By Todd Stanley
Even before this massive school shutdown, some schools and teachers were finding difficulties in coming up with ways to challenge their gifted students. We cannot overlook these students in the virtual classroom either. Here are five things teachers can do to meet the needs of gifted children in a virtual classroom:
1. Don’t just give them more work, make sure there are options for those who are ready for a challenge
One solution a lot of teachers go to is simply giving gifted students more work. “You got that done more quickly than the rest of the class, here are some more of these problems for you to work on to keep you occupied.” When posting an assignment virtually, are there options for increasing levels of challenge? For example, if you assign math problems, give them the five most difficult first. If students can answer those with no problem, rather than making them do 15 more problems of the same ilk, give them a new set of more challenging problems or allow them to create their own problems for others to solve.
2. Find ways to encourage them to enrich themselves
When gifted students do finish early, you would normally have things placed in the room for them to challenge themselves with, whether it be brain teasers, STEM corners, or games. You have to be more inventive in the virtual classroom but you can put things out there that will allow students to enrich themselves. I have created enrichment videos which I send out to the teachers in my district that they can use as an option for students. Teachers provide a link to the video in their Google Classroom and students can decide whether they want to take the challenge on or not. You can find these enrichment videos at www.thegiftedguy.com/enrichment. Other enrichment suggestions can be as simple as providing a link to an interesting online game, providing a reading list with above grade-level choices, or suggesting they learn a new hobby.
3. Stop putting ceilings on work
One thing you can do to allow for differentiation to happen organically is to give students assignments without a ceiling. An easy way to do this is to ask questions that do not have a definitive answer. Here is an example of a close-ended question:
Who were the major nations involved in World War II?
This is definitely something that has a correct answer and once students have answered it, there is really no place to go with it. What if instead you asked the question like this:
What if the Russians had sided with the Axis forces and/or the Japanese had instead sided with the Allies? How would this have changed the dynamics of World War II?
Students can take the same information you were asking them to provide, but use it to imagine all sorts of possibilities. There would definitely not be one single answer but students would have to use facts and logic in making their decisions. Students get to use both their lower level thinking of recalling the information needed to back their decisions, while also getting to use their higher-level thinking of creativity to imagine the possibilities.
You can open up the ceiling on other assignments, whether it be math problems:
Close-ended: What does 2 + 2 equal
Open-ended: Is there a time when 2 + 2 does not equal 4?
Or writing prompts for ELA:
Close-ended: What was the setting of the story for The Great Gatsby?
Open-ended: How might The Great Gatsby be different had it not been set during the roaring twenties, or if it took place in another country?
4. Have students work on projects
Project-based learning is another learning strategy that does not have ceilings, if properly designed. What could be a better strategy for virtual learning than assigning long-term projects for students to work on that require little teacher supervision and provide students with independent learning? A project could look like this:
Going on a Trip
Big Idea: We all remember those summer vacations when our parents threw us and the suitcases into the car and drove off into the unknown. What is probably not realized is that the trip is well planned with reservations made at hotels and scheduled stops here and there.
Essential Question: If you could go anywhere in the United States, where would you go and how would you plan for your trip?
- Must be a location in the United States
- Must travel by car to get there
- Must create a budget for how much the trip is going to cost, including food, attractions, and lodging
- Must use an online program such as www.mapquest.com to plot out your trip
- Can only take 7 days for the trip
- Must spend no more than $700 on your trip.
Delivery of Project
You will plan a road trip to somewhere in the United States. You will plot out what roads you will take to reach your final destination, how many miles you will travel, where you will stay along the way, and other details. You will need to submit a budget for how you will keep your spending under $700, including meals and site seeing.
This one is especially pertinent because not many people will get to go on vacations this summer, so allowing students to fantasize about one might be a good release. You might create a timeline to keep them on track such as this:
This would act as a guide for them but most of the work would be done independently by the student.
5. Challenge students to find things they are passionate about and learn about them on their own
One thing this disruption of school is allowing us to do is to get back to basics. What I mean by this is what is the purpose of school? Is it to make sure every student receives a compulsory education or is it so we can take the love of learning that every child is born with and stoke that flame? This means getting students passionate enough about something that when they sign off for that day’s learning, they are interested in watching a Khan Academy video or continuing to read about a topic. It means you get them so excited about something that they want to explore it further on their own. We need to do a better job of this with all students as they adapt to learning on their own.
There is no telling what the fall is going to bring and we may very well be teaching our students virtually for some or all of the semester. These suggestions can even be taken back to the classroom, and I want to stress that these strategies are not limited to gifted students alone, but can be used with regular education students in order to challenge them as well. More now than ever, we need to find a way to meet the needs of all our students, at both ends of the spectrum and in between.
Todd Stanley is the author of many teacher-education books including Project-Based Learning for Gifted Students, When Smart Kids Underachieve in School, and his latest, Promoting Rigor Through Higher Level Questioning. He served as a classroom teacher for 18 years and is currently the gifted services coordinator for Pickerington Local Schools. You can follow him on Twitter @the_gifted_guy or visit his website at www.thegiftedguy.com, where you can access blogs, resources, and free PD presentations.