Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Differentiation Followup (mini-rant)

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.


Anonymous said...

I think your analogy is very apt.

You have more ideas than I do about what to do for gifted students. However, a couple of things I think we shouldn't do is use gifted students only to help others. They're not TA's. I teach all my students to help each other but to use a student as a full-time tutor is just not fair to the tutor. Also, I don't think someone who has finished their worksheet early wants a second worksheet to do. More worksheets are not the answer.

nbosch said...

Good point. Not only does the teacher use the student as an aide or errand runner but the gifted student is not learning anything new. It can also be a cop out---the gifted students finds helping others easy and will do it rather than take on their own challenges.

Thanks again for opening a great discussion. N

The Tablet PC In Education Blog said...

Iappreciadted your comments on Mathew's blog, so came over to read yours. You make sense, expecially in exchanges with Jane. She's but one of too many parents who unnecessarily run into teachers and administrators as she described.

I'm curious about something in your email to Mathew. Why do you blame a student for reading ahead of any class?

I've heard teachers say the same, but find it disrespectful of the student. After all, schools are first for student academic learning, right?

Thanks for offering an insightful blog. I agree, you have much of value to offer.

nbosch said...

I don't blame the students for reading ahead--I blame the kids for not speaking up. By 4th or 5th grade, they sit mentally checked out. We need to teach our kids and allow our kids to speak up and say "wait a minute, this isn't working for me".

I really feel frustration for the parents of gifted kids but I am realistic--I went through it three times with my own sons--the public schools can only do so much. They can do much better than they are doing, but can only do so much.

Anonymous said...

I agree that students should sometimes be able to say "this isn't working for me", but I don't want them saying that anytime. I feel that might lead to students complaining about work they don't want to finish. I also don't think you should put the blame on students because they are taught to respect their teachers. While they might not admit if something's not right, they are following classroom rules. However, it is frustrating when teachers ask students to not read ahead, especially when students are interested in the topic.

Thanks for bringing this up, especially that there are things everyone can do to change education and teachers should not be to blame for all, or even most, of the problems.

Marlene Armstrong said...

Your analogy is right on. I think of it also as a professional development. How many teachers do you know that roll their eyes when we have one on something that they think they already know. We don't want to sit through something we feel we have a good grasp on, why should a child?

nbosch said...

After 25 years I have NO tolerance for sitting through meetings/workshops/inservices that 1. do not pertain to me and 2. do not pertain to who I teach and 3. that is stuff I already know.

As I said in my lighbulb moment blog it devalues kids (and us) as learners.