Tending the Special Spark: Accelerated and Enriched Curricula for Highly Talented Art Students
Clark, Gilbert, Zimmerman, Enid, Roeper Review
Israel's proposed residential high school for students gifted in the arts and sciences will "tend the special spark in talented youngsters, equipping them to lead Israel's scientific, artistic and community life ... those who have, within themselves, the greatest potential in arts or sciences--the top tenth of 1% of the nation's students" (Striving, n.d.). In order to accomplish these goals, two task forces were formed to create screening procedures to select students and select curriculum content to meet the school's educational goals. In addition, how to prepare teachers and create a suitable environment has been studied. As members of the International Advisory Panel to this project, we found that issues associated with formulating arts and sciences curricula for the proposed school are complex and unresolved. Some members of the panel proposed integrating arts and science classes, others proposed study of the arts and sciences as separate disciplines.
A more basic issue arose, following the advisory panel's meeting, as we considered the great disparity that currently exists between practices in art and science education in the United States. Science and mathematics education have been developed from the use of relatively systematic and standard curricula. Education of gifted students in the sciences and in mathematics, therefore, often has been based upon acceleration across a recognized scope and sequence of content that is more or less commonly accepted. Curricula for the arts, both visual and performing, are far less systematic or standardized and, as taught, rarely follow a common scope and sequence of content. A comprehensive program for artistically talented students, however, needs to be based upon a sequential, articulated curriculum as the foundation for planned administrative arrangements for gifted students such as enrichment and acceleration (Clark & Zimmerman, 1984).
The article describes a well-known, respected mathematics program for highly gifted students, projects how a similarly organized program might be created for students who are highly talented in the visual arts, and discusses application of these ideas in such a school as the projected high school for highly gifted students in Israel.
Stanley's SMPY Program
In 1969, Julian Stanley, a professor of psychology at Johns Hopkins University, became involved in helping direct the education of a 12-year-old, mathematically gifted student. This simple beginning led, in 1971, to creation of the Study of Mathematically Precocious Youth (SMPY) at Johns Hopkins University and in 1980 to the Program for Verbally Gifted Youth (PVGY). SMPY's main function was to identify students who were highly gifted in mathematics and to direct a radical acceleration program for these students. At one time, SMPY was the vehicle for conducting national talent searches for mathematically precocious youth; at present the Center for the Advancement of Academically Talented Youth (CTY) performs this function (Barnett, Favazza, & Durden, 1983).
Stanley and a group of other researchers chose mathematical reasoning as a focus because they wanted to select a subject generally offered in the schools, provide a rapid acceleration program rather than create new curricula, and create a service for students with high intellectual talent (Stanley, George, & Solano, 1977). According to Fox (1974), who was one of the researchers, "Since the formula for precocious achievement in mathematics (i.e., aptitude plus encouragement plus opportunity) seemed simple and straightforward, we decided to see how well it would work" (p. 102). The group set forth three principles that would guide their work. These were that learning is a sequential and developmental process, large differences in learning capacities of individuals exist among students at any given age, and that effective teaching involves assessing each student's status in the learning process and posing problems that slightly exceed his or her level of mastery (Benbow & Stanley, 1983b).
The SMPY group used already available educational options and adapted them to the needs of their mathematically precocious students. They based their work upon a flexible set of options rather than setting forth a single program. Students were advised to remain in their local junior or senior high schools and follow an acceleration program designed to meet their individual needs. The least disruptive method of acceleration, according to the SMPY project designers, would be for a student to take as many stimulating high school courses as possible to ensure high school graduation and take courses from a local institute of higher education on a released time basis, during evenings, or throughout the summer. If these options were not feasible, the student could receive college credit for coursework through a program such as the Advanced Placement Program, enroll in correspondence courses at the high school or college level from a major institution, take special fast-paced courses in specific subject matter such as calculus or American history, attend an early entrance college program instead of attending his or her local high school, enter college at the end of the tenth or eleventh grade without a high school diploma, or be tutored through diagnostic testing and a prescriptive instructional approach (Benbow & Stanley, 1983a, 1983b).
SMPY was not a curriculum development project. The directors of the program decided not to attempt to alter standardized textbooks and courses already in place in the schools. They chose, instead, to work within the better school mathematics curricula and usually in conventional sequence. It would have demanded too much time, expense, and red tape to introduce a new mathematics curriculum for SMPY students. SMPY was not viewed as a service project. It was meant to be a prototype for developing principles, techniques, and practices that could be used in many different contexts to improve the mathematical and other education of "youths who reason extremely well" (Stanley, George, & Solano, 1977, p. 100).
The SMPY group felt that they needed to identify academically advanced students at as early a grade and age level as the developing of the chosen ability, mathematical reasoning, permitted. This led to the selection of junior and senior high school students as their target audience. They chose to follow straightforward identification procedures that relied upon superior scores on such tests as the Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT). The mathematics (SAT-M) and verbal (SAT-V) subtests were used to measure mathematical reasoning, reading and verbal reasoning, and writing skills. The SAT was found to be an "excellent measure of a student's ability to reason and read well, respond quickly, and perform well under stress" (Barnett, Favazza, & Durden, 1983, p. 40). Students who scored high on the SAT subtests then were administered a battery of cognitive and evaluative measures as further screening procedures. Each student selected for the program was described on an achievement, cognitive, and evaluative profile that was used to project an appropriate educational program.
On the basis of success with over 15,000 gifted young students, Stanley (1976) noted that:
It should be no surprise that educational acceleration works well when highly able, splendidly motivated students are given a variety of ways to accomplish it ... it is clear …
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Publication information: Article title: Tending the Special Spark: Accelerated and Enriched Curricula for Highly Talented Art Students. Contributors: Clark, Gilbert - Author, Zimmerman, Enid - Author. Journal title: Roeper Review. Volume: 24. Issue: 3 Publication date: Spring 2002. Page number: 161+. © 1999 The Roeper School. COPYRIGHT 2002 Gale Group.
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