Karen E. Kettle, Joseph S. Renzulli, & Mary G. Rizza
The National Research Center on the Gifted and Talented
University of Connecticut
In this article, students’ preferences for creating potential products are explored through the use of an expression style inventory. A total of 3,532 students from 45 school districts in 24 states completed surveys designed to assess their interest in creating a variety of products. Factor analytic procedures yielded 11 factors with alpha reliabilities ranging from .72 to .95. The analysis allowed examination of the content and construct validity for the instrument. The article concludes with practical classroom applications for the expression style inventory in talent development programs such as those based on The Schoolwide Enrichment Model (Renzulli & Reis, 1985).
Each product humans create embodies the forms of thinking that led to its realization, each one of them provides testimony to what humans can achieve, each one represents a silent but eloquent statement concerning the scope and possibilities of the human mind…
(Eisner, 1997, p 349)
My Way… An Expression Style Inventory was developed to gather information on the types of products that students prefer to create. Teachers can use the instrument to remind young people that, like practicing professionals, they must select a product to communicate what they have learned to their audience. In this instrument, students indicate their interest in creating potential products and develop a profile of their preferences for specific types of products. My Way is one of a group of instruments, originating with the Interest-A-Lyzer (Renzulli, 1977), which have been designed to help educators determine and describe student strengths and interests, within the framework of the Schoolwide Enrichment Model (Renzulli & Reis, 1985). A brief overview of this model provides the theoretical rationale for the development of this instrument.
The Schoolwide Enrichment Model (SEM) is a programming approach which includes a systematic set of strategies to integrate advanced level learning experiences and higher order thinking skills into the curriculum. Its purpose is to increase student effort, interest and performance. This research-based plan is designed for general education, but has been developed from a wide range of instructional methods and curricular practices that originated in programs for gifted and high achieving students. The SEM contains a number of interacting dimensions that allow it to be both a detailed and a flexible blueprint for total school improvement (Renzulli, 1994).
A major goal of the SEM is to provide educators with strategies to develop the talent potentials of young people. This is accomplished by systematically assessing student strengths; providing enrichment opportunities, resources, and services to develop their strengths; and using a flexible approach to curricular differentiation and the use of school time. Student interests and learning style preferences are considered, as well as their academic, athletic, and artistic abilities. One of three service delivery components of the SEM is the Total Talent Portfolio (TTP). The TTP is used as a vehicle for gathering, organizing, and using information about student strengths in three categories: abilities, interests, and style preferences. The major dimensions of the portfolio and the items that guide data gathering within each dimension are presented in Figure 1. Information gathered in the TTP is used to help educators capitalize on student performance by: 1) providing opportunities for participation in a broad range of activities within and across interest areas; 2) observing and documenting performance, satisfaction, and enthusiasm; and 3) making decisions about subsequent activities that capitalize on positive reactions to previous experiences (Renzulli, 1994). The importance of providing continuous educational experiences was described by John Dewey (1938) in Education and Experience. He suggested that knowledge, skills and values learned in one situation become the instruments for dealing with novel situations. For this reason, Dewey concluded that the likes and dislikes that learners develop from an experience are often more important than the skills and knowledge the activity was designed to teach. These attitudes determine the individual’s willingness to interact with the material again. This work adds to the theoretical foundation that suggests that the Total Talent Portfolio is an appropriate way to systematically assess and develop talent in young people.
Figure 1. The dimensions of the Total Talent Portfolio. (Click on the figure to see it as a PDF file. )
One of the major assumptions underlying the SEM is that respect for the individual learner must take into consideration how the student would like to pursue a particular activity (Renzulli, 1994). This does not mean complete freedom of choice for all activities. It does mean that students should have the opportunity to select some activities that develop their preferred modes of learning and expression. A number of studies and theories have illustrated that positive effects on cognitive outcomes occur when students are matched with specific learning environments (Hunt, 1971; Smith, 1976; McCarthy, 1980). For these reasons, the TTP contains a series of indicators of student preferences for learning, including: instructional styles, learning environment preferences, thinking styles, and expression styles (Renzulli, 1994). The focus of this article is on the expression styles component of the Schoolwide Enrichment Model in general and the Total Talent Portfolio in particular.
Expression style preferences deal with the ways in which people prefer to share their creative productivity with others. Preferences may be oriented toward developing specific products or engaging in specific leadership situations. Some special subject areas such as art, music, technical studies, and physical education are based on expression styles inherent in the individual discipline; but despite a wide variety of alternatives, most classroom activities depend on written, computational, or oral expression. Eisner (1997) cogently argues that the forms of representation that an institution emphasizes influence who succeeds and who does not. If the primary focus is on the use of language and the calculation of numbers then students whose aptitudes or out-of-school experience include these skills are advantaged. If the school’s curricular agenda is diverse, than educational equity is promoted through a range of activities where diverse aptitudes and experiences can lead a child to success. An awareness of the multitude of potential products and the preferences of young people can produce a greater variety of ways in which students can express themselves. Solomon (1997) suggests that different symbolic forms of representation address distinct aspects of the world and thus each form of representation provides children with the opportunity to learn something unique. Knowledge from a history unit could culminate through essays; oral presentations; debates; role-play simulations; the development of a board game, timeline or photography exhibit; the creation of artwork or computer software; or the production of a video or TV show. A knowledge of expression style preferences can also be a valuable tool for organizing cooperative learning and project groups. Flexible groups for complex projects such as the production of a school magazine or environmental action campaign can also be established by dividing tasks based on style preferences rather than in a random manner (Renzulli, 1994).
My Way… An Expression Style Inventory was designed to assess how interested students are in developing different types of products. The importance of interest has been described throughout the history of education. Dewey (1913), Thorndike (1935) and Piaget (1981) discussed the importance of interest and its energizing role in all forms of learning. Gruber (1986) described interests and personal activities as the main forces in the self-construction of human extraordinaryness. Empirical studies have demonstrated the relationship between interests and learning (Krapp, 1989; Renninger, 1989; Schiefele, 1989). A research study by Hébert (1993) reported that the best indicator of the selection of college majors and the expression of career choices on the parts of young adults was their intensive involvement in projects based on early interests. Interest was selected as the basis for the development of an expression style inventory because it provides a measure of how willing students are to create a specific kind of product, regardless of whether or not they currently have the procedural knowledge to successfully complete the project. Therefore, the development of technical expertise becomes a natural step in the creation of an interesting product. If students prefer creating a specific type of product, their interest may serve to motivate them to higher levels of productivity and learning.
According to Cronbach (Gable & Wolf, 1993), content validity is assessed by answering the question: To what extent do the items on a measuring instrument adequately sample from the intended universe of content? The evidence for content validity is judgmental in nature and was collected in a series of stages prior to piloting the instrument.
Based on a review of literature, 90 statements were developed to measure the 10 expression style categories outlined in the Total Talent Portfolio (Figure 1). Initially a panel of 12 experts from the field of Educational Psychology and Gifted Education individually completed a four page rating form with the 90 items. The items for each category were randomly placed throughout the form. The expert judges were provided with the category definitions and asked to rate each item twice. First, they were asked to identify the category that they believed the item represented, and second, to identify how certain they were that they had placed the item in the correct category. The results of this content validity process were discussed and led to revisions and clarification within and among the categories, their operational definitions, and individual items. The instrument was shortened to 60 items. Three categories (Computer Products, Audio-Visual Products, and Musical Products) were added to better represent the universe of potential products, while three categories (Discussion, Displays, and Graphics) were omitted because of difficulties in creating discrete operational definitions.
A second judgmental rating exercise was carried out with a panel of experts consisting of 10 middle and high school teachers. They were provided with the modified category definitions and asked to rate each of the items that would appear on the experimental expression style inventory. First, they were asked to identify the category that they believed the item represented, and second, to identify how certain they were that they had placed the item in the correct category. The categories were as follows: Written Products (I), Oral Products (II), Artistic Products (III), Manipulative Products (IV), Commercial Products (V), Computer Technology (VI), Service Products (VII), Dramatization Products (VIII), Audio-visual Products (IX), Musical Products (X). While all of the items rated by this panel of experts appeared in the pilot of the instrument; selection percentages, confidence ratings, and comments written on the expert rating forms were taken into consideration during the selection of items for the final draft of the instrument. The selection criteria for the final draft was set at 70% and a mean confidence score of at least 2.
Piloting the Instrument
The resulting instrument was piloted with the assistance of the Collaborative School Districts of the National Research Center on the Gifted and Talented. Forty-five school districts representing 24 states responded to the invitation to participate in this study. The sample consisted of 3,532 students which provided a subject-to-item ratio that greatly exceeded the 10:1 minimum ratio recommended for factor analysis. The surveys were completed by students representing grades 6 (32%), 7 (28%) , 8 (25%), and 9 (15%). Fifty-four percent of the students were female and 46% were male. Students were asked to indicate their ethnicity on the survey. The majority of the students were Caucasian (80%). The sample also included students who were African-American (5%), Hispanic-American (6%), Asian-American (3%), Native-American (2%) and of other heritage (3%). One percent of the students did not indicate their ethnicity. Thirty-one percent of the students attended schools in urban districts, 33% in suburban, 27% in rural and 9% were from regions described as a combination of suburban and rural settings. The surveys were administered by classroom teachers who received a common set of directions to standardize administration.
Exploratory factor analysis was used for an initial examination of construct validity. The subject-to-item ratio exceeded the 10:1 ratio recommended for factor analysis. The analysis was conducted on a Macintosh computer using SPSS(r) software. Principal factor analysis (PFA) and principal component analysis (PCA) were run. A review of the resulting output indicated that there was very little difference in the factor and component structures identified by the two analyses. Therefore, this report will focus on a discussion of the PFA.
The PFA produced 11 factors with Eigenvalues >1 in the final statistics table. The 11 factors were then sent to a varimax rotation. Table 1 displays the factors, the items that comprise them, and the item loadings for the varimax rotation. An inspection of these data leads to a number of interesting observations. The overall organization of the items into factors is strikingly similar to the original categories that were proposed. The students in the sample have indicated that the items originally belonging to the category of Musical Products should be split into two factors (10 & 11). The students also connected the item, “talking to an audience” to the items that dealt with drama rather than to the oral products. This may be due to the use of the word, “audience,” which is commonly used in the context of theater productions. The 11 factors were also sent to an oblique rotation which produced the same overall factor structure. Due to the similarity, this report will be limited to a discussion of the varimax rotation. The 11 factors extracted by the varimax rotation are named in Table 1.
The alpha internal consistency reliability was estimated for each of the factors using SPSS®. The values for the scales ranged from .95 to .72 and are displayed in Table 2. The reliability of a set of items is affected by the characteristics of the sample, the homogeneity of the item content, the number of items, and the response format (Gable & Wolf, 1993). At this stage in the development of the instrument, reliability information was used to help evaluate individual items. It was decided that shortening the instrument to 10 factors and 50 items would make it easier for students to complete and still maintain high alpha reliability values for each scale. Together with the selection criteria from the content validity stage of analysis, the alpha reliability data were used to select items which could be eliminated from the final draft of the instrument.
Principal Axis Factoring With Varimax Rotation: Expression Style Inventory Items and Factors
Factor 10 and Factor 11 both conceptually involve musical products. An inspection of the Factor Correlation Matrix that accompanied the oblique rotation demonstrated that these two factors did not have an intercorrelation over .40, therefore, collapsing these components was not considered an option. To avoid confusion on the final draft of the instrument, Factor 10 was retained because it had a higher alpha reliability and Factor 11 was removed. To maintain the balance of 5 items per component, one of the items, “performing or writing music” was modified into two items, “performing music” and “composing music” and a final item, “playing in an orchestra,” was added. Inspection of the Factor Correlation Matrix that accompanied the oblique rotation indicated several intercorrelations greater than .40 between other factors. These factors were not collapsed because they were individually reliable and conceptually meaningful. The resulting instrument, My Way… An Expression Style Inventory, was shortened to 50 items and enables students to score their own survey to develop an expression style profile on 10 scales.
Putting the Research to Work
My Way… An Expression Style Inventory was developed as an instrument to enable teachers to gather information on the types of products that students are interested in creating. Before administering the expression style inventory, it is important to consider how the information regarding expression styles will be used. Students are more comfortable answering questions honestly if they know in advance how the information will be used. Information gathered on expression style preferences can be used by educators to enhance student performance by: 1) providing opportunities for participation in a broad range of activities within and across interest areas; 2) observing and documenting performance, satisfaction, and enthusiasm; and 3) making decisions about subsequent activities that capitalize on positive reactions. This is a dynamic process, as interests change over time and expression style preferences cannot be considered permanent.
Summary of Means, Standard Deviations, Correlations with the Factor, Estimated Alpha Reliabilities if the Item is Deleted, and Estimated Factor Reliabilities for the Expression Style Inventory.
A variety of activities may be used after the completion of My Way… An Expression Style Inventory to help students understand that all expression style preferences are valued. For example students may:
- make visual expression style profiles by creating bar graphs of their scores
- research the types of products created by professionals that share their expression style preference
- interview each other about their preferences
- discuss their product preferences with community members who are skilled at creating products of interest
- design a bulletin board display of products they are interested in creating and have each student sign his/her name to the two categories where he/she has the most interest
- work with others in their interest areas to brainstorm a list of products that they would like to produce.
It is not only important to use the information gathered from My Way… An Expression Style Inventory, it is important to draw student attention to its use. Individuals face decisions regarding creative productivity and audience impact throughout their lives. Educators can help students understand their personal expression style preferences, develop their technical skills, and maximize the impact they will have on future audiences. A variety of situations exist in which information on expression style preferences may be useful. In enrichment programs based on the Schoolwide Enrichment Model (Renzulli & Reis, 1985) this information can be applied to all three types of enrichment: general exploratory activities, group training activities, and investigations of real problems.
General Exploratory Activities (Type I)
Students’ interests may be limited by their experiences. General exploratory activities aimed at expression style are designed to bring the learner in touch with numerous possibilities in product development and to help them to decide if they would like to develop their technical skills in a particular area. For example, within the category of Artistic Products, students may investigate many different kinds of media, styles, and techniques from Impressionist painting to the creation of traditional Native American ceremonial masks. Guest speakers, demonstrations, films, field trips, interest centers, internet searches, job shadowing, student products, etc. can all be used as invitations to explore the creation of new ways to share ideas with an audience. The interests identified by the survey can be used to make informed decisions about the kind of general exploratory activities that should be offered and the selection of students for each presentation.
Group Training Activities (Type II)
Students may be interested in creating certain products to communicate their ideas to an audience, but lack the technical skills to accomplish this goal. Limited expression skills often restrict students to doing what they know how to do rather than what they would like to try, especially if the evaluation “stakes” are high. The class or school results from My Way… An Expression Style Inventory can be used to plan a series of seminars or mini-courses that teach students how to create certain products. There are also a large number of technical, “How-to”, books on the market, at a variety of reading levels, that provide detailed instructions on the creation of products. Schack (1988) suggests that the most useful “How-to” books contain information on a number of the following areas: the structure of the field, procedures for problem finding and focusing, specific methodological skills, suggestions for independent student investigations, and suggestions for products to communicate findings. These books can usually be identified by their titles. Books with titles like, Writing Your Own Plays (Korty, 1989), Kid Vid: Fundamentals of Video Production (Black, 1989), Chi Square, Pie-Charts and Me (Baum, Gable, & List, 1987), or The Kid’s Guide to Service Projects (Lewis, 1995) provide students and teachers with “mentors in print” to coach them through independent investigations and product development. The interests identified by the survey can be used to make informed decisions when purchasing “How-to” books on product development for the school library. Providing students with the opportunity and resources to increase their skills in the development of products and the encouragement to transfer their new skills to the classroom produces a supportive environment for creative productivity.
Individual and Small Group Investigations of Real Problems (Type III)
One of the major decisions in planning a long-range study or independent investigation is the selection of a product or service that is targeted at a real audience. A sense of audience helps give students a reason to want to improve the quality of their products and develop effective ways of communicating their results with interested others. It provides students with a chance to use the modus operandi of practicing professionals whose raison d’être is having the greatest possible impact on their audience. Writers hope to influence the thoughts and emotions of their readers, scientists do research to find better ways to contribute new knowledge to their fields, and artists create products to enrich the lives of those who view their works (Renzulli, 1994). My Way… An Expression Style Inventory helps students explore the kinds of products that they are interested in creating and can be a useful tool in this planning process. It not only helps to create a vision of the final product but may also indicate the type of technical training that is required to bring the work to fruition. If students are interested in both the content of their investigation and the kind of product or service they are developing, there is a greater chance that they will remain committed to completing the task.
In Schools for Talent Development, Renzulli (1994) proposes an additional format for enrichment teaching and learning. Enrichment clusters are non-graded groups of students who share common interests, and who come together during specially designated time blocks to pursue these interests. The best way to visualize this interaction is to picture a research laboratory, a small business organization, or a theater production company that functions for a couple of hours each week on the same afternoon. The operation of these organizations is different from traditional classroom routines for a number of reasons. 1) Members have selected to belong to the organization and share a common interest and purpose that binds the group together. 2) This sense of purpose is directed toward the production of an authentic product or the delivery of a service for a targeted audience. 3) There is a division of labor and everyone contributes in his or her area of specialization. Therefore, the group is connected by a common purpose. The uniqueness of each person’s specialty is valued for the contribution it makes to the overall enterprise. For example the production of play requires a written script, dramatic actors and actresses, a business department, the building of sets and much more. The self-understanding that comes from completing My Way… An Expression Style Inventory helps students select their individual role in the enrichment cluster enabling the teacher to group them in meaningful ways. Much of the success of enrichment clusters comes from the belief that each student is special if he or she is a specialist in a specialized group.
This article provided information concerning an expression style inventory developed within the theoretical framework of the Schoolwide Enrichment Model (Renzulli & Reis, 1985) and the Total Talent Portfolio (Renzulli, 1994). The resulting instrument, My Way… An Expression Style Inventory, includes 50 items that students can use to determine their personal expression style profile on 10 different scales. This provides teachers with an instrument to gather information about student expression style preferences which can be applied to enhance enrichment teaching and learning. For Eisner (1997) equity of opportunity does not reside in a common program for all, but in a school program that makes it possible for students to follow their bliss, to pursue their interests, and develop what they are good at. If schools are truly places for talent development attention must be given to students acquiring and refining the skills they desire to express their creative productivity.