The Challenge of Differentiated Instruction in Reg Ed Classes

As the first quarter has ended, I am beginning to catch myself standing among the frustrated gifted learners, parents, and teachers about the lack of differentiated instruction in classrooms. My first quarter was spent reaching out to regular ed teachers, EC teachers, guidance counselors, and our school’s behavioral specialist to address the concerns of high achievers and to compile strategies on what we can do to raise its awareness. It is true that “hard working students” are normed to be the good ones who receive accolades for being likable at school while some high flyers who “don’t do their work” or “being oppositional” are called “a piece of work” or “cocky”. While compliant learners go with what’s given to them,  many gifted learners don’t hesitate to show their frustration for being unproductive and that can cause others to think that they are being fussy and difficult.

For example, recently a Twice Exceptional child (I will call him X here) refused to do his work in his English class because “he didn’t feel like annotating the text”. X was clear that he didn’t feel the need to repeat what he already knew. The context of the problem was that the child was refusing to annotate the text because he already understood what he read despite the teacher’s insistence that she need evidence for his thinking process. He walked out on his teacher and got an ISS. Another gifted student, Z forgot to turn in the reading log and write his name on a worksheet he completed for class. Those two assignments dropped his A to a B. But the thing is, he is 5 years above his peers’ reading level. The child was punished for not doing what was told to do when it was clear that his area of deficit was on developing executive functioning skills. The two children seemed to be punished for something they were not wired to do.

For example, below is an email from Z’s mother.

He reads many different kinds of books and books on many different levels. Some books he’s just read are Guns Germs and Steel and Liberating Kosovo. His favorite book from last year was Arabs at War by a guy from the Council on Foreign Relations. This summer he took out adult books on the legal fight for gay marriage and how the assassination of Yitzak Rabin affected modern Israel. (He didn’t finish these before they were due, but this gives you an idea of how he’s interested in lots of things, including important historical and contemporary political issues).

In light of all the great digital tools I am engaged in this course, I am thinking about how to help the students who have such high intellectual metabolism. In a participatory culture, I need to somehow encourage those students to become engaged learners, advocates, and game changers for today’s society. Instead of being merely praised for their brilliance, they need to become leaders, makers, and innovators of today’s society.

So I am making some notes as I am looking ahead next year in helping these types of learners:

-continue to collaborate with EC specialists, regular ed teachers, guidance counselors, and admin to raise awareness on understanding a wide range of learners, especially the gifted learners who are not under the radar of most school leaders because so much emphasis is on “proficiency” and “achievement gap”

-integrate digital instructional tools to enhance learning  experience 

-explore different educational platforms to help gifted learners become more integrated into reg ed classrooms such as #makerspace, #Minecraft and other gamified instruction 

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