We all keep hearing how important it is to differentiate instruction. Most of the time, we (or at least me!) are worrying about helping the lower achieving students succeed. Here's what I'm wondering. How do YOU challenge your high achieving students in your own classrooms?

I don't really have any suggestions, but I do want to say that I am extremely interested in hearing what others have to say. As a student teacher this semester, I have spent so much time simply putting together a cohesive lesson that I haven't had the chance to think about how it could be modified for the high achievers. The closest I have seen in the classroom the past few weeks is to pair high achievers with someone who needs a little help, but I don't really consider that differentiated instruction. My mentor teacher briefly mentioned that he used to do contract grading. The first day of the semester the students would choose the grade they wanted to earn in the course after looking over the requirements for each. Has anyone tried this? It sounds like it would be a great way to let each student work on his or her own level (and apparently it really helps to cut down on time spent grading). ~Briana~

I have heard of doing different spelling lists, but I don't know how you give several different spelling tests each week. Lit Circles is another way to challenge students, but what about math? Science? English or Basal Reading?

shelly07 I am a first year teacher. I teach 6th grade math. My advance class are made up od moslty high 4s. The dynamics of this group is complelty differeent than my other tow classes made up of low 3s to 1s. The class is mostly Asians/ They are highly competitive with driven parents. They are extremley quiet. They prefer to work independenlty and hates group work. I can tell that they are bored and not challanged at times. I feel as though I am failing them. I too am at a loss as how to differentiate for the advance child. LOOKING FOR HELP AND SUGGESTIONS!

I have a multi-age class, and we don't work by grade level material, but by what the kids need, so I am doing this constantly! I do have spelling groups. I have three groups, and they do spelling centers on Monday while I work with the small groups. For example, this week, my low group was doing words ending with double L, F, or S like miss, off, will. My middle group did sion/tion endings, and my high group doesn't do spelling at all, but vocabulary. In math we have been doing multiplication. The younger group (mostly 3rd, but a couple 4th grade) was counting out multiples on the hundreds chart and writing out the skip counting patterns. They are making a little multiplication book, so that they can use it as a reference. My older group (mostly 4th, but a couple 3rd) used a 100's chart to find all the prime numbers, and did several activities with prime numbers this week, including first brainstorming with the x facts they knew to find the prime numbers of 1-40 in small groups (10 numbers each group) and then used the hundreds chart to find the rest. So everyone was using the 100 chart, they were just doing different things. When we were doing the number line a few months ago, the older group used a number line that explored negatives and positives -20 through +20, while the other group did adding and subtracting on a number line 0-100. In general, if we are all doing the same thing, I will give the kids who need it larger numbers to work with. This year I have grouped things a lot, but in past years we have all worked together. Sometimes this means almost all the class uses the math manipulatives, but the highest kids use graph paper instead... like when making arrays. I would give the kids numbers under 36, but the high group under 100. This works, but is not the best way to differentiate, because those high kids who were making arrays for 50, still finish before the other kids! I prefer working in small groups and using centers. My centers are also differentiated, and the kids do not play the same games at all. I did a lesson the other day on how to play games (actions that make us feel good/bad) and we brainstormed positive behaviors during games (since tears erupted during games twice last week!) Afterwards I let them pick ANY of the games we play during literacy centers. One group picked a game the other group always plays and they were like "this game is too easy!" They couldn't believe it. They really had no idea up until that point that the other group played easier games. I like this because it takes out the stigma of being high or low.

I think it's important to add, that my warm up in math every day usually IS whole group. For example this week, we were all skip counting on the hundreds chart for about 3 minutes before we went off into groups as a warm up. I usually do an easier number like 3, then challenge the group to do a harder number like 17. When I did the number line work I mentioned, we also would play some number line games together. These are generally whole class games from my third grade group, as I would not want to set the younger kids up for failure in front of the whole class by giving them really hard work. However, sometimes just as a demonstration, I will show them something like long division if it comes up. My other kids were working on long division a couple weeks ago, and today we were trying to figure out how many birthdays someone's 93 year old grandma has had, since she was born on leap day. The older kids said, "we can divide to find out" so one of them demonstrated on the board. I know my younger kids can't do this yet, and have not been exposed, but I think it's good for them to see what other kids do from time to time. At the end of the math session, we often share a little. (I follow reader's workshop model for math, since it has worked so well for reading!)

I use a lot of groups and open ended tasks to cater for the wide spread of ability in my class. I try to spend as much time with the bright kids as I do with the slow learners - they are just as important. My 28 kids also have individual spelling lists each week. Their words come from their writing or from whatever we've been working on that week (our integrated unit or a spelling rule/group) and the kids pair up on test day and test and correct for each other. Then they bring the test to me for a final check. I've found this much more successful and meaningful than giving kids words they already know or words they may not need when more common words are still not known.

Mrs LC, How many words are on your individual lists? I do 10 pattern words, and 5 individual words from their writing. How long does it take you to create the lists each week?

Most of my differentiation happens with station activities and the question techniques I use during whole group. Math: I will do more whole group lessons at the beginning of the unit. All of the students will do the worksheets provided by Harcourt (ick....way too easy). Then I will follow it up with several different math games. I make the games, because Harcourt Math for K doesn't provide much enrichment besides harder worksheets. For reading: mainly differentiate with my reading groups and station activities. Ex: we have been working on -op family words. With my low group we will make the words pop, hop, cop, mop, top. While my high group is making those words plus words like shop, chop, crop, flop, etc. I have both easy and harder games at the ABC center.

Differentiating your curriculum for your advanced learners is one of the most important things you can do to help your students score well on standardized tests. In our local paper test scores are published for each district, then we're compared again in the major paper that is distributed state wide. Your principal and superintendent know how well your kids score as well. You'll establish your reputation and it won't be long before the principal recommends students for your class or Mrs. Smith's for the really smart kids. One way to differentiate is with your mathematics. We always get 4 supplemental books to go along w/our main teacher's edition. The Extended book and a Problem Solving book are used for allowing "applied practice" with learning a new skill which is higher order thinking. It's not just the rote regrouping. You might already use the "Reteaching" book with your struggling students. When I was in a regular classroom (I'm in an identified gifted class now.) I was in a district where they used a pull-out program for the gifted & I used the Problem Solving & Extended Thinking books. I simply copied 10 copies for those children and at the same time I copied about 10 for the reteaching or extra practice. At one point I copied 20 of each set & let the kids decide if they wanted to be challenged or not. For your very bright students, you might want to borrow a grade level higher or ever two levels higher math teacher edition & student's book. Have a mini conference with the child about a skill, put them to work on their own & even let them check their own work. You'll want to review it too. I've put students who are in second grade in a fifth grade math book & it worked beautifully the entire year. There's a national publication: A Nation Deceived How America Holds Back It's Brightest Students, you can look at the report (even download it or they'll send you a hard copy) at: http://www.nationdeceived.org/. Of course more challenging spelling words are good as well as making sure they're in the proper reading level book.

One of the things I do in my room to differntiate and challenge my brighter students has to do with conferencing. I guess I just never realized that I was already doing it! I conference with my students over their weekly writing assignment. We edit and revise together. With my higher students, I challenge them to expand ideas, use new vocabulary, think outside of the box, etc. For my lower achievers, I spend more time reading their paper out loud to them to help them hear where the missing periods or commas should be.

With the brighter students, especially, I'd spend less time pushing the test prep as such and more time exploring aspects that the usual curriculum doesn't have time for.

My district is all about curriculum, curriculum, curriculum. At any given time our Curriculum, Instruction, and Assesment admin. can (and has for other people) come into my room and ask which objective from the curriculum I am teaching. I just try to "stretch" the objective the best I can.

I have individualized spelling lists for some of my students who have shown that they are excelling at the regular list. I also use Accelerated Math with my students who are doing well in math. It can be used for remedial work as well, but I try to use it as a reward with my higher students. They are usually the ones more motivated to work individually anyway. I also come up with special projects to extend learning for my higher reading group and try to meet with them on an individual basis every couple of days. They are responding well and are learning to push themselves rather than just wait to be told "what to do next". They have gone from constatntly needing me to give them something to do, to working on their own.

How did they preform on the standardize test with this method. What topics did you spend time on, was it material from the next grade level up?

I am so glad this topic was posted. I have had very little experience with gifted students. In my last district they were clustered into two other rooms. I usually had cluster for the struggling students. By nature I think I have an easier time differentiating for the struggling students. I did, however, have one gifted student who was not identified until the middle of the school year with me(he was new to the district). I have to say I don't think I challenged him. Now that I am on the job hunt I have been asked that "differentiated for gifted question." I think I responded well, but it really got me to thinking about what would I really do. I am applying in districts that have very high standards and parent's who want to see the school help their child achieve their full potential. The ideas posted have incredible. Especially, about using the teacher materials from other grade levels. HootOwl I see that you teach gifted. I would love learn more about creating a classroom that nurtures their gifts/talents. Do you have any suggestions? :thanks:

I have read Teaching Gifted Kids in the Regular Classroom: Strategies and Techniques Every Teacher Can Use to Meet the Academic Needs of the Gifted and Talented by Susan Winebrenner & Pamela Espeland and found it to be full of interesting ideas to challenge gifted learners. I can't wait to get into my own classroom and try it out!

You might find copies in your school library. That's where I found my copy (beats paying for it on Amazon or eBay).

If not in the school library, possibly in a district resource library, or by inter-library loan, or something of the like.

I teach kindergarten and most of my students are roughly on the same level. I have a few students that I ask to go a little further than the rest. It helps that I have guided reading and guided writing so that I can talk to them individually about reading/writing. Some of my low writers are focusing on sounding out words and some of the higher students are working on capitals and periods. For center time I ask my higher students to do more. For read the room most students complete the list and turn it in. My higher students write 1-2 sentences using 1-2 words (they have a number of lines to fill up with 1-2 sentences). The biggest problem area with differentiating right now is math. Math in kindergarten is so varied that there is no real high/low group. Some kids can count to 100 but cant tell you if 5 or 10 is more and some kids know all the shapes (even 3D) but can't write numbers to 20. Math is still fairly whole group so that they catch what they need week to week. Once we really get into addition and subtraction I will be able to differentiate more in math.

I'll have to look for that book. It sounds like it could be a great help to me in my classroom. Thanks for sharing!

Great suggestions. I love the idea of using the next grade level up to challenge the advanced child. How does the teacher in the upper grade feel about that. I ask because my school does not encourage this because it is felt the next year they will be bored as well. I primarily teach out of Impact, which I have to use. But I confess I try to use other sources to challenge these advanced learners. I have assagined projects that involve higher order thinking. They seem to enjoy this. But how else can I excite and challenge them inside the classroom. Although I know that this group know the material. I feel the need to cover all of the masteral set forth by the state standards. I am finding it hard to balance between differentiation and getting through the material for the state test. Any suggestions?

I have been teaching the next grade up, but the other teachers are not so happy about that. Be careful. When I do, I don't use the curriculum from our math program for instance, I will use supplementary materials or materials from another program. For example, my mentor teacher years ago gave me an older version of the 5th grade Everyday student books. I have been using activities from that with my high 3rd and 4th graders. Since we don't use EM, there is not much likelihood of them encountering the activities presented in the same way. I know they will probably learn similar things next year, but hopefully that teacher will differentiate as well.

I missed this, MissFroggy, sorry for the late response. My kids get 10 words per week. As I mark their writing (that's time consuming, especially in the upper grades, but has to be done whether I use the words later or not) I write any errors on a sticky note. On Monday morning the kids get their new spelling words for the week. First, it's any errors from last week. Then it's any words from their sticky notes. If they are still not up to ten then they choose words from our pattern and brainstorm charts or the dictionary. They then bring the list to me and I check that they've copied correctly and that the words are appropriate. The kids take about ten minutes to write their list and it only takes me about 5 minutes to check over their words. It's easy once you get in routine. All of the kids' words go in a small book (5 columns - list words and one column for each day Mon, Tues, Wed, Thurs. On Friday we test. The kids do Look, Say, Cover, Write, Check each night.) which becomes my record of words covered.

thanks for the suggestions on using alternate material. In my school teachers are very possessive of there grade materail.

I do a few things this year, since I have a large population of gifted 6th graders. For math: I teach the same lesson to the whole class and let them have a little bit of white board practice. Then I give a 5 question assessment. They have about 10 minutes to do this. We correct it in class and, depending on their score, they have an assignment to do. For students who didn't miss any, they can work on the "enrichment page" (usually a critical thinking page to go along with the skill), the problem of the day, and sometimes a fun extra activity. Students who miss 1 problem work on the book assignment and the problem of the day if they finish. Students who miss 2 or more problems work on the "Reteach page," and get a little extra teaching time with me. I try to pull two groups a day during math for extra attention, it doesn't always work. I haven't been doing too much differentiation in Language Arts, mostly because I just don't know how. But, next week, my accelerated students (a group of 8) are beginning a novel study. I have two groups: 1 is reading "Maniac Magee" the other is reading "Holes." They will be reading with their groups in class, analyzing the text, and doing a culminating project of their choice. We'll see how it goes. In spelling I give a pretest to everyone and if somebody passes with 19 or 20 correct, they get a list of 10 words from the spelling bee list and do alternate activities. I also have read the book that was stated above. Great ideas!

Great ideas, thanks! I seem to have a lot of books full of ideas and activities to differentiate, but what I am looking for is a book that will show me how to tie it all together within the framework of my lessons...does that even make sense?! I guess I am looking more for sample lesson plans and management ideas of how accomodate the groups I will have and how to tie it all together, rather than more lists of activity ideas. Anyone know of such a book...

I love that this topic was posted as well! I teach first and I have kids right now who, in reading, range from a level C (my students in Reading Recovery and students with special needs) to a level Q! To try to use the basal and fit it to all of them was too difficult. Fortunately, my principal is wonderful and understands that you do what you do to teach ALL the children! With that said, I try to differentiate at any time possible. I do a spelling pretest, and students who test out of that take a more difficult test using the same rule (for example, ee makes a long e sound) but with more difficult words (compound, blends or silent letters, non-sight words, etc). I don't do MORE words - why should a kid who is bright do MORE work? - just DIFFERENT words. Centers are leveled similarly as well. Games have various levels - Dolch words for second and third grade instead of Dolch words from the primer and first grade lists. When doing a guided reading response, some of my struggling students might do a "Someone... Wants to... But... So..." response (To get at character, plot, conflict, and resolution). For my higher students, I give them a more complex story map with higher-order ideas like theme (still difficult for first graders at times). In social studies/science, I will often teach through read alouds, then give choice boards (mentioned in the Winebrenner book someone talked about in a prior post) in which students can do activities of their choosing. ALL students can do this, but I am careful to give choices that include more writing, art, reading, research, speaking, etc to get at all the intelligences. Basically, it looks like a tic-tac-toe board, and the students make a line connecting three activity choices. Those are the three activities they do. They have some choice, and you have some choice (you choose placement, so you can help make sure they can't get away with three REALLY easy assignments). Finally.... I'm looking to do guided math next year. We use EDM, but I'm finding I have some kids who whip through it in 10 minutes and some kids who need 30. AGH! I'd rather have purposeful teaching at challenging levels for each child. (For example, we recently learned quarters. Some kids are ready to learn about how to give change. I'd teach those kids how to give change in their guided math groups while other children might learn about the coin combinations that make 25 cents.) YES... it does step on the next grade teacher's toes a bit. But should that keep you from helping a child learn what they're ready for?

I just found this today. I look at test scores from the previous year to see what their strengths & weaknesses are, I do an interest inventory, I also give comprehensive math tests as well as spelling tests to see what they need to learn. I'm also bound by the district's and State curriculum guidelines, but still differientiate. I've had kids who really needed their very own gifted IEP. If parents pushed for it, they'd probably get it and rightfully should. If I had time I just do it and I might do so in the future for the highly gifted. I keep 3rd, 4th, and 5th grade math books & teacher's editions in my room and let kids work in them independently. I spend a few minutes w/them teaching a concept, they know where the teacher's ed. is and they check their own work. I go over anything they dont' understand. They still test on 2nd grade material and that's what I'm required to post as their grades. We write a lot, publish books, anthologies, and play chess when we have time. We have two chess tournaments a year w/neighboring districts which is great. One-hundred kids, 2nd & 3rd grade, fill a gym and it's deathly quiet except for chess pieces touching. Their minds are like sponges, absorbing everything. They're motivated, parents support them, and they're just soooo sweet.

Great ideas. I have tried your suggesstions with my advanced classes. Excpet I broke them into groups and let them choose the grade level and topic to cover. Then I had groups share their solutions with the class. It was a learning experience for all. However, it was very time consuming. I would do this maybe once a month.

We work really hard to have different materials, eg. spelling words or different math texts than the grade above. I wouldn't blame a 3rd grade teacher for being angry that a second grade teacher has already taught my curriculum, and most importantly, fairness to the child has to be considered. We use a totally different text company. The initial expense was a little high, but well worth the cost. Just think of the expenditures we use for other special groups of children. With NCLB gifted kids are really being swept under the rugs.