relevance, and comprehensiveness of current curricula; approaches to altering the depth and breadth of curriculum; techniques for creating learner profiles with the ultimate goal of improved achievement; and detailed suggestions and prototypes for designing enrichment learning and teaching opportunities beyond what is available in classrooms.

Applying Gifted Education Pedagogy in the General Education Classroom (Burns et al., 2002) or the “big red notebook” is now available to the public. The five goals of this professional development module include:

  1. Explore a developmental conception of giftedness; discuss your personal perspective.
  2. Identify relevant gifted education services for the general education classroom.
  3. Review the components of an exemplary lesson or curriculum unit. Use curriculum development or remodeling strategies to analyze and improve a traditional lesson to increase challenge, authenticity, and active learning.
  4. Identify student differences and use strategies to accommodate various learning levels of prior knowledge, interests, motivation, communication preferences, cognitive skills, and learning styles.
  5. Provide enrichment activities and options to extend various curriculum units and address talent development, intrinsic motivation, and self-directed learning. (Burns et al., 2002, p. 2)

Individuals or groups interested in a professional development experience that is carefully articulated will find that the “big red notebook” promotes the notion that districts can develop expertise in gifted and talented education by using this module with staff members. One or more teachers can set a goal of becoming the district’s or school’s professional developer in applying gifted education pedagogy to all students. The professional development module consists of background information for the presenter, an overview of the mission of The National Research Center on the Gifted and Talented, and a preface that explains why the “big red notebook” will be a useful resource in response to questions such as:

  1. How do we meet the needs of gifted and talented students who spend the majority of their time in general education classrooms?
  2. How do we nurture the talents and abilities of all students?
  3. How will strategies and practices designed to modify, differentiate, and enrich curricula escalate the challenge level for all students?

These questions are addressed through the use of 89 transparencies, presenter notes, suggested explanations for the content of each transparency, activities for audience involvement, activity pages to practice and reinforce the application of strategies and skills, and selected resources. The “big red notebook” is a self-contained learning opportunity that promotes comprehensive gifted education programs that offer:

  • Services for students who already possess strong cognitive and academic abilities.
  • Services to promote the development of strengths, cognitive abilities, intrinsic motivation, effort, talents, and optimal learning for all students.
  • Services that address social, emotional, and career-based concerns and issues.
  • Services in the classroom, special programs, and in the community. (Burns et al., 2002, p. 10)

An example of the transparency content and script illustrates how we described “Indicators of Differentiation” (see below).

Big Red Notebook, slide 40
(Click on the figure to see it as a PDF file.)

Big Red Notebook, note 40
(Click on the figure to see it as a PDF file.)

Developing and implementing research in schools requires commitment, resources, and a willingness to support growth and change. Our theory-based research study of Maximizing the Effects of Professional Development Practices to Extend Gifted Education Pedagogy to Regular Education Program allowed schools time to experiment with strategies designed to improve learning opportunities for teachers and their students. Participating districts that served as The National Research Center on the Gifted and Talented (NRC/GT) research sites followed carefully outlined research protocols during the pilot phase of the classroom intervention and the longitudinal research study of modifying, differentiating, and enriching curricula. Experiences of administrators, teachers, and students definitely improved the 2002 version of the “big red notebook.” We extend our gratitude to each and every person involved in this study; this was truly a collaborative effort to test, refine, and adapt research-based practices in elementary and middle school classrooms. Through the use of the 2002 “BIG RED NOTEBOOK” or Applying Gifted Education Pedagogy in the General Education Classroom: Professional Development Module (Burns et al.) interested educators will have opportunities to read, listen, talk, role play, and write as they develop local expertise in using the pedagogy of gifted education in general education classrooms and providing students opportunities to experience “schooling and education.”

Brandwein, P., & Morholt, E. (1986). Redefining the gifted: A new paradigm for teachers and mentors. Ventura County, CA: National/State Leadership Training Institute, Ventura County Superintendent of Schools Office.
Burns, D. E., Gubbins, E. J., Reis, S. M., Westberg, K. L., Dinnocenti, S. T., & Tieso, C. T. (2002). Applying gifted education pedagogy in the general education classroom: Professional development module. Storrs: University of Connecticut, The National Research Center on the Gifted and Talented.
Gubbins, E. J., Westberg, K. L., Reis, S. M., Dinnocenti, S. T., Tieso, C. L., Muller, L. M., … Burns, D. E. (in press). Maximizing the effects of professional development practices to extend gifted education pedagogy to general education classrooms. Storrs: University of Connecticut, The National Research Center on the Gifted and Talented.
Westberg, K. L., Gubbins, E. J., Burns, D. E., & Reis, S. M. (1995). Maximizing the effects of professional development practices to extend gifted education pedagogy to regular education programs: Research proposal. Storrs: University of Connecticut, The National Research Center on the Gifted and Talented.


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