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Sosniak & Hersch Gabelko's Every Child's Right: Academic Talent Development by Choice, Not Chance.

Lauren A. Sosniak & Nina Hersch Gabelko

Every Child's Right: Academic Talent Development by Choice, Not Chance

New York: Teachers College Press, 2008

164 pages

ISBN: 978-0-8077-4870-1 (paperback)

In the fall of the year, schools across the country prepare to send home a green permission slip coveted by parents who secretly hope their child has been admitted to the school's gifted and talented program. While admission to this program creates pictures of academic greatness, the Berkeley Academic Talent Development Program (ATDP) attempts to make this scenario a reality for a wider variety of students.

In Every Child's Right: Academic Talent Development by Choice, Not Chance (2008), the authors, Lauren A. Sosniak (deceased) and Nina Hersch Gabelko, the current ATDP director, attempt to influence the public conversation and convince education stakeholders that academic talent can be developed; it is not necessarily an innate characteristic immune to outside influences. The ATDP, which began in 1981, functions as a six-week summer academic enrichment program at the University of Berkeley campus in California. More than 2,400 students in grades K-12 from over 300 separate schools attend the ATDP. More than half of those students would not qualify for traditional gifted and talented programs.

The conversation begins in chapter one, "Grow Talent, Don't Mine It," with a definition of the term "gifted and talented" and breaks apart established ideas using research from Lewis Terman and Benjamin Bloom. These researchers concluded that in order to more accurately predict which children would contribute the greatest to society as future leaders, the focus should be on a child's ability to persist and not on standardized test scores. With the theory behind the application and admission process outlined, the specific facts of how the ATDP program evolved to its present state are detailed along with the logistics of making a program of this nature work.

In chapter two, "Welcome to the Academic Conversation," the authors introduce the concept of college preparation and creating an ATDP environment that places students in a similar collegial setting. This is accomplished through the college-like application process involving recommendation letters and work samples, the course catalogue of summer class options (from first grade Greek Mythology or Oviparous Animals and fifth grade Patterns and Functions of Math to C++ Programming and Paleontology), and running the secondary division on a college campus where students lunch at the student union, utilize technology facilities, and peruse academic material among the wooded, scenic acres overlooking the San Francisco Bay.

"When Learning is Child's Play," chapter three, focuses on the elementary division of ATDP and the ways in which very advanced topics are taught to young children. With a twelve to one student to teacher ratio, an interaction of imagination, play, and subject matter connects excitement with complex concepts. The authors describe the learning environment in the elementary division of ADTP as rich in context and filled with opportunities for engagement and fascination through observation, exploration, and synthesis activities. The reader is given the image of students "steeped" in the topic, applying lessons to unique and shared experiences, role-playing, discussing, asking, questioning, seeking, trying and then trying again, and exploring increasingly refined questions in ever-greater depth. With this vivid description of the elementary division, one would expect an equally enticing view of the secondary division, but the teaching methods are not touched on.

In chapter four, "Every Child's Right: Academic Talent Development in All Communities and Classrooms," Sosniak and Hersch Gabelko take issue with gifted and talented programs that show minimal diversity and minority representation. They champion the expansion of gifted programs beyond cultural borders and give testimony that the ATDP program functions to develop academic talent for one of the most diverse cities in the country. If this program was reproduced at a different university or in a different community, the diversity aspect may be diminished. This idea of diversity is continued in the following chapter, "Changing College-Going from Chance to Choice," which focuses on preparing all students for college--beginning in middle school, but specifically those who many not have had an opportunity to do so without this program. The ATDP program focuses on the college success attitude of "life begins and ends with serious academic work. It comes quickly and intensely" (p. 111).

The final chapter, "The Gift of Community and the Community of Gifts," discusses the "stickiness" of the program: the fact that many students remain a part of ADTP in some manner as they return each year, become teaching aides and eventually teachers themselves, do administrative tasks, continue to stay in contact with previous instructors, and have siblings who attend. When they become parents, many former students enroll their children at ADTP and return to speak at opening orientation. The authors also address the concept of accelerated peers offering opportunities for growth to each other in the "little fish in a big pond" concept "in which gifted children find themselves intimidated when they leave their small pond, or local school, to attend a specialized school with other gifted children" (p. 130).

While the authors declare this program as replicable, the idealistic images of this program's success and lack of explanation of the logistics leave some level of doubt. There is also a curiosity left about funding and whether or not there truly could be complete reproduction of the ATDP. Even though this talent development program appears to be somewhat idealistic in its presentation, the concept of changing the way that academic talent is identified and cultivated is a refreshing perspective. If the greatest challenge for educators is maintaining the motivation for a student to remain engaged in a specific field in order to develop expertise, that concept can shape the way classroom teachers discover giftedness and how gifted and talented programs support the desire to learn in any context, be it at Berkeley or any other location where people engage in the rituals of teaching and learning.

The authors suggest that there are multiple perspectives as to what constitutes talent, not all characteristics of giftedness are quantifiable, and the gift of curiosity in a child can be developed even without ivory towers. Green permission slips and parent egos put aside, children can remind us that being observant, attending to details, curiosity about the environment, and asking lots of questions can indicate an academic talent to be developed because truly "education is much larger than schooling" (p. 145).

Sarah K. Anderson

University of North Dakota

Sarah K. Anderson, M.Ed., is a special education strategist at Grand Forks Central High School, Grand Forks, ND, and a doctoral student and instructor in the Department of Teaching and Learning at the University of North Dakota.
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Author:Anderson, Sarah K.
Publication:Teaching and Learning
Article Type:Book review
Date:Jun 22, 2008
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