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Monday, September 24, 2012

Dr. Renzulli's 21st Century Giftedness Model

In advance of gifted education theorist and innovator Dr.Joseph Renzulli’s community presentation at Quest Academy (co-sponsored by Avery Coonley School and Da Vinci Academy) on Sept. 27 (for details and ticket information, please link here), I thought it wise to review Dr. Renzulli’s most recent article on approaches to gifted education within the context of our contemporary 21st Century world.

Published by the National Association for Gifted Children in its flagship journal Gifted Child Quarterly (Volume 56, Number 3, Summer 2012), Dr. Renzulli sets out to answer the question “why and how should a society devote special resources to the development of giftedness in young people for the 21st century.”  This summary of Dr. Renzulli’s concerns itself with the “how” with the “why” question simply answered as “increasing society’s reservoir of creative problem solvers and producers of knowledge.”

Fundamental to Dr. Renzulli’s conception of giftedness is a fine difference between what he terms “lesson learners” or “schoolhouse giftedness” (those who consume existing information) versus “creative producers” (those who go on to make important contributions to knowledge). Given the technology-enhanced abundance of existing information in this second decade of the 21st Century, Renzulli argues that “in this day and age of exponential knowledge expansion, it would seem wise to consider a model that focuses on how our most able students access and make use of information rather than merely how they accumulate, store, and retrieve it.”

And maybe most important to Renzulli’s theories is the idea that the label “gifted” not necessarily be assigned to any one student but rather to the type of educational experiences  offered, those being the “services  necessary to develop high potential.” Another way to understand this is to ask oneself the question what type of educational services “cause some people to use their intellectual, motivational, and creative assets that lead to outstanding manifestations of achievement and creative productivity.” In his summary, Dr. Renzulli emphatically points out that “the most salient point to make when discussing and generalizing about theories for the study of giftedness in the 21st century is that there is an overlap and an interaction among cognitive, affective, and motivational characteristics.”

In determining the best possible gifted education programming in our 21st Century, Dr. Renzulli has over the years developed a four-part theory that in sum has its goal to help students become “fully-functioning and self-actualized individuals.”

The four sub-theories include “The Three Ring Conception of Giftedness,” “The Enrichment Triad Model,” “Operation Houndstooth – Gifted Education and Social Capital,” and “Executive Functions – Leadership for a Changing World.” Below, please find a brief description of each theory:

The Three-Ring Conception of Giftedness:

The three rings are comprised of a) above average ability; b) task commitment; and c) creativity. Dr. Renzulli believes that it is the “interaction among these clusters of traits brought to bear on a particular problem situation that creates the conditions for the creative productive process to commence.” Furthermore, Dr. Renzulli’s above average ability is viewed in broader terms than other ability/giftedness criteria (e.g. the top 5%), because he cites research that “highlights minimal criterion validity between academic aptitude and professional accomplishments.”

The Enrichment Triad Model:

Within this model, Renzulli outlines three Enrichment types of instruction that move beyond the traditional “deductive, didactic, and prescriptive approaches” to the other end of “inductive, investigative, and constructivist-based approaches.” Type I Enrichment exposes students to possibilities of learning, “catalyzing curiosity and internal motivation.” Type II Enrichment is designed to teach students how to move from inspiration found in Type I enrichment to action. Type III “experiences are the the culmination of natural learning, representing synthesis and an application of content, process, , and personal involvement through self-motivated work.”

Operation Houndstooth – Gifted Education and Social Capital:

This model promoters the idea that “highly able young people have a responsibility to society at large.” The idea of having been gifted with an extraordinary education requires one to give back – “using one’s talents to improve human conditions, whether that improvement is targeted toward one person or larger audiences or conditions.” Dr. Renzulli identifies the traits that need to be fostered as “optimism, courage, romance with a topic or discipline, physical and mental energy, vision, and a sense of power to change things.”

Executive Functions – Leadership for a Changing World

Dr. Renzulli refers to this model as the “yeast” that helps the three other models to rise. Put bluntly, Dr. Renzulli also refers to this model as “getting your act together.” Dr. Renzulli believes that the most advanced thoughts and creations may not come to fruition unless “leadership skills such as organization, sequencing, and sound judgment are brought to bear on problem situations. Dr. Renzulli identifies five general categories of executive functions: a) Action Orientation; b) Social Interactions; c) Altruistic Leadership (empathy and dependability); d) Realistic Self-Assessment; and e) Awareness of Needs of Others.

Dr. Renzulli essentially has challenged the gifted education community to “extend our traditional investment in the production of intellectual and creative capital to include an equal investment in social capital and the development of executive function skills.” Critical to this challenge is the incorporation of experiential learning as opposed to what he terms the “teaching-and-preaching” experiences.

For those interested in transforming Dr. Renzulli’s contributions into actual teaching practices, I would recommend RenzulliLearning’s website.



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