For gifted learners, an appropriately differentiated classroom will provide material, activities, projects or products, homework and assessments that are complex, abstract, open-ended and multifaceted enough to cause gifted students to stretch in knowledge, thinking and production. These classrooms provide consistent expectations for gifted student to work with fuzzy problems, make great mental leaps and grow in ability to exercise independence (Tomlinson). The ideas below identify some characteristics of a differentiated classroom essential for gifted learners.
- The pace at which they learn. They get their work done quickly and seek further assignments or direction.
- The depth of their understanding. They ask probing questions that tend to differ from their classmates in depth of understanding and frequency.
- The interests that they hold. They have interests in areas that are unusual or more like the interests of older students. They often get "hooked" on certain topics.
- Evidence of planning for differentiation at the same time that activities for all students are designed.
- Availability of activities, not “extra credit”, that replace work students have demonstrated they do not need to do (for those who “finish early”).
- Teacher sees himself/herself as facilitator, orchestrator, designer or coach; the teacher presents conditions for learning.
- Teacher does not assume that all students need a given task or segment of study.
- Variable and flexible pacing is evident.
- Instruction is concept-focused and principle driven.
- Instruction stresses a variety of sense-making activities or processes through which students can come to understand and “own” information and ideas.
- Planning with team members or other colleagues is evident.
- Use of multiple texts and supplementary materials is present.
- Use of computer programs or interest centers is present.
- Modification of instruction is based on assessment data.
- Adequate time both for the careful selection of a topic that is likely to keep a student interested and for adequate time to work on the related project during the school day.
- A menu of ways in which information may be shared is offered.
- Written products are sometimes avoided, since writing slows down the fluent thinking of some students.
- Adjustments based on students’ learning profile.
Some students need a longer period to reflect on ideas before applying them.
- Other students prefer quick action.
- Some students learn best as they tell stories about ideas being explored.
- Some students create mind maps.
- Some students construct three-dimensional representations.
- Some students learn best through practical application of ideas.
- Some students learn best by the analytical approach.
- Students explore, apply and understand the key concepts of the subject being studied.
- Product criteria negotiated jointly by student and teacher.
- Tasks and products designed with a multiple intelligence orientation.
Verbs are critical and represent the cognitive process.
Compare & Contrast
- Flexible grouping is consistently used.
- Students work alone.
- Students work in pairs.
- Students work in groups.
- Groups/tasks are readiness-based, interest-based, learning style-based or a combination.
- Students self-select peers with whom to work.
- Whole group for introducing new ideas, planning, or sharing learning.
- Criteria for evaluating student work are presented before students begin actual work.
- Students earn equivalent credit for differentiated work. Assessment is predicated on student growth and goal attainment.
- A variety of options are available though which students can demonstrate or exhibit what they have learned.
Samples That Are NOT Considered Differentiation
- Assignments are the same for all learners.
- Assignment adjustments consist of varying the level of difficulty of questions for certain students.
- Some students are graded harder than others.
- Those who finish early get to play enrichment games.
- Students are given extension assignments (extra math problems or extra book reports) after finishing “regular” work.
- Students are getting high grades so no differentiation is needed.
- Instruction stresses retention and regurgitation of fragmented bits of information.
- The focus is on coverage-based curriculum.
- Independent projects are assigned.