Posted by: ACFE Inc | July 5, 2011

Gifted Education in the 21st Century

“It is only through expanding our pedagogy, engaging all students, and making imaginative uses of technology that America’s schools will be able truly to engage our children and develop their creative potential, as well as their love of learning.”

In light of my visit to ISTE 2011 last week, I read an inspiring article today: Joseph S. Renzulli’s “The Empire Strikes Back: Redefining the Role of Gifted Education in the 21st Century.” (From Investing in Gifted and Talented Learners: An International Perspective, Selected Papers from the 18th Biennial World Conference, The World Council for Gifted and Talented Children, Vancouver, August 3-7, 2009). This article focuses on bringing the educational focus to high-engagement activities through the use of technology, and should be required reading at the Department of Education in light of this article. His work also highlights what the NAGC has been saying all along: that differentiated instruction is possible, that making up the achievement gap must not sacrifice the students at the top, that our educational system needs to change the way that it approaches education in order to meet the needs of all its learners. Thanks, Kimm Doherty with Academic Potential Unlimited for pointing it out to me!


Sometimes it seems like there is a new wave of educational reform every month. New standards, new ways to measure learning, new tests, new requirements, more tutoring, less tutoring, more summer school, less summer school. Renzulli says that despite its new costumes and labels, many “reforms” can be traced back to the same approach: “what has been popularly called a “drill-and-kill” approach to learning: an approach that has turned many of our schools into joyless places that promote mind-numbing boredom, lack of genuine student and teacher engagement, absenteeism, increased dropout rates, and other byproducts of over-dependence on mechanized learning.”

Technology has completely changed the way that we communicate and interact, the way that we learn and use information. However, our educational system still has not reflected this fundamental change, and remains reliant on what Renzulli calls “to-be-presented knowledge,” with teachers and textbooks as the gatekeepers of this knowledge. However, this doesn’t reflect how our society and our information structures work today. Renzulli argues that our educational system needs to adapt to the skills and technology that we have developed as a society in order to prepare our students for 21st-century jobs and for rebuilding America’s reputation as a birthplace for creativity, leadership, innovation, and development of new technologies. This can be done through using technology to improve the way that we deliver education, as well as what we are teaching students, and improving students’ engagement in the educational process.

“Current learning theory indicates that student engagement and an inquiry-based, inductive pedagogy are the keys to higher achievement. To effect real change will require a recognition of and attention to the achievement-gap problem and a meaningful application of rapidly advancing technology….students need to learn not only the basic skills but also the technological skills of inquiry that will create the motivation and engagement largely lost by rigidly prescribed curriculum and learning that has minimized the sheer joy of discovery.”

This does not disregard the problem of the achievement gap in our education system. However, Renzulli points out that “our research has shown that teaching students to think critically, analytically, and creatively actually improves plain, old-fashioned achievement (Renzulli & Reis, 1997; Renzulli, 2008).”

One concrete example Renzulli provides? The Consortium on Chicago School Research found in their 2005 report that teachers in the Chicago school district spent about a month of instruction time on ACT practice during students’ junior years. In schools where teachers reported spending 40% of their time on ACT test prep, ACT scores were actually lower than in schools where teachers devoted less than 20% of their classtime to test prep. The “boredom factor” was given as an explanation.

Renzulli is careful to not fall into the same trap of buzzwords without substance, however. He ends his short article by describing three simple applications of education technology:

1. Teachers can use a computer-generated student profile to learn more about student interests, learning styles, preferred methods of expression, and their own perceptions of their strengths and weaknesses before class even starts.

2. Teachers can use advanced computer programs to help filter through the wide variety of enrichment and engagement material on the internet based on this student-generated computer profile of their class–producing high-engagement resources that will meet the unique needs of their learners.

3. Professional development for teachers should be aimed toward helping them learn how to teach students master the technological skills of inquiry, making them “guides on the side” rather than disseminators of information.



  1. […] Gifted Education in the 21st Century ( […]

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