Here’s a top five common question I get:
What do I do with my early finishers?
I certainly asked it myself. But, I do believe that I was asking the wrong question. I should have been asking, “Why are my students finishing so darn fast in the first place?“
Why Is Everyone Still So Hungry?
Well, it’s kind of like asking, “Why are my dinner guests still hungry after my dinner?” The answer is that I didn’t plan a big enough meal! Grabbing random snacks from my cupboard won’t be a real solution. My initial plan was to limited.
Likewise, most of the tasks I assigned were simply too simple. My students were ready for an entrée, but I had only prepared bite-sized appetizers. And then, when they’d come to me like Oliver asking for more, I’d give them more bite-sized tasks to try to keep them busy. That works in an emergency, but it’s not a real solution.
The real solution for early finishers isn’t to frantically try to keep up with them once they’ve finished. I needed to plan a sufficiently complex task to begin with. I didn’t need seven backup worksheets. I needed a single task with a high ceiling and a nicely scaffolded floor. Kids finish tic-tac-toe early; they don’t finish chess early!
Now, not every kid will get to every step of this complex task. But that’s the idea! That’s differentiation. Not everyone does everything.
Over at Byrdseed.TV, I wanted to write a lesson about reflective symmetry. Rookie Ian would have started with the grade-level expectation of “identify which shapes have horizontal symmetry.” But some of students would chew that up in five seconds. Then I’d be stuck with those pesky early finishers. I’d reach for random worksheets or the dreaded “go read a book in the corner.”
Instead, I tried to aim high. I started with the idea of students writing entire sentences using only letters with horizontal symmetry. How much can you write so that the whole piece can be folded over onto itself? For example, “OH I COOK ICE” is a sentence with horizontal symmetry.
Of course, I scaffold down. We start simple, with squares and triangles. Then we look at letters. Then whole words. And only then do we get to full sentences. And, again, not everyone will get there. But I am less likely to have “early finishers” because I aimed high. This task will expand naturally for my cleverest kids.
So, if you find yourself wondering, “What do I do with these early finishers?” Instead, start planning for those early finishers and they won’t finish so darn early!