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Gifted Education as a Whole School Model


Dr. Joseph S. Renzulli, director of the National Research Center on the Gifted and Talented, advocates for lessons that challenge all levels of learners, including gifted students. Included: Information about Schoolwide Enrichment Models.

Studying the challenging, creative lessons stressing higher level thinking skills that were developed for gifted students convinced Dr. Joseph S. Renzulli that that type of learning could benefit all students. Renzulli is the director of the National Research Center on the Gifted and Talented, a federally funded program based at the University of Connecticut, in Storrs, Connecticut. He also is the endowed chairman of the university's Neag Center for Gifted Education & Talent Development. The National Research Center trains teachers and administrators to apply lessons developed for gifted students to a whole school, to improve overall student performance and school climate.

Called the Schoolwide Enrichment Model, the approach should be viewed "as an umbrella under which many different types of enrichment and acceleration services are made available to targeted groups of students, as well as [to] various subgroups of students within a given school or grade level," according to the program's Web site. The model provides guidance for the development of challenging and appropriate educational opportunities for all students.

Renzulli recently talked with Education World about his research and about applications of the Schoolwide Enrichment Model.

Dr. Joseph S. Renzulli

Education World: What areas do you focus on in your workshops with teachers?

Dr. Joseph S. Renzulli: Over the past 25 years, my work has evolved from a focus on programs for the gifted to the Schoolwide Enrichment Model, best described as 'applying the pedagogy of gifted education to total school improvement.' My workshops and Confratute, our summer training institute, now are in their 27th year; they serve classroom teachers, teachers of the gifted, and administrators.

EW: What changes in public schools are necessary to raise expectations and the level of learning for all students?

Renzulli: The most important thing we can do to raise expectations is to broaden our concept of "achievement" beyond the rather simplistic notion that it is only what is measured on achievement tests. High expectations should include a broad range of higher level thinking skills and creative and practical thinking, as well as the ability to apply knowledge to real life experiences, engage in problem finding and focusing as well as problem solving, work cooperatively with others, and learn how to evaluate one's own work in order to make continuous improvements. Those kinds of experiences lead to more enjoyment in learning, which I believe should be the first goal of learning. We all know from our own experience that we do better at things we enjoy.

EW: How does the current emphasis on standards and accountability affect efforts of the National Research Center on the Gifted and Talented to encourage whole school reform?

Renzulli: High standards and accountability are important, but as I mentioned above, we need to broaden our concept of what we view as the comprehensive outcomes of learning. If accountability only means increased achievement scores, and if standards only focus on the acquisition of information, then we are using a very narrow view of those terms. Our nation has become prosperous in large part because of the inventiveness, creativity, entrepreneurship, and inquiring attitude of our people. Those things should be as important in our lists of standards and our criteria for accountability as are the knowledge acquisition standards. Our research center conducts studies to provide some scientific evidence that various kinds of instructional and curricular differentiation can produce the types of learning that I have listed above. We also focus our studies on schools that serve diverse populations and that are attempting to develop the gifts and talents of all students.

EW: What changes have occurred in the manner of identifying gifted students over the past decade?

Renzulli: The emphasis has evolved from a purely IQ test-based identification process to one that looks at the abilities, interests, and learning styles of all students. That does not mean that all students are gifted! It means that many more students than just high-test scorers are capable of developing high levels of performance and creative productivity, especially in high interest areas. Many state and school district guidelines have become more flexible in the identification process and are now using teacher ratings, examples of actual performance, and the ways in which students respond to challenging learning experiences. I've always said that giftedness is in the response -- what the student brings to, gets from, and takes away from a challenging activity is the best gauge for who, when, and in what ways follow-up opportunities should be considered.

EW: How can programs for gifted students be used to improve learning at all levels?

"The most important thing we can do to raise expectations is to broaden our concept of 'achievement' beyond the rather simplistic notion that it is only what is measured on achievement tests," says Dr. Joseph S. Renzulli, director of the National Research Center on the Gifted and Talented.

Renzulli: The pedagogy of gifted education focuses on the type of learning I mentioned before, such as a broad range of higher level thinking skills, creative and practical thinking, and the ability to apply knowledge to real life experiences. Our research shows that all students can benefit to varying degrees from that type of pedagogy, but we need the administrative leadership, the political will, and the staff development programs to infuse that pedagogy into the repertoire of all teachers. Most of today's staff development focuses on highly prescriptive teaching that is almost totally focused on getting the scores up. All teachers are capable of learning how to do more flexible and creative teaching -- indeed, that was the expectation of most people entering the profession. But the system must value and encourage the kinds of teaching mentioned above, rather than focusing on what I sometimes call the 3-R Model -- Ram, Remember, and Regurgitate or the M&M Model -- Mention and Move On!

EW: Why are school systems so reluctant to address the needs of gifted students?

Renzulli: The pressures to get the [test] scores up, the always-present budgetary problems that schools face, and the growing number of students with special needs combine to minimize the resources made available for special services. Those things lead to a common but faulty rationalization that "the gifted can make it on their own." Our entire education system is based on the individual differences and uniqueness that exist among learners. True equity means that accommodations should be made for all students -- that one size does not fit all.

EW: How can teachers convince educators that the type of learning designed for gifted students can benefit all students?

Renzulli: The best way to do that is to provide information that shows in clear and practical ways how those things can be done and to visit schools that are actually doing it. We have a Schoolwide Enrichment Model Directory of schools around the country that use the Schoolwide Enrichment Model. Many of those schools have agreed to host visitors and share information with interested educators.

This e-interview with Dr. Joseph S. Renzulli is part of the Education World Wire Side Chat series. Click here to see other articles in the series.


Article by Ellen R. Delisio
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