Stronger Together Than Apart: Building Better Models through Collaboration and Interconnection

Article excerpt

"Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it."--George Santayana (1863-1952)

To plan gifted education in the 21st century, one must first consider the relatively brief history of the field. Until the 1957 Sputnik launch and the resulting fear that Americans were not globally competitive, there were limited opportunities for bright children. Competition with the Soviets greatly influenced the increase in formal programs for gifted learners (Tannenbaum, 1987). The rise of these programs, comprised mostly of acceleration for bright students in the areas of mathematics, sciences, and technology, began a trend in each state toward legislative mandates to benefit gifted students. Emphasis on gifted education waned in the 1960s, perhaps due to the cultural shift towards desegregated schools, retreatist responses to the Vietnam war, and the cultural devaluation of science (Tannenbaum). The 1970s brought the National/State Leadership Training Institute (N/S LTI) principles of differentiation for gifted and talented students that shifted the collective thinking beyond curriculum as "more" and "faster" to qualitatively different programs for gifted learners incorporating global themes, authentic problems, and requirements for complex thinking. The recommendations from this innovative team served as a springboard for many of the program models developed since that time.

The latter decades of the 20th century saw the advancement of varied curriculum models that each addressed the challenge of meeting bright students' needs in unique and interesting ways. Individual scholars and researchers posited models and approaches such as SMPY, which placed heavy emphasis on acceleration (Stanley & Benbow, 1974). Some scholars focused on enrichment models such as the Schoolwide Enrichment Model (Renzulli, 1985) and the Enrichment Triad Model (Renzulli, 1977). Others offered problem-focused studies such as Parnes (1977), Betts (1985), and, later, Gallagher (1992). Others, such as Treffinger (1982) and Williams (1979) advocated creativity-focused ventures. Each approach made a case for differentiating learning to meet the needs of gifted students.

The wide array of available models--these and many other approaches not mentioned specifically--created a challenge for educators: adopting one approach to gifted services or attempting to juxtapose many models and approaches in order to meet the multiple needs of gifted learners in their care. Realizing that no one approach is a magic bullet or programming panacea, school administrators seldom adopted any one model, opting instead for aspects of many, varied approaches (Callahan, 1996).

Too often, programs end up offering piecemeal, rather than tightly knit, educational experiences (Borland, 1996; Callahan, 1996), missing the benefits offered by any individual model. Because school-level educators frequently wear many hats besides gifted education, and often lack knowledge of (or choose to ignore) the models' theoretical underpinnings they focus on the practical applications of each model, and select the "glitzy" aspects of each approach. The result is schools with disparate approaches to gifted education, program directors who miss opportunities for effective alignment of complementary models, and teachers who make instructional decisions that are incompatible with the intent of the chosen models.

The challenge for the 21st century is to create an approach to gifted education that serves gifted learners by building on the field's rich history without aligning exclusively with any one model. This challenge can be met by increasing communication and collaboration among the field's many researchers and scholars to create an integrated set of options. This wish for the 21st century proposes Interconnection of program models, curriculum models, and instructional strategies to assist practitioners in yielding the greatest benefit from the field's collective wisdom. …