Giftedness does not equal IQ! In this interview, Joe Renzulli (Renzulli Learning) argues that giftedness is not a fact of nature but, instead, a social construction and will discuss how we can apply gifted education strategies to further develop creativity and giftedness in all children. In this interview, Joe Renzulli, a renowned figure in gifted education and the director of the National Research Center on the Gifted and Talented at the University of Connecticut will talk about the difference between IQ and giftedness, the ways a gifted leaner is identified and whether any child can become a gifted learner.
Full Interview Transcript
Kelly: I really appreciate you coming on and talking about your Renzulli learning.
Joe Renzulli: I’m happy to have the opportunity to talk a little bit about our work.
Kelly: Yes. So, I thought I would just dive right in and because you are obviously a renowned expert on gifted education. Can you tell us exactly what is your definition of gifted?
Joe Renzulli: First of all, I think that one of the things that people need to understand at the very beginning of this is that there are two kinds of giftedness. I actually like to use the word as an adjective rather than a noun, not as gifted, but he or she is displaying or developing what I call gifted behaviors. Those are people that make a difference in the world. First type I call lesson learning or schoolhouse giftedness, and fortunately or unfortunately, depends on the way that you interpret it. Sometimes. That’s what schools think about that a child is a good lesson learner. The type of giftedness that I referred to as creative productive giftedness is based on a definition that I developed in the 1970s and an article called What Makes Giftedness Reexamining a definition.
This is best explained graphically. Think of three intersecting rings, a Zenn diagram is what it’s called. The first three is above average, but not necessarily superior ability. I want to stop right at that point and say, I’m not just talking about the ability to do good on tests. There are people that are very able in art, in music in organizational skills. There are all kinds of abilities. The problem is they’re not as easily or precisely measured in young people. Many young people have them, but don’t develop them because we don’t give them a chance to be creative.
The other illustrates, the second circle is creativity and there are entire books written on the deck evolution and creativity, the ability to identify problems and look at problems in new and different ways. The ability to be playful and experimental with your mind, what will happen if I put these two things together? Or what would happen if I make it bigger, we’ll have big bang. If I made it smaller, I could wear it on my wrist. Those are the kinds of things that are related to the definitions of creativity.
The third ring is what I define as task commitment, and task commitment. People often say, oh, you mean motivation? Well, not exactly. In psychology, we talk about motivation as a general term, you’re motivated to be a good parent, a good member of your church, a good learner of selling and those are all good things. However, tasks commitment is taking that same energy and focusing on it, something very specific, but not just lesson learning, but also the other two rings, it could be something in music composition, it could be something in the arts, it could be something in leadership. So, there’s all kinds of abilities and no one ring makes giftedness, it is three rings interacting together.
I would not argue that some people are born with more cognitive ability, just like they’re born taller or shorter. With different color eyes, it’s fine. But whether or not we put those things to use, by their deeds, ye shall know them by the things that they do. So, we have a little first or second grader, and that child writes a beautiful short story or a beautiful poem, or solves a particular math problem that is well above their understanding of math for that age, then I can say that child is superior in creative writing for his age, is for me, that’s something we could work on.
Kelly: You said that no one is born gifted, so can any child form gifted abilities with the right education or stimulation?
Joe Renzulli: Sometimes you’re born with more cognitive ability than others. But that doesn’t make them gifted. It just means that we can hope that they will be better lesson learners, but if they don’t have an ounce of creativity, because we never gave them the opportunity to write an original poem or an original song when they were six years old. They’re going to lose that potential, because all we’re looking at is how well they do their ABCs and 123s.
Kelly: So, if someone is born with a high IQ, like an IQ of 130 or above? Is it possible that you can’t be gifted based on your definition?
Joe Renzulli: Absolutely possible. If you bring the hundred two rings together and have an IQ of 160. And there’s a tremendous amount of research on this even the research of one of Terman’s colleagues and the second volume of Conceptions of Genetic studies of Giftedness by Catherine Cox Miles, where she studies people throughout the course of history using the technique called historyometry, basically that’s, you know, what did Sir Francis Galton write when he was 12 years old. You can estimate someone’s IQ that way and she has many, many examples of people who are world famous, that basically would not have made it with a 130-cutoff score. It prompted me to write an article a number of years ago, which was quite controversial. It’s called Dear Mr. and Mrs. Copernicus, we regret to inform you, dot dot, because he was Copernicus is very famous you know, at the same time, was up on the IQ scale. So, I think that IQ obviously is important, but it’s not everything.
Kelly: So, some people are just better at learning than others? how do you become a gifted learner? Is it a natural aptitude? Or is it really how you’re teaching them?
Joe Renzulli: Absolutely 100%. You know that most school experiences for most kids are memorization to pass the test. I’m not going to argue against the value of that. What I’m arguing for is that we provide this leads us to question for, what is learning, providing them with learning opportunities where they have an opportunity to develop their creativity, to develop their task commitment, and the model that I’ve developed that parallels the three-ring conception model. It’s called the Enrichment Triad Model.
Three different kinds of enrichment that I recommend developing their gifted behaviors. One enrichment is exposing young people to issues, ideas, topics, names, dates, places, events that might not ordinarily be covered in a regular curriculum or are only covered so the kids can memorize that information for a text.
So, type one might be again to go back to our story writing and creative writing upbringing in a local writer or local poet or local journalist or bringing in a local cartoonist and they talk about display how they come up with their ideas.
And afterwards we ask some questions like who is interested in this, who would like to learn more about how to do it. And that is type two enrichment, various kinds of thinking skills that develop creativity, that develop analytical thinking. The value of such thinking, all the kinds of things that you find in literature, such as Bloom’s taxonomy.
So, now we have three hands go up about who wants to follow the poet. And we want that youngster for those youngsters to have some opportunity. So, we’re going to provide them with some different kinds of learning experience in poetry, just getting them a book of rhyming words, you’re having to go online to learn, where you can find rhyming words if you want to write and write poetry, teaching and other forms of poetry beyond writing poetry, because all poetry for little children is usually writing poetry.
The most valuable thing for teaching type enrichment is what I call how to books. In my in my lab at the University of Connecticut. I have a full library of how to books and there’s a how to book on everything.
Now our responsibility says, what can we do? Forget what their scores are, they want to be poets. They want to be young poets, and they’re so inspired by our speaker. So, what can we do to develop that talent, and it might not be for a lifetime, two years later, they might say they want to be a doctor. So, I think that what they’ve learned just by doing that is that they can muster the skills they can get organized, related to the skills or something that is called the soft skills these days, but they’re becoming very popular executive functions. skills.
Kelly: What are the ways that you can ‘test the child’ if he if they’re qualified for the gifted, learning school?
Joe Renzulli: Well, we certainly look at test scores. That’s one of the things, however, look at teacher ratings. And we look at examples of work that young people have already done. in psychology today, that’s a performance-based assessment, by their deeds, you shall know them, tell me a little five or four-year-old that students have outstanding artwork or some outstanding, cartoony or even invented their own game.
Kelly: When you’re testing someone, for example, is it just commentary from a teacher or student? Or how do you test that person to know?
Joe Renzulli: over the years in my work, we develop a large number of teacher rating scales, and to go all the way along so development is a number of things that I call not assessment of learning, but assessment for learning. The kind of things that will tell me something about what you want to learn and how you want to learn it.
They’re called interesterlizers and what we do is we find out what the young person’s area of interest is. Interest is what makes anybody that’s famous, famous, they didn’t get there because they were not interested in filmmaking like Steven Spielberg as a very young child. They’re not interested in science as an Einstein was as a very young child. So, I think that those are the kinds of things that often times in our test prep-oriented society, we say, we don’t have time to do that we really, you know, my principal is going to evaluate me as a teacher by how much your scores improved on the California achievement test in the Connecticut State mastery test. I think that, again, I’m not saying those things are bad, but they’re not what makes the kind of kind of people who grow up to be world changers, not necessarily in the Nobel Prize way, but they might change a company, or they might change a nonprofit organization.
So, interest is, to me the heart of everything.
The second thing that we developed an instrument for is learning styles. I’m talking about the type of structural situations that young people profit the most from. It might be, again, what was an intellectual, most successful, it might be working in small groups. It might be through independent study. It might be through field trip experiences, for example, seeing is believing. So, one of the things that that instrument does is give you a sense for how best to get through to that particular assessment for agreeing, not assessment of the third instrument, and one it’s becoming more and more important to me all the time and expression styles. We’ve developed an instrument called my way after the Frank Sinatra song; I’ll do it my way. How would one like to express themselves? If I find that a child likes to express themselves verbally, that opens the door for me for whatever different kinds of writing, you know, they’re probably at least 60 or 70 different genres.
The more we drill down into the one that a child really likes to do that the more successful we will be getting through to that tribal.
Kelly: there’s a big explosion of kids with autism or ADHD. Can they thrive under this sort of gifted model for can pay the school here doesn’t accept kids who are on the spectrum. For example, if I didn’t know how that played into your particular style of learning?
Joe Renzulli: Well, that’s very good question because that has become very popular. We use the same pedagogy. Pedagogy and Renzulli learning were built for all kids, including kids in this field. Academy in Los Angeles. Susan Bomb one of my former doctoral students, by the way, the world’s leading authority, I might add. With twice exceptional children. Basically, the pedagogy, the learning stuff that I’ve been talking about here. They’ve got all kinds of kids in that Asperger’s and autism and everything in between. One of the things I’ve been there many, many times, one of the things is they find out what a child’s interest is. They find out what are the resources, the opportunities and the resources and the encouragement, the lack of child to pursue that interest, and have remarkable record of their kids going on into higher education. So, I believe that it is the worst thing we can probably do with kids is well.
One kid said to me one time when I was visiting in school. They find out what I can’t do, what I won’t do, what I don’t like to do, and they spend the rest of the year beating me to death with it. They do it in other schools, twice exceptional. There are a number of around the country that youth are working. They use the child’s interest in strength areas to build basic skills rather than saying, first we must build their basic skills, then they might be able to want to do something.
Kelly: How do parents test that? Where can you direct them to go for some of the interestilizer and other tools that you talked about?
Joe Renzulli: Go to our website at University of Connecticut, Renzulli learning, the university actually it to a private company so its proprietary items but very reasonable, they’re giving away free of COVID.
One of the things that you can do is go to my website, www.UConn.edu section on school wide enrichment. Section one reason to take articles and presentations. I have some videos there that I’ve done over time and other people have done and everything on the website is downloadable, reproducible, distributable. In other countries translatable free, you don’t have to write for permission, you don’t pay for any fees. I believe that if this information has value, I don’t want to lock it behind a $ sign.
I would like to be able to say that one of the things we can most of the kinds of children that we serve in special programs is to teach them in orientation, and use their gifts and talents not to get rich and get rich in the process, but how to make the world a better place. Those are the people that history remembers when we remember the Rachel Carson’s and people like that work their tail off to save the planet.
Kelly: I really appreciate all this insight and your work and be able to talk to you directly. That was really great.
Joe Renzulli: Nice work Kelly.
Kelly: Thank you.
About Dr. Joe Renzulli
Dr. Joseph Renzulli is a leader and pioneer in gifted education and applying the pedagogy of gifted education teaching strategies to all students. The American Psychological Association named him among the 25 most influential psychologists in the world. Dr. Renzulli received the Harold W. McGraw, Jr. Award for Innovation in Education, considered by many to be “the Nobel” for educators, and was a consultant to the White House Task Force on Education of the Gifted and Talented.
Joseph S. Renzulli is Professor of Educational Psychology at the University of Connecticut, where he also served as director of the National Research Center on the Gifted and Talented. His research has focused on the identification and development of creativity and giftedness in young people and on organizational models and curricular strategies for total school improvement. A focus of his work has been on applying the strategies of gifted education to the improvement of learning for all students. Dr. Renzulli currently leads the Renzulli Center for Creativity, Gifted Education, and Talent Development.
Dr. Renzulli’s ground breaking work on The Three Ring Conception of Giftedness, the Enrichment Triad Model, Schoolwide Enrichment Model (SEM), Curriculum Compacting and Differentiation were pioneering efforts in the 1970s. He has contributed hundreds of books, book chapters, articles, and monographs to the professional literature, many of which have been translated to other languages. Dr. Renzulli’s enrichment-based and differentiated teaching model has been utilized by more than 35,000 teachers from around the world since 1978.
Dr. Renzulli’s work also provides the foundation for the Renzulli Learning System, which is an online personalized learning program that provides profiles of each student’s academic strengths, interests, learning styles, and preferred modes of expression. This unique program also has a search engine that matches multiple coded resources with student profiles. The Renzulli Learning System infuses high engagement enrichment activities into any and all standardized curriculum topics.
Dr. Renzulli is also the founder, along with Dr. Sally Reis, of the Joseph S. Renzulli Gifted and Talented Academy in Hartford, Connecticut which has become a model for local and national urban school reform for high potential/low income students.
Although Dr. Renzulli has obtained more than $50 million in research grants, he lists as his proudest accomplishment the professional development he has provided at the annual summer Confratute program for teachers and administrators, which has enrolled more than 35,000 participants over the past four decades.
Renzulli’s work has helped millions of children across the globe to increase their academic performance through the infusion of Enjoyment, Engagement, and Enthusiasm.