Matthew Needleman, Creating Lifelong Learners, is running a series of posts on Differentiation in the classroom. He's doing a fine job and will reach a lot more people than I will but of course I had to put in my 2 cents (and more) so I sent him my thoughts by email. See below:
Every once in a while I'll have a light bulb moment and I had one recently. We were getting ready to survey our gifted elementary students (@500) to gather information to share with curriculum upper ups in our district. I had my AH_HA as I was developing the questions for the kids.i.e "How often do you get to chose reading material on your level during reading class?" "How often do you do creative activities in the classroom, where each child choses what to do?" "How often do you collaborate or work with peers on projects?" "How often do you do things that are not teacher directed?" (BTW, many of the answers were sad!!) I realize that not only are we not letting students work to their ability but we are devaluing them as learners, and as people. I use this analogy when teaching teachers about gifted kids---
Pretend you go to Colorado to take ski lessons. You are thrilled when Swen comes out of the chalet and teaches you fundamentals in the beginner class. The next winter you eagerly sign up for intermediate lessons, buy the aerodynamic outfit (looks great!) and strap your new skis to the car top. You get out of the car at the chalet and out comes Swen--he says "Sorry intermediate has been canceled, you're going to have to take beginning again." As an adult you'd say "Hell, NO--I'm not taking beginning again." BUT we ask our gifted kids to take beginning again and again and again. What gives us the right to do this? Who is to blame?
I think parents share the blame. If you had a child with a learning disability and that child was asked to read a book five years off his reading level everyday you'd throw a fit---but parents of gifted and high ability kids allow their kiddos to read books every day that are five years off their reading level.
I think the kids share the blame. We have not given them a voice to speak up when injustices are being done to them.
I think administrators share the blame. They do not understand the needs of gifted kids. They do not support gifted students and services for gifted kids.
I think many teachers share the blame. They, too, do not understand the social, emotional or academic needs of gifted kids. Many look for what is easier than what is right.
I think the federal (state) government is to blame. They do not support gifted education and make no concession for them with NCLB legislation.
(Did not try to blame or John, Hillary, Barack, Pope Benedict, or any institute of higher learning--could have though!)
Managing a differentiated classroom well is hard, much harder than "every kid on the same page." But I think teachers may be surprised how many easy things they could do to value our brightest kids.
2 months ago