A teacher–centric, direct–instruction focused classroom simply doesn’t make the most of gifted minds. Group collaboration, investigation, literature discussions, are powerful models for enabling gifted students work to the potential.
The labels “discussion,” “collaboration,” and “investigation” give an air of unstructured café conversations. A novice might simply ask their students to “discuss the story we read” and expect enlightenment. They are gifted after all!
However, structure is an essential element to all learning. When planning for group discussions, you may not have to craft a direct–instruction plan, but you must plan the experience in a way that leads students to success and proactively combats personality problems.
Many methods of learning include a group work element. The formation of groups is an essential first step to a successful experience.
Naturally, you’ll use relevant academic data to structure collaboration. You don’t want a math genius and a struggling student working an algebra problem together. Unless their personalities fit beautifully, this is a recipe for frustration for both of them (and you). Gifted students operating at about the same level will be more successful than those with a wide range of abilities.
Simply creating leveled groups won’t prevent your problems. Putting the highest-level students together to challenge each other, while you work with those who most need your assistance all at once seems like a perfect scenario. However, you may end up with a group of leaders who can’t give up control, plus a group that completely lacks leadership and focus.
Use your understanding of your students to alleviate these issues. Knowing their personalities and relationships can go a long way towards building peaceful, productive groups. Shift students around in until you’ve eliminated known personality problems, yet kept their levels reasonably close.
And even after all this, as they begin to work you will have unexpected conflicts and surprisingly visionless groups. Jot it down, and use it as data for next time!
You can also prevent infighting by giving specific jobs. This will give focus to groups without leaders, and will bring peace to groups with nothing but.
Jobs can be as simple as selecting a paper passer, a writer, and a reader, or you can make them as complex as David Chung‘s Think Like A Disciplinarian Literature Circles.
Even though your students are gifted, they’ll need need scaffolding just like anyone else, especially since you’re stretching them to heights beyond their years. If you simply toss them in, you’re guaranteed confusion, frustration, and disappointment.
Continue to aim for grand heights, but build steps so students can find their way up. These rungs also act as formative assessments, so you can monitor progress early, rather than waiting until the final product and feeling let down.
Your students can create movie trailers for books and write their own music, but they should never leap directly into the final product. Build a series of “pre–writing” activities to build them towards their masterpiece.
Give An Example
Not only do your students need careful scaffolding, but they also need an example. Nothing enlightens their understanding like seeing you do the steps right before them. You need to show them how to do it, especially if you’re pushing them towards something novel and challenging.
Constantly Check In
Perhaps you students will need thirty minutes to get through the task, but given an uninterrupted half an hour to work, student productivity is bound to decline. And, ing the end, you’ll end up with groups who went in the wrong direction or worked to a low–level of thinking.
Instead, tell them they have five minutes to get their first example written down. Set a timer. Walk around and look for symptoms of faulty directions, poorly planned groups, and general confusion. When the timer dings, get their attention, and re–explain if necessary.
Then ask for some sample findings. They won’t have much, but they’ll get to hear others’ ideas and make sure they’re on solid footing.
Adjust the time for the next section as necessary. Increase the time if they’re off to a great start. Give another short segment if everyone needs to rework their first step. Eventually, you’ll find a period that allows students to get into a groove but keeps them from losing focus.