|Reflection is a process for looking back and integrating new knowledge. Reflections need to occur throughout the building blocks of constructivism and include teacher-led student-driven and teacher reflections. We need to encourage students to stop throughout the learning process and think about their learning. Teachers need to model the reflective process to encourage students to think openly, critically and creatively.|
Techniques for Reflections
Closing Circle – A quick way to circle around a classroom and ask each student to share one thing they now know about a topic or a connection that they made that will help them to remember or how this new knowledge can be applied in real life.
Exit Cards – An easy 5 minute activity to check student knowledge before, during and after a lesson or complete unit of study. Students respond to 3 questions posed by the teacher. Teachers can quickly read the responses and plan necessary instruction.
Learning Logs – Short, ungraded and unedited, reflective writing in learning logs is a venue to promote genuine consideration of learning activities.
Reflective Journals – Journals can be used to allow students to reflect on their own learning. They can be open-ended or the teacher can provide guiding, reflective questions for the students to respond to. These provide insight on how the students are synthesizing their learning but it also helps the students to make connections and better understand how they learn.
Rubrics – Students take time to self-evaluate and peer-evaluate using the rubric that was given or created at the beginning of the learning process. By doing this, students will understand what areas they were very strong in and what areas to improve for next time.
Write a Letter – The students write a letter to themselves or to the subject they are studying. This makes the students think of connections in a very personal way. Students enjoy sharing these letters and learn from listening to other ideas.
By using a variety of ways to show what they know, such as projects, metaphors or graphic organizers, students are allowed to come to closure on some idea, to develop it and to further their imagination to find understanding. Understanding is taking bits of knowledge in all different curriculum and life experiences and applying this new knowledge. When students apply new knowledge, connections are made and learning is meaningful and relevant. Application is a higher order thinking skill that is critical for true learning to occur.
Possible Student Exhibits
Analogies – Students compare a topic or unit of study to an inanimate object such as comparing something known to the unknown or some inanimate object to the topic.
Blogs – Blogs, short for weblogs, are online journals or diaries that have become popular since the mid 1990’s. Bloggers post personal opinions, random thoughts, connections and real life stories to interact with others via the Web! Weblinks and photos can also be added to the blog. A learner may choose to have their own blog to record their learning on a specific topic. A group of learners could choose to share a blog and read, write, challenge, debate, validate and build shared knowledge as a group. Check out Blogger.com to set up your own personal or professional blog – develop your digital voice and model for your students.
Collage – Students cut out or draw pictures to represent a specific topic. To evaluate the level of understanding, students write an explanation or discuss in small groups the significance of the pictures and why they are representative of the topic. This technique encourages students to make connections, to create a visual representation and to then explain or exhibit their understanding.
Celebration of Learning – A demonstration where students have the opportunity to share their expertise in several subject areas with other students, teachers and parents.
Graphic Organizers – Graphic organizers, also known as mind maps, are instructional tools used to illustrate prior knowledge.
Portfolios – A portfolio is a representative collection of an individual student’s work. A student portfolio is generally composed of best work to date and a few “works in progress” that demonstrate the process. Students show their knowledge, skills and abilities in a variety of different ways that are not dependent upon traditional media such as exams and essays. Multiple Intelligences Portfolios are an effective way for students to understand not how smart they are but how they are smart.
Project-Based Learning– Students create projects by investigating and making connections from the topic or unit of study to real life situations. Multimedia is one effective tool for students to design their projects.
T-charts – A simple t is drawn and students jot down information relating to a topic in two different columns.
Venn-Diagram – A graphic organizer that is made with 2 intersecting circles and is used to compare and contrast. Using this tool, students identify what is different about 2 topics and identify the overlap between the two topics in the shared shared area.
Learning Disabilities: Signs, Symptoms and Strategies
A learning disability is a neurological disorder that affects one or more of the basic psychological processes involved in understanding or in using spoken or written language. The disability may manifest itself in an imperfect ability to listen, think, speak, read, write, spell or to do mathematical calculations.
Every individual with a learning disability is unique and shows a different combination and degree of difficulties. A common characteristic among people with learning disabilities is uneven areas of ability, “a weakness within a sea of strengths.” For instance, a child with dyslexia who struggles with reading, writing and spelling may be very capable in math and science.
Learning disabilities should not be confused with learning problems which are primarily the result of visual, hearing, or motor handicaps; of mental retardation; of emotional disturbance; or of environmental, cultural or economic disadvantages.
Generally speaking, people with learning disabilities are of average or above average intelligence. There often appears to be a gap between the individual’s potential and actual achievement. This is why learning disabilities are referred to as “hidden disabilities:” the person looks perfectly “normal” and seems to be a very bright and intelligent person, yet may be unable to demonstrate the skill level expected from someone of a similar age.
A learning disability cannot be cured or fixed; it is a lifelong challenge. However, with appropriate support and intervention, people with learning disabilities can achieve success in school, at work, in relationships, and in the community.
In Federal law, under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), the term is “specific learning disability,” one of 13 categories of disability under that law.
“Learning Disabilities” is an “umbrella” term describing a number of other, more specific learning disabilities, such as dyslexia and dysgraphia. Find the signs and symptoms of each, plus strategies to help:
A language and reading disability
Problems with arithmetic and math concepts
A writing disorder resulting in illegibility
Dyspraxia (Sensory Integration Disorder)
Problems with motor coordination
Central Auditory Processing Disorder
Difficulty processing and remembering language-related tasks
Non-Verbal Learning Disorders
Trouble with nonverbal cues, e.g., body language; poor coordination, clumsy
Visual Perceptual/Visual Motor Deficit
Reverses letters; cannot copy accurately; eyes hurt and itch; loses place; struggles with cutting
Language Disorders (Aphasia/Dysphasia)
Trouble understanding spoken language; poor reading comprehension
Symptoms of Learning Disabilities
The symptoms of learning disabilities are a diverse set of characteristics which affect development and achievement. Some of these symptoms can be found in all children at some time during their development. However, a person with learning disabilities has a cluster of these symptoms which do not disappear as s/he grows older.
Most frequently displayed symptoms:
- Short attention span
- Poor memory
- Difficulty following directions
- Inability to discriminate between/among letters, numerals, or sounds
- Poor reading and/or writing ability
- Eye-hand coordination problems; poorly coordinated
- Difficulties with sequencing
- Disorganization and other sensory difficulties
Other characteristics that may be present:
- Performs differently from day to day
- Responds inappropriately in many instances
- Distractible, restless, impulsive
- Says one thing, means another
- Difficult to discipline
- Doesn’t adjust well to change
- Difficulty listening and remembering
- Difficulty telling time and knowing right from left
- Difficulty sounding out words
- Reverses letters
- Places letters in incorrect sequence
- Difficulty understanding words or concepts
- Delayed speech development; immature speech
What are instructional strategies?
Instructional strategies are methods that are used in the lesson to ensure that the sequence or delivery of instruction helps students learn.
What does effective mean?
The term “effective” means that student performance improves when the instructional strategies are used. The strategies were identified in studies conducted using research procedures and guidelines that ensure confidence about the results. In addition, several studies exist for each strategy with an adequate sample size and the use of treatment and control groups to generalize to the target population. This allows teachers to be confident about how to apply the strategies in their classrooms.
Strategies to use in designing effective lessons
These six strategies have been proven to work with diverse groups of learners (Kameenui & Carnine, Effective Teaching Strategies that Accommodate Diverse Learners, 1998). All students, and particularly those with disabilities, benefit when teachers incorporate these strategies into their instruction on a regular basis.
- Focus on essentials.
- Make linkages obvious and explicit.
- Prime background knowledge.
- Provide temporary support for learning.
- Use conspicuous steps and strategies.
- Review for fluency and generalization.
Identify important principles, key concepts, and big ideas from the curriculum that apply across major themes in the subject content.
- Big Ideas: Instruction is organized around the major themes that run through a subject area. This helps students make the connections between concepts and learn to use higher order thinking skills. Kameenui and Carnine (1998) gave these examples of big ideas for social studies:
- success of group efforts is related to motivation, leadership, resources, and capability
- Graphic organizers: Important ideas and details are laid out graphically to help students see connections between ideas. Semantic webs and concept maps are examples of graphic organizers.
- Thematic instruction: Instructional units combine subject areas to make themes and essential ideas more apparent and meaningful. Lessons and assignments can be integrated or coordinated across classes.
- Planning routines: The Center for Research on Learning at the University of Kansas website (go to http://www.ku-crl.org/sim/lscurriculum.html) has developed the Learning Strategies Curriculum, systematic routines that include graphic organizers to help teachers plan a course, unit, or lesson around the essentials or big ideas. Teachers guide students to use the organizer to monitor their learning.
Actively help students understand how key concepts across the curriculum relate to each other as you are teaching.
- Give clear verbal explanations and use visual displays (such as flow charts, diagrams, or graphic organizers) to portray key concepts and relationships.
- Help students use techniques like outlining or mind mapping to show connections among concepts.
Connect new information or skills to what students have already learned. Provide additional instruction or support to students who lack necessary background knowledge.
- Ask questions to prompt student recall of relevant prior knowledge.
- Make comparisons between the new concept and things students already know.
- Relate the topic to current or past events that are familiar to students.
- Relate the concept to a fictional story or scenario known to the students.
- Use instructional materials that provide easy access to critical background knowledge.
Provide support (scaffolding) while students are learning new knowledge and skills, gradually reducing the level of support as students move toward independence.
- Provide verbal or written prompts to remind students of key information or processes.
- Physically assist and guide a student when learning a new motor skill, such as cutting.
- Provide study or note taking guides to support learning from text or lectures.
- Use commercial materials that have been specifically designed to incorporate supports for learning.
- Use mnemonics to help students remember multiple steps in a procedure.
Teach students to follow a specific set of procedures to solve problems or use a process.
- Model the steps in the strategy, using a think-aloud process.
- Name the strategy and give students prompts for using it such as posting steps on the board, providing an example of a problem with the strategy steps labeled, or using memory strategies, such as mnemonics to help student recall the steps.
- Prompt students to use the strategy in practice situations.
- Reduce prompting as students become proficient in applying the strategy.
- Explicitly teach students the organizational structure of text and prompt its use.
Review for fluency and generalization
Give students many opportunities to practice what they have learned and receive feedback on their performance to ensure knowledge is retained over time and can be applied in different situations.
- Use multiple reviews of concepts and skills.
- Give students specific feedback about what they are doing well or need to change.
- Give students enough practice to master skills.
- Distribute reviews over time to insure proficiency is maintained.
- Provide review in different contexts to enhance generalization of learning.
- Provide cumulative review that addresses content learned throughout the year.
In order for learning to occur, students need to connect to their own prior knowledge. Connections are like building bridges between the old and new. This building bridge can be brief or in-depth as long as it serves the needs of all learners. Pre-assessment determines prior knowledge whereas connections provides the link between old knowledge and new knowledge. This step is critical to applying constructivist theory in a classroom.
How do I build community?
- create trust between teacher and student and among the students
- build self-confidence so students will take risks, engage in dialogue
- move from competition to collaboration
- form ‘community clusters’
create learning circles of like-minded teachers to provide support and share ideas
practice working in collaborative groups and assign specific roles and tasks
encourage partner or peer tutoring situations
begin using reflective journals and/or learning logs
be open with the students that you are trying a different way of teaching and explain why – allow them time to express thoughts & feelings throughout the process
How do I group my students?
- students need to be taught how to work in a collaborative group
- keep groups “fluid” where students move in and out as needed
- use a variety of groupings based on ability or readiness, instructional needs and interests
- heterogeneous – a group of students with varying ability where each student takes a role in an area of strength that adds to the knowledge of the whole group
- homogeneous – ‘cluster’ grouping of a group of students with similar abilities or interest area can be effective for certain areas of study
- a group of 3 or 4 students works well in most settings
- teacher may choose and at other times, students may choose group members
- establish home-based teams and work teams to blend a heterogeneous group with a homogeneous group
- multiage groupings allow students of similar interests to learn from each other and work together
What strategies or instructional approaches can help students make connections?
Blogs – Blogs, short for weblogs, are online journals or diaries that have become popular since the mid 1990’s. Bloggers post personal opinions, random thoughts, connections and real life stories in order to interact with others via the Web! Weblinks and photos can also be added to the blog. A learner may choose to have their own blog to record their learning on a specific topic. A group of learners could choose to share a blog and read, write, challenge, debate, validate and build shared knowledge as a group. Check out Blogger.com to set up your own personal or professional blog – develop your digital voice and model for your students.
Graphic Organizers or Mind Maps – instructional tools used to illustrate prior knowledge. Student sample page
See Best Practice Graphic Organizers for more information and examples.
KWL Charts – K-what do the students already know? W-what do the students need and want to know? L-what did the students learn? An effective pre-assessment tool but also an effective tool to evaluate the level of understanding. Many teachers use the L part as an open-ended question on an exam allowing the students to share the depth of knowledge that was gained in the unit of study.
Questioning Techniques – Questions are a key element in each of the building blocks of constructivism. Categories of questions are guiding, anticipated, clarifying and integrating.
Reflective Journals or Learning Logs – Journals can be used to assess for process of learning and student growth. They can be open-ended or the teacher can provide guiding, reflective questions for the students to respond to. These often provide insight on how the students are synthesizing their learning.
Are you tired of using a pre-test or KWL chart as your pre-assessment tool? If so, read on and get more ideas on how to figure out what your students already know (or think that they know) prior to teaching a unit or lesson.
“Assessment is today’s means of modifying tomorrow’s instruction.” Carol Ann Tomlinson
Pre-assessment allows the teacher and student to discover what is already known in a specific topic or subject. It is critical to recognize prior knowledge so students can engage in questioning, formulating, thinking and theorizing in order to construct new knowledge appropriate to their level. Ongoing assessment throughout the learning process is also critical as it directs the teacher and student as to where to go next. Several assessment techniques are described in this section.
KWL Charts – K-what do the students already know? W-what do the students need and want to know? L-what did the students learn? An effective pre-assessment tool and summative evaluation tool to measure the level of understanding at the end of unit. Many teachers use the L part as an open-ended question on an exam allowing the students to share the depth of knowledge that was gained in the unit of study.
Yes/No Cards – Students make a card with Yes (or Got It) on one side, No (No clue) on the opposite side. Teachers ask an introductory or review question. Students who know the answer hold up the Yes card, if they don’t know the answer they hold the No card. This is very effective to use when introducing vocabulary words that students need as a knowledge base for a specific unit of study.
SA/A/D/SD – Students are given to opportunity to formulate their own views and opinions along a continuum rather than dialectically. Given an issue (similar to those outlined above) students are asked to consider the topic and determine whether they strongly agree (SA), agree (A), disagree (d), or strongly disagree (SD) with the statement. They are then asked to move to the appropriate station in the classroom identified with one of the options. A class discussion follows as students are given the opportunity to outline and defend their positions, refute the arguments of others as well as re-evaluate their own ideas.
Squaring Off – Place a card in each corner of the room with the following phrases: Dirt Road, Paved Road, Highway and Yellow Brick Road. Instruct the students to go to the corner of the room that matches where they are in the new unit of study. Students go to the corner of the room and as a group, discuss what they know about the topic.
Turn & Talk- During a lesson, there may be opportunities to have the students do a turn & talk activity for a few minutes. This allows students to talk about the information presented or shared and to clarify thoughts or questions. This is an effective alternate strategy to asking questions to the whole group and having the same students responding. All students have a chance to talk in a non-threatening situation for a short period of time.
“Assessment is today’s means of modifying tomorrow’s instruction.” Carole Tomlinson
Preassessment: a way to determine what students know about a topic before it is taught. It should be
Teacher prepared pretests
|C L A S S R O O M M A N A G E M E N T|
Teachers, Start Your Engines:
Weekly Tip – Creating Puzzling Classroom
See if you can figure this one out:
“George, Helen, and Steve are drinking coffee. Bert, Karen, and Dave are drinking soda. Is Elizabeth drinking soda or coffee? (It is possible to reason this out using logic.)
Most of us love a good puzzle. Some are more drawn to spatial puzzles, others enjoy a good logic puzzle, still others math or situation puzzles. In fact, you may even be distracted from this article right now because you are trying to figure out that puzzle I posted above. Mazes, jig-saw puzzles, brain-teasers, and short mysteries pose challenges that capture our imagination and our thoughts. Puzzles are also an excellent way to capture the attention of our students and encourage them to think on higher levels.
Below are some ideas for incorporating puzzles into your classroom, no matter what you teach:
1. Pose a “puzzle of the week” every Monday. Students have all week to try to answer it. Have students place possible answers in a folder or large envelope to be opened on Friday. With younger students you might let them try throughout the week and then tell them whether they are “cold” or “hot”. Students who are “cold” might go back and rethink their answer. Students who are “hot” know they have it.
2. Add an object to your room that has to do with the topic or skill you are teaching. Challenge students to find the new object. (Original idea by Frederick Briehl)
3. Have a jig-saw puzzle “station” in the back of your classroom that students can work on during free time or when they finish their work early. A jig-saw puzzle is fun, but it also requires students to think logically and use spatial relationships to determine where pieces fit. If you can find a puzzle that relates to your novel, author, setting or location, art, music, math, science, or historical event – all the better. Use the internet to find topic related puzzles for students to solve. When working with pre-school and Kindergarten students, have a permanent puzzle station where students can put together different jig-saw puzzles.
4. Copy and paste logic puzzles and brain-teasers on the inside of a manila folder. Laminate the folder to last. This makes a portable “Thinking Center” that students can take to their seats and work on when finished with a class assignment or test.
5. Have students create their own jig-saw puzzles. Students could draw the setting or character in a story, create a timeline, draw a historical figure or event, or even create a mind-map or semantic web. If you have them do this on cardstock, turn the page over and have students draw different shapes and figures that interlock on the back. Cut along the lines and voila! You have a jig-saw puzzle. Craft stores such as Hobby Lobby and Michaels also sell jig-saw puzzle paper that is already shaped and pierced. Students simply draw on the sheet and then punch out the pieces.
6. Use a situation puzzle for a transition or time filler. Pose the statement or question to students and give them 20 questions to solve it. Two sources of situation puzzles are Jed’s List – http://www.kith.org/logos/things/sitpuz/situations.html and Nathan Levy’s book series – “Stories with Holes” – http://www.storieswithholes.com. You can also use a search engine to find situation puzzles. Just keep in mind that many are mini-mysteries and can include someone dying or being killed. Always check the puzzles for appropriateness before using in school and with certain ages.
7. Bring a wrapped present to class and situate it where everyone can see it. Don’t mention it or talk about it. When students ask, wave it off as nothing for them to worry about. This will drive them crazy. You might then pose a challenging question and tell students that the first to answer will get to open the present. Inside would be an object that relates to the topic of study. Ask your students at that point to identify why this particular object was chosen. This makes a great way to introduce a new topic.
8. A variation on the idea above is to put the objects in a box with an opening large enough for only a hand. Students feel the objects and try to guess at each. What do these objects have in common? How are they different? How does each object relate to the topic currently studied?
9. Have a Sudoku challenge on Fridays. The older students are, the more complicated the puzzle should be.
10. Use Crosswords and Word Searches when practicing definitions and vocabulary words. Cryptograms are also great for vocabulary and sentence practice. Students must use their knowledge of how sentences are formed to determine the “key” words that will help them decipher the puzzle. You can offer certain vocabulary words as clues to help determine the “key”. (Cryptograms are puzzles that substitute one letter for another. For example: a is really s, p is really a, and o is really t. The word might be “sat”, but in the puzzle it will show as “apo”. Once a word is deciphered, you use the “key” letters from that word to determine other words. Cryptograms are usually sentences and phrases.)
Puzzles are fun, challenging, and require us to think critically in order to solve them. We must use our knowledge of spatial relationships, numbers, number relationships, words, and our experiences in the world to solve different puzzles. This makes them not only enjoyable, but also a great learning tool. The next time you have a boring worksheet or activity, take some time to think about how you can turn it into a puzzle or mystery for students to solve. Look for different ways to incorporate puzzles into your classroom for students to solve as part of your class and outside of class. Before you know it, you too will have a puzzling classroom!
Still wondering about that puzzle above? Thought I’d leave you hanging, did you? Well, here’s the answer: Elizabeth is drinking coffee. She has two E’s in her name, just like everyone else in the puzzle drinking coffee (as well as coffee itself).
Many educators have become well-versed in modifying the regular classroom curriculum to meet the needs of students with disabilities. Educators are not as experienced, however, in meeting the instructional needs of high-ability students. In a growing number of states, revisions in regulations pertaining to gifted and talented students are requiring that high-ability students, previously served in part-time pull-out programs, must also receive appropriate instruction within the context of their regular classrooms. For example, in Kentucky, high-ability students can no longer be viewed as sufficiently served by a once-monthly or once-weekly program. These students have educational needs that must be met daily, just as students with disabilities have.Many regular education teachers report that meeting the needs of high-ability students equals and often exceeds the challenges of integrating disabled students in their classrooms. High-ability students can be delightful, but they can also be demanding, impatient, perfectionistic, sarcastic, and disruptive. In addition, few regular education teachers have received sufficient training in issues related to gifted and talented education. Before teachers can develop appropriate instructional strategies to meet the needs of high-ability students, they must recognize the value of such efforts. For many educators, services to gifted and talented students may seem to be elitist. However, public education is founded on the belief that all students (including those with high abilities) have the right to instruction appropriate to their needs. Gifted and talented students, like all students, should learn something new every day.
General Strategies for Modifying the Curriculum
The objectives for modifying standard curricula for high-ability students include:
- meeting the learning capacity of the students,
- meeting the students’ rapid rates of learning in all or some areas of study, and
- providing time and resources so that students can pursue areas of special interest.
In order to modify standard curricula for high-ability students, Lois Roets (1993) proposed three options:
- lesson modifications,
- assignment modifications, and
- scheduling modifications.
Lessons can be modified through acceleration or enrichment of content. Assignments can be modified through reducing regular classroom work or providing alternate assignments. Scheduling options include providing opportunities for high-ability students to work individually through independent study, shared learning in homogeneous groupings with peers of similar ability and interests, and participation in heterogeneous groupings of mixed-ability students.
One way teachers can extend or enrich the content they present is by asking open-ended questions. Such questions stimulate higher order thinking skills and give students opportunities to consider and express personal opinions. Open-ended questions require thinking skills such as comparison, synthesis, insight, judgment, hypothesis, conjecture, and assimilation. Such questions can also increase student awareness of current events. Open-ended questions should be included in both class discussions and assignments. They can also be used as stimulation for the opening or conclusion of a lesson.
Another strategy for lesson modification developed by Susan Winebrenner (1992) is to use Bloom’s taxonomy of six levels of thinking to develop lesson content. Bloom’s model implies that the “lower” levels (knowledge, comprehension, and application) require more literal and less complex thinking than the “higher” levels (analysis, evaluation, and synthesis). Teachers are encouraged to develop thematic units with activities for students at all ability levels. This strategy involves four steps. Teachers first choose a theme that can incorporate learning objectives from several different subject areas. Secondly, teachers identify 6 to 10 key concepts or instructional objectives. Third, they determine which learner outcomes or grade-level competencies will be targeted for the unit. Finally, they design instructional activities to cover each of the six levels of thinking.
High-ability students are often expected to complete assignments that they find boring or irrelevant because they represent no new learning for them. Allowing them to reduce or skip standard assignments in order to acquire time to pursue alternate assignments or independent projects is called curriculum compacting. The curriculum for a gifted student should be compacted in those areas that represent his or her strengths. When students “buy time” for enrichment or alternate activities, they should use that time to capitalize on their strengths, rather than to improve skills in weaker subjects. For example, a student advanced in math should have a compacted curriculum in that area with opportunities given for enriched study in mathematics.
The first step in compacting the curriculum is determining the need to do so. A student is a candidate for compacting if he or she regularly finishes assignments quickly and correctly, consistently scores high on tests related to the modified area, or demonstrates high ability through individualized assessment, but not daily classwork (i.e., he or she is gifted, but unmotivated for the standard curriculum).
The second step in compacting the curriculum is to create a written plan outlining which, if any, regular assignments will be completed and what alternate activities will be accomplished. A time frame for the plan should also be determined. Modification plans can be limited to a few days (i.e., length of lesson or chapter) or extend over the course of an entire school year.
Alternate assignments for high-ability students can either be projects related to the modified area of study that extend the curriculum, or they can be independent projects that are chosen based on students’ individual interests. Winebrenner (1992) described a strategy in which students use written independent study contracts to research topics of interest to become “resident experts.” The students and teacher decide upon a description and the criteria for evaluating each project. A deadline is determined, and by that date, each student must share his or her project with the entire class. Before choosing their projects, students are also given time to browse various areas of interest. After completing compacted work, students are allowed to look through research materials to explore various topics. A deadline for choosing a topic for independent projects is also given to the students to limit their browsing time.
Cooperative learning through traditional heterogeneous groups is often counterproductive for high-ability students. When the learning task involves a great deal of drill and practice, these students often end up doing more teaching than learning. When placed in homogeneous cooperative learning groups, however, gifted students can derive significant learning benefits. This does not mean that high-ability students should never participate in heterogeneous cooperative learning groups. Rather, groupings should be chosen based on the task that is being assigned. When the task includes drill and practice, such as math computation or answering comprehension questions about a novel, gifted students should be grouped together and given a more complex task. When the task includes critical thinking, gifted students should be part of heterogeneous groups to stimulate discussions. Open-ended activities are excellent choices for heterogeneous groupings.
Cluster grouping of high-ability students in the same classroom is another option for meeting the needs of gifted students in the regular classroom. The traditional method of assigning students to classes has often been to divide the high-ability students equally among the available classes so each teacher would have his or her “fair share.” Under this system, however, each teacher must develop strategies for modifying the curriculum to meet the needs of the advanced students. With cluster grouping, four to six high-ability students are placed in the same classroom. This system allows the students to learn with and from each other and reduces the need for multiple teachers to develop appropriate instructional modifications.
The following case studies describe how the curriculum was modified for three academically able students.
Mark entered first grade reading at a fourth-grade level. He had mastered math concepts that challenged his first-grade peers. He was placed in a second-grade class for math instruction and in a third-grade class for reading and spelling instruction. Despite these opportunities, Mark was always the first to finish assignments and spent the majority of his school day reading library books or playing computer games. His parents and teacher were concerned that he was not sufficiently challenged, but as a 6-year-old, he was too young to participate in the district’s pull-out gifted program. They were also concerned that he was having difficulty developing friendships in his classroom since he spent much of the day apart from his homeroom peers. A request for consultation was made to the school psychologist.
With input from Mark’s parents and teachers, an independent study contract was developed for Mark to channel his high reading abilities toward study in a specific area. After browsing for a week, he chose dinosaurs as his project area. Mark then narrowed his focus to the Jurassic Period and decided to create a classroom reference book complete with pictures he drew. When he completed his daily work, Mark researched his topic area and worked on his project. When completed, Mark’s teacher asked him to share his project with his classmates. Because he had chosen a topic of high interest to his peers, Mark’s status as “resident expert” on dinosaurs made him attractive to his classmates. Mark’s teacher encouraged these budding friendships by asking the other students to bring dinosaur toys and books from home to share with the class during the following weeks.
Katrina’s parents chose to move her from a private school to public school at the end of her third-grade year. Following the advice of the private school staff, Katrina’s parents enrolled her in a second year of third grade at the public school due to reported weaknesses in reading and written expression. After a few weeks of school, Katrina’s teacher approached the school psychologist with her concern that retention may not have been in Katrina’s best interest. The teacher reported that Katrina was performing on grade level in all areas and demonstrated high-ability math skills.
Upon meeting with Katrina’s parents, however, they expressed the desire to keep her in the third grade. They felt that Katrina had suffered no harmful effects from the retention since it involved a move to a new school with different peers. Further, Katrina’s parents reported that she felt very comfortable and successful in her classroom. Although the committee decided to keep Katrina in the third grade, they developed a compacted curriculum for her in the area of math. A contract was written specifying modifications for Katrina in the regular class math curriculum. She was required to complete half of the assignments given to her peers, as long as she did so with 90% or higher accuracy. When finished with her modified assignment, Katrina then used her time earned through compacting for enriched study in mathematics. The committee was careful to avoid presenting material to Katrina that she would study in the future to avoid the possibility of repetition. Instead, an enriched program of study was developed that emphasized critical thinking and problem solving related to the addition and subtraction being taught in her classroom.
Katrina’s contract included several choices of activities, any of which she could choose to do on a given day, such as creating story problems for the class to solve, drawing pictures or using manipulatives to demonstrate calculation problems, or activities involving measuring, classifying, estimating, and graphing. Katrina’s teacher would present a specific activity choice in these areas that extended and enriched the basic concepts being taught to the class as a whole.
With these modifications, Katrina’s advanced skills in math were addressed. Her parents and teacher judged her school year a success, and Katrina made an easy transition to fourth grade, where she was able to work on grade-level material with an average level of accuracy in all areas.
Adam demonstrated a very high spoken vocabulary and advanced ideas when participating in class. He completed few of his assignments, though, and showed strong resistance to putting pencil to paper despite obvious high abilities. He was able to read orally at a level 2 years above his fourth-grade status and could perform multidigit calculation problems mentally. However, in the classroom, Adam demonstrated task avoidance and disruptive behaviors. His teacher and parents were frustrated by his lack of work output and behavior problems, and they sought assistance from the school psychologist.
In interviewing Adam, the psychologist found that he did not see the need to put on paper answers he already knew. It seemed likely that Adam’s behavior problems were related to boredom and frustration. To test this theory, the psychologist recommended the use of Winebrenner’s (1992) “Most Difficult First” strategy. With this strategy, the teacher identifies the most difficult portion of an assignment and the student is allowed to attempt that portion of the assignment first. If he or she completes it with 100% accuracy, the student is excused from the remainder of the assignment and allowed to use his or her free time to pursue an alternate activity.
Adam was resistant to this strategy at first, but he quickly saw its advantages and began completing those assignments that were modified using the strategy. With guidance from the school psychologist, Adam’s teacher then extended modifications to include pretesting and compacting opportunities across the curriculum. Adam used his time earned from compacting to pursue independent projects and recreational reading, and his behavior problems decreased accordingly.
The focus of educational services for high-ability students is shifting to the regular classroom. While this expansion of services to the regular classroom is a welcome recognition of the need to challenge high-ability students all day, every day, this initiative also brings with it a significant need to train regular education teachers. Support staff such as educators of gifted and talented students and school psychologists must learn to become effective consultants to assist regular classroom teachers in applying instructional strategies appropriate for meeting the needs of high-ability students.