I was quite excited to attend a session by Joseph Renzulli (of University of Connecticut and Renzulli Learning) at NAGC 2010 entitled “Intelligences Outside The Normal Curve: People Who Have Made A Difference.”
Dr. Renzulli discussed the need for developing “social capital” in gifted students and creating future leaders who will positively influence the world.
Social capital is the value created through positive connections with other people. It’s expected that people who have these social connections will take actions that benefits others (whether it’s one person or a million).
Dr. Renzulli emphasized that, as future leaders, our gifted students must develop an instinct for socially constructive action. As a warning, he displayed pictures of Nelson Mandela and Idi Amin. Although both were gifted, intelligent men, their effects on society have been profoundly different. To further his point, Renzuli displayed the IQs of the top Nazi officers. The lowest IQ was over 120.
Just being intelligent isn’t enough, we must help our students learn to care about others.
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Increasing Social Capital
As part of his “Operation Houndstooth,” Dr. Renzulli ranked the following ways to increase students’ positive connections with the world, ranked from least to most effective:
6. Rally Around The Flag
The least effective technique, this includes actions such as putting up motivational posters.
5. Gold Stars
At this level, teachers reward students for doing the right thing to reinforce the behavior. However, this doesn’t create students who are motivated to change the world.
4. Teaching And Preaching
Teachers tell students to do the right thing. While this isn’t bad, students need to experience the power of positively affecting others.
3. Vicarious Experience
Teachers create simulations for students to experience. As an example. Dr. Renzulli described an Ellis Island simulation in which students played the roles of immigrants first arriving in America.
2. Direct Involvement 1: Participatory Activities
Renzulli explained that, at this level, students might work in a soup kitchen. Now they are getting hands-on experience helping people in need. He was quick to emphasize that these service activities should NOT be required, and there should be many diverse options, making such experiences attractive to students.
1. Direct Involvement 2: Self-Started Participatory Activities
While similar to level two, at this level, students might start a soup kitchen rather than simply volunteer at one. Obviously, at these high levels, students must have a passionate interest in the activities and will need guidance and support.
Dr. Renzulli referenced some books related to the area of social capital, including Howard Gardener’s Good Work: When Excellence and Ethics Meet, Rebecca Lewis’ The Kid’s Guide to Social Action, and Robert Putnam’s Bowling Alone.
I found Dr. Renzulli’s presentation inspiring (and a bit overwhelming!). Looking at my own classroom, I don’t know that I’ve risen beyond “teaching and preaching” more than a couple times.
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