Relationship Between Gifted Programs and Total School Improvement Using the Schoolwide Enrichment Model

Joseph S. Renzulli, Director
The National Research Center on the Gifted and Talented

The Schoolwide Enrichment Model (SEM) focuses on applying the know-how of gifted education to a systematic plan for total school improvement. This plan is not intended to replace existing services to students who are identified as gifted according to various state or local criteria. Rather, the model should be viewed as an umbrella under which many different types of enrichment and acceleration services are made available to targeted groups of students, as well as all students within a given school or grade level. The centerpiece of the model is the development of differentiated learning experiences that take into consideration each student’s abilities, interests, and learning styles.

The overall mission of the SEM is to escalate the level and quality of learning experiences for any and all students capable of manifesting high levels of performance in any and all areas of the curriculum. As part of this mission, the model provides guidance for the development of challenging and appropriate educational opportunities for all young people, regardless of differences in demographic and economic backgrounds or differences in the rates, styles, and levels at which they learn. I believe that true equity can only be achieved when we acknowledge individual differences in the students we serve, and when we recognize that high-achieving students have as much right to accommodations in their schooling as do students who are experiencing learning difficulties. I also believe that equity is not the product of identical learning experiences for all students; rather, it is the product of a broad range of differentiated experiences that take into account each student’s abilities, interests, and learning profiles.

The SEM is based on a broadened conception of giftedness (Renzulli, 1986) that focuses on the many kinds of aptitudes, talents, and potentials for advanced learning and creative productivity that exist in all school populations. The goal is not to certify some students as “gifted” and others as “non-gifted,” but to provide every student with the opportunities, resources, and encouragement necessary to achieve his or her maximum potential. In the SEM, the “language” of the model is that of labeling the services, not the student. Examples of labeled services are: a special mini-course for all fourth graders in how to access the Internet; an advanced placement course in chemistry; a multi-grade cluster group in mathematics for high-achieving students; a special enrichment cluster for all students interested in filmmaking; assigned time in a resource room to work on a research project; and curriculum compacting for students who have already mastered the material to be covered in an upcoming unit of study.

Young people display or have the potential to display their individuality and uniqueness in many ways. Some students learn at faster rates and higher levels of comprehension than others. Sometimes this learning may be in one or two subjects, and in other cases it may be across the entire curriculum. Similarly, some students are more creative or artistic than others, and still others may demonstrate potentials for excellence in leadership, organizational skills, or interpersonal relations.

I believe that the many and diverse talent potentials of young people can be enhanced through a broad continuum of services that ranges from general enrichment in the regular classroom for all students to a wide variety of advanced-level enrichment and acceleration experiences for targeted groups of youngsters. These specified activities might take place within regular classrooms on an individual or small group basis, in special grouping arrangements that are purposefully formed because of advanced achievement levels, high levels of interest in particular subjects or problems, or strong motivation to pursue the development of a common product or service. Advanced opportunities can also take place outside the school in special internship or mentorship situations, in magnet schools or special-theme high schools, at cultural institutions, in summer programs or programs offered by colleges or universities, or anywhere else where highly capable and motivated youth can gain knowledge and experience that is not ordinarily available in the regular school program. I also believe that all regular curricular material should be subject to modification according to the learning rates and learning styles of individual students.

A total talent development model should give special consideration to schools that serve young people who may be at risk because of limited English proficiency, economically limited circumstances, or because of attendance at poor-quality schools. I believe that it is in these schools and among these student populations that extraordinary efforts should be made to identify and cultivate the high-level talents of young people, talents that historically have gone unrecognized and underdeveloped.