Bruce N. Berube
University of Connecticut
Many educators are beginning to realize that more needs to be done to challenge students in the regular classroom. The innovative ideas used to challenge high ability students are now being viewed as a means to provide rich curricular opportunities for all students.
Margaret Beecher is at the forefront of this movement. In the introduction to her book, Developing the Gifts and Talents of All Students in the Regular Classroom: An Innovative Curricular Design Based on the Enrichment Triad Model, Beecher provides a quote by Roland Barth that clarifies the primary mission she hopes to accomplish. Barth (1990) states, “Rarely do outside of school remedies work their way into the fabric of the school or into educators’ lives, and more rarely into classrooms. Therefore, they offer only modest hope of influencing the basic culture of the schools” (p. 3). The ideas, strategies, and suggestions presented by Beecher begin in and focus on the regular classroom and provide guidance for how best to provide for the unique talents and abilities of all students. Beecher’s objective is to improve schools from within by utilizing the best of what gifted education has to offer and making it available to each and every individual in the classroom.
To accomplish this task, Beecher relies heavily on the Enrichment Triad Model (1977), developed by Dr. Joseph Renzulli. For those not familiar with this model, it consists of three basic types of activities. Type I activities involve exploratory experiences that allow students to examine topics and ideas not ordinarily focused on as part of the regular curriculum. They are designed to pique student interest for the topic under investigation. A variety of mediums are often utilized, including guest speakers, interest centers, and computer software. Type II activities focus on providing students with the processes and skills necessary for higher level thinking. They are organized into four primary categories which include: 1) creative and critical thinking skills, 2) learning how-to-learn skills, 3) reference skills, and 4) communication skills. Included under these general headings are a multitude of more specific skills and tasks. It is important to note that Type II training is often a prerequisite that enables students to successfully complete Type III projects. Finally, Type III projects are the culminating and most important aspect of the Enrichment Triad Model. They focus on students assuming the roles of “practicing professionals” in a given area of study. Participants focus on real-life problems of interest to them, and by adopting the techniques and skills of an expert in that field, they eventually find a solution to their problem. This solution is then presented in a unique and creative way. For example, one Type III project described in the book focused on skiing. The student developed a videotape on the slopes of the Berkshires to provide an introduction to the basics of skiing techniques. The Enrichment Triad Model was initially intended for use with students identified as gifted. Beecher’s primary concern in her book is to translate this model into an effective program for regular classroom teachers and for all students.
In order for this transition to be effective, Beecher provides a 12-step organizational framework to help educators develop units that will incorporate the enrichment activities of the Triad Model. While the author spends significant time elaborating on each step, for this review I will briefly summarize some of the important aspects of the process in general. Because emphasis is placed on the regular classroom, and because the time constraints often placed on teachers in such a situation need to be considered, the general themes and/or topics to be explored are often selected by the teacher and relate to some aspect of the prescribed curriculum. This is not to say that students are never allowed to select the general interest area, but the topics are usually curriculum related.
The first several steps in the process involve the teacher in preparatory activities that form the basis of the development of a unit of study. Before a unit, theme, or topic is examined the teacher must first select a broad theme that covers all or part of a particular year’s curriculum. In a fourth grade class, for example, the overarching theme that was selected for the year was “Survival.” The more specific units developed over the course of the year were subsumed under this general theme. In addition to this thematic selection, the teacher is also involved in mapping the curriculum for the school year. This involves detailing the specific skills and processes to be taught in each content area. These skills are then integrated into the specific units and the general theme described above. The skills involve those found in the regular curriculum, such as analyzing cause and effect relationships, comparing and contrasting, and interpreting the main idea of a text. Once these two tasks have been completed, the topics or sub-themes are then developed, with the teacher always mindful of relating these sub-themes to the general theme and the necessary skills to be taught. The particular topic Beecher spends a significant amount of time describing is her Native Americans unit. In developing this unit she continued to monitor how the study of Native Americans would be effectively integrated with the all-inclusive theme of Survival.
The specific units or themes are then infused with the activities detailed in the Enrichment Triad Model. Brainstorming sessions begin the initial planning. The first session involves listing any and all ideas related to the unit. Resources such as textbooks, magazines, and the teacher’s prior knowledge and expertise all play a role in this generative process. The thoughts developed in this brainstorming session are then translated into a web that helps to graphically organize these initial ideas. The second brainstorming session is an attempt to develop activities that will help students learn about the important topics detailed on the web. At this time the activities are considered in term of how they relate to specific content areas and the required skills to be covered. It is recommended that the teacher confer with specialists in the school so that activities can be provided that focus on a broad range of topics and highlight a variety of student strengths and abilities. Beecher points out that integration of different subject areas is crucial to the development of such a unit, and that the teacher must make a concerted effort to highlight the interconnectedness of the individual content areas.
Also involved in the preliminary planning are such issues as determining student outcomes and surveying students as to their background knowledge and interests. In terms of outcomes, Beecher stresses the obvious emphasis on content to be mastered and skills to be acquired, but also focuses on student attitudes that will be developed by the end of the unit. Such attitudes that she deems important include an inquisitive nature and independent work habits. As far as surveying the students is concerned, Beecher is not only intent on gathering information related to what students already know about a given topic and what interests them about that topic, but also how they would like to approach their learning. By suggesting a variety of learning styles and finding out what styles pique the students’ enthusiasm, more effective lessons and activities can be generated.
Once the students become involved in the Type I, II, and III activities a relatively sequential format is followed. For Type I activities, Beecher relies heavily on the use of interest centers and guest speakers. The interest centers and guest speakers focus on developing not only student interest in the unit, but attempt to provide a foundation of background knowledge that the students will need for more in-depth Type III activities later on. Beecher points out that the use of interest centers is of utmost importance in the primary grades. Younger students need hands-on materials they can interact with and learn from.
Type II process training lessons are infused throughout the course of the unit. The goal of such lessons and activities is to allow students to “process and interact with the content presented.” This type of training is often needed in order for students to appreciate fully the Type I experiences, and provides the requisite skills necessary for in-depth Type III investigations. While specific Type II training activities will be necessitated by the specific independent projects the students are involved in, Beecher believes there are several Type II skills that are “a must” as students progress through the Triad process. These include:
- Decision Making
- Creative Problem Solving
The culminating Type III training activities described by Beecher differ slightly from the Type III investigations ideally developed according to the Enrichment Triad Model. First and foremost, the Type III training activities involve each and every student in the classroom. They are not geared toward only those students who exhibit particular talents and abilities. As Beecher points out, this may mean that not all of the independent projects students work on will be as in-depth as a real Type III. This is not to say that those students who do exhibit talents and abilities will not be given the opportunity to reach their potential. The Type III training activities that begin in the classroom are often developed into expanded Type III projects with the help of the enrichment specialist. The second key difference related to these activities is that they are based on the unit or theme under investigation. For example, with the Native Americans unit, students were allowed to select projects within the parameters of the topic being studied. They were not allowed to select any interest area, which is often a hallmark of Type III investigations.
To highlight the difference between a Type III training activity and an in-depth Type III investigation, Beecher provides several examples of each. One student, as a result of investigating the Native American culture, decided to become a “tribal storyteller.” As part of her Type III training activity she learned the essential techniques of being a good storyteller and conducted extensive research on the myths and legends of the Plains Indian tribes. To display her knowledge and expertise, she presented a variety of myths and legends to parents during a culminating “powwow.”
Going one step further, another student decided to explore her family’s genealogy in detail. As part of her Type III project “this student wrote, directed, and produced a play entitled ‘A Living Genealogy,‘ which was videotaped for a local cable company and became a national award-winning video” (p. 100). This investigation involved the assistance of not only the teacher, but the enrichment specialist and parents as well.
It cannot be emphasized enough that as the Type III training activities begin, students and teacher need to take the time to plan their investigations carefully and focus on a clear and specific problem. As Beecher states, “Planning is a critical component of a Type III investigation and offers a challenging task for both teachers and students. Without a clear plan most endeavors are doomed to failure” (p. 88). To fulfill this objective, Beecher provides a detailed management plan for students to follow.
Once the Triad process has been completed for a topic or theme, assessment and evaluation take place. This assessment and evaluation not only center on the students, but on the teacher as well. In terms of the students, emphasis is placed on their “constructed responses,” i.e., the products developed as a result of their independent investigations. Peer and self-assessment are of utmost importance as is feedback from the teacher on how to improve future investigations. The teacher also needs to examine his or her own teaching and be mindful of the modifications that can be made to improve future Triad experiences.
Finally, Beecher provides a section for the reader that deals with frequently asked questions related to the implementation of the Triad Model in the regular classroom. These questions address topics such as how to handle the awe-inspiring task of guiding 20 or more students through Type III investigations simultaneously, and dealing with the fact that you cannot be an expert on every specific topic that the students choose to explore. I found this question and answer section particularly helpful, because it provided answers to some of the key questions that may have otherwise prevented me from experimenting with the Triad Model in the future.
Overall, I found the book to be very “hands-on” and teacher friendly. For almost every step in the overall process of integrating Triad in the classroom, a useful chart or diagram is provided that enables the teacher new to the process to begin immediately. Also very helpful is the Appendix offered at the end of the book. It includes detailed descriptions of 21 lessons used to teach a variety of Type II training skills. These include decision making, creative problem solving, SCAMPER, and webbing. Also, the examples provided of successfully completed projects have inspired me to integrate these advanced investigations into my own curriculum. It was nice to see that enrichment learning and teaching do not have to be reserved for a select few students. Such an approach is available to all students with the help of a dedicated educator such as Margaret Beecher.