The Puzzle of Differentiation: 4 Key Pieces
At this point in the educational school year, parents, students, and staff should be enjoying the benefits of a differentiated curriculum as students would have indicated by now their abilities, interests, and goals to those facilitating their educational experiences. Differentiation is not a difficult puzzle to solve; it simply means matching the curriculum with the learner. Yet, in too many cases, you may find it is nonexistent.
How do we solve the puzzle of differentiation? First, we learn from the curriculum models that exist in the field of gifted education. Most of them favor an inquiry-based model of instruction, though curricula based only on higher order processes and independent study yield few studies of student impacts, and those are not consistent. The strongest body of research evidence supports the use of advanced core curricula at an accelerated rate for high ability learners, suggesting that best practice would be to group gifted students instructionally by subject area for advanced curriculum work that would be flexibly organized and implemented based on students’ documented level of learning within the subject area.
While there are barriers to successful differentiation of this kind, such as lack of professional development in gifted education, insufficient teacher planning time, and lack of administrative support for differentiation, there are actions that can be taken to increase the likelihood that gifted students will receive the educational program they need and require. In summary these actions should include the following:
- Engaging the entire school community in committing to providing a differentiated education for its gifted students.
- Ensuring that teachers are working within a professional learning community that supports them in advancing their skills and encourages peer support as well as provides administrative support.
- Deciding on a programming model that will be supported by the professional community as well as the students and parents and build in sufficient training, planning and budget support to ensure its success in implementation.
- Reviewing progress in differentiation at least yearly through student, parent, and staff surveys as well as other data that shows that students are progressing at a level commensurate with their ability.
Differentiation is not a puzzle that is too hard to solve. Teamwork, time, and talent are all that is needed to reverse this troubling trend of disappearing differentiation for our talented youth. We all can play a role in facilitating these processes through action, support, advocacy, and communication. If you have anecdotes to share where you have been successful at increasing differentiation for students, please do share so that more folks can benefit from your experience.
At SIG we are in the midst of preparing our own pieces of the differentiation puzzle through summer and online programs. Our enrichment courses support the efforts of schools to extend the commitment of differentiation beyond the school day, provide teachers with training and opportunity to challenge their traditional approaches to thinking and learning, and provide a learning environment that is focused on student goals and passions. Check out our 2018 programs on our website giftedstudy.org.
If you would like a more detailed paper on the subject of differentiation, please feel free to contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.