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  October 23, 2000

Translation to Take Enrichment Model into China's Schools

For more than 30 years Joseph Renzulli, the Neag Professor of Gifted Education and Talent Development, has been devoted to improving public education in the United States. Now students in China may benefit from his work.

The Schoolwide Enrichment Model: A How-to Guide for Educational Excellence, has been translated into Chinese and was recently published by the East China Normal University Press. Renzulli authored the book three years ago with his wife and colleague, Sally Reis, a professor of educational psychology. Both of them are nationally renowned experts in gifted education and talent development.

The first copies of the translated version were presented to Renzulli and Reis two weeks ago at Shanghai Teachers University, where they had been invited to conduct a series of seminars based on the book.

The Schoolwide Enrichment Model is a blueprint for "total school improvement" that is based on years of research and field testing. The model allows each school to develop its own unique program so local resources, student populations, school leadership dynamics, faculty strengths and creativity can be taken into account.

The prospect of reaching a sizable new audience outside the U.S. brings a great deal of satisfaction to the two educators. "It verifies that our work is based on a good set of theories and strong underlying research. That is what it's all about," says Renzulli, whose reputation has for years drawn students of education to UConn from all over the world.

The endeavor to introduce the work of Renzulli and Reis to China has been headed by Wanli Zhang, a senior analyst at the UConn Health Center. Zhang was a science teacher in China before coming to UConn to earn his doctorate. Realizing a need for education reform in his homeland, Zhang approached Renzulli for help.

"The Chinese educational system places too much emphasis on memorization and test scores," Zhang says. "The essential point is to develop students' abilities and talents but China does not know how to develop giftedness."

"The world needs the best educational instruction model available," he adds, "so I went to Joe Renzulli."

Renzulli and Reis believe schools should be primarily places for developing talent and that all students, regardless of what they score on IQ or achievement tests, should be provided with opportunities, resources and encouragement to develop their special strengths, learning styles, and preferred modes of expression. At the core of his work is the belief that "a rising tide lifts all ships." By exposing students at all levels to challenging enrichment experiences, students with different strengths and interests can select options for investigative or creative follow-up based on individual or small group preferences.

Zhang's efforts to introduce these principles overseas are funded by China Bridges International, a program aimed at developing collaborative projects in research, teaching and technology transfer between China and the U.S. One of the program's founders is Jerry Yang, professor of animal science at UConn.

But before the project could move forward, East China Normal University Press enlisted the expertise of a group of academics to analyze the book. The group's response to the publishing company, says Zhang, was: "The book is excellent and Chinese teachers need this book."

So just as Renzulli and Reis have done hundreds of times in this country, they spent several days introducing the Schoolwide Enrichment Model to teachers, scholars and educators from the Shanghai region of China, who gathered at Shanghai Teachers University.

Zhang is not stopping there, however. He has submitted a proposal to the central government which would make the book available to teachers all over China. If Zhang succeeds in arranging the deal, the results could be overwhelming. The Schoolwide Enrichment Model is currently in use at more than 200 schools in the U.S. There are more than 700,000 elementary and secondary schools in China.

Yet China is not the last stop on the Renzulli reform mission: a German and an Arabic version of the book are also in the works. And, based on the number of information requests the Neag Center for Gifted Education and Talent Development is receiving, interest outside the U.S. is growing by leaps and bounds.

"These countries see the importance of developing the talents kids have," Renzulli says. "It's good for democracy, because what we advocate are the kinds of things that liberate the mind. You truly reach the highest level of learning when you question what is already there and go beyond what is already known."

Janice Palmer