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TAGT: Dr. James T. Webb Keynote Address

December 16, 2008

At this year’s TAGT conference in Dallas, breakout sessions drew audiences with appealing titles such as “GT Teachers Are from Mars; Classroom Teachers Are from Venus” or “May the Fours Be With You”. Some presenters distributed highly coveted handouts, or raffled away generous door prizes.

Each day, however, began with a keynote speech by a nationally known speaker. These keynote speeches were well attended, as classroom teachers gathered to hear experts share knowledge and insight.

Friday’s keynote speaker was Dr. James T. Webb, the founder of SENG (Supporting the  Emotional Needs of Gifted), a national non-profit organization providing information, training, conferences, and workshops. His address was entitled “Motivation and Underachievement”. (Dr. Webb is a nationally recognized psychologist and expert on gifted education as well as the author of several books on gifted children.)

One talking point of his presentation was that teachers are the “key” to motivation in the classroom. (As a 4th grade teacher, I definitely agree. If I want my students to be excited about Texas history, fractions, or adjectives, I have to show my enthusiasm toward these topics first. Both teaching AND learning should be fun!)

Further, Dr. Webb noted that some gifted students who may appear unenthusiastic to their parents or teachers are indeed motivated; however, they may not be motivated in the fields or topics these adults find interesting. Dr. Webb  proposed that students could be led to transfer their motivations to classroom curriculum. He gave the example of a gifted student who loved snakes but was not motivated to complete a project on the Civil War. Dr. Webb offered this project idea to the student: What role did snakes play in the Civil War?

In addition, Dr. Webb stressed that teachers and parents must create an environment that promotes achievement. This confirmed something I had realized long ago. I vowed to continue to make my classroom a haven for those students who relish in words, ideas, and numbers. Within the four walls of my classroom, completed books, insightful questions, quality products, and thoughtful discussions would be celebrated daily with  applause, compliments, and the praise of fellow classmates. If I show the value I place on academic accomplishments, no matter how small, my students will feel even more motivated to achieve.

Further, Dr. Webb recommended that adults avoid engaging in power struggles with students. In the classroom, I have found that when I prompt with encouragement and inspiration, students rise to meet my expectations. Watching their joy as they succeed at difficult tasks is so rewarding!

As I listened to Dr. Webb’s address, I thought of my students and their passions-everything from horses to dance to art. I immediately began to brainstorm ways to tie in their interests with curriculum. Independent study? Book clubs? Discussion groups?My mind began to race with possibility.

As I left the ballroom that morning, notes in hand and thoughts soaring, I realized that Dr. Webb had motivated me as well!

Cynthia Alaniz is a 4th grade teacher at Denton Creek Elementary

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