Gagné, the DMTG and early childhood education

It is probably not everyone’s idea of a nice holiday, but I have been re-reading Gagné’s journal articles and other papers with additional interest in preparation for his return to Australia… (see the NSWAGTC December eNewsletter about the event). For those readers who do not know Gagné’s work, his Differentiated Model of Giftedness and Talent (DMGT), is the predominantly accepted gifted model now used in Australia, and it forms the basis of the most recently updated gifted policy for NSW public schools. You can read more about the policy at: http://www.curriculumsupport.education.nsw.gov.au/policies/gats/programs/organisation/definitions.htm.

Gagné’s model is interesting, and many think it sophisticated, but in terms of world acceptance by other gifted experts, it has a way to go to become the dominant model overseas. His biggest adherent and advocate in Australia is Dr Mirica Gross, GERRIC, University of NSW, who has been instrumental in his local fame and in his model being accepted here.

Gagné’s writing and presentation style can appear to be somewhat unorthodox. For instance, he tends to demonstrate the superiority of his own ideas through devaluing those of his contemporary peers, as this quote demonstrates: “A few scholars (e.g., Joseph S. Renzulli, Robert Sternberg) even hesitate to use the term talented…” (Gagné, 2008, p. 1). At times his style also extends to the making of unsubstantiated generalizations. Today I will concentrate on one of these, namely a rather outdated and previously widespread view of early childhood and the early childhood field. In a 2004 article Gagné dismissed any learning that takes place prior to school as ‘unstructured’. Let me quote from the article:

“The general knowledge, language skills, social skills or manual skills mastered by young children before they enter the school system result almost totally from…unstructured activities” (Gagné, 2004, p. 125). Later, on the same page, he partially corrects himself by adding that “…early stimulation programs such as Head Start…can be cataloged as formal institutional attempts to develop general cognitive abilities. However, such systematic interventions are not very common”, and he goes on to opine that, “only a very small percentage of at-risk children…will have their natural abilities influenced by these programs”. As for parenting or typical preschool education being at all planned or structured – gone, with an elegant stroke of the Gagnéan pen.

This has never been my experience of early childhood education. As an extreme example, Maria Montessori comes immediately to mind. Montessori preschools are widespread throughout the world, and whatever one may think of her method of education, no-one can seriously accuse it of NOT being steeped in systematic instruction! In authentic Montessori preschools, children are expected to work alone, quietly and systematically, through a variety of achievement levels, whether these concern the correct completion of puzzles or the pouring of liquid into a glass without spilling. No child is permitted to go on to the next level of complexity until the Directress has ascertained that s/he has mastered all previously required skills.

At a local and more typical level here in NSW, the Children and Young Persons (Care and Protection) Act 1998 ensures (via Clause 64 of the Children’s Services Regulation 2004) that all licensed children’s services provide a program featuring a balance of indoor and outdoor experiences, and develop “each child’s social, physical, emotional, cognitive, language and creative potential” in a way that is “appropriate to the individual needs…”. The previous 1996 Regulation had a similar requirement, and the programming is regularly monitored by the Department of Community Services’ university trained early childhood officers.

A dictionary definition of a ‘program’ in Collins Dictionary is “a syllabus or curriculum”. A syllabus is defined as a “document that lists subjects and states how the course will be assessed”. Hardly something that can be described as unstructured, would you agree? But now over to you, my readers. I look forward to any information that I am not aware of; to your impressions of parenting, and whether you think that parents really teach their children in an unsystematic and unstructured fashion; and any comments on Gagné’s ideas on gifts, natural abilities and talent development during early childhood.

Suggested further reading:
Gagné, F. (2004). Transforming gifts into talents: the DMGT as a developmental theory. High ability studies, 15, (2), 119-147.

Gagné, F. (2008) Building gifts into talents:Overview of the DMGT. Keynote address, 10th Asia-Pacific Conference for Giftedness, Asia-Pacific Federation of the World Council for Gifted and Talented Children, Singapore, 14-17 July.