Working with a student who is bored in math? Quickly finishing lessons? Needs something more? Here are three ways you can get started differentiating in math.
Gifted students are, by definition, ready for thinking and content beyond their current grade level. This research from several different states found that 11% to 30% of students in general classrooms were performing a year beyond their current grade in math!
Many kids are ready for next year’s content.
The simplest way to differentiate is to move students ahead faster. If Judith is ready for the next lesson, unit, or grade’s content, then give it to her!
This is cheap (you don’t have to buy a new program or attend special professional development) and simple (no one has to plan extra lessons).
Most folks accomplish acceleration by having a student go to a different class just for math. Judith is in 4th grade, but ready for 5th-grade math? She can walk over to Mr. Ramirez’s 5th-grade math class and then return to 4th grade. Simple.
This gets tricky when next year’s math is at middle-school, but you teach elementary. Here’s how teachers I’ve met accomplish this:
- If you have a critical mass of students ready for next year’s math, one teacher takes those advanced students (their students are dispersed to the other classes for math), they teach next year’s lessons, and then everyone returns to their regular class after math.
- If your middle school is close enough, students can go there for math, and then return. I know several schools for whom this works out nicely.
Deciding not to go the simple route of accelerating? The next possibility is to extend the grade level’s lessons. Basically, you’re going to develop more advanced versions of your current lessons and teach them to a small group you’ve identified through pre-assessment. (See why acceleration is the simple route? I’m already sweating.)
Important note: you’re not giving any students both lessons. Gifted kids don’t do twice the work, they just do the extended work. They don’t need the regular lesson, they need the extended lesson.
I’ve written a whole article about how I ran multiple, differentiated math groups in my own classroom.
When we extend, we’re not just giving harder work. We are aiming for complexity. This means increasing the thinking skill.
- Here are some of my favorite ideas and resources that demonstrate how to get students thinking in math, rather than just doing harder calculations.
- We can also extend students’ learning through larger math projects that push students’ thinking up Bloom’s Taxonomy.
- An extended math lesson might use a different model of instruction (such as concept attainment or a group investigation or an inductive lesson.
So option two is to extend: stay on your grade-level standards but push the thinking higher.
Finally, when we can enrich. This means we go beyond our grade-level standards and pull in ideas outside of the typical curriculum. This might mean math-y art, or engineering challenges, or roller coaster design, and so on.
Beware: Enrichment can give gifted programs a bad name. Too often I see folks take the easy way out and use enrichment as an excuse for playing games and coloring in worksheets. Enrichment should not be fluff. It must include high-levels of thinking.
My personal favorite way of enriching in math is to bring in authentic math curiosities that have boggled the minds of real mathematicians.
Ok! So those are three possibilities to get started with differentiating. Keep it simple if you’re just starting out. And nothing will help you more than getting into another classroom for twenty minutes to see a differentiated classroom in action.
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