Differentiation is one of those things that never seems like it can be 100% mastered. Once you have your differentiation strategies dialed in for a particular set of students… you get a new set of students! But with these new students comes a new opportunity to learn and refine your teaching approaches.
This summer, build up the differentiation strategies in your toolbox so you’ll be more equipped to meet the needs of your future students. Start with these ideas:
As a teacher myself, I feel your pain when a capable student chooses — yes, chooses — not to perform well academically. Cajole as we might (and do…) to convince kids like these on the merits of academic accomplishment, many of them look at us with that blank expression of adolescence that speaks volumes in its silence.
What they don’t say are things like these:
- “School is irrelevant to what I’ll eventually do in life, and we both know it. Tell me how linear algebra will help me become a better attorney.”
- “If you really cared to help me, you’d let me test out of what I know how to do so that I had time to pursue stuff that is important to me.”
- “The reason I don’t do the homework is that I’ve already proven to you through my class performance that I understand this stuff. Wouldn’t you be as frustrated as I am if you had to do such meaningless work every night?”
More times than not, smart students who choose to do poorly on purpose have very good reasons for being disillusioned with their middle and high school experiences. And these students may be on to something. Research on gifted students and other high achievers has shown that many of them know 50% or more of the grade-level curriculum before it’s “taught” to them.
Teaching gifted students has been an amazing adventure. When I first began my quest as a teacher of gifted learners, I had no idea the learning that I was about to embark upon. It didn’t take long for my students to debunk the myths that sometimes go along with the idea of teaching the gifted population, and it took an even shorter amount of time for me to change my ideas about teaching gifted learners.
I teach gifted learners in an urban population. Our program is called CLUE, which stands for Creative Learning in a Unique Environment. We are a pull-out program that focuses on the processes of thinking, and not just the products of knowledge. Getting my students to a point where they understood that the process was just as important as the product was not an easy one. At first, students were reluctant to discover, because some were not used to making mistakes and many were fearful of the possible repercussions. It took a brainwashing of sorts, and an attitude change on my part, for me to help my students take a different approach to learning. This feat did not occur overnight and definitely continues to be a work in progress.