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A great quote addressing a common misconception from Dina Brulles and Sara Winebrenner (emphasis mine):
Surprising to some, gifted students do not make the best academic leaders because of their ability to learn more quickly and with less effort than others.
Gifted kids don’t just learn faster… they learn differently. Brulles and Winebrenner continue:
Teachers recognize that many gifted students are abstract learners who make intuitive leaps in their thinking processes. They make connections between ideas and concepts that others do not make. They do not always follow the same linear-sequential steps as others when solving problems or reaching conclusions.
Since they think differently than other students, they cannot explain their thinking to other students. The result:
Therefore, they are frequently incapable of guiding others who learn in a more traditional manner, and are often impatient with classmates that learn more slowly than they.
But… They’re Done So Quickly!
Some kids chew up tasks and spit them out. Before you can sit back down, they’re asking, “What do I do now?“
Instead of asking gifted kids to tutor their peers, develop:
- a differentiated task that is more appropriate to their needs, and that they won’t finish so quickly.
- a system where kids can easily move onto a known activity after finishing required work, such as independent studies or ongoing creative works.
Weekly, Not Daily, Tasks
In my class, I tried to focus on larger, weekly tasks, due on Friday. These would be hefty enough so that kids could fill their free time throughout the week as needed.
Make parts of this task optional. This will help kids who want to take on the bigger task, but simply don’t have the free time that your fastest-moving students have. They can complete the required parts, but leave the optional pieces unfinished.
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These larger tasks really work best when you can incorporate student talents.
For example, rather than assigning a spelling task each day of the week, have students write a brief story using a more advanced set of words. As an option, let them illustrate the story, record an audio-book, or prepare a play for Friday.
The Ongoing Project
Then, if students finish their story before Friday, and have added an artistic element, and still need something to do, they can pick up their interest-based research project, experiment, or other creative task that has a longer (perhaps month-long) time-frame.
In each case, the tasks have to touch on students’ passions, interests, and talents. Otherwise, we’re just assigning more work.
Kids should know what to move onto next. It can be as simple as an ordered list on the whiteboard for that week. Feel free to incorporate choices into the list as well. However you set it up, students should go to the list, not you, for their next step.
And, for those kids who truly fly through everything (and produce quality work), don’t be afraid to ask them, “What would you like to do with your free time this week?” They might have a great idea that you would never have thought of.