Karen Westberg

KAREN WESTBERG

Karen Westberg at the University of St. Thomas with the School of Education in Minneapolis, Minnesota.

Uh it’s saying who are the gifted is a difficult thing to say because there are many different conceptions. Um I think ultimately history tells us who’s gifted and we speak about gifted myths and by the way I prefer to use the term as an adjective rather than a noun. Um we’re talking about people who are capable of displaying uh unusual abilities, advanced abilities as reflected in the things they do. For example, uh somebody who’s a great musician, somebody who’s a great scientist, somebody who is at the top of their field whatever their endeavor is. But it’s not easy to say who is or who is not gift because ultimately I think it’s history that tells us who’s gifted by their achievements.

There are a lot of strategies that I think are uh can be used to differentiate curriculum for the gifted in within a regular classroom setting. Uh some of those strategies would include using flexible grouping, uh using tiered instruction or tiered ah assignments. Uh giving students the opportunity to pursue independent studies using instructional strategies such as uh using stations or centers and giving the opportunity for students for rotate through those centers. And the idea is that those centers are stations that differ in the complexity of the material that is located within them. To differentiate instruction at uh in a different setting other than a regular classroom setting there are certainly other options that we can have for doing that. Uh providing mentorships for students. Um providing of course advanced curriculum, advanced content, advanced process and product can be done all both regular classroom and other settings. Uh but uh that would be something of course we’re doing as uh changing the curriculum making it more complex, more advanced. There are other options to provide those services. Uh in addition to metorships, apprenticeships, uh pull out programs, honors programs, advanced seminars; those are just a few.

I think that interest play a very important part in the development of curriculum. A quote I memorized many years ago from Phil Phoenix’s book on realms of meaning was “Students learn what they most profoundly want to learn,

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I think that interest play a very important role in the development of curriculum for students. Several years ago when I was taking a curriculum course I memorized a quote found in Phil Phoenix’s Realms of Meaning book. The quote was that “Students learn what they most profoundly want to learn, hence the materials of instruction should be selected in light of student’s real interests.” I think that um we should certainly pay attention to student’s interest and incorporate that into our curriculum as much as possible. For all of us what we most want to learn is what we’re interested in learning and we’ll go the furthest with that information.

Curriculum compacting is a technique for streamlining the regular curriculum. Getting students the opportunity to not do the things they already know how to do. For example for fourth grader already knows how to do multiple uh multiplication. Uh he or she should not have to spend the next six months demonstrating that they know how to do multiplication. That time could be better spent pursuing other things that the student’s interested in, capable of doing, more advanced kinds of things. So in essence that’s just what curriculum compacting is. Finding out what students already know and then going on and finding what they need to know but what can they do instead.

Working with other teachers who are represent different disciplines is a fantastic idea in planning curriculum. Because most of us aren’t very knowledgeable about all of the disciplines and ultimately uh if we work together, collaborate with others, we can find out a lot find out about the principles in other disciplines, look at the relationships between those principles and ultimately plan better curriculum for kids.

Project based learning is something um that I care about a great deal. Um when projects are done well it’s the thing that students will remember most for the rest of their lives, their experiences that they have done. Giving the students the opportunity to pursue projects that they’re very interested in, uh that they care about, have a passion about. That is uh getting those opportunities to students is something that will motivate them greatly um teach them about how to use authentic resources, find authentic audiences, um I think that’s learning at it’s finest. (construction noise in background) I recently did a follow up study of some students of mine who had the opportunity to do projects fifteen years ago and they can describe fifteen or so years later in great detail what they did in that project and it’s one of the things they remember most about their K12 schooling.

Underachievement is some thing that we’re increasingly becoming aware of in uh our field of gifted education and we’re increasingly looking at the reasons why students may underachieve and when we understand those reasons we can help students um more. For you know for in some cases the students may be underachieving because of a kind of fear of failure syndrome. Or there’s also something else called fear of success. And with careful attention to those students (hammering) and why they may be underachieving we can do something about it. Hopefully.

In providing some tips or counsel to parents about what they can do if there are bright kids at home I’d say that one of things is to uh pay attention to what their students or children are interested in and give them an opportunity to pursue those interests and expose them to a wide variety of things when they’re young. In a follow up study that I recently did, a research study, I uh I asked students who are now about thirty years old about their experiences when they were young and they’ve talked in glowing terms about the opportunities their parents gave them when they were young and that how that exposure to so many different things had an impact on their vocations and advocations today. For example when I asked a thirty year old engineer about the opportunities he had when he was a child he said oh my dear mother she use to take me to museums and zoos and showed me so many different things that really had an impact on my interest in what I’m doing today.

My interests in the area in the gifted and talented um have to do with first of all the role of interest development and um enhancing the quality of projects that students can do. I was very interested in that as a teacher, classroom teacher and a gifted education specialist and now as a teacher educator and researcher I’m still very interested in that topic. Um I’m also interested in how we can help classroom teachers um make more modifications in their curriculum instruction in the classroom for the capable students in their in their rooms. I think teachers in general are very good at tailoring instruction to students similarities but tailoring their instruction to meet the needs who has uh for a students differences is really a challenge and so a lot of my efforts are directed towards that.

I think that one of the things I would like to see happen is more program services for bright kids in this country. It is so uneven and that about twenty-five states have mandates to provide services for gifted students and about half the states do not. And it seems unfortunate that the circumstances were of where you reside has an impact on whether or not you get services to meet your needs. So I would like to see more leadership in that area whether it comes from mandate from the federal government or just more states do it. We need more funding obviously um at both the state and federal level to make that happen. But I guess that would be my big wish.