EQUITY, ELITES AND EMINENCE:
Published in Our Gifted Children 4.3, 10-14. Melbourne: Hawher Brownlow Education 1997.
Night of the Notables is an exemplary program on the lives of the eminent and famous for gifted and talented boys and girls for use in schools. Night of the Notables is a new program for both gifted and talented that has received an enthusiastic response. In it, many optimal features of gifted education (demanding research skills, longer time spans, deeper studies, wider research, flexible pacing, integrated study across the subjects, advanced communication skills, personal creativity) are featured. "Equity, Elites and Eminence" shows how it benefits a whole cohort.
Night of the Notables serves and nurtures the autonomous learner. The student works at his or her own pace and to his own depth, free to move where he wishes. He or she is working within a chosen time frame, is comfortable within a personal learning style and is encouraged to be creative about the products of learning. Night of the Notables ideally shows the autonomous learner at work. It features suitable role models for gifted and talented children.
Return to Notables Page.
by Greg Smith 11/8/97
- Plan of paper
- Introduction: recognition, encouragement, challenge for gifted
- Differentiated programming: programs v provisions, different needs
- Gifted learners: autonomy, identification, myths, eminence & giftedness
- Learning for life: focus is eminence, a Type III Enrichment
- Notables is distinctive: Hollingworth, family nurturance & involvement
- Rationale: aims. process, passions, tasks
- Optimal characteristics: modelling, challenge, autonomy
- Features: versatile, multi-layered, vocational, teacher scaffolds, extra-mural, cross-disciplinary, product oriented, holistic, challenging, higher level thinking, management and metacognition, technology-relevant, broader gateway, action identification, global application.
- Implications and Applications: affective, assessments, sequences
- The Program's stages (purchased with consultancy)
- Review and Considerations
- Video of 1997 Night of the Notables
- Night of the Notables skills
- Stages of the Study
- Night of the Notables offers ...
- Night of the Notables Review 1997
- Night of the Notables meets standard criteria for excellent gifted programs
- Two Implemention models
- Discussion Points
- Gagné's Differentiated Model of Giftedness and Talent
Educating our gifted cannot afford to be haphazard; gifted deserve real meat and real rewards for challenges met. Occasional provisions for gifted and talented may be good as far as they go, but students are not gifted just for an hour a week. Because being gifted is a twenty-four hour, seven day a week experience, it demands recognition, and schools have been slow to cater for it in regular curriculums. Our gifted students deserve more; they deserve recognition, encouragement and suitably challenging programs. Equity demands that their needs are recognised and met, and that they have equal access to time and staff resources through the term. This paper outlines how one program designed for gifted was successfully offered to all students in a cohort so its special benefits reached all possible clients, identified or as yet unidentified. In this way our gifted programming is neither "boutique" or elitist.
Gifted in the mainstream
In the mainstream, students are all brothers and sisters under the bell curve. In a general population however, there are always some few who present as gifted. They are only sometimes identified and catered for within classes, in schools or in school systems. But since so few are identified and catered for, the general curriculum too often remains the same for all. For the gifted, there may be no special provisions and no differentiated learning programs, and no recognition of the special problems that "being gifted" presents. Yet the phenomenon does require special supports and distinctive programming.
Our College has not formally adopted a definition or selection procedure for identifying the gifted, but we are preferring Gagne's dynamic definition (1993:72) which indicates that one's gifts or "aptitudes" need rich environments or "intrapersonal catalysts" to be nurtured into talents. Such a dynamic definition constantly challenges us to be open to new expressions of giftedness, to create richer learning situations and to build up a whole school environment that values the gifts of everyone while rewarding those who excel. His definition recognises the variety of influences on the individual, that giftedness is not just cognitive, and the powerful role of motivation and commitment that typifies gifted achievers. Night of the Notables is novel in that it develops this socio-affective domain in the Gagné model (1993).
Night of the Notables eminently suits this approach, for it offers the same opportunities for all while enabling the more able and the "hidden gifted" to flourish. Night of the Notables also fits easily with the Renzulli definition (1977) which recognises giftedness as a tripartite phenomenon with three interacting behaviours: well above average intelligence, high levels of task commitment, and high levels of creativity. The Queensland Department of Education (1982) definition takes this up stating that, "Gifted children are those who because of above average abilities, creativity and task commitment perform or are capable of performing at a high level in potentially valuable areas of human endeavour." Night of the Notables offers such life-long learning and skills for life.
Gagné's definition reminds us that giftedness occurs in rewarding environments. Tannenbaum (1983) too believes many elements are necessary for giftedness: "Stimulating home, school and community settings are indispensable not only for maximising potentialities but also for helping to determine directions they take." In his definition of giftedness, Gallagher (1985) also stresses the environment and that the culture selects the gifts.
Programs not provisions
Delisle (1984) reported that gifted children suffer in schools and will continue to unless specific changes are implemented to cater for their distinctive needs. Any school worth its salt must build gifted and talented programs into its policy and timetable. Occasional add-ons, pull-outs and forays into thinking skills are just insufficient. Sequenced, challenging and differentiated programs need to be available to identify gifted. Quality gifted programming requires differentiated programs in planned scopes and sequences. Such gifted programs will serve gifted students much better by their inclusion in the regular timetable. So they need to be planned, sequential, appropriate and substantial (Van Tassel-Baska, 1985:48).
Gifted students deserve programs not provisions. By this I mean that provisions are temporary while programs occur within scope and sequence frameworks. "Provisions" is often used as a generic term for ad hoc or in-class adaptations for individuals, or as a more general term encompassing all kinds of special educational arrangements. Schools may offer mentorships, competitions, group problem solving, extensions and enrichments of various kinds, most of which are valuable provisions in themselves. But such provisions being short-term or fragmentary cannot claim to meet the specific on-going learning needs of the students to whom they are offered nor would they qualify on all four criteria: that they be planned, sequential, appropriate and substantial.
Gifted programs are usually devised to cater for ability bands not broad needs; they are organised sequences of learning experiences to meet a specific goal and ideally are embedded in the school's overall curriculum. Programmed enrichment takes time to plan and longer to implement. Designing it required much hard work and imagination to meet the learning needs of all, including gifted individuals. Night of the Notables is such a planned, appropriate, sequenced and substantial program for all.
In justice gifted deserve these differentiated provisions and programs. But to call them elitist is quite mistaken. It may be true that what suits the goose does not suit the gander; but we have found that what targets gifted can be offered to all if tasks are open-ended. Programs that are truly differentiated in content, process, product and environment can cater for various "intelligences" and the various learning styles if choice is built-in. If the focus is a broad-band theme like eminence, everyone can access it according to his or her own ability. In this way, equity defeats elitism, for everyone shares the same access to resources, and individual choice dictates the levels of challenge and outcomes and the pace and depths of learning.
Meeting the needs of gifted learners in the mainstream
Gifted learners deserve control of their own learning because they are different from other children by the intensity of their on-going interests, by their need for esteem (especially self-esteem), the desire to feed on achievement, the urge to learn faster, their need to know something specific and by their insatiable curiosity (Knowles, 1975). To learn effectively, one must be active in controlling one's learning, or in other words, one must have some autonomy. In short, gifted learners in exercising their autonomy are satisfying their need to find difficult-to-find role models for nurturing self esteem.
Night of the Notables aims to meet this central need while staying in the mainstreeam. As an intensive study of an eminent or notable high achiever, it has an affective (sic) purpose whereby the gifted student can identify with him or her, understand the nature and responsibility of having gifts, and learn about the persistence needed to overcome difficulties and doubts that always surround the lived experience of being gifted. The good news I bring then is that we can achieve this while staying in the mainstream.
We have here a quality program that suits a wide range of abilities. Everyone else in the cohort has gifts and role models too and so everyone can celebrate gifts and achievements collectively. Our aim can be stated in the Education Queensland's goal:
The curriculum for the gifted should be characterised by flexibility rather than uniformity, quality not quantity and should fulfil the needs of the individual student. Appropriate teacher and student interaction, together with differentiated content (qualitatively different provisions) will result in a quality curriculum. The Education of Gifted Students: Resource Document
Why study eminent people?
A study of biography widens horizons and children's visions. It shows students the variety and possibilities in human lives, and that the famous are or were real people in rich concrete detail. It generates awareness of the possibilities for their own lives. Hence it can be a moral education revealing the distinctive values and motivations that famous people confront and their ways of dealing with them. It reminds the young that they can be active in creating their futures, that their lives can be very much of their own making.
Learning for life
In the Night of the Notables, the students aim to find out all they can about their eminent person so they can identify with him or her, their backgrounds, difficulties, opportunities and what made or makes them famous. It is very interesting in itself to plot how a notable rose to fame, overcome difficulties and mistakes and coped with giftedness. Doing it, students strive to have as complete a record of their chosen person's life and work as possible.
Night of the Notables models gifted education in our traditional curriculum. It is planned yet adaptable as a stand alone program or as an infused one. My staff and I use original Workbooks to resource the program. It is sequential yet multi-layered so it can meet the needs of a wide variety of ability levels. It is appropriate as it emphasises student choice and commitment and so, is an admirable Renzulli Type III Enrichment (Renzulli. 1986:77). It is substantial as it runs over ten weeks and this paper reports on six years' piloting it with both gifted and committed secondary students both here in Melbourne and with two Year 8 cohorts at my Brisbane GPS school in 1996 and 1997.
What is distinctive about Night of the Notables?
Studying genius and eminence has a precedent in gifted education. In 1939, Leta Hollingworth initiated the study of biography of the gifted and taught this subject herself in her experimental programs. She felt that these children needed role models to learn how others like themselves had adjusted, sustained effort against odds, and contributed to civilisation. Biographies serve to inform children how careers are made and the various kinds of intellectual work needed in the world. Through these role models, Hollingworth encouraged the students to set high ideals, perfect their work, learn self discipline, and strive towards altruism and service to society.
In the same way today, Night of the Notables plots the rise to eminence. In it, the students identify the Notable's personal gifts and traits, his or her family's influence, the education and preparation for fame, and the opportunities grasped and achievements made. Traits, opportunities and commitment are powerful elements of fame. These features are primarily modelled in families as R. S. Albert (1985:23) observes:
The attainment of eminence involves the child's family . . . as the outcome of the family's values and emphases. . . . Eminence is gained by long maintained effort within family, school and career; eminence is a real world fit between giftedness and career; personalities and values selectively motivate such individuals; the gift becomes canalised . . .; the role and power of one's family presses on the individual; exceptionality focuses attention, interest and behaviours.
By studying life settings and personalities then, students come to value their own family's aspirations for them.
Justifiably then, families become very involved in Night of the Notables, even more than in any other study at school. It is very much a family affair when Mum, Dad and student along with his or her siblings trundle in with all the flags, signs, video gear, costume and food to help set up the display. Many hours of family discussion, planning and arranging go into this particular study and the parents always report they love being so involved in what their son or daughter does. This total involvement with the student distinguishes Night of the Notables as being egalitarian; it serves everyone and through it equity is delivered. Eminence is nurtured in a family just as genius appears in clusters. Families support their children's learning in this school program as no other study does. Doing Notables in the mainstream removes any charge of elitism about eminence, for in it, families and school community celebrate student achievements and aspirations together.
The program aims to engender identification with the chosen notable. The dynamic is that increased knowledge will lead to empathy with that chosen person. A second intended result is to increase self knowledge within the student and so focus his or her energies to set goals for achievement in the real world. A third is the attainment of life long research and communication skills. Students attain these goals according to their needs, capacities and commitment. With this in-built elasticity, the program has been successfully adapted for use by whole cohorts.
Socrates told us that self knowledge is power and the program rests on the axiom that a fuller perception of one's personal circumstances, possibilities, options and limitations is itself beneficial and a realistic foundation for coping with giftedness. More remotely, it helps in making successful career choices. True self knowledge determines what students say and perceive and do. An enhanced knowledge base and an affective commitment will serve the student well as healthy in the short term at school and as inspirational support for the gifted life later.
This program identifies the individual student's abiding passion and aims to develop these personal interest areas, to nurture independence and competence in research, to feed enthusiasm for learning, to teach an appreciation of what it means to be gifted, what real life obstacles high achievers encountered and overcame, and to offer career role modelling.
In practice, the students are guided to select a notable person in their area of interest and to seek information from near and far to compose a complete profile of their Notable. They each devise what I have called a Fictional Scenario, a vision of what the world would be like without that notable person's contribution to it. Then on the night, they set up a Learning Centre with props, posters and models to present their Notable. Dressed as the Notable, they ask invited (adult) guests to discuss their Notable's achievements with specially designed open ended questions they themselves devise. As well, they offer memorabilia or serve the guests some food typical of their Notable's life and times.
Optimal characteristics of this program
An identification with eminence and achievement is excellent modelling for life. A study of eminent persons nurtures passions and interests, supplies strong motivation to succeed, and forms a career orientation while at school. It is simplistic to expect children to make career decisions early in life, but this program does open up possibilities and gives access in interviews and in correspondence to occupations they may not otherwise be encountered. Within the cohort, other students' choices of characters also open up possible career options.
This program is designed so that all especially gifted and talented children within the cohort are able to understand giftedness, and its problems and possible pathways to eminence in the community. Many optimal features of gifted education (demanding research skills, longer time spans, deeper studies, wider research, flexible pacing, integrated study across the subjects, advanced communication skills and personal creativity) are featured in it. Within its sequence of tasks, all students can be suitably challenged and lower ability students can be suitably supported to achieve appropriately challenging goals. Thus, Night of the Notables recognises multiple abilities.
This program answers the problem of how to cater for the educational needs of gifted and talented children in an optimal way within the ordinary classroom. If the content can be real world knowledge, the processes higher level thinking skills, the outcomes superior products and the environment features faster pace and greater depth of learning, then a program will be optimal. I can report that Night of the Notables meets these criteria significantly well.
Night of the Notables primarily nurtures the autonomous learner. It is the autonomous learner model in action. In Night of the Notables, the students work to their own advanced depth. In Night of the Notables, the role of the teacher changes to support and encourage the student. The interim talk to the class and the end-products of performance and biography must meet both self chosen and publicly acceptable standards. Emphasising student choice and autonomy, it is a prime example of the optimal and desirable Type III Enrichment (Renzulli, 1986:77). In short, the autonomous learner working in the Night of the Notables is in control of his or her own learning.
"Notables" meets standard criteria for gifted programming
Night of the Notables satisfies criteria for excellent programs for gifted and talented as outlined by Passow (1978), Tannenbaum (1983), Kaplan (1986), Sato (1988), and Van Tassel-Baska (1985 & 1993). See (overhead).
Night of the Notables as I have devised and implemented it has been consciously designed on a sound theoretical basis. It features autonomous learning principles, encourages in-depth study, demands a sequence of tasks, caters for a range of learning styles, allows learning at a faster pace and affectively focuses on the lived experience of being gifted.
Night of the Notables is versatile. We have used it as a stand-alone program for gifted and talented children but it could be incorporated into existing frameworks such as interdisciplinary studies. It can be readily infused into existing frameworks. It is an in-class program based on Bloom's Taxonomy with strong research skill links. Being integrative, it is versatile as this (overhead) grid of skills shows.
It is multi-layered so it can meet the needs of a wide variety of ability levels. Being identified as gifted is not a requirement for starting Night of the Notables. The program satisfies highly gifted, moderately gifted and able learners alike, and caters well for slower learners too. As envisaged in the Renzulli revolving door self-selection principle, gateway identification is not a major requirement for starting Night of the Notables.
Night of the Notables has a vocational orientation showing students that success in life is won, not just on academic records but on meeting exigencies, overcoming obstacles and creating opportunities for oneself. This program's real world vector makes it vocational.
Night of the Notables is excellent (that is, preeminently suitable for gifted learners) also in that the role of teacher changes. From being an exponent, the teacher now guides, encourages, scaffolds, confirms and can actually fade from the focus of learning. The teacher's role shifts specifically for the gifted so that real life learning takes place in student centred activities sustained by personal interests. Desirable characteristics like teachers allowing errors and giving space for research (Gallagher, 1985:385; Cockcroft 1982:250) and modelling appropriate learning behaviours occurs. The shift from being instructor to facilitator occurs in Night of the Notables.
In Night of the Notables mismatches of teaching and learning styles are minimised. Over twenty-five years ago, Kolb (1974:29) highlighted these counterproductive features of classroom learning: "As a result of our hereditary equipment, our particular past life experiences and the demands of our present environment, most people develop learning styles that emphasise some learning abilities over others. We come to resolve the conflicts between being active and reflective and between being immediate and analytical in characteristic ways." For gifted, these mismatches can be acute and critical and so with a changed role for the teacher in Notables, gifted can move free to learn within their own learning style.
Night of the Notables has an extra-mural focus because it is about real people's lives and their achievements. Nothing is filtered in the learning process; the same first hand resources are available to the student as to anyone. Students have to record, collate, select, synthesise, evaluate and dramatise facts, events and opinions as no other program demands. All parties in the student's life: home, school and community are brought to bear in Notables as the learner ranges far and wide for the information the student requires. Writing to unseen sources and requesting interviews of famous people or their descendants are exciting and new for the children.
Night of the Notables is a model cross-disciplinary study, bringing together many different kinds of learnings where students practise comprehensive research and reporting skills, master written and oral communication skills, demonstrate presentation and performance skills before an adult public, sustain commitment to a self chosen task, display artistic skills in design, preparation and creation of one's display, prepare their costumes and props, self monitor along the way and apply self evaluation skills upon completion. We have found that this unique combination makes Night of the Notables a successful cross-disciplinary learning experience.
Interdisciplinary studies courses could be built on the Notables model. Connections with other subject areas could readily be made to build up more integrated school curricula. Indeed, such integrated, overarching studies have been proposed as highly desirable in programs for gifted and talented children, in terms of broad based issues, problems and themes, integrating multiple disciplines (Kaplan 1986:183) and for creating intra- and inter-disciplinary connections, multi-culturalism and globalism (Van Tassel Baska, 1993:20). The program's power to elicit a highly interesting and personally involving response is its primary strength. Gifts and talents deserve such rich educational nurturing.
Night of the Notables could be categorised as a transaction model with a transformation purpose. It features discovery, negotiation, synthesis, and is strongly product oriented. The Night of the Notables Program is learner centred and takes into account the goals, desires and interests of learners (Gruber, 1982; Cohen, 1988). It has become an example of how materials devised specifically for the gifted and talented can be enriching for all students (Parke, 1989). Student products devised in the program could easily become original resource materials for later generations of students. In it, all children learn to be producers not just consumers.
Night of the Notables focuses on the whole individual, on his or her life context, their development and achievements and search for eminence. It is a person-centred curriculum, offering comprehensive instruction and practice in essential inductive, inferential and deductive thinking skills. Night of the Notables offers students a chance for richer learnings, more personally relevant studies and more creative input by the learners themselves. In it, a more student-driven agenda is possible.
The program is challenging. The students report that they felt challenged both by the personal study and by their guests on the Night itself:
"I was also pleased that people asked many questions . . . "
". . . people asked me a lot of questions . "
"I was able to answer all the guests' questions. . . . "
"I enjoyed answering the questions. . . "
" . . . a great learning experience. I answered many questions"
"Many people asked me questions and I usually managed to answer everything."
Students report how after initial hesitation they grew confident communicating their learning to adults. More able students are encouraged to choose 20th century notables for a greater challenge. Various student opinions of it in 1996 repeat this theme (overhead). Night of the Notables offers suitable challenges for both gifted and talented children and for normal range students too. Notables has the advantage of encompassing multiple intelligences as they are presented in different people. Many different gifts and talents are celebrated in it.
Night of the Notables values depth over breath, concepts over fact. Depth is its raison d'être as collected facts for the talk must then be integrated and assimilated into the specific framework of the Report or biography. It is a cumulative study sequence (overhead), with each stage leading to the next. Higher level thinking skills like sorting, synthesising, hypothesising and evaluating skills are demanded. The study requires the formulation of over-arching questions to organise facts, opinions or materials from diverse sources. Pursuing two central questions: "What drives this notable? How does one attain eminence?" provide a life-centred generalised problem focus for problem solving research.
The Notables Program teaches metacognition and self-management for self-monitoring one's progress. With longer time spans and considerable freedom available in class time, the students manage themselves to meet its interim goals. The program values persistence, performance and creativity. Writing a biography requires personal reflection, arranging a display requires personal management and carrying out an effective evaluation requires honest metacognition. Night of the Notables steers a path towards "critical self directed learning", critical in that the content and processes transform the learner's own self perceptions and build up self concept.
This program is "technology relevant" (van Tassel-Baska, 1993) as students do use computers creatively both in word processing their formal biography and in preparing their learning centres for the presentation Night. The program requires new products: the annotated biography or Report of Research, the Learning Centre and performance on the Night, which are outcomes of significance. Outcomes need to be both learner relevant and publicly excellent since they are to be judged by oneself, parents, peers, visitors and the whole College community.
Night of the Notables shows that "prescribed enrichment becomes a vehicle for identification as much as identification facilitates enrichment", and since "creation of pupil products contributes to self identification, identification is a continuous process rather than a single-event test administration" (Passow 1981). My experience is that gifted students always do better in it; they find even greater satisfaction in the program than others do. Their self esteem is raised because it matches their educational needs. It acts as a suitable vehicle for identification by providing the "action information" Renzulli spoke of with regard to such Type III activities. For us the Night of the Notables Program is an identification tool and becomes a means of revealing the "hidden gifted", those who would not be found using pen and paper methods. Offering it to a whole cohort offers a broader gateway to gifted education, enabling us to activate underachievers. The growing excitement and the group dynamics inevitably lead to total inclusivity. Thus, it is an exemplary broadening of the concept of giftedness and demonstrates the multiple intelligences among us.
The Notables program is truly global and international. Student choices of characters indicate that students range far and wide for resources and are free to choose characters from any culture or nationality. This access to all knowledge in an open world (Passow, 1978) is a desirable requirement of a gifted program. Global programs allow for applications of thinking to reconceptualise current thinking. They generate new knowledge and enable the children to develop the attitude that knowledge is worth pursuing for itself.
A student's past learning experiences greatly affect his or her self concept and self esteem. Maintaining and nurturing that self concept are surely the central focuses of all educational experiences: they should aim to build up self esteem. Night of the Notables is structured autonomous learning so that the student identifies with the chosen Notable in role modelling for the gifted life. Modelling on how the eminent and notable found success is itself an optimal content and product. Students do find that modelling a successful intellectual peer broadens their self-acceptance and self-esteem. This program, with its focus on life and giftedness, offers evidence on the power of role modelling.
This program's affective focus teaches tha t success is not always easy and that perseverance, opportunity and overcoming problems are involved in reaching eminence. In life, the gifted usually learn to cope with failure much later and more painfully than their chronological peers. In this program in a truly vicarious way however, they can learn about false starts, lost opportunities and failure, and by following the life of their Notable how to cope with success. In it, they are guided to come to terms with its strong concomitant emotions. No other program we know of presents such an affective focus.
Night of the Notables offers school assessment strands. Clearly the program aims for more than benchmark competencies so all can recognise personal achievements and creativity. High levels of challenge are built into each stage of the program to encourage creative outcomes. In this sense it is a pathway that still allows enough ambience for autonomy. Self assessments to recognise internal measures of success were included in 1997 and were considered quite novel. In 1997 also we have included parents' written comments in assessment. The final assessments were novel too in that they were carried out by teams of parents and teachers working together.
Suitable scope and sequence frameworks for a whole school curriculum could begin with the Night of the Notables Program. Indeed the Autonomous Learner Model (Betts, 1986) of which it is a part, implements a self directed learning curriculum which is a holistic approach to school learning, stressing both intellectual and social and emotional growth. Gifted students in schools would be better served with such planned sequences (Van Tassel-Baska, 1985:48) across the span of years they are in school. Thus, programs could grow into policy supported curricula. "Gifted education" again becomes the engine for change.
Night of the Notables is also an excellent vehicle for affirmative action studies. In it students not only research and report on their chosen notable but they grow to feel for and with their notable. On the night itself, the students present themselves identified as th at notable person. In 1993, for example, boys chose Mother Teresa, Queen Victoria and Dian Fossey of their own accord and each one was presented outstandingly well. Night of the Notables enables a study of giftedness and eminence in both male female characters too, a phenomenon that makes it unique among current gifted programs.
This program is designed for gifted but is also excellent for high achievers. It caters for a wide range of learning needs and learning styles of children who are gifted. It demands enhanced problem solving and better interpersonal communication, leads to a better self concept, and creates a greater acceptance and understanding of one's gifted self. Thus, Notables is pre-eminently a program for autonomous learners. Gifted children have usually experienced conflict, in themselves, in their families and schools, and even with society. They will need help in coming to terms with it, succeeding in the real politik of life. Creating and grasping opportunity is an element in every life as Leopold Mozart well knew. So studying eminence has a strong moral dimension and the fusion of energies and the marshalling of traits is part of the "task commitment" recognised in the three ring Renzulli definition of giftedness.
Our experience shows that a study of eminence nurtures passions and interests, supplies strong motivation to succeed and crystallises a career orientation while at school. This program is a relevant and fulfilling way to cope with t he phenomenon of being gifted.
To summarise then traditional learning models start with the data, often presume only one method of transmission, stereotypically the "jug to mug" transference of information as if it is merchandise. But better learning models start from the learner, they often recognise learners' characteristics, their needs and their learning styles, and encourage discovery, synthesis and creativity. Longer time spans, wider resources, demanding research skills, deeper studies, wider research, flexible pacing, integrated study across school subjects, advanced communication skills and personal creativity are valued elements of better learning programs. Models that encourage student input, sharing of resources and a synthetic approach seem to be better learning-for-life models; the skills are partially self developed, reinforced and applied by the learner with supervision. In these models, transference seems more likely to occur.
THE PROGRAM OUTLINED
Dr George Betts is the founder of the Autonomous Learner Model (ALM), and Night of the Notables comes from his work. His message is that we are all life-long learners and that schools somehow "unteach" learners to be students, that is, boys and girls learn to sidetrack their abiding passions and interests and the love of learning. They "rarely spend time learning what is important and meaningful to them." The autonomous learner model offers such children the chance to pursue their passions at school. I offer "Notables" within the ALM is a model program for gifted education.
Students in Night of the Notables are "involved in research about eminent people. . .to learn the concepts of giftedness, intelligence, creativity, potential (and) life-long learning." Betts (March, 1996) outlines how it can be integrated into whole class and whole school settings principally for the gifted students there but also to benefit everyone, "to cast a wider net.". He espouses the work of Sandra Kaplan who explains that differentiation for the gifted should encompass changes in content, process, product and environment of learning. I have offered Night of the Notables to the whole cohort so that those who can will fly and meet their own higher expectations.
I have devised this Night of the Notables Program from Betts' Autonomous Learner Model (1988:12). The seminal idea for Night of the Notables appears in his paragraph there:
A Biographical Sketch
The students each select a famous, eminent person in whom they are interested. The person to be studied, either living now or in the past, is someone the student believes is gifted, a producer, a change agent, a person who has made or is making a significant contribution to society. Time is spent researching the many different aspects of the person, including background about his/her family, peers, abilities, interests, etc. Multiple resources should be used, ranging from books and magazine articles to interviews and letters or inquiry. Whenever possible, an attempt to contact the person directly should be made by the student. Upon completion of the research, each student presents the findings to the class. Presentations include oral reports, audiovisual presentations and other creative products.
I have extensively embellished and structured his outline with worksheets in my Student Workbooks and explained it in a Guests' Information Booklet. Sample Guest Programs from 1996 & 97 detail the process. Extracts appear in these overheads: "Night of the Notables offers ...", "Stages of the Night of the Notables" , "Notables is sequenced learning."
Night of the Notables runs over ten weeks and is made up of the following sequenced stages:
(These materials are purchasable with this consultancy.)
One significant turning point in the process helped the modelling. I recorded it in an on-going personal journal:
One definite turning point has been the decision to give their talks in the first person. This change of point of view has sharpened the study considerably and the students have taken ownership of their Notable. It has led to som e funny sayings like "I died in XX" and so on; it was artificial to speak of one's funeral and fame in the first person but we enjoyed the ambiguity. (16 June, 1993)
The Night of the Notables suits as a program for modern Australian children. It both works to unify the cohort and it celebrates Australia's diversity. It recognises personal, historical and cultural differences to foreshadow the differences that giftedness itself presents. To locate the students in their own culture and to feel familiar with their cultural surroundings, we encourage our students to study someone preferably from the twentieth century, and someone alive and Australian. Parents, teachers and boys rate it a resounding success. So Night of the Notables has become an important annual event in o ur school calendar!
Implementing Notables for whole cohorts has meant widening work requirements, writing more materials and training volunteer teachers. Overheads report on two models of implementation in Brisbane: Model 1 is our 1996 way and Model 2 in 1997. Recommendations for 1998 follow.
Clearly gifted programs need to be planned, sequenced and substantial. They need to be written into publicity and policy, and even more powerfully, they need to be embedded within the school's total curriculum framework and timetable.
Equity is not about equality of outcomes but about supplying appropriate provisions to meet individual needs. Equity offers everyone equal access to resources. So what is good for gifted will benefit all. "All children will benefit from ALM (autonomous learner model) activities, but it is the gifted and talented who will go beyond what the others are able to accomplish" (Betts 1996:2). Justice demands that students are involved in determining some of their own education as they become practised learners, life-long learners." The ALM provides identification in its "action information" (Renzulli). The ALM provides teachers with the opportunity to learn about the abilities and needs of all of their students, not just those identified as gifted and talented" (Betts, p. 4). Using it, we were able to cast a wider net and enable all students to learn more about others and themselves.
Night of the Notables as I have devised and implemented it proves suitable for our College and perhaps is a model for Australian gifted education. It is adaptable and multi layered so it can meet the needs of a wide variety of ability levels. It emphasises choice and commitment by the student. It is motivational in that it gives the student formal encouragement to pursue his chosen area of intellectual interest. The program makes more complex demands on the gifted student like more demanding personal communication skills.
Night of the Notables has a very real personal relevance for learning to cope with being gifted. It has a vocational orientation showing students that success in life is won not just on academic records but on meeting exigencies, overcoming obstacles and creating opportunities for oneself. Students show heightened perceptions of the future of their society and their own places in it as a result of doing Night of the Notables.
Finally, it has become and continues to be an example of how materials devised specifically for the gifted and talented can be enriching for all students. With this experience we claim that gifted students, like all other students, would be better served with many more such planned sequenced, appropriate and substantial enrichment programs across the span of years they are in school. Their future welfare depends upon it.
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© G. B. SMITH 1993
CRITERIA FOR ACCEPTING PROGRAMS FOR THE GIFTED AND TALENTED
© G. Smith 1992
NIGHT OF THE NOTABLES offers
© G. Smith
Students Reviewing Night of the Notables 1996
"The Night itself went fantastic because a lot of people came up to me and asked me questions especially little kids." Justin L.
"I felt it was a very good learning experience because of the parents asking questions." Matthew W.
"The Night was excellent because I was successful." Jack Z.
"The Night tested our knowledge. It was a good night out ... a lot of fun." Ben S.
"Definitely I would recommend it because it is a vital learning experience." Felix D.
"The whole program was great but the talk was the best because people could understand more about my Notable and why I am doing him." John P.
"You may have trouble doing it but when it's over you think it was all fun." Nicholas C.
"The Night went quite well for me and I could answer almost all the questions put to me. In all, I had almost 20 people visit my stand." Charles B.
"The night was really excellent." Dane S.
"It was fun and a great experience for me." Peter S.
"It was a challenge because of the questions I was asked." Mark W.
"It took a lot of time to set up my stand but it was worth it: lots of people were interested in my notable and I received praise for my stand." Sam C.
" It was good fun and shows that learning can be made fun. a fun way of learning research skills..... I got to do what I really like doing which is to play guitar and I got a chance to see what the other boys had been doing over the past 10 weeks." Paul C
"It was just fun because of all the stalls and people." Julian B
From a parent's letter
"...to thank you for a very enjoyable evening at the Night of the Notables. It is a splendid idea and from talking to various folk present on the evening, a very much appreciated opportunity for the boys to display several skills. Sincere thanks." Trish & Steve Vedelago
From a teacher: "... a great grade level event" MW
From volunteer teacher taking the programme "Any parents I spoke with seemed to be very happy with the exercise and impressed with what they saw. I was too! ... I would like to thank you Greg for the immense amount of work you devoted to the exercise. It was well worth all your energy expended." Br Ted Walker
"I learnt stuff and enjoyed it." Anthony P
"My parents thought it was great and talked about it all night." Paul W
"I enjoyed the Night the most because the people took interest in my work." James