On February 15-16, 2018, the Elementary Campus staff was fortunate enough to be able to work with Dr. Lannie Kanevsky (http://www.sfu.ca/education/faculty-profiles/lkanevsky.html) on Differentiating Strategies for our gifted learners. Dr. Kanevsky’s work is largely based on the work of another researcher in the field of gifted education, Dr. June Maker (https://www.coe.arizona.edu/sites/coe/files/june_medium_vita_2016.pdf).

Dr. Kanevsky presented a lot of research findings, strategies and tools to our teachers as they worked in grade group teams to build units of study for their students. This work is ongoing, and we will continue to access Dr. Kanevsky via videoconference to conduct progress updates on these units of study.

Westmount has worked with Dr. Kanevsky previously. She presented to the entire Westmount staff 3 years ago, and worked with the Mid-High campus on assessment strategies last year.

I am including a list of strategies that are recommended in differentiated classrooms for gifted learners. I am including these below so that you can get a sense of the elements that go into programming for your children.

Brief Definitions of Maker’s Differentiation Strategies

For detailed descriptions and examples, please refer to Chapter 4 of the Tool Kit for High End Differentiation (Kanevsky, 2017), possibilitiesforlearning.com, or Curriculum Development and Learning Strategies for Gifted Learners (Maker & Nielson, 1996).

Content Options (Ideas to Learn) Content: The knowledge, skills, and disciplines to be learned in the activity.

Abstractness (p. 6): The major focus should be on abstract concepts, themes, and theories–ideas that have a wide range of applicability or potential for transfer both within and across disciplines or fields of study. Concrete information and factual data are intended as illustrations or examples of the abstract ideas rather than as the major focus.

Complexity (p. 7): Complex content focuses on the interconnections among concepts, principles, generalizations and theories. It is often interdisciplinary. Its complexity can be found by examining the number and complexity of concepts involved and the number and complexity of the disciplines or traditional content areas that must be understood or integrated to comprehend the idea.

Extracurricular Topics (p. 10): The content will include ideas and content areas not taught in the regular curriculum. It may include the student’s interests.

Lives and Living (p. 11): The content may include biographies, autobiographies and interviews to enable students to learn how other exceptional individuals have dealt with their own talents, successes, failures, joys, mistakes, struggles, peers, family, etc. An analysis of this information can stimulate their social and psychological development. Mentorships and “shadowing” can provide students with opportunities to interact with real, passionate, committed, goal-directed individuals in their community.

Re-organization Content for Learning Value (p. 12): The content of an entire unit addresses a broad, interdisciplinary theme (like “systems” or “patterns”) rather than small, sequential bits of information. Content is arranged in interdisciplinary units. Students investigate the relationships among key concepts and principles in order to develop the integrative processes they will need in order to enhance their ability to construct richer understandings and more efficient skills for processing new skills and knowledge within and across disciplines in the future.

Real Life Topics (p. 13): The content should address problems or provocative questions suggested by or of interest to the student. Examples include issues, controversies, problems or provocative questions inspired by students’ interests, experiences, questions and concerns. Students may need help focusing, analyzing, and/or defining their topic or questions. Students may need help focusing, analyzing and/or defining their questions.

Self-selected Content (p. 15): The student chooses the content. Some will need help choosing and reducing their interests to topics that are manageable.
Process Options (Ways to Learn) Process: The thinking and/or feeling processes used to acquire knowledge, skills, and dispositions.

Complex Thinking (p. 17): Emphasize learning processes (verbs) that stress the use, rather than the acquisition of information (higher level thinking, critical thinking, creative thinking, etc.). Students apply the thinking to new situations, use it to develop new knowledge, products, or ideas, and evaluate its appropriateness.

Expert Methods of Inquiry (p. 19): Learning with and about methods used by experts in a discipline. These methods should include means of locating and managing resources, production techniques, communication techniques, etc. This will enable students to better understand the disciplines, and will enhance their independence and ability to contribute new knowledge.

Group Interaction (p. 21): High ability students have opportunities to collaborate with each other on challenging tasks. Groups should be based on readiness and learning potential.

Individual Pursuits (p. 23): Individual projects on which students work relatively independently but with the support of a teacher or mentor available as needed.

Inquiry-based-learning (25): Students engage in problem-, project- or design-based learning experiences to discover patterns, ideas, and underlying principles. Students take greater responsibility for their learning than in deductive learning experiences. Such guided discovery increases interest through involvement in learning as it makes use of students’ extraordinary curiosity, desire to figure out the how and why of things, and their desire to organize and bring structure to things. It also increases self-confidence and independence in learning by showing students they are capable of figuring things out for themselves.

Open-endedness (p. 28): Learning activities should include more open than closed questions and activities. These have no predetermined right answer. They are provocative, stimulating flexible, divergent thinking about a topic.

Pacing (p. 30): Students are permitted to learn at a pace commensurate with their abilities in order to maintain interest and provide a developmentally appropriate level of challenge. They may be ready to advance more quickly through content or slow down to investigate a topic deeply.

Reasoning & Reflection (p. 33): Students explain their conclusions and the reasoning that led to them as well as the metacognitive aspects of their thinking. They are encouraged to evaluate both the process and products of their own and others’ thinking. This accesses higher levels of thinking and enables students to learn different reasoning processes from others when they are shared. They are encouraged to evaluate both the process and products of others’ thinking. This sharing also gives teachers insight on students’ thinking for assessment purposes.

Self-selected Process (p. 35): Students should be given the freedom to choose the ways in which they learn whenever possible. Their interest and excitement in learning will be increased; however, not all gifted students are independent learners. Some may need assistance identifying their preferences or following through on their choices. Variety (p. 37): Over time, students experience a variety of methods of thinking and feeling in order to maintain their interest and expand their collection of learning strategies. These learning strategies can be involved in different types of problems, resources and technologies.

Product Options (Showing Your Learning) Products: Evidence of learning and how it will be evaluated.

Authentic Audiences (p. 40): The product of the learning experience should be shared with real, appropriate audiences to the greatest extent possible. This may involve the scientific community, the city council, a government agency, art critic, etc. At other times, the real audience may consist of classmates or other students in the school. The students’ teacher is not considered an authentic audience unless the product involves a topic or skill that related to the topic or skill involved in it.

Feedback & Assessment (p. 41): Products should be assessed using real, predetermined procedures and criteria, and as often as possible, by a member or members of the real audience for the product. Students should also be encouraged or required to self-evaluate their products using the same criteria.

Self-selected Product (p. 44): The student chooses an appropriate format for the product that reflects what was learned. Students’ interests, strengths, and prior experiences may influence these choices. Teachers may need to provide assistance in the selection and development of the product.

Transformations (p. 46): The product of the student’s learning should represent the new skill or knowledge in a different format than the form in which it was learned. For example, survey data can be transformed to a table or chart, or interpreted in writing.

Variety (p. 47): Students learn about and use different types of production techniques and media throughout the school year or term. They should also learn to select an appropriate format for the audience and content.

Learning Environment Options (Settings for Learning) Learning Environment: Physical, social and psychological characteristics of the situations in which students learn.

Accepting (versus judging, p. 48): The teacher and students attempt to understand each other’s ideas by requesting clarification, elaboration and extensions of ideas before approving or challenging them. Value judgments of problem solving or creative processes and products must be timed carefully so they do not interfere with the student’s progress. Evaluation (assessment of strengths and limitations) of a product is preferable to a judgment of right or wrong. Students can be encouraged to respond to each other in these ways as well.

Complex (versus simple, p. 49): Physical and psychological complexity means including a variety of materials, “tools,” electronic resources, etc., representative of a variety of cultures, professions and disciplines.

Flexible (versus rigid, p. 50): Flexibility is needed in scheduling, requirements to be met, expectations, and evaluation in order to promote optimal learning. Learners often need more time once they become engaged in complex projects. They need to work on these projects long enough to achieve a sense of autonomy, intrinsic motivation, and personal satisfaction. Participating in events outside the school may require immediate discussion (for example, current political or cultural events). Without this flexibility, highly motivated students may become extremely frustrated and feel trapped.

High Mobility (versus low mobility, p. 50): Students must have access to a range of environments, materials and equipment for optimal learning to occur. These may be within the classroom, or range off campus to community or international settings. Mobility may mean moving electronically to access resources through telecommunications.

Independent (versus dependent, p. 51): Student initiative is encouraged and students work to solve their own problems. These problems include those related to classroom management.

Learner Centered (versus teacher-centered, p. 52): Focus on the students’ ideas and interests rather than the teacher’s. Student discussions rather than teacher talk are emphasized, and patterns of interaction seldom have the teacher as the central focus.

Open (versus closed, p. 52): New people, materials, ideas, and values flow into the environment. Students need to feel free to change directions as they expand their understandings in order to attain new perspectives.

Flexible Groupings (versus fixed groupings, p. 53): Grouping arrangements should be fluid rather than static. Learning activities and their purposes will be varied and so should the groupings permitted to accomplish them. Groupings approximate real-life situations as much as possible and students are allowed to make choices about how the groups are set up.