Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Developing a personalised talent based programme

Student engaged in close observation as part of her research study.

'Every teacher has had the satisfaction of seeing a child 'turn on' to a topic or school experience that demonstrates the true joy and excitement of learning ' says Joseph Renzulli of the US National Research Centre of Gifted and Talented.

Many teachers wonder why these 'high points' don't occur more often; why students are not more engaged in highly positive learning experiences? In contrast teachers are all too aware of student boredom and lack of interest which all to often results in 'difficult' behaviour.

The problem is, according to Renzulli, that teachers do not have the time to tap into potential student interests and talents. All to often teacher energy is dissapated by, 'delivering' imposed curriculum's, by assessment and achievement pressures; and by pressure to 'target' literacy and numeracy areas.

To engage students schools need to focus on developing attractive problem centred learning as a priority. To do this requires students to acquire the vital skills of problem finding and focusing, stating research questions, understanding the tasks selected, identifying appropriate resources ( including web based sites), understanding investigative methods, and research writing skills. And such studies need to result in producing quality products to realistic audiences.

Such a change of emphasis would create schools as exiting learning centres but it would require a dramatic change of 'mindsets' for many teachers. It asks teachers to place talent development and joy of learning ahead of literacy and numeracy.

The first step would be to create a personalised profile for each learner of their strengths, interests, learning styles or preferences, including, naturally, literacy and numeracy. Such a profile would indicate areas of personal interest that students might like to pursue in greater depth. Groups of students will be identified who share the similar interests.

The beginning of the year, as part the parent interview process, would be an appropriate time to gather information from parents about their children's interests and talents. Each year the profile could be added to and each student could keep their profile on a school website. Howard Gardner's eight intelligences would be a useful starting point to share with parents and students.

The goal is to ensure high levels of engagement by providing studies, or by tapping into personal interests, where students can engage in thinking, feeling and doing what practicing professional do, but obviously at an appropriate level. High engagement engagement is the most important single criterion that distinguishes high from low achievement.

Renzulli's model is in line with inquiry learning, constructivist teaching, project based, or integrated teaching. Learning based on students interests cannot be totally planned in advance as ideas, questions and new direction will 'emerge'. As in the 'real world' studies will be 'ill-defined' until students begin to clarify their questions and define their tasks.

The first requirement is expose students to topics that might inspire their interest. Learning that evolves will need to access whatever appropriate subject disciplines, or outside expertise, including the Internet, as required

Teachers then need to provide students with the inquiry skills and resources necessary to acquire an in depth understanding of content. The students, says Renzulli, are to be seen as 'first hand inquirers', or as the New Zealand Curriculum states , their own 'seekers, users, and creators of knowledge'; to do 'fewer things well'.

Opportunities need to created for students to apply their skills in self selected areas of interest, or problem they want to pursue individually , in groups, or as a part of a class project.

To conclude students need to develop authentic products, displays, performances, or reports that are primarily directed to a specified audience.

To work well, according to Renzulli, the problem, or task chosen, must be 'real' to the student
, based on a sincere interest rather than one assigned by the teacher. Secondly, whatever is chosen must make use of the investigation methods of the appropriate practicing professional. Students need to do what real scientists, artists or community activists do, even if at a junior level. Finally is is important to be geared towards an audience other than the classroom teacher - other students, parents, a science fair etc.

The teachers role in all of this is vital. Teachers act as a creative coaches, or 'guides on the side'.They: help students retain their focus; provide access to resources; encourage student meta cognitive thinking and self organising skills; encourage reflective thinking; provide research and inquiry skills; and finally, the necessary design and presentation skills to produce work of quality. Diagnostic assessment incuding 'feedback' is a natural part of all interactions but the true value is only fully appreciated after presentations of findings to the selected audience.

Such an approach would transform education and would provide the 'new literacies' and 'key competencies' required for students to succeed in the challenging times ahead. Information technology, both to search and present ideas, defines this generation's experience and is easily integrated into such an approach.

With almost unlimited access to the world's knowledge it is critical for educators access this knowledge wisely and effectively. There are five major skill sets involved in the 'new literacies':

Identifying important questions
Locating relevant information
Critically evaluating information
Synthesizing information
Communicating effectively

These 'literacies' need to be introduced when students start school.

Our current industrial age fragmented schooling has resulted in far too many students being disengaged and bored; all too often alienated from their own learning power.

Renzulli's area of expertise is 'gifted students' but he believes a 'gifted education approach' improves the engagement and achievement of all students. Renzulli has written an article entitled 'A Rising Tide Lifts all Ships'

Working on something that is of personal interest, at any age, develops an infectious enthusiasm for learning. Such an approach challenges students to want to 'stretch' beyond their current levels. Engaged students, with a positive attitude towards learning, would also make teaching more fun and rewarding.

It is this approach that schools should 'target' not more of the same old literacy and numeracy.


Anonymous said...

Renzulli makes sense. He has been writing, and has been pratically involved in this area of developing all students gifts, for decades- as you have Bruce.

Bruce Hammonds said...

How we can stand by while up to 40% of our students leave our education system with little to show for their time is beyond me. All I hear are excuses, or a lack of funding, when really it is 'changing our minds' that is the real problem. Schools are the slow learners! There are plenty of solutions around but no real enthusiasm for change - just more of the same.