Robert J. Sternberg and Pamela R. Clinkenbeard
New Haven, CT
There are two main research projects underway at the Yale University site of The National Research Center on the Gifted and Talented (NRC/GT). The first, led by Robert J. Sternberg, is a five year project designed to study identification, teaching, and evaluation of gifted students in one integrated investigation. The second project, led by Pamela R. Clinkenbeard, is a four year qualitative investigation of motivation in gifted middle school students. For each project, we will describe briefly our progress up through the second year of the grant, which ended May 31, 1992.
A Theory-Based Approach to Identification, Teaching, and Evaluation of the Gifted
This project is based on Sternberg’s triarchic theory, which postulates three aspects of intellectual ability: analytic, synthetic-creative, and practical-contextual. A common problem in the education of gifted students is inconsistency between the way these students are identified, and the instruction and assessment they receive. For example, a student may be identified for a gifted program on the strength of high creativity test scores, but the program may consist of accelerated work in a traditional subject matter area. The creatively gifted student may or may not be gifted in the content of the program.
Analytic ability is seen in those students who are most likely to be identified for gifted programs: generally, those who score high on IQ tests and who do very well in schoolwork. Synthetic-creative ability is characteristic of students who show insight in solving novel problems and who generally think in non-entrenched ways, but who are probably less “school smart” than analytically gifted students. Practical-contextual ability is seen in students who are outstanding at coping with problems of everyday life, and who are skilled at adapting themselves to the environment; we might call them “street-smart.”
Our main activities in the first two years were building and revising the curriculum for the program, developing and testing an experimental version of the Sternberg Triarchic Abilities Test (STAT), and making plans for the summer programs that will be the major source of project data. We identified 63 high school students who were high in analytic, creative, or practical intelligence. This identification was part of the final arrangements for our 1992 summer pilot program, called the Yale Summer Psychology Program (YSPP). In this program, different sections of an introductory course in psychology were taught to emphasize analytic, creative, or practical skills. Students were randomly assigned to the different course sections, and all were evaluated on analytic, creative, and practical tasks. In summary, this project systematically manipulates identification, instruction, and evaluation of gifted students to determine what would be gained by broadening identification procedures, teaching in ways that are or are not tailored to gifted students’ particular patterns of abilities, and assessing the students’ performance in ways that either do or do not address their particular strengths. Our main activity in Year 3 is to analyze the results of data on various tests and course assignments from YSPP, and to plan the 1993 summer program.
Motivation and Underachievement in Urban and Suburban Gifted Adolescents
The motivation project, led by Pamela R. Clinkenbeard, is a four year qualitative investigation that began in Year 2. The purpose of the study is to investigate factors that create or inhibit a “gifted” level of performance, both in those who have been identified as gifted and in those who have not. This project will address two important factors in the gap between potential and performance: motivation and disadvantage. We will describe in qualitative fashion the motivational patterns found in both suburban and economically disadvantaged urban classrooms of gifted preadolescents; we will extend this observation to regular classrooms in an attempt to determine the motivators of exceptional performance in those not’ identified as gifted. Motivation has emerged as an important factor in defining and explaining giftedness.
The primary activities of this project in the 1991-92 funding year were to build a literature database on motivation and the gifted, develop a literature review, conduct pilot classroom observations in a low income urban middle school gifted classroom, and refine the method of qualitative observation. The main thing that has been learned in the course of building the database and writing the literature review is that there is little actual data-based research focusing on motivation and the gifted. Electronic searches of psychology and education databases using the search term “motivation and gifted” yielded a number of articles, but most of them have turned out to be descriptions of activities or programs presumed to be motivational for gifted students. Another subgroup of these articles addresses current research on motivation and its implications for gifted education, but does not present any new data.
From the pilot observations, we refined the qualitative observational techniques to be used in the next year of the project, and affirmed that very high level products can be developed in very poor urban schools.
The main activity in Year 3 will be to observe two gifted classes, one suburban and one urban and economically disadvantaged. Expected knowledge includes some answers to these questions: Do suburban classrooms for gifted preadolescents reveal different motivational patterns from those in economically disadvantaged urban classrooms? Are motivational patterns of students identified as gifted different in kind and/or degree from motivational patterns of other students? Does the experience of being labeled “gifted” cause a shift in motivation related behavior?