The state of Ohio has funded Ohio Summer
Honor Institutes since the late 1980s. Each year 16 or
17 private and public institutions of higher education
in the state are awarded grants ranging from $40,000 to
$105,000 to conduct summer programs for rising sophomores
and juniors who have been identified as gifted and talented.
Ohio has both a law and a rule mandating the identification
of such students, K-12, in the areas of (1) Superior Cognitive
Ability; (2) Specific Academic Ability; (3) Creative Thinking
Ability; (4) Visual and Performing Arts Ability.
Since 1989, a comprehensive private university
in northeast Ohio has been awarded 19 such grants totaling
almost a million dollars over the years, to conduct such
institutes. Each year about 130 students (65 per week)
come to this university to take intensive classes in such
areas as philosophy, chemistry, toxicology, mathematics,
law, theater, music, creative problem solving, creative
writing, business, sports communication, film criticism,
field biology, physics, and the like. These courses are
taught by university faculty in the liberal arts who possess
the Ph.D. in their chosen fields, or, in the case of the
Songwriting class, by a singer songwriter who has many
albums. Class size is ten or fewer, and the students receive
out-of-level content that is typical for college freshmen
and sophomores rather than high school freshmen or sophomores,
which they are. Average age of the students is 15.
I, the Director of the Institute, am a
scholar in the area of the psychology of the gifted and
talented, and have published both quantitative and qualitative
studies of the students. Informed consent to conduct research
is obtained from parents, students, faculty, and staff.
Among the instruments administered to the students has
been the Myers Briggs Type Indicator (Piirto, 1998; Piiirto & Johnson,
2004); High School Personality Questionnaire (Piirto & Fraas,
1995; Piirto & Johnson, 2004); Rokeach Value Survey
(Piirto, 2005; 2008); the Overexcitability Questionnaire
& Montgomery, in review). Other studies using the NEO-PI-R,
the MPS, the Baron-EQ, the BEM Sex Role Inventory, the
Barron-Welsh Art Scale are in process (it takes several
years to accumulate the number of responses needed for
a quantitative study). Among the goals for these studies
has been to confirm the presence of the personality attributes
listed on the base of my Piirto Pyramid of Talent Development
as a framework. The present study will focus on the summer
The day the students arrived, an assessment
session was held, where several instruments were administered:
The quiet settles
Good test takers—confident—
Skilled in this
process of assess-
Meant to find
I know what
the result will be already
But I interpret
their personal results to them
Like the good
old guidance counselor I was.
75% or more
of them will prefer intuition[ii]
but their teachers
They work by
want the facts, man.
They want them
to show their work.
They want neat
margins and easy answers.
More of the
girls will prefer Thinking
They are tough-minded.
More of the
boys will prefer Feeling
They are more
Besides doing psychological research,
I am a literary artist, a published poet, novelist, and
short story writer. I have sought to create in my teaching
and administrating, what Hillman (1975) called, a “poetic
basis of mind,” (p. 34) the imaginative capacity of our
being (cf. Reynolds & Piirto, 2005; 2007), and I encourage
my graduate students, who are attending the Institute to
fulfill internship/student teaching requirements for gifted
endorsement or for their Master’s degree in Curriculum
and Instruction with Emphasis in Talent Development Education,
who have undergraduate majors in English, music, theater,
performance, visual arts, and such, to produce master’s
capstone projects in arts-based forms. While most choose
to do a capstone project in a traditional qualitative or
quantitative research format, students with undergraduate
majors in the arts and humanities have completed high stakes
projects in these areas (Abell, 2001; Bandy, 2001; Bohland,
2001; Daniel, 2001; Frahm, 2006; Hohman,2001; Hogue, 2007;
James, 2002; Keaton, 2001; Stieg, 2007; Webb, 2007).
In addition, the Institute has hired staff
who are not only teachers but artists. For example, the
assistant director since 1997 is a singer-songwriter, with
3 CDs of her own music, and 2 CDs of her jazz singing with
a big band. Each day we began the institute at the morning
meeting, by singing a song she wrote when she was a graduate
student attending the institute as an assistant to a professor.
This song speaks of the joy that ensues when students and
faculty are engaged in an atmosphere of mutual love and
respect, and describes a rainy night when guitars played
by the theater and creative studies faculty rang on the
porch of one of the dormitories, enticing the students
to throw off their sandals and dance:
twirling, our music our dancing
effects on the soul
We all came
together from our other places
And we made
magic that night on the porch
and rhythm and clashing
Joined by the
love of the four
fireflies to the magic of music
celebrate life on the porch!
Come and join
in the dance—be a part of the joy
Come and join
in the dance—grab a girl, grab a boy
Come and join
in the dance—for the now for the past
Who knows how
long it will last?
When it’s perfect
you know it
not often blessed by a
Moment as perfect
But all of us
felt it—the passion, the music
It left us with
memories of the dance on the porch
We don’t know
that we’re looking for others around us
To join in our
When they find
their way to us
We embrace and
we laugh and we
Join the swirling
to that perfect chance.
We sent out
or message to the spirits around us
The muse found
her way to my soul
me and swirled me
She moved me
and stirred me
And I know I’ll
not be the same anymore.
When the call for papers came for the
1st International Symposium on Poetic Inquiry
, I thought of doing a theoretical paper somewhat similar
to other papers I have written (Piirto, 1999; 2002a; b;
in press) which talked about the quality of poetry in qualitative
research, and the need to respect the genres of literary
prose and poetry when doing such work. Fictional work written
for a didactic purpose often suffers from rigidity and
a need to fit into the theory (a good example is B.F. Skinner’s
1948 attempt at a utopian novel based on psychological
behaviorism, Walden Two; or Ayn
Rand’s 1957 Atlas
Shrugged and her 1943 The
propounded her Objectivist philosophy). Similarly, social
studies research embodying poetic work suffers from what
could be called message sentimentality, the subsuming of
artful craft to the need to preach a sermon, as well as
from sometimes doggerel-like rigidity in forced rhymes
and worn out images. I presented these poems with photographs.
Fingerpaint from the Art & Science of Psychology class
The following poem was timed to several
photographs of a web that the professor used in post-assessment,
and to a photograph of the students, nine girls and one
boy, and two graduate interns, lying on the grass in a
circle, with their heads together, meditating, in the class
called “The Art and Science of Psychology.”
The Art and
Science of Psychology
All week we’ve
So we took our
With our eyes
But we’ve learned
They don’t teach
psychology at our high schools
We are 9 girls
Only 1 boy
I held my own, didn’t I?
Yes, James you
Here’s our summary
All this in
Dabrowski, Kohlberg. Erikson
We built a labyrinth
We all cried,
even the adults
All about us.
One of the most popular courses was in
physics, where the professor, who had been teaching in
the Institute for about 12 years, alternated years, teaching
string theory one year, quarks and leptons another year,
and black holes a third year. The students who chose physics
were often mainly boys, though 2007’s class had a couple
of girls. For the Sharing Show at the end of the week,
they visited the local Goodwill, and dramatized the Big
Bang. They seem to love the permission to be silly in this
atmosphere, studying about black holes among people who
are as interested as they are in these extraworldly phenomena:
We thought we’d climb a tree Because Newton is our god
We thought we’d
climb a tree
is our god
And you know
the story of the apple
Theory and eleven dimensions.
three of space and one of time of which we are aware.
was the universe like
the seconds after the Big Bang?
to comprehend the 4th dimension.
blew up coke and mentos
the parking lot.
Andy had to
have a royal blue sequined pullover
a pink, taffeta semi-formal dress
a green sport coat
his affinity for all things Irish.
But Steve stole
with his maroon
and a matching
jacket of three-inch fake fur
“You must obey
the laws of physics”
Physics, You Always Save The Day!”
Never go faster than the speed of light”
In fact, one of the reasons the students
have viewed the Institute as such a positive experience,
according to their exit evaluations, is because they have
met people who are like them, who don’t think they are
nerds, dweebs, brains, or weirdos, because they are smart.
The following poem was from student comments on the evaluations,
interspersed with close-up portraits of the variety of
faces they show.
Poem About Friends
These kids are
not isolates, loners, nor antisocial
"I love making new friends”
"The best part of being at the camp is
people that are like me."
some new friends."
"Everyone is nice here. I made several new friends."
"What I love about being here, other smart and crazy
"The best thing about being here-- I like the new
Somewhat surprisingly, the most popular
course for the years 2006 and 2007 was a course taught
by a professor of classics on ancient warfare. The course
filled up a month early, and had a waiting list. Mostly
boys, these students demonstrated an astonishing knowledge
of such ancient historians as Herodotus and Thucydides.
Classics: Ancient Weaponry
He told fascinating
stories of ancient wars
aids for emphasis.
After one of
the students fell asleep
They asked him
questions about obscure battles
He could always
answer with multiple examples
to other historic episodes.
They were not
only willing, but eager
to attend a
predominantly lecture class
for nearly five
hours a day.
They were 8
boys and 2 girls
They took Greek
For the sharing
seen the movie 300,
wanted to turn
his eponymous part
into a caricature
The others kept
egging him on.
notebook paper armor
took the roles.
30 city states
in 480 BCE
during the Battle
of 480 BC, an alliance of Greek city-states
fought the invading Persian Empire
at the pass
of Thermopylae in central Greece.
They held the
Persians back for 3 days
A famous last
against a massive army
Sparta versus Xerxes the Great of Persia.
They are argumentative
They do not
some of their teachers.
Some of them
are obsessed with this history:
when discussing Thucydides’s
argument for might makes right),
that it was
just like the Machiavellian ideology
that says it
is better to be feared than to be loved.
of war naturally led
to modern wars
and the current
war in Iraq.
his essay, said,
“War has always
He is in Boy
Scouts, German club, church choir,
Played a tuba
solo for the group.
What they all
had in common
was the thinking
(versus feeling) preference.
was their common interest in cause and effect
that drew them
to this intensive.
One of the pleasures of being a professor
of education (rather than of English, my original career,
but which I abandoned after a consideration of the waterfalls
of student essays one would have to swim through for oh
too many years), is the opportunity to work with high school
students. Annually, I get my “kid fix,” being the director
of this institute for 18 years (2008 was the 19th opportunity
to administer the grant). In order to be heard by the chattering
mob at the beginning of group meetings, I have used a Burmese
begging bowl struck with a wooden mallet, instead of yelling,
“All right, be quiet, you guys!” or turning the light switch
on and off. One night, after the master class lecture,
during which I had been called out to wait with a boy whose
family had had an emergency, I noticed that the begging
bowl’s mallet had been appropriated, from where I had left
it on the first row. The assistant director was an eager
former graduate student, a man who went back to the dormitories
after I discovered the mallet’s absence, and who gathered
the students (I wasn’t there, but this is what I was told)
and shouted that they had better find my mallet. The poets
in the songwriting class took this opportunity to write
a song about the incident, called “Dr. Piirto.” It was
on YouTube for awhile, but then the composers took it down.
It was on the album the class made in 2006. The song begins
quietly, and then ascends into screams and wails, with
increasingly agitated repetitions of these words.
We’re so sorry
That you lost
What will you
Don’t get angry
Took your mallet
We still love
You better find
You better find
You better find
What will you
You better find
One behavior that stands out is that these
students are argumentative and interested, engaged and
willing to debate with their professors. Each evening they
attended a master class, taught by one professor, about
an area of his/her passion. The toxicology professor spoke
on “Does Everything Cause Cancer?”; The physics professor,
on “What Is A Black Hole?”; the mathematics professor,
on “What Is A Number?” the philosophy professor, on “The
Ethics of Sunbathing.” The art professor gave a critical
introduction to his newest one-man show in New York. The
singer-songwriters gave a concert of new work. The creative
problem solving professor, who has an IQ of 160 and a Ph.D.
in music composition, played his recent avant-garde composition
to the polite attention of the students, most of whom were
in music groups in their high schools, but who had not
heard this kind of music. They were mostly interested and
engaged, and the hands went up in questioning and response.
Here is a poem about those raised hands.
We are the ones
Who always have
our hands up
We have a lot
We are told
Wait wait wait
Wait until the
others are finished
Wait. I’ll talk
to you later.
Wait, talk to
me after class
Wait, Come in
early to talk to me
I don’t have
Yes, yes, Jimmy,
we know you know it
Now let’s hear
from some of the others.
All of the students are identified as
gifted by the Ohio rule, and many of them have been identified
as having IQs above the 97th percentile, or
achievement in a specific academic area above the 95th percentile.
They are often underserved in their schools, as teachers
struggle to bring the lower achievers to the middle. To
attend a class that moves as fast as they can take, is
an opportunity they may not have had up to now. The mathematics
classes are an example. The following poem was taken from
dialogue and observation.
“Why don’t you
use case squared?
Can I guess
the signal notation for this?”
She holds up
her arms in parentheses
This is a half
squared, a third squared.”
The exponent is constant.
The way we started
it—you could start it at one--.
They want him
to keep adding zeroes.
give us 50 digits.”
“I will do infinity,
“No! Keep doing
They are interested
In how the number
Out at the 50th decimal
“There’s a famous
conjecture about this function.
Using the imaginary
piece and putting the one plus one.”
“Do Zeta 3;
I want to see what happens.”
that it’s adding up to something imaginary.”
number to the 5th power.
They watch the
screen and giggle.
Other students have an interest and have
scored high on verbal tests. Each year we have offered
a creative writing course: some years it has been on writing
fiction: “Writing the First Chapter of Your Novel.” In
2007, the focus was poetry. This is a portrait of one of
the girls whose poetry writing was a long-time habit, who
arrived at the Institute with a pile of notebooks.
her mind’s eye,
she codes life
Another class studied improvisational
theater. The brochure advertisement mentioned the hilarious
show, “Whose Line Is It, Anyway?” and the comedy games
the talented actors play on that show. Often the class
filled with bounding boys, lanky and loose and 15, class
clowns who run around the campus dropping from trees and
popping from seat cushions in the fireplace lounge. The
professor was an Actors Equity member of the Cincinnati
Shakespeare company, and he communicated his love of Shakespeare
and uses the nimble minds as well as the bodies of the
students in teaching them some memorable dialogues, monologues
We want to be
like “Whose Line Is It, Anyway?”
We have Shakespeare
in the morning
games in the afternoon
never thought we could
those Shakespeare poems!
When you look for poetry you find it,
and once permission was tacitly given, many grabbed the
opportunity. A poetic way of knowing is often fun and funny.
The poet Kay Ryan (2006) commented on how funny poets are,
and how they often see the humorous, to a greater degree
than do prose writers. She spoke of the “giddiness indistinguishable
from the impulse to laugh” (p. 148). She compared this
giddiness to the dance of a manhole cover lifted by a flood
of water, “tipping and bobbing like a flower, producing
an occasional bell-like chime as it touched against the
metal ring.” When students perceive they have permission
to be fun and funny, surprises ensue. During the Sharing
Show on the last night, about ten boys from different parts
of the state jumped up and chanted a rap that many of the
rest of us had never heard of. The underground drums of
teenagedom had been rumbling and more and more boys jumped
up and swayed in joyful recitation.
All of a sudden
All these boys
They all know
it by heart!
you permit it
It’s all over
Another class was called Songwriting from
the Edge. The edge is the edge of fear, of risk-taking,
of performance. Students who had a musical background and
an interest in creating the poetry of songs signed up.
In 2007, a very talented guitarist sent in an audition
tape and showed up. Improvisation is an important aspect
of the creative process,[iv] and
this class began with students improvising in both words
Songwriting class performs
for 4 hours
is his idol
“He’s the best
guitarist I’ve seen
For this age”
says his teacher.
We all agree.
They have to
send in an audition tape
of poems or
songs to show they’re serious.
Their home teachers
so this is hard,
she’s been taking
piano for 10 years,
he’s been playing
drums since 5th grade.
try on the roles
tender teacher whispers
around the stage, now.”
Technically, the poems above have utilized
several methodologies. Some were done intuitively, written
spontaneously, in the manner of poetry writing everywhere.
Their form is free verse, with syllabic repetition, parallelism,
and other conventions incorporated within the lines. Some
were taken, as is the custom in poetic representation in
social science, from more formal written transcripts of
ethnographic observations. Each poem, though, shows the
opinion of the poet, displayed artfully, one hopes, through
the text, but not didactically, in a manner that is not
preachy or seeking to teach or edify, but that is descriptive
and evocative. In an entry in an encylopedia (in press),
I wrote the following:
Using poetic representation in qualitative
research usually takes the form of free verse. Free verse
is also called vers libre. Often,
qualitative researchers who use the technique of vers libre
break up interview transcripts into small, or short units,
or lines, without regard to foot, syllable, or meter. The
purpose is to focus and to intensify the expression of
what the participant said. The poetic technique is usually
enjambment, which breaks up the text by clauses or phrases,
proceeding through the verse to the period at the end.
The use of other verse forms such as blank verse (where
there is meter but the ends don’t rhyme), the sonnet, the
ballad, the villanelle, the rhondo, the epic, the haiku,
etc. is rare.
Prendergast (2007) listed the ways that
poetry is used in social science research. Among her observations
were the facts that poetic inquiry is often
22. Practiced on
the margins of qualitative research by a small number of
poet/scholars, a number of whom are also literary poets.
23. Very challenging
to evaluate, assess and/or review as little established
Whether the above essay, with poems, fit
her observations, is a matter of peer review. This poetic
representation has attempted to be both literary and presentational
and to show the experience in a way that is not possible
through psychological testing and assessment.
[i] This was first a presentation for the
1st International Poetic Inquiry Conference
at the University of British Columbia, November 5, 2007.
[ii] Preference for Intuition among General
Population=25. Preference for Intuition among Gifted
and Talented Youth= 74% (Piirto, 1998; Piirto & Johnson,
[iii] Song by Jennifer Allen. Lyrics used
[iv] See Piirto’s Seven I’s of the Creative
Process: Incubation, Insight, Improvisation, Imagination,
Intuition, Inspiration, Imagery in Piirto (2004; 2007;
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master’s thesis. Ashland University, Ohio.
B. (2001). Portraits in poetry.
Unpublished master’s thesis. Ashland University, Ohio.
M. (2001). The image behind: An inquiry into the nature
of one approach to teaching creativity from a postmodern
perspective. Unpublished master’s thesis. Ashland University, Ohio.
D. K. (2001). A philosophical tale: An alternative representation
piece. Unpublished master’s thesis. Ashland University,
J. (2006). Solitude: An arts-based project for soprano
recorder. Unpublished master’s thesis. Ashland University,
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Hohman, G. (2001). Arts-based
qualitative research: A musical song cycle for soprano
saxophone. Unpublished master’s thesis. Ashland University, Ohio.
James, P. (2002). Runaway
brain: An original short story.
Unpublished master’s thesis. Ashland University, Ohio.
Keaton, C. (2001). Sadie
the spider: A children’s story: An arts-based research
project. Unpublished master’s thesis. Ashland University, Ohio.
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