Today’s standards are more rigorous. Yet, no matter how challenging the standards are, some students will meet and exceed them. These are gifted learners and teaching them in today’s mixed-abilities classroom is not “business as usual.”
Advanced learners require challenging, motivating, and meaningful standards-based learning experiences—a concern for many teachers because the standards do not address the nature of advanced work or the interventions or materials required to provide it.
In this article, we’ll look at simple, yet high-yield, strategies for modifying instruction to meet the rigor required by advanced learners and the standards.
No two gifted learners are alike
An enriched learning environment for one student is not necessarily enriched for another. Consequently, teachers need a repertoire of differentiated teaching strategies if they are to keep gifted learners engaged. Here are four worth noting:
- Differentiate by acceleration: Acceleration can be defined as the pace at which a child progresses through a program and learns. Gifted students learn at faster rates than do other learners. Their brains need some degree of challenge for them to remain engaged. Moving too slowly will only bore them. The pace may be accelerated by allowing different amounts of time to do the work or fewer practice times. Teachers also may introduce interactive software and other tools that enable gifted learners to progress at their own speed and not be held back.
- Differentiate by depth: If gifted students are to be held to a higher standard, they must have access to appropriate materials that allow them to dive deeper into a topic. Educators can challenge students to delve deeper and solve problems by offering unstructured access to a diverse variety of newspaper articles, expert interviews, maps, and web sites. Whatever the topic, students should be encouraged to think at higher levels by looking for patterns, relationships, and larger abstractions.
- Differentiate by complexity: To generate higher-level thinking, teachers can ask higher-level questions that encourage gifted students to expand the concept, go off the beaten path, debate a topic, or interpret it. Challenge students to refute or support generalizations by searching for evidence across multiple disciplines. Mix in some tiered activities and open-ended activities that allow students to work at their natural levels.
- Differentiate by authentic products: Gifted students typically love exploring complex topics. Teachers can get their minds working and keep their hands busy by providing authentic projects that require research and investigation. As an example, students in one school wrote books to send to primary students in another country who were learning to read. In another school, gifted learners drafted a policy for managing pollution. Such projects come with many benefits. They empower students and encourage independence and they enable teachers to easily tailor learning experiences to the deep and varied needs of gifted students.
No more “I’m bored!”
Differentiated instruction is not about giving choices and grouping. Nor is it individualizing instruction for a classroom of 25 kids or letting early finishers play games for enrichment.
Differentiated instruction is about giving gifted learners the differentiated content, process, and product they need to stay challenged and motivated. By doing so, teachers can ensure gifted learners don’t stall on the learning ladder, but continually progress up the stairs.
Explore in more depth how to differentiate instruction for advanced learners in SDE’s webinar to Gifted Strategies to Meet the Common Core State Standards (Gr. 3–12) by educational leader Richard Cash, Ed.D.