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Where teaching is the exploring of new ideas

Students drifting into a special class for the first time were startled to see the teacher, an attractive young woman wearing blue jeans and a turtleneck, sitting cross-legged on the floor. She invited them to join her.

''Why are you here?'' she asked the group. There was some giggling and she asked again, ''Why are you here?'' One boy finally said, ''You know why we're here.''

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She countered, ''But I want you to tell me why you're here.''

More giggles. ''Well, OK, it's because I'm gifted,'' the boy answered.

''And what makes you think you're so gifted?''

''Well, I'm the smartest boy in the school.''

''I'm the most intelligent one in my class,'' one of the girls said. Others added, ''I'm just smarter than the other kids.'' Another explained, ''I have a high IQ.''

''All right, let's agree that you are all gifted,'' the teacher said. ''Now, before we go any further, I want you to do something for me. I want you to imagine the most wonderful gift you can think of. I want you to see it clearly. Then I want you to wrap it up in the most beautiful wrappings you can think of. You have 60 seconds in which to do this.''

Interrupting the ensuing earnest silence, she asked, ''Is your gift ready? Can you see it?'' Answered by nods of agreement, she said, ''Now what are you going to do with it?'' Puzzled looks gave way quickly to knowing smiles and exclamations of ''It's to give to somebody! It's to give!''

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The point was made--a gift is to give. From there, this group and others like it engage in a learning experience new to them. For an hour or so each week they have the opportunity to work and study with their peers - children who have the same learning style--to explore new ideas, to develop projects in which they have a special interest, or which will contribute something constructive to the entire school or to the community. They are encouraged to risk being original in their thinking, to become creative problem solvers.

Behind this unusual approach in teaching gifted children is an experienced, gifted, and talented educator, Barbara J. Mosher of Chambersburg, Pa. Mrs. Mosher is an independent educational consultant and a certified trainer for Talents Unlimited, a National Diffusion Network Program designed for use in the regular classroom.

As an educational consultant, she has worked with elementary and secondary public and private schools in several states.

In this capacity her assignments can vary from planning curriculum or individual educational programs, designing administrative models, programming for gifted and talented students, teaching in the classroom, and coordinating or developing teacher-training workshops to working with parents. The objective in every case, she asserts, is the pursuit of excellence in programming, utilizing the available resources of the school.

Much of Mrs. Mosher's work is related to the special needs of gifted children , children who have quick inquiring minds that often leave them bored and unstimulated in the regular classroom. It is highly important, she feels, that all children be given a chance to develop their own talents, but gifted children should have the opportunity to do this with their peers--and in a growing number of schools this is being made possible.

In the freer atmosphere of her classes or ''seminars'' with children, a fifth grader told Mrs. Mosher, ''You have introduced me to my head.''

''You have taught me to solve problems for myself,'' a high school senior said. ''My thinking has been ignited,'' declared a sophomore.

''This is learning and loving it,'' Mrs. Mosher comments. ''The quest is to reach the student in the classroom right where he is. I want students to think truly, efficiently, and in the face of change to be willing, productive problem solvers.''

Increasingly, there is interest in using this approach with all children, she reports. Her work therefore includes workshops and classes with teachers, designed to stimulate an approach in teaching that will lead to creative use of time and materials already in the school curriculum.

''When teachers see that teaching need not be confined to the textbook chapter, and the children begin to feel that the classroom is not merely the four walls of the school room, learning begins to accelerate,'' she says.

Mrs. Mosher conducts her workshops for teachers in her capacity as a trainer for Talents Unlimited, a program developed originally for the Mobile (Alabama) school system and based on research conducted earlier by Calvin W. Taylor of the University of Utah. With headquarters in Mobile, Talents Unlimited presently has trainers in many locations throughout the country.

Sara Waldrop, who helped develop the program and is now its project director, says, ''Talents Unlimited teaches children universal skills that are necessary if they are to survive as adults in today's world.'' These skills include productive thinking (creativity), forecasting, communication, planning, and decisionmaking.

In working with teachers Mrs. Mosher shares with them a classroom management style that takes them outside of the book, the desk, and the blackboard, and where diversity and choice are commonplace, and where change is the rule. She encourages teachers to expect more from themselves in finding their own talents and strengths.

In the last year or so, many of her workshops for teachers have been focused on developing a world view.

''A curriculum that maintains a global view helps children understand that from the cornfields of Kansas, from the steel plants of Japan, from the oil in Saudi Arabia to the venting of materials from Three Mile Island, their food, their cars, the energy to keep them warm, and the very air they breathe are already global matters,'' Mrs. Mosher comments.

One element that cannot be left out of successful teaching is love, Mrs. Mosher declares firmly. ''Believe that you can truly love children,'' she tells the teachers in her classes.

''This love is a professional poise that enables us to see children right where they are and to cherish that. It has nothing to do with the mere personal preference for this child or that.''

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