Sunday, July 30, 2017

Teaching Gifted Students in a Mixed-Ability Class

Statistically speaking, we will all have 1 or 2 students in our class who are way above average compared to their counterparts. Whether they have been identified or not, we know they have different needs than the rest of our students. I think the hardest part of our job is making sure we differentiate for all the needs of our students. The kiddos make progress on a daily basis and it's hard to keep up with that. 

How do we make sure everyone is being challenged? Here are a few suggestions.

1) Compacting-see what they know before you teach it. If half the class already knows 2-D shapes, then I move on to 3-D shapes and teach the others in small group. This can be as simple as observing the class as you ask them to name the shapes. Or you could give them a pre-test at the beginning of the week, a survey. You could even make your exit ticket activity and entrance ticket activity.

2) Next step after knowing where they are is to pay attention to that. My whole group lessons are very, very limited. Everything I am teaching and reviewing is something most of the kiddos do not already know. If my students come in, for the most part, knowing their letters and sounds-I do not spend weeks teaching them again in whole group. I teach vocabulary, phonemic awareness, phonics rules and do my read aloud in my reading whole group block.

3) Differentiate their homework. I have started using homework menus which give them choices on the activities they can do. For one week they have 9 choices in reading and in math. Some are easy, some are on level, some are more challenging. I had a friend whose daughter's homework time would be tears every night because she had to color the letter A and she would much rather be reading her Magic Tree House books. It should not just be busy work for them.

4) Differentiate classwork. Does this take more time to plan-yes. Is it worth it, yes! I see so many posts from teachers who want to know what to do with early finishers-why are they finishing so early? Because they already knew all the answers without really having to think about it. You can give different work to different students on the same objective. Your expectations for work can be different. I have students who I expect to write in complete sentences when we write and some who I expect to draw a picture of their answer and then bring it to me to help them sound out their words. Equality does not necessarily mean everyone is doing the same thing.

5) Assessment-we can also differentiate assessments. This is easy for me because I create most of my assessments myself. If I am asking them to read words and match them to the picture, my readers will have sentences to match instead. If my students can add with fluency, then they move on to adding higher numbers.

6) Keep things open-ended when possible. I ask open-ended questions on tests. Most of our daily work is open-ended. What they create is authentically at their level.

7) Project-based learning. All my students work on projects at the end of a unit together. I think all students can benefit from stretching their thinking and showing another way to apply what they are learning.

8) Include everyone in the critical thinking activities. This will help foster thinking skills in all students and prevent your GT kiddos from being labeled with a title they don't even understand in early childhood.

What does not work:

1) Go read to yourself.--As much as many kiddos might appreciate this activity-it is not helping them grow as readers. All students can benefit from being included in small group instruction and working on workstations that challenge them.

2) Partner up with the low student.--this is also unfair to your GT kiddo. I get into a debate over this with people more than anything else. Their justification is that the students like it and by teaching something you learn it better. Bologna! I have helped teach other teachers about tech tools all the time-it does not make me learn how to use that tool better. As a matter of fact I often get flustered because it takes time for people to learn.

3) Go around and help other students. My favorite is when this is referred to as "peer tutoring". Peer tutoring is something that happens outside of the regular curriculum. That is not what students should be doing during class. EVERY student should be learning something new every day!

I hope this doesn't sound too preachy-I know everyone has different experiences and things that work for them. I just wanted to share my wisdom from my experience. :) 

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  1. This is a challenge. You've given some great tips. I'm definitely guilty of having kids read to themselves. I always knew this wasn't ideal. Ugh. :)

  2. I think it's the hardest part of what we do.