Wednesday, November 22, 2006

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.


Debbie said...

I would be curious as well. My son was enrolled in first grade a year early but still is not challenged by the first grade curriculum. His teachers have basically said they don't know how to differentiate for him and "let us know what you come up with." At least they are willing to listen to any suggestions I may have.

I bought the book you refer to awhile back and plan on donating it to the school, as soon as I finish reading it and can make some suggestions to the teachers!

Any ideas from your readers would be appreciated!

InTheFastLane said...

My daughter's 2nd gr. teacher was excellent at allowing her to find things that challenged her and interrested her.

In 3rd & 4th grade she was in a gifted classroom with the brightest kids from the whole distict and it was wonderful for her. Even though they were still required to cover state standard, the gave pre-tests over each section and individual kids or the whole class were able to move ahead if they could show they already had mastery of that area.

In 5th grade, we moved to a new town with a supposedly superior school system. And my daughter stagnated. She was not challenged the entire year and her test scores showed that. Even after I met with the teacher, nothing was offered to meet her needs. So, I tried to do as much as I could at home, which is not easy for a working parentt

Luckily, now in 6th grade there are advanced courses offered. But, of course not in all subjects.

Anonymous said...

How about Multi-age classrooms? They are no more expensive than other classrooms. How about having all the Science in the building taught at the same time, so that children can move around to be with their "Readiness Group" and then return to their agemates for P.E.? That wouldn't cost anything. How about allowing Parents to place the child in any grade they see fit, as long as the Iowa Acceleration Manual criteria for a "Good or Excellent" Candidate have been met? How about summer sessions to help kids who are on the edge of needing a skip practice the skill they will need to fit in to a higher grade level. My son is 6 weeks into a grade skip, loving the academics, and really stinking at finding his locker, getting to class on time, having the right books in the right place - and he's getting tons of support. They don't call it Asynchronous Development for Nothing - he really needs a self contained class/school! Nothing availible in the geographic area. Hopefully time will heal all wounds!

Anonymous said...

1) In math, children who can learn on their own should, and can grade their own work. If they get 90% right, they go on to the next lesson. If not, they review their work and try some more (~10) problems. If they still don't understand, they can get help from the teacher.

2) In reading, students/teachers select books appropriate for the reading level of each child.

3) For students who have difficulty with math, computer programs are an excellent way to get the repetition they need on math facts with no competition with others or embarrassment for weaker students. ("Around the World" isn't fun for everyone.)

4)In science, differences in ability will naturally be accommodated by asking open-ended questions on lab write-ups and offering feedback relevant to the skill of the child.

5) In history/social studies/geography, the curriculum can be very broad. A student may have to read one book besides the textbook. There is no reason he can't read 10 books besides the textbook.

My mom is a reading specialist working with less capable children, but she has also worked with 140+ IQ children, sometimes in the same classroom. Many of these strategies are optimal for children at either end.

(Of course, my brother's teacher found him "too energetic" and he was "too academically advanced" so he spent much of his elementary schools helping the custodian. This didn't bother my mom-- the custodian liked his help.

Anonymous said...

My 4th grade daughter's Maths teacher does not differentiate the classroom curriculum or instruction, only assigns the same set of extension homework to every kid in the class who are more advanced. Homework is corrected but there is no teaching before or reviewing after.

Parents are practically made unpaid tutors homeschooling or pre-teaching the kids advanced work.

Anonymous said...

Differentiation: K-3 bilingual class taking literacy instruction with the native Spanish speakers (no need for literacy instruction in English)

4-5: school of the gifted where whole school is regrouped for math (though not other subjects).

Synchronizing a subject across all grades is good *IF* all teachers can teach the subject at some level. Many schools do not have enough math and science competent teachers to do it.

Anonymous said...

I've been in a segregated class for three years, I'm now in grade nine in a new school board without many gifted options. I'd just like to say that I've experienced dozens of approaches to gifted education and consider myself well informed on the subject.
Firstly, I'd like to mention that gifted kids are just like everyone else. Not academically, but socially. Stating that being an independant worker, or very creative, or constantly bored in class are signs of giftedness are not accurate at all. Gifted persons have the exact same range of personalities and learning habits as everyone, so stop trying to place us based on that.
With that said, I'd also like to point out that we are just as work avoiding as everyone else. Very few children like doing school work, and cheer at a weekend without it. Gifted people are just the same. So, if s/he is accelling at a particular topic, simply move them onto the next thing that the class will be learning, instead of giving them the same thing, but harder.
Thirdly, classes that stretch over grades, I have found, to be ineffective. Commonly, the higher grades will be bored, without learning anything. The plus side to this is that the younger students, will learn faster, if the curriculum is faster, as long as it doesn't go over their heads. For example, my french, art, music and english classes all stretched over grade 5 through 8 during my grade eight year. The class in total wasn't very large, but I never learned anything from them, despite the abilities of the teacher, simply because of the time used in the class dedicated to lesser students.
If you do consider teaching different age groups at once, I recommend that you have the older students each be given 5-10 minutes or so of the class to teach a specific part of the topic.
People remember 95% of what we teach another person.
This is will also increase public speaking, task management, help create a sense of maturity and responsibility, and clear up some of the teacher's time.
and my final note is that you refrain from giving extra work. Kids come to school to learn, not work! if we wanted to work instead of learn, we'd apply at Wal-mart.

Quiltsrwarm said...

(an aside: Laura, you've got spam on this thread!)

Ha! Differentiation? What's THAT?? :) Sorry! In my homeschool I use the "buy back time" method for teaching and it has done wonders for my childrens' self-confidence. However, in public school for the last two years before pulling the kids to homeschool, I begged and pleaded with the gifted coordinator and the curriculum coordinator to help my kids, but all they could come up with was a pullout program, once per week.

I offered a plan for self-contained gifted classrooms that was well received by the curriculum coordinator. Apparently the super didn't like it and it died before going any further.

At the time, the suggestion was made that maybe my then-4th grader's teacher could work with an IEP for her. I laughed! That teacher could barely keep her head on straight with all the other kids in the class, and we'd throw a dinger in her basket with an IEP-kid? All the special ed kids with IEPs had their OWN CLASSROOM, my child is not developmentally nor learning disabled so would never need to BE in the special ed classroom. Given this, the regular classroom teacher would then be expected to tailor her lessons just for my child, when she could barely keep up with the lesson plan for the whole class? This is impracticality in the extreme.

From day one, I tried working with my then-2nd grade son's teacher beginning with reading (he didn't get to read novels like he wanted and I requested), and it wasn't until January of that school year did he get accellerated in math, but only 1 grade level, and he also aced all those tests. The move helped him but not enough, and he quickly bored with that adventure, too.

Defining a "real world" for kids (gifted and otherwise) is nearly impossible because the public school definition of the real world is vastly different from the adult real world. If kids are expected to be able to work in the adult world, perhaps we need to start treating them like adults and allow them to learn and work at a self-determined pace. NOT a pace set-up by public school theorists and bureaucrats, people not even involved in the day-to-day lives of our children.

Certainly forming all our kids to the same mould is easier, but is it really better? It's certainly not healthier, and I can personally attest to the emotional havoc a non-responsive school system can have on a gifted child's psyche.

The Princess Mom said...

In my years as a student and my experience as a teacher, I can tell you there is no such thing as differentiation. I have yet to meet a teacher who can do it effectively. Even gifted kids are different enough from each other in their spread of abilities that the teacher of a self-contained gifted class needs to be able to differentiate. Any class necessarily proceeds at the pace of the slowest pupil, even a gifted-only class.

nbosch said...

I've taught gifted kids grades k-6 for 20 years and have three gifted sons of my own so I know "gifted" pretty well. One of the most interesting things I've read recently stated that differentiation doesn't work in the general classroom because the kids are too far apart academically. True differentiation should be done in smaller groups like gifted classes. Differentiating the content, process and product needs to be done in a group where students are fairly close together academically. Thought that was interesting. Another point, in my opinion classroom teachers cannot be expected to differentiate unless the district provides formal training. Teachers must understand how they teach, what they teach before they can differntiate. With all the focus on NCLB many lessons throughout the day cannot be differentiated. One last comment, I beg to differ with the blogger who suggested the student teach themselves math. gifted kids are notorious for teaching themselves incorrectly (even though they may get the right answer) and it takes tons of time to unteach them! In many cases it's not the's the pace the content is taught. OK, finished rambling.

Angie said...

I am not teaching this year but in the past I have taught gifted 4-6th graders. I tried to differentiate the curriculum in several ways (opened ended assignments, tiered assignments, curriculum compacting, ect. for the four years that I taught these students). I feel like I was marginally successful with some.

Just this year I heard Susan W. speak about her suggestions for differentiation as well as listening to Bertie Gore on exactly how I could implement differentiation in the classroom and now I'm eager to try again.

Teachers must have practical suggestions and management methods for differentiating curriculum for the range of gifted students in their class. In addition to that, an aide or volunteer parent would be useful for working with those lower or higher than the 'norm' for that class.

Differentiation takes time, experience, failure and success, input from parents.

Angie said...

I'm sorry, the other speaker's name is Bertie Kingore.

Anonymous said...

My children attend a gifted magnet school in an urban school district. The school says that they have a special program, but they use the same testbooks as any school in the district. One thing they do have is smart children.

There is little opportunity to offer special programs in a classroom with 25 students. Also, teachers do not have enough time to differentiate the curriculum.

The teachers are not required to have any training working with gifted students.

I can't help but think that this program would be better if teachers were trained and the program were funded to at least provide enrichment activities. Funding per student at this school is the lowest in the district.