Sandy Kaplen

SANDY KAPLEN

My name is Sandy Kaplen, University of Southern California which is in Los Angeles, California.

Well, I think one of the most interesting things is that who are the gifted and talented has really changed through the years with certainly a different child then the one that I first started to teach when I was a young teacher. I think in—in terms of my perspective, in terms of the urban center, the gifted child is a child who is for the most part, you know, indicating those behaviors that children and others talk about. But also there’s some other factors. It’s a child who in several cases has taken on more responsibility then is usually assumed that a child could take on at a particular age. Um a 10-year-old that is responsible for three or four siblings after school is a caretaker. Um a child, for example, who has an interest but hasn’t been able to really—really explore it and has kind of interest on shelves hoping that someday they could kind of pull them off the shelf and go through the process of looking at them. There are children who come from other countries who have had exciting and vast experiences in ways that you and I don’t have any real understanding of children that come from the mountains of Mexico who understand all about the fawn and the flora and what to do with this in order to provide for one’s own survival but have no idea how to cross the streets in a busy urban street. So what I’m really saying is the idea that while there are still the same characteristics, curiosity and creativity and wide variety of interest, they manifest themselves different in a contemporary society or in an urban center. So that “Who are the gifted?” has to be looked at in the context of where you’re looking.

Well I think that the first concept of differentiated curriculum is one of the elements that constitute it. We’re really developed along the lines of what constitutes good quality curriculum for all children. So we started to think about the thinking skills as an important variable, the idea of content as another variable, the idea of research skills and resources as another variable, and last of all the idea of product. And then the idea was to go back and see if these are the common curricular structures or elements for all kinds of curriculum. How do they differentiate themselves for the needs of gifted students? And somebody said, “OK, the thinking skills would be those that would be more abstract, more complex. The um dimensions of content would really relate to bigger ideas, more sophisticated, advanced principles, theories, generalizations.” So the grid really was a derivative of good quality general education.

Well the original model was the idea that you could take these elements of thinking skills, research skills, and products to lineate what would be the most um appropriate in each of the columns for gifted students and then look at how you can mix and match them and see how you could come up with a learning experience, which is the integration of thinking skills, content, research skills, and product at a high level. But I think we’ve moved on and so now I’m much more interested in a layered approach in which we’re really talking about not so much just thinking skills and content and research skills and products and their integration in a differentiated way, but looking rather at layers of a curriculum. So one layer being that layer that relates to the core, the basic, the fundamental curriculum. The second layer being that layer that relates to depth and complexity and those dimensions that we now have identified as being depth and complexity. A third layer which is thinking like a disciplinarian. So now we’re going kind of deeper into this curriculum through this layered approach. A fourth layer, which is really the idea of looking at um independence study options in gifted students. And then these last two layers that kind of give cohesiveness to this curriculum talking about a universal theme and then the generalizations, principles, or theories that act as an impetus or inquiry. So now you’ve got these six layers and one of the interesting issues is um if you have these layers, where are you going to place your emphasis for gifted students? And in some cases maybe you’ll place your emphasis on thinking like a disciplinarian. In another place you might place your emphasis on thinking in depth and complexity in relationship to the content. In another um case you might place a greater kind of emphasis on the big ideas and what their implications are for the core curriculum. So I’m really kind of more interested not so much in a grid, but in layers.

I think that the concept of a continuing learning environment for me has to move beyond technology. I’m really interested right now in looking at how gifted students can access um things in the community that would help to be extensions for them. So well we know that technology would allow for that very easily, I’m not sure that our students are really knocking on the doors of people around them. Um there’s one situation where I know a young person is working with a garage mechanic at the local gasoline station who is helping him learn more about the combustible engine and while the mechanic is going through the process of fixing the car, he’ s really tutoring so to speak or mentoring the gifted child. And I—this is part of a program that we’ve tried to do in the inter city which is to say, “Before you just, you know, run to the computer and try to find it on-line, try to find it in person and then augment it on-line.” So that’s one issue of continuing learning services. Um, I think another one that I’m really interested in is something that I wish I had created but I haven’t and that is the idea of how books could really be this continuing kind of opportunity for students in terms of shopping around the jaundra and saying, “OK, if I’m really interested in the study of dogs or I’m really interested in the study of combustible engine, then what kinds of things does a library offer me around the juandra.” For example, an autobiography of somebody who really was great mechanic, the idea of some fictional story or historical fiction um related to my interest in an engine, the idea of contemporary newspapers magazines and journals, the idea of looking at famous paintings and how they may augment my understanding of this topic and the idea of also looking at science fiction and how it might really augment it. So I’m kind of interested in the kids going to the library and developing closer relationships to the jaundra. Putting it in a shopping bag, taking it home, and kind of sitting circled by these books as a way of extending their own learning experiences.

I think there’s um some things that are happening that probably have not been spoken about or talked about in a variety of ways that are really important. And one I’d like to share because it really belongs to um something that we’ve been doing in the Los Angeles unified school district under the direction of Emit Rodriguez who at that time was a um clustered administer for one of the areas. And what we did in this, you know, huge amount of population that we have to worry about in L.A. city, was offer a, b, and c kind of training. And my idea behind it was if we’re doing differentiate for students we should differentiate for teachers. So ‘A Training’ was minimal training. Just come, sit down, listen, once a month. You know, don’t read a newspaper, don’t do anything that’s going—grade your papers. Just listen to what we have to say and that’s all your obligation is. You can ask questions, etc., etc. but we don’t expect any more of you except your physical attendance. Then the ‘B’ group was you come, you listen, once a month. Don’t read pap—the newspaper, don’t correct papers, etc. um also we’ll give you curriculum that you can go into your classroom that really extends what we’ve been talking about, that you can try. And then when you come back the next month we could have this dialog. Also the ‘B’ group got something else and that is—besides the curriculum packages that we’ve written for them to try out related to what we were trying to have them learn, we would come into your classroom at least once, possibly twice to do one of three things. To demonstrate a lesson while you sit down and watch us so that you know what it looks like, all this that we’re talking about. Or we’ll watch you and we can critique it. Or we can do a combination of just sitting and talking in your own environment about what you could do to help differentiate for gifted students. And the ‘C’ group was the group that said um you come you listen once a month. You get the curriculum, you get the visit, but the ultimate for you is that we’re making you into or help you evolve into a um demonstration teacher. And so everybody laughed and said, “Oh, you’ll have nobody that’s interested in anything but the ‘A’.” But that was quite not the truth because many people signed up as a ‘B’ or a ‘C’ participant. And the ‘A’ was the smallest group. And so what I’m really excited about is the idea of differentiating opportunities under the same umbrella of what do you do to differentiate for the gifted students, we’re differentiating for the teachers in-service. And I think this has been a real exciting experience for us.

Um, one of my passions is the spill over affect in terms of what can gifted education do to impact general education. And I think, you know, really the opposite is happening as well because certainly when I started teaching gifted children um a thousand years ago the quality of the core curriculum was very paltry and one of the things that we had as a real advocacy base was “How could you use such poor curriculum with gifted children.” And so it was easier to spill over in those days. Actually it’s quite the opposite right now. The quality of the core curriculum is so rich. It has so many—I mean—facets to it. And so in a sense its kind of spilled over and helped to really impact in many ways the reg—the basic—I’m sorry—the core curriculum has really impacted the differentiated curriculum. But the concept of spill over is the idea that what we can articulate as being important for gifted children becomes the basis of what we can spill over to impact all other children. And certainly one of the things that we need to say—at least I need to say, is the idea that there is no one strategy, no curricular uh learning experience that has only validity for gifted children. So how can we use gifted education as a place to be responsive to the needs, the interests, the abilities of gifted children and take what we know then and see how it can be used in either whole or in parts to advance the understanding of all other children and their opportunities for quality learning. But there’s even something else because the spill over affect also enables us to use the differentiated curriculum as a catalyst to find new children within the basic educational design that have the potential to be gifted. So we can use a quality differentiated curriculum in a spill over context as really an indicator or—or as an identification instrument.

Well, the preschool/primary gifted child is where um I think I have a real kind of um need to say three things as—before we talk about the educational issues of differentiation. And that is, the belief system that gifted children cannot be identified until they are more mature has to be at some point really considered to be a fallacy. Um secondly the idea that gifted children can only be identified after they can read and write, you know, in some fluent manner has to be another fallacy. And the third is the idea that abstract thinking is only unreserved for children who are more mature, you know, has got to be really kind of in some ways put aside. So given the fact that we now know that we can identify at an early age and you don’t have to be necessarily a reader and a writer in order to be gifted and to understand that gifted children have a readiness even at young ages for abstract thinking. I think a couple things I’m really interested in is the inter-relationship between basic concerns for all primary children and what their means—what they mean for gifted children. For example, um I’m interested in play. How does play—the block play, for example become a real important stimulus for differentiation. And when people say, “Oh, well if they’re gifted they shouldn’t be playing with blocks.” You know, even at an early age. It’s quite the opposite for me an that is “How do you take block play and look at that being a real important venue for critical thinking, creative thinking, problem solving. How do you take block play and have a child do a simple kind of city with their blocks and give them big ideas like “What has the environment relate to survival of people throughout time.” And so that’s one thing we need to look more at. I think the second thing is the natural inclinations of young children, like to play with jump and to dress up, have to be used as the pathway to differentiation. Um I was once taken, Sally, into a classroom where—and this is the epitome of what primary gifted children should be doing and it was a multi-age um kindergarten/1st grade classroom and I looked around. All the little kids were sitting at desks and there were pencils and little, you know, stacks of um, you know, different kinds of books, you know, in front of them for reference like a dictionary, a thesaurus, etc. And um there were no blocks in the room; there were no elements in that room that showed that these were primary children. And what the concept was, was once you were identified as gifted you immediately entered into this more sophisticated environment. You needed none of these other childhood like um elements. And I think that’s one of the most important things. I think we know what to do with the curriculum as long as we also understand that these children walk into worlds, the world in which they are young children and have all the needs of primary children, at the same time the other world that we need to be responsive to is this need for them as gifted children.

Um, I think we need to talk about what we really expect of teachers in a contemporary society because I think as I look at the people matriculating through our um educational institution, the people who I see in the inner-city who are emergency credential teachers who are working, you know, and learning about teaching simultaneously. I think we need to try to, you know, look at who are these teachers and what is it we really need them to consider if they’re going to be adequately prepared to teach gifted students. So one of the things I’d like to really advocate is that in the training of teacher—in the training of people to become teachers, one of the things that we have is an intrical part of everyone’s educational experience are the strategies that are appropriate for gifted children. And as I look at my own class of um novice teachers, they have really an openness that I think is very different then we’d find or we encounter in in-service education. So I think we’re missing the chance in pre-service to really make this an intrical part of their education. While we’re teaching them the methodology that is basic or fundamental to teaching everyone how to read, we also need to talk about “OK, what about the children who already read. What are the strategies that would be important here?” As we’re talking about how to do the basics in science, we need to integrate into that somehow if all the children understood this, what would be the next step? So that would be one issue. The other issue I think is the fact that if you’re really going to look at um emergency credential teachers, people that we’re bringing into the field with the B.A. and, you know, teaching them how to teach simultaneously too, they’re working with children who need to build on their knowledge of the disciplines that they got their degrees in and start to show them how that becomes a bridge to differentiation. So, for example, I just met a young man who is going to be a teacher at a 4th grade classroom who has an MBA, although he’s never had a class in his life, you know, on education. We need to take his understanding of business and make that the way in which he encounters and interacts with this group of gifted children in his classroom. So if he goes from what he already knows to what he can do in helping this group of children, you know, become enriched by his knowledge then I can lead him to a more general understanding of what differentiation is. But to go the opposite, to say, “No, no, no, no. First you have to learn all about differentiation and then you can apply your specialization,” I think we’re going to kind of have too much of a time frame in which nothing is happening in that classroom for gifted children and also kind of a fearful situation in which the natural things that people know really becomes suppressed rather then used (clears throat)—excuse me—for the help—excuse me—for children. So it’s kind of an interesting idea.

If I could have one wish (pause) I think what I would really like to do is see if we could get enough of a group together to do two things. Refine the nomenclature. I think there’s lots of what I call imprecise language that we’re using that really—well it’s lovely, it does really give teachers enough of a understand—an understanding that allows them to operationalize it. So when we’re talking even about creativity and creative thinking, we need to be more precise about what that means—more descriptors of what that means in terms of um helping people operationalize it. I mean you can’t throw out the terms in this day and age without being a little bit more care—clear about how to refine those terms descriptively and with exemplars. Um, I think that’s one issue. The second issue is I think we need a scope and sequence. And I think it could be, whether it’s district or, you know, whether it’s state or whether it’s national—I haven’t quite thought about it—but there’s a lot of repetition, there’s a lot of redundancy. There’s a lot, I think, that we have done that is almost intellectually abusive in saying that we want gifted children to have creative thinking, as an example, and then have them differentiated what this is like for a primary student versus an upper elementary, a middle school, and a high school. And until we start to lay this out on some continuous progress or scope and sequence manner, I think a lot of the intellectual attrition of gifted children from the gifted program is due to this redundancy. You know, how many times can you brainstorm? How many times can you problem solve unless we’re looking at some increasing levels of sophistication over time. And we haven’t really done that. So that I think it’s, in a sense, we’re um causing our gifted kids to have less of an experience then they could if they had a scope and sequence and a consistently developed being kind of experience.