I began my career in education as an exceptional children’s teacher (special education). My first day as a regular education teacher was in my kindergarten classroom. On the first day, a sweet child came in. It didn’t take long to realize that she was academically gifted. Having had spent more than a decade working almost exclusively with students with dyslexia, autism, behavioral issues, dyscalculia, dysgraphia, and a host of other learning issues, I wasn’t fully prepared to stretch her mind to its full potential.
To fix this gap in my teaching knowledge, I completed my school system’s local endorsement classes for teaching academically gifted classes. I have since had the immense pleasure of teaching some exceptionally gifted students. They always bring such great ideas to our class discussions but they also require differentiated instruction when we are working on material that they have already mastered.
When I have met with a student’s parents and we've decided that their child needs differentiated instruction, that is when I get to be really creative as a teacher. I believe that knowing my student is the most important step in creating meaningful differentiated activities.
Here are some of the most successful differentiated activities that I’ve used through the years. These activities can be used for any grade level:
1. Ask your student to learn about riddles by reading Shanna’s Animal Riddles by Jean Marzollo and Clothesline Clues to Jobs People Do by Kathryn Heling and Deborah Hembrook. The academically gifted students won’t have any trouble figuring out the riddles, but the point of using these books is to teach them what a riddle is and different ways to create one. After that, they research a favorite topic and write their own riddles.
The best riddles ever created by one of my students were about dolphins. The student used National Geographic Kids: Everything Dolphins by Elizabeth Carney and National Geographic Kids: Dolphins by Melissa Stewart for research to create several riddles. I suggest using whatever topic your academically gifted student already has an interest in and making sure that the research text is on the reading level of the student.
The National Geographic Kids series of books is a great resource for students to begin their research.
2. One natural project is to take a student’s interest and have him research that topic and create a time line of the changes that the topic has undergone. For example, one student loved cars. I asked him to name his favorite car and his answer was Porsche. We then got on the computer together and printed pictures of different Porsches through the years. Next, my student took those pictures and sequenced them in order on the time line. Underneath the pictures he wrote one to two sentences about how the body style had changed from the previous pictures.
3. I go to our school’s Guided Reading leveled book room (huge thank you to our principal Sharon Harwood and former assistant principal Keri Beth Brown for having the vision to create it) and pull books on the gifted student’s level that are setting-heavy. What I mean by setting-heavy is that the story is one where the setting could almost be classified as a character and where the reader has a strong sense of place (even down to houses, rooms in houses, etc.) as well as events.
This activity utilizes the Plan, Do, Review research method. After the student has read a book twice, I have them draw the layout found in the story (the Plan). Then they create the setting using the game Minecraft (the Do). Fellow Scholastic blogger and friend, Kriscia Cabral, did a post about Minecraft in her classroom a few weeks ago where she also mentioned using it to create a book setting. My pocket edition is well worth the $6.99 it costs.
The Review step of this activity takes place when the student has completed their initial drawing and the Minecraft setting. They compare the setting to the plan and explain the characters and the central message of the text through the setting. For example, I was sitting at the kitchen table in our farmhouse in Iowa when Mom told me I would have a new baby sister.
Students work on these projects during our Guided Reading time. While the rest of the students are in their Guided Reading stations or with me in our Guided Reading groups, the students I assign differentiated activities to are working independently. I pull them back to my Guided Reading table occasionally to check in with their project and help guide them if they are getting off track. These projects can be modified for any grade level.
I can’t wait to see you next week.