Our middle school started a gifted and talented enrichment program last winter. A community member donated the funding to purchase supplies and get the program started. Since then, I’ve met with 40 students each morning for 40 minutes of enrichment.
This has been the most rewarding, challenging, frustrating,and exciting time for me. Working with these students demonstrates to me the need for challenging tasks/assignments for our higher level students. Our program includes students who don’t meet the traditional definition of gifted (since that generally fits only about 2% of student population). However, these are the students who typically complete tasks quickly, are bored in traditional classes and are rarely challenged.
Currently, we are meeting students’ needs by giving them the time and supplies to explore an area of interest. We have students working with Lego Robotics, photography, playwriting, newspaper production and more. The idea is that students will be more engaged in school, overall, since they have this time to look forward to each day.
While this program has been a great benefit to our students, it has made it clear that we need to focus more fully on differentiating instruction in the regular education classroom. As I have begun to research this topic, I’ve found numerous references to the numbers of student needs not being met in our tradition instruction.
Differentiating instruction is a hot topic right now. As I work read more about it, and think about how to make it happen in my classroom, I realize that it is going to be quite a challenge. My school has adopted a new reading/writing curriculum which uses every available minute and I am required to teach it with fidelity. This makes it difficult to change the instruction for different groups of students.
In addition, I have 25 very active students for 2 hours, in a small classroom (I have one of the smallest rooms in the building). These things make it more difficult for me to manage things by myself in the classroom. Making sure that all students are able to pass the weekly tests, complete the formative assessments along the way and keep up with their assignments, while allowing students to work independently should present quite the challenging task. The curriculum we are using is also very heavily teacher-directed, which leaves me with little time to work one on one with students.
Currently, I’m hoping to start using a pre-assessment with my high level students to ‘test out” of the week’s work. They would then be able to go deeper into the subject matter and create a product demonstrating their learning. This seemed like the best way to get started, without getting overwhelmed. I also have a separate spelling list for students who pass the spelling pre-test each week.
As we go along, I’ll keep you posted on how things go. I know it’s going to be challenging, but I believe it will be fun, too (and necessary).
If any readers out there already use differentiated instruction/assessment, please post some of the ways you handle it. I know I need all the help I can get!