Meeting the Needs of Gifted Learners: Differentiating Products 5/6

Welcome! This post is the fifth (well, technically the sixth!) post in a series I've dedicated to writing about how teachers can differentiate for students in the classroom. If you'd like to read an overview of differentiation, click here. If you would like to read about pre-assessment, differentiating content, differentiating process, or to see a snapshot of how it looked in my classroom, use the words above or the sidebar to navigate to my other posts.

Today's post is all about differentiating the products that your students complete as part of their learning journey. I'll define it for you, give you some important tips, show you an example of how I did this in my gifted classroom, and I'll even give you a list of ideas you can use in your own classroom.

What Does it Mean to Differentiate Products? 

A product is what students do or make with their newly acquired learning. Products help children think
about and extend their learning. It's something that happens at the end of a lesson unit, month, semester, or even entire year of learning. It can be something as simple as having students compose a poem that reflects their learning, or compiling a portfolio of different assignments, or it can be something as complex as a student-created simulation or documentary. Products allow the teacher to assess student learning.  Products are also quite powerful tools for students to really demonstrate their understanding because they remove some of the barriers put up by traditional paper and pencil assessments. If teachers are looking to truly measure a child's science knowledge, they can devise a way to measure truly that, and not whether students have writing and organizational skills to construct a five-paragraph essay.

Differentiating the products that students produce means that they have access to completing DIFFERENT activities or projects following their learning. They complete these tasks or assignments on their own or in small groups, which allows for independence, variety, choice, and challenge. It also allows for teachers to teach the same content to their class (especially in schools where teachers are required to stay within certain grade bands/knowledge strands) while allowing for the application and synthesis of the knowledge to be expanded within the creation of the products.

An Example of How I Differentiated 

To help illustrate how you can differentiate products in your classroom, I'll give you an example from my classroom. One way I regularly incorporated product choice in my upper elementary gifted classroom was in my bi-weekly word study/vocabulary instruction. My vocabulary study for 4th and 5th graders was based on Greek and Latin roots, prefixes, and suffixes. 

  1. At the beginning of each new two-week cycle, the class and I held discussions about the new roots, prefixes, and suffixes. Students made predictions about the word parts, based on their schema, and clues from words containing the Greek and Latin morphemes. 
  2. Then, we looked at a list of about 20 words that I had provided them, and children rated their knowledge of the words using a stop-light color-coding system. Words that they already knew and could teach to others were coded green and less familiar words were coded yellow (they've heard of the word and/or have seen it, but couldn't really use it in a sentence or explain it well) or red (they had little or no idea what the word meant). The red- and yellow-coded words became their word study words for the two weeks. Occasionally, I selected one or two "must-do" words, especially if they were relevant to a unit of study or if they were mandated terms for students to know. 
  3. We met in small groups to learn more about the meaning of the words and then added them to our word-study journals, with a sketch and/or Frayer model for each unknown word.
  4. Finally, students used the red- and yellow coded words to create a variety of products. At the end of the cycle, we had product presentations. Students looked forward to presenting their products to the class, and it became a really fun bonding time and learning experience for everyone. 
You can see a couple of small examples of student work in the photos below. This is a little script from a mini-play. 

Water Words Word Study Product Choice
And pictured  below is one slide from a slideshow story a student had written incorporating her words.

Bob's Bedroom Word Study Vocabulary Story


When I first introduced the product choices to students, I was careful to model for them and show them clearly the expectations for each product choice. The only time I did not do this was when a student had their own idea for a product. For these occasions, I worked one-on-one with the student to develop the criteria for the content, quality, and creativity of the product.

We also spent quite a bit of time for the first several cycles getting out the rubric that would determine their grade, and comparing the work they had done to the rubric. We carefully examined each section of the rubric and determined the meaning of the indicators for content, quality, and creativity, giving examples AND non-examples of what each indicator meant. 

Somewhat unrelated, but I'm guessing that you may be thinking that I was extremely trusting of my students, allowing them to self-select their word study words. The reality is, you're right. I was very trusting of students to choose the words on their own, but it doesn't mean that I didn't ever question them on their choices, or double check their lists while they were working. Again, all of this was a combination of the process of me getting to know my students very well (I did loop with them for up to three years at one point!), some spot-checking on occasion, some informal pretesting, and some honest-to-goodness faith in my students that they could and would do the right thing. I had very few instances of anyone trying to "game the system" and if I had, I would have modified the selection process to include some formal pretesting of the words. 

Some Important Notes About Differentiating Products...

  • You should definitely allow for choice. The choice could be as narrow among just a few pre-planned options that you have for them, 
  • Be sure to set clear expectations around the content, quality, and creativity/originality of the products. I have a rubric that works for many product choices here if you're interested in taking a peek. 
  • Be sure that you and your students agree on a timeline for the entire process, as well as check-in points along the way. No matter what the age of your students, it will be helpful for them if you provide some scaffolding here. Obviously, how much scaffolding you provide should be adjusted according to your students' readiness. At the very least, I suggest having check-ins and/or deadlines for idea generation and selection, storyboarding or planning, creating, revising/editing, rehearsal (if needed), and final turn-in. 
  • Products can be differentiated by readiness, interest, and learning profile, or some combination of the three. 
  • Students might need coaching with certain procedural aspects of the choices they make for their products. For example, if a student chooses to create a video documentary or stop-motion film, they may need some assistance with the technical aspects of making the films. This is a great time to bring in outside experts--parents, community members, even other professionals in your school who can assist your students with these needs. Children can also do some research (another great learning opportunity)! 
  • Using differentiated products in your classroom is a great way to build classroom community. I often set time aside in class for students to share what they had been working on with the rest of the class. Sometimes, we even ventured out to share with other classrooms in the building, too! 
  • Inviting parents in for product presentations is also an excellent way to share products with a larger audience. Research has shown that student engagement and achievement rises significantly when students know that people other than just their teacher will see their work. 
  • Keep in mind, though, that not every student needs to (or wants to) share his or her product every time! This is not only time consuming, but for children uncomfortable in front of the class, it can be a source of unnecessary stress. 

Some Ideas for You

Sometimes the hardest part is getting started, right? I've created several ready-made resources that include product choices in my Teachers Pay Teachers store that you can find here. This is a growing collection of choices for upper and lower elementary students. And to thank you for reading allllll the way down to here, I made a list of many of the product ideas that maybe you'd like to try out. Click on the picture below to download your own free copy of the list. Thank you so much for reading! 

Ready to learn about differentiating the learning environment? Click here! Thanks so much for reading!

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