What I learned from reading this book: Engaging and Challenging Gifted Students by Jenny Grant Rankin

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Many of us are teaching gifted students in our Pre-AP math classes (an possibly in our on level math classes).  It is important to remember that we must specifically plan for how to support the gifted learner as well as the struggling learner.  This ASCD text includes tips and suggestions for gifted students and this blog post focuses on what it means for our math classes.  Here are some ideas that stood out as important to me:

  • Gifted students may be intensities – be easily excited or intense preference for a topic – this may challenge their focus as well as those of the other students in your class;
  • “Differentiation is especially vital to their engagement” (p. 13);
  • “Giftedness does not ensure academic success or ease” (p. 40);
  • Cognitive development may be well ahead of physical and emotional development;
  • Gifted students may have a learning disability in addition to being gifted.

In the text, the author addressed how to engage gifted students.  She addressed differentiation, collaboration, participation and peer relations, acceleration, involvement and attitude, as well as enrichment.  I will focus on differentiation in this post.

Differentiation, as the author reminds us, is adjusting instruction to meet individual students’ needs.  We can differentiate the environment in which students learn, the context of learning, the process by which students learn, and/or the product students produce to demonstrate learning.  Following are some examples to consider.

Environment – Gifted math students may work best in a quiet space with lots of time to focus and think deeply about a topic.  This tends to be the opposite of what we are told to do for our typical students with chunking and changing topics frequently to maintain engagement.  However, not all gifted students are the same.  Remember what works best for one student may not work as well for another.  Choice in setting can help students identify and self select a conducive environment.

Context – Gifted math student may have strong interests in topics or contexts.  By simply allowing students choice in context for a project may make it very engaging for them.   Project Based Learning (PBL) and real world applications can provide the opportunity for this type of differentiation.  Ensure that the math content is aligned to state standards but allow students to apply these math concepts in a context of interest to them.  An example is an algebra project on systems of equations.  Students could choose an interesting context for the equations included in the project, perhaps based on a book or another academic subject.

Process – How a student engages with the math content can make all the difference.  While some students may prefer a straight-forward work sheet of practice problems, gifted students may prefer using a Minecraft structure that requires solving geometry problems.  Gifted students may want to research a math topic and then prepare a demonstration video to share with their peers.

Product – Gifted students should share their thinking as well as demonstrate their learning.  Traditional multiple choice exams are not really designed to provide that kind of information.  If you must use a multiple choice exam, consider requiring students to justify their solution with statements, equations, graph, diagram, or table.  The justifications will allow students to demonstrate their learning.  However, don’t forget about more creative means of demonstrating learning: student-created video or other multimedia product, posters or electronic equivalents, essays, stories, or plays, presentations, etc.

Other ideas from the text include the following:

  • allow options or choice not just in class assignments but also homework assignments
  • allow student to choose to work alone, in pairs, or small groups
  • allow students to suggest different assignment instructions – for example use a project or application to practice solving equations
  • allow students to research a topic and teach the class or a small group of students
  • decrease the specific directions on a project or assignment to allow more depth and creativity – instead of a rectangular prism, let them choose the prism shape to be used
  • recognize that gifted student may not need to listen to your entire lesson before starting in on the practice – don’t make them wait for the rest of the class to catch up to them
  • pre-assess and substitute a more challenging (not longer) assignment on the same topic to the gifted student who had shown mastery on the pre-assessment

I am interested in what you have done to support your gifted learners.  If you have a suggestion, please share!

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