March 07, 2013
Seokhee Cho, PhD, is associate professor of administration and
instructional leadership in The
School of Education at St. John’s. She has written 12 books and
roughly 200 articles on methods for teaching gifted students in
science, math, and language arts. Before coming to the University,
Dr. Cho served for 20 years as director of the National Research
Center on Gifted Education in Korea, as president of The Asia
Pacific Federation of the World Council for the Gifted and Talented
Children (WCGTC), and as a member of the Korean Presidential
Advisory Council for Educational Innovation.
Why did you come to St. John’s
Although I had important responsibilities in Korea, the opportunity
to work at St. John's was what brought me to the United States. I
was at a conference in Finland in 2006 when I learned about the
position from Dr. Campbell
[James R. Campbell, PhD, professor, administration and
instructional leadership], whom I’d known for many years. St.
John’s seemed to be an ideal place to make further contributions to
the development of education globally by gaining a wider
perspective on my own areas of research.
What is the focus of your research?
My work involves helping gifted students who face challenges due to
their social or economic situation. In Korea, my research focused
on identifying and teaching gifted students from lower-income
families. At St. John’s, I became interested in developing methods
for teaching gifted students who face challenges because they’re
learning English as a second language.
Currently, I’m continuing the research (Project HOPE) I began
under a $450,000, five-year federal grant I received through the
Jacob K. Javits Gifted and Talented Students Education Program. It
expired in 2011, but I’m working with the same students thanks to
assistance from the Allied World Foundation.
The project involves 200 mathematically gifted, third-grade
students who are English-language learners (ELL) in New York City
and District of Charleston (South Carolina) schools. We selected
them based on teachers’ assessments of their English proficiency
and math behaviors; then, the students were randomly assigned to a
treatment or control group. Our study implements and evaluates the
effectiveness of the Mentoring Mathematical Minds (M3) program—a
research-based math curriculum for promising students. It takes an
acceleration and enrichment approach, applying students’
communication skills toward mathematical problem-solving.
My colleagues in The School of Education connected me with
public schools where I could recruit teachers and students as
participants. We found that teachers who used our methods are
better able to help students improve in English and math than those
who did not.
I wanted to make up for the lack of research on creative ways to
teach gifted English-language learners. Their difficulties with
English often lead to their being placed in classes where they’re
under-stimulated and lose interest. They’re in danger of developing
bad learning habits that waste their talents.
Have you faced special challenges in your
Recruiting schools to participate in this study was an especially
big challenge. When I began, I had not yet developed a strong
network for this purpose. However, I did invite several
professors—from my department and The School of Education graduate
Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages (TESOL)—to join
the project. They were wonderful: they helped me reach out to
former students of theirs who are now administrators in the schools
we contacted. They were quite willing to participate.
That’s one of the great things about St. John’s. My colleagues,
the administration—everyone’s very eager to support you. It’s more
than professional courtesy; it’s the warmth you find here.
What impact have these efforts had on your
My research project has provided wonderful opportunities for my
graduate students, who assist in the project. They’ve gained
firsthand research experience in educational investigation. That
includes designing research; reviewing previous studies for use in
our current work; collecting quantitative and qualitative data
through testing and classroom observation; data “cleaning” and
analyses; and writing reports and papers.
Students in my gifted education courses also benefit from the
vivid research examples that arise from the project, as well as
internship opportunities at participating schools.
What is the inspiration behind your work?
I personally saw the difficulties that English-language learners
face when my son was in school. He came to the United States when
he was in the sixth grade, and he had to wait three years before
learning anything new in class.
What do you do in your free time?
For many years, I had no free time at all. But now, I try to go to
New York City at least once a month to enjoy a musical, an
orchestra performance, or the opera.
What advice would you give to novice (or prospective)
I found that, in the United States, networking and making
connections really matter. I recommend that students develop a
network of fellow professionals through writing and attending
conferences. Above all, researchers should always be willing to ask
their peers for assistance in reviewing drafts for proposals and
other materials—our colleagues are always a valuable resource.