Gifted Kids in the Regular Classroom
One of the critiques levied against this blog when I asked a few months ago was that I'm impractical. I tend to have as utopian a vision of what gifted education should be as many educators who don't like gifted education have about schooling in general. In my world, all highly gifted kids should be in self-contained classes -- or even schools! -- that challenge them to the extent of their abilities in an environment with their intellectual peers.
Obviously, few gifted kids experience this. Most people, alas, are still required to live in the real world. The vast majority of gifted kids still attend regular classes in regular schools. They may be in the top math or reading group, but most of the day still features grade 3 curriculum if you're 8 in September, grade 4 if you're 9, and so on. Many parents and schools, for whatever reasons, don't feel comfortable with whole grade acceleration. Many parents don't feel they can homeschool effectively. So how can schools maximize outcomes for gifted kids in the regular classroom?
I've been reading the "orange bible" on the subject, Susan Winebrinner's "Teaching Gifted Kids in the Regular Classroom." A perpetual best-seller among teachers, this book describes multiple ways of differentiating heterogeneous classrooms. It would make a great holiday gift for any educator.
One of my favorite suggestions is to allow kids to "buy back time" from the various lesson plans. If kids can show they already know how to do the most difficult work in any given unit at an 80% competence, they can buy the time to work on their own projects. The teacher should help the child set goals for this individual project (such as writing a book -- one chapter this week, one the next, etc., or working on geometry, covering spheres this week, angles the next, etc.) Then the kid keeps track of progress toward the goal (a way of learning self-discipline, by the way). This option is available to any kid in the classroom, but tends to work best for gifted kids. This eliminates the kid sitting around waiting for everyone to finish up. She already has permission to go play to her strengths in her "choice time" (not "free time").
Of course, I can't help remembering, reading this book, that systems are only as good as how they work when the average person implements them. Any teacher who can implement all the suggestions in the book -- who designs individual plans for the kids in her class, encourages them to write books or do other big projects and tracks progress toward a goal, and is willing to squeeze the curriculum into an hour a day for a kid if that's all she needs -- is already an outstanding, energetic teacher. Any student would be lucky to land in that classroom, gifted or not!
It's easier to teach roughly the same thing to everyone in a class. The beauty of ability grouping (or "readiness grouping" as we called it in the last post) is that it fails better. I wish all teachers were energetic and excellent, but a self-contained gifted class will still meet these students' needs to some extent even if the teacher is not so energetic or excellent. Heterogeneous classrooms led by mediocre teachers will not.
But anyway, I'm curious what other methods your children's teachers have used to differentiate within a regular classroom.