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 from my free resource library. *Just to be clear, by clicking to get the freebie (and instant access to the growing collection of free resources in my library of subscriber exclusives), you're also agreeing to be added to my email list, where I'll send occasional messages with fresh ideas, tips, and other resources straight to your inbox. You can unsubscribe at any time.*

Thank you so much for reading! 

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


Meeting the Needs of Gifted Learners: Differentiating the Learning Process 4/6

When you choose to change, adapt, or otherwise make different the ways in which students gain access to new information or the way they process or learn new ideas, skills, and content, you're differentiating by process.  This is the fourth installment of my series on differentiated instruction. If you're interested in reading more about the whole process of differentiation, you can read about the definition of differentiation, pre-assessment, differentiating content, and how a differentiated classroom works, in previous posts.

What Does it Mean to Differentiate the Process?

Differentiating the process for learners usually translates to changing the activity part of the learning process or lesson. It is often the verb part of your learning objectives; whatever students do to move from their current understanding to deeper, more thorough, more complex levels of understanding. The need to differentiate the process for your students can often stem from a student's readiness, either in the area in which you're planning to differentiate or in another area. It can also result from the need to differentiate due to a learning disability in a student with dual exceptionalities. Your student with a disability in reading comprehension may be gifted in science and already know most of what you're planning to present in your rocks and minerals unit, but it will be difficult for him or her to access the information he or she needs to learn in a traditional textbook. When you differentiate the process for learning, you allow this student to have the same (or even more) information delivered to them in a different way. It might also mean that you allow them to interact with the information as part of their learning in a way that is different than their "typically developing" peers.

It is important to note that pre-assessment again plays a crucial role in using this strategy with fidelity. We have to have a solid grasp on what our students know (and don't know), as well as their strengths and weaknesses to plan effectively.

Framework for Differentiating the Learning Process

There are a few key ideas we can keep in mind as we plan and prepare to differentiate the learning process.

In her book, How to Differentiate Instruction in Mixed-Ability Classrooms (2001), Carol Ann Tomlinson gives ideas for increasing the complexity of learning activities. They include moving from concrete ideas to more abstract, starting at simple and moving toward more complexity, beginning with more structure and moving toward open-ended tasks or ideas, and moving from examining a single facet to looking at multiple facets of ideas or concepts.

Of course using Bloom's Taxonomy is another way to think about how we can create different learning activities that move students from lower order learning skills to higher order thinking. We can move them from simply remembering, understanding, and applying, to the more complex and intertwined analyzing, evaluating, and creating.

Using Dr. Sandra Kaplan's Depth and Complexity tools is another way we can plan for differentiated learning processes. You can read more about these visual prompts associated with deeper levels of critical thinking here.

Examples of Vehicles for Differentiating the Learning Process

Below you'll find just a few ideas for strategies or structures you can use in your classroom to help with the process of differentiation. This by no means is an exhaustive list, however, maybe it will help get you thinking about how many things you may already do that are headed in the direction of differentiation. Click on the picture to get access to your free printable copy. *Just to be clear, by clicking to get the freebie (and instant access to the growing collection of free resources in my library of subscriber exclusives), you're also agreeing to be added to my email list, where I'll send occasional messages with fresh ideas, tips, and other resources straight to your inbox. You can unsubscribe at any time.* 

A Couple of Examples in the Classroom 

Perhaps your students are learning some new content in the classroom about Native Americans. In one scenario, students might take out their social studies textbooks (all written on the same reading level and all containing the same information, of course). They listen to your voice while you read aloud, or they read the text to themselves, with or without your support. Not only does this sound pretty boring, but it also doesn't take into account the differences in the ways students in your classroom learn best. Aside from not engaging your students much in the learning process, you may also be inadvertently creating an environment where students will begin entertaining themselves in various ways, otherwise disrupting your plans for a peaceful learning experience. If you differentiated this process for your students, you could both increase student engagement and tighten up your classroom management. So, instead of assigning the reading from the textbook, perhaps you could work with your librarian to find a variety of informational texts written at various reading levels so students could access the information at their independent reading levels. Maybe you could also research (or again, work with your fabulous, indispensable local or school librarian) for some multimedia presentations of the information, some kid-friendly websites, some audio recordings, or even some local professionals who could deliver the information in a different way. This way, all of your students are gaining the information that you need them to learn, but they're just approaching it a from different angles. You can use these materials as part of your small group instruction (learn more about planning for small groups here), as part of an independent learning contract, or in some other way. The point is, not everyone has to do it the same way, in lockstep. We don't all learn the same way. It's just not the way we're made! 

Maybe it's your language arts class and the students are working on identifying character traits. You can differentiate the process by tiering the learning assignments. Let's say the learning objective is for students to choose two characters from whatever story they're reading currently and identify key character traits for those two characters. The tiers could look like this:
  • Tier One (below or approaching the standard): Use a graphic organizer to identify two main characters, note behaviors, actions, and thoughts from these two characters, and then draw inferences about their traits based on the text evidence they've recorded on their graphic organizer.  
  • Tier Two (at standard): Use a Venn Diagram to compare two (or three) characters from the text, using text-based evidence to support the claims of similarity and differences.
  • Tier Three (exceeds grade level standards): List characteristics displayed by two or three characters from the text. Rank the characteristics in order from most important to least important (or even have students decide upon which criteria to use in ranking the characteristics). 
If you look closely at the tiers above, you'll see that I used Bloom's Taxonomy to make slight changes from one tier to another. Tier one is pretty much remembering/understanding, tier two is more like applying/analyzing, and tier three is analyzing/evaluating. Please note--it is not appropriate to ONLY have your tier one kiddos staying that remember/understand level. They need to be practicing higher order thinking skills as well--this is how they'll grow best! At the same time, your tier two and three kids will also need to spend some time in the lower levels of Blooms sometimes as well, but the amount of time spent understanding and remembering as opposed to the analyzing/evaluating/creating levels should be considerably less

Well, you made it. You're at the end of another post. I hope you found this information helpful, and perhaps you'll consider stopping back to my little corner of the interwebs for the last two installments of the differentiation series. For those of you inspired to tackle one of the learning strategies I mentioned above, I created a FREE Independent Learning Contract for you to use. Click on the image below to download your free copy. *Just to be clear, by clicking to get the freebie (and instant access to the growing collection of free resources in my library of subscriber exclusives), you're also agreeing to be added to my email list, where I'll send occasional messages with fresh ideas, tips, and other resources straight to your inbox. You can unsubscribe at any time.*

And if you're looking for some activities that are already differentiated and ready to go, hop over to my store on Teachers Pay Teachers. I have a small (but growing) collection of materials for you to use in your classroom. 

Thanks so much for reading! Be sure to check out the next post in the series: Differentiating Products


Meeting the Needs of Gifted Learners: How Does a Differentiated Classroom Actually Work? 3.5/6

How Does a Differentiated Classroom Actually Work? 

If you're like me, you've finished reading another post (or twoor three) about differentiated instruction and you're thinking, "Well, now what? How can I actually put this information to work for me in my classroom?" It takes lots of practice, and I'm positive there are other teachers doing it differently (and well!) in their classroom, but I'll go ahead and write about how I was able to differentiate in my own classroom. And for the record, these ideas worked for my both in general education classrooms when I had only a few GT identified students and in my self-contained gifted classes where all students were identified as either cognitively gifted or gifted in a specific academic area.  

Some Key Ideas

Classroom Management

The most important aspect of being ready and able to accommodate the different learners in your classroom space is really all about how you manage your classroom. I'm not talking about your behavior plan, clip charts, token economy system, etc. I'm talking nuts and bolts--how to you use each and every minute of your school day to maximize the time you have to spend with your students. The thing that made the biggest impact for me was using a guided math and guided reading type schedule for those two blocks. Whether you do legitimate guided reading Fountas and Pinnell-style or the Daily 5 model, or some variation of those, what matters most is building in time to your schedule each day  to be able to meet with students individually, or in small groups. You could also meet this need for content differentiation by holding a whole group mini-lesson and then assigning several different activities, according to readiness, or you can set up different learning centers according to interests and/or readiness as well.  Structuring your day in these ways will allow a few magical things to happen:

  • When you build in time for small groups, you simultaneously build in time for your students to work independently, which means you are FREE! Run while you can! Joking of course, but seriously, once you've trained your students to function without you constantly hovering providing close guidance and support, you are freed up to work with individuals or small groups as needed. 
  • Your students value the time they get to spend with you one-on-one or in small groups. They look forward to this time and you look forward to it, too, because you get to connect on a deeper level with your kids. 
  • You have time to spend meeting the needs of your students--tailoring materials and content to match their needs and push them towards real growth, which is a BIG win for alllll of the stakeholders. 

Time to Plan

Once you've carved out some time in your day, the next step is making sure you have gathered all the necessary information you need. What do you want your students to know? What do they already know? What do they want to know? How to they learn best? And where will you keep all of this information? I used my paper grade book pages to record pre- and post-test results, also noting which standards students still needed to work on. I also gathered some information about students' interests and recorded them on paper as well. All of this helped me in my grouping and planning so I could be sure to pull students back for small group work as they needed it.

After you pre-assess and gather information, it's time to start planning. If you're new to this, I think it's slightly easier to start in a subject area that has really discrete/distinct skills that are easy to separate from one another. Math, grammar, and content areas are a little less complicated to start with. I'm going to use math for my example, but the same general progression will work for most every subject. Here's my general flow:

  • Pretest, sort information--students with the same missing skills get grouped together. You can see an example of this in my grade book checklist picture above. Sometimes I wrote information in there, sometimes I used sticky notes and stuck them in my planning pages. 
  • I also kept notes on each student using a compacting recording sheet (my last post for a free copy), so that I could to it at conferences and around report card time. 
  • Decide what students can be doing in the time that they buy back. I called my time "Choice Time" but you can probably think of something more creative! For student choice time, students were working on a variety of things. In math, sometimes they worked on learning computer coding from or Khan Academy, sometimes they created games for each other to play, and sometimes they worked on strengthening deficit areas. In language arts, my students had lots of choices about what they worked on--vocabulary/word study activities were a choice based on students' interests, independent reading was always a choice, based on interest and readiness as well. 
  • Decide IF and HOW you will evaluate tasks and learning accomplished during choice time. My own opinion is that these alternate activities don't always need "graded," however they still need to be evaluated using a rubric or some other tool so that students can get feedback--even if it's only feedback on independent study behaviors. Students need to know that what they're doing is valued,  but I also hope to instill in them a sense of ownership and pride in learning for learning sake. 
  • A note about interest-based and learning profile content differentiation--these are, in some ways, lower-prep alternatives to differentiating by readiness. Here's why: generally speaking, if you offer children lots of choices in your classroom, they will gravitate toward what they like most, and you don't have to tailor it as much directly toward individuals. And once you get into the habit of giving students choices, you begin to build up your repertoire of materials and options that can be used over and over again, so it's really not as bad as it sounds.  


Here is what my math block often looked like: (P.S., I say often because there were days where we did lessons and activities as a whole group. #reallife P.P.S. I was BLESSED to have 60-90 minute blocks of time for my instruction, so yes, it did make it easier to structure my time, but it is totally possible to do this in less time--you just have to be a little more judicious with how you build in your choice time--maybe it's every other day, or every third day instead of every single day, but I promise--it CAN be done!

  • 10-15 minutes-Problem Solving in math journals (sometimes differentiated, often not because they were challenging problems on which I allowed students to choose to work collaboratively)
  • 15-20 minutes (sometimes)--Whole group mini-lesson or explanation of math stations/choices
  • 30-60 minutes--Guided math (small group) lessons and choice time. This is either self-directed or done in a rotation style. We changed it up, depending on what we were working on. If children had a big project they were working on, they often just worked on the project the whole time while I met with small groups. In small group time, students learned the skill and practiced it. They had some independent work to complete on their own in class as well. 
  • 5-10 minutes--Exit ticket/show what you learned/Q&A time


Below are two versions of what the ELA block looked like in my classroom  (again, I had 90 minutes in upper elementary and more like 150 minutes in lower elementary to work with but it can be modified to work in less time):

Version One
  • 5-10 minutes --Independent reading time or Picture of The Day as children trickled in from different classes
  • 5 minutes-- Status of the Class (click the picture to the right if you're interested in downloading one for yourself from my free resource library). *Just to be clear, by clicking to get the freebie (and instant access to the growing collection of free resources in my library of subscriber exclusives), you're also agreeing to be added to my email list, where I'll send occasional messages with fresh ideas, tips, and other resources straight to your inbox. You can unsubscribe at any time.* 
  • 15-20 minutes --Whole-group reading mini-lesson based on a skill that students will be applying during independent reading time 
  • 20 minutes--Choice time--students work on word work, independent reading, or other projects 
  • 15 minutes--Whole Group OR Small group mini-lesson
  • 20-30 minutes--Choice time
Version Two
  • 20 minutes: Whole-group standards-based reading mini-lesson based on comprehension, decoding, fluency, or vocabulary skills that could be applied to any book
  • 45 minutes: Guided reading groups, individual conferences, and Independent Work--students apply the mini-lesson skills or concepts to books on their reading level and then work on word work, vocabulary, and/or other literacy-based centers 
  • 20 minutes: Whole-group standards-based writing mini-lesson
  • 45 minutes: Guided writing groups and/or individual writing conferences
  • 10-20 minutes-Rotation between exit slips, fluency practice, sight word practice, Author's Chair, etc. 

Some Final Notes 

Of course, these general plans worked for ME in my classroom, but you may need to modify them to work for YOU in your classroom. They are intentionally very general. When I taught kindergarten, having students sit and attend to a 20-minute mini-lesson was pushing it for their attention span. Working independently for 45 minutes was also a lofty goal, especially at the beginning of the year. To accommodate students' needs, I broke lessons down into smaller chunks, allowed for shorter spurts of independent work, etc. I worked together with the class for weeks modeling what our classroom looked like, sounded like, and felt like during each stage of our language arts and math blocks. The time spent at the beginning of the year paid off very well in the middle and end of the year when we were truly able to maximize our learning time and minimize distractions and time during transitions. 

If you're ready to read more about differentiating, check out this post on how to differentiate the learning process. 

I hope you found this information helpful! Got more ideas about how to make differentiation work in your classroom? Leave a comment below or send me an email ( I love hearing from my readers!

Thank you,


Meeting the Needs of Your Gifted Student: Differentiating Content 3/6

Welcome to the third installment of Meeting the Needs of Your Gifted Student! If you haven't done so already, I would recommend reading this post, which is an overview of differentiated instruction, and this post, which is aimed at pre-assessment.

Definitions and Urgency 

As the title indicates, today I'll be writing about how to meet student needs by differentiating content.  When you're thinking about differentiating instruction for your gifted learners, you can change what information your students are learning (content), how they're learning it (process), and how students show the learning (product). You can also differentiate the learning environment as well as the way you assess student learning.

When we differentiate content, we make changes in what students learn in relation to what they need to know, understand, and must be able to do at this moment in their instructional journey. We can also differ the ways in which we allow children to access new learning as well. This could mean using a variety of different materials from which the students can learn, like providing multiple texts on a variety of reading levels, videos, audio recordings, primary source documents, and artifacts, magazines, travel brochures, etc.

“It is what a student should come to know (facts), understand (concepts and principles), and be able to do (skills) as a result of a given assignment of study (a lesson, learning experience, a unit).” 
-Carol Ann Tomlinson, 1999, The Differentiated Classroom

We can differentiate in response to readiness, interest, and learning profile, or some combination of the three.  Given the strict mandates that many (most?) teachers face about what students must know each year in school, you may be thinking that it sounds strange to consider offering students access to content that is different from that which appears on your district's curriculum map and/or pacing guide. However, it's not that you'll be omitting information that the student must know because they're gifted, it's that often, your gifted student already knows up to 80% of that information. So if you think about it, it's really counterproductive to make a student who has demonstrated mastery (or is capable of demonstrating mastery) in a particular area of learning to sit through hours, days, or weeks worth of instruction on those same skills when they came to your classroom already having that knowledge. The potential end result of  allowing forcing a student to "learn" the same content at the same pace as other students in the class is that the student will be bored, frustrated, sad, inattentive, and otherwise creative in filling the time he or she has been left with during instruction. I'll go ahead and let you use your imagination for the many, many schemes a gifted child is capable of concocting to fill their "down time." Not to mention, as teachers, we all have a responsibility to each of our students to help them grow, starting from where they are in their learning journey. This is just as true for our students who struggle the most with learning as it is with our high potential children.

Options for Content Differentiation

There are several go-to strategies for differentiating content, but they all begin with finding out first what it is that students already know, what they're interested in, and/or what their learning profile is. After you learn about who your students are and what they know, you're ready to start differentiating content. If a student demonstrates mastery (usually between 80-90%) on a particular topic or skill, then you (and ideally, the student) have some choices to make about how this will be accommodated in the classroom. 

Curriculum Compacting

One way to make that accommodation is by using Curriculum Compacting. This strategy was developed back in the early 1990s by Joseph Renzulli at the University of Connecticut. It is a strategy meant to help teachers and students really optimize the time they have together in the classroom each day. Once students demonstrate mastery on a particular subject, skill, or topic, they should be exempted from spending time learning this material again. In a way, by scoring high on a pre-assessment, they "buy back" time in the classroom and can now spend this time working on new learning. Students should still be expected to participate in lessons and activities for which they have not demonstrated yet mastery, but the rest of the time, they should be allowed to work on other things. One of the best things you can do for yourself and your student is to DOCUMENT all of this information along the way. I created a simple page to track student mastery levels and alternative assignments, which you can grab for yourself below by clicking on the picture. *Just to be clear, by clicking to get the freebie (and instant access to the growing collection of free resources in my library of subscriber exclusives), you're also agreeing to be added to my email list, where I'll send occasional messages with fresh ideas, tips, and other resources straight to your inbox. You can unsubscribe at any time.*

Flexible Pacing/Accelerated Learning   

Similar to compacting, flexible pacing (which, for gifted students often--but not always--results in accelerated learning) is a way of allowing students to access new content at their own pace, with the help and support of a teacher or mentor. In a 2011 study*, students (gifted and not gifted) were surveyed about their preferred method of differentiation. Self-pacing was the favorite among 90% of them, many citing that they wanted more time to dig into the really difficult material when they encountered it. Implementing flexible pacing in your classroom means documentation of mastery, as well as determining a way to guide your students and keep them accountable for their learning. Working together with the student(s), it is important that you create expectations for what is a reasonable amount of time to spend learning new content, as well as expectations for how the learning will be evaluated. Creating and using a learning contract is one very effective way to manage this process. 

Mini-lessons/Individual Conferences/Small Group

We can also modify content for our students by creating a classroom environment which allows for small-group instruction. Holding mini-lessons or individual conferences with students is a way to meet their needs for content differentiation in all three areas (readiness, interest, and learner profile).

Anchor Activities/Interest-Based Learning Centers 

These are activities that the teacher sets up for students to work on independently when they've completed required work, have tested out of regular classroom instruction, or to use during small group time.  The activities should be relevant to current themes or topics of study, meaningful and interesting to students, and leveled appropriately to student needs. Giving students interest surveys a few times a year can help you plan for these kinds of activities.

Independent Study

Independent study almost doesn't need its own category, truly, because it's so closely tied in with Curriculum Compacting, Flexible Pacing, and mini-lessons/conferences. Again, students use the time when classmates are learning something that student has already demonstrated mastery on. Just to emphasize something I mentioned before--just because a student is ready to learn new material on their own doesn't mean he or she has the skills and/or tools it takes to do so effectively. However, once you've established expectations for students, and students have decided upon something they'd like to explore. These studies can easily take an aspect of the topic or theme that your class is studying and turn it into an in-depth study of the topic's origin, a comparative analysis of similar themes or topics, or real world applications of the same or similar ideas.

Thanks for reading! You can click here to read the next post in the series: How does a differentiated classroom actually work? 

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  • Curriculum Compacting: A Systematic Procedure for Modifying the Curriculum for Above Average Ability Students,  by Sally M. Reis and Joseph S. Renzulli,  The National Research Center on the Gifted and Talented, University of Connecticut
  • Deferential Differentiation: What Types of Differentiation Do Students Want? by Lannie Kanevsky, Gifted Child Quarterly 2011 55: 279 



Meeting the Needs of Your Gifted Student: Differentiated Instruction--Preassessment 2/6

If you're going to try to differentiate instruction for you students, you will most definitely need to determine some important information about your students before you start thinking of ideas for what you're teaching and how to approach your instruction! In the education world, we call this preassessment or pre-testing, and as the prefix implies, this is an assessment of a child that is to take place before the new learning is to occur. Today's post is the second in a series I'm writing about differentiated instruction. You can read the first post here.

What? Another TEST?!

When you hear the term preassessment or pre-test, your first thought is probably something to the effect of, "Ugh! I don't have time for that!" or, "How on earth am I supposed to add another thing to our already busy schedules?" Perhaps you're even thinking, "Another TEST?! Aren't these kids tested enough already?"

Let me tell you something. I HEAR you!  It is difficult to add something new to your routine when you are already in the groove. It can be a lot of work to create new assessments for everything you plan to teach. But learning about your students before you teach them is SO important. There are three types of pre-assessments you can administer to learn more about your kiddos. You can learn about students' readiness for something, their learning style or preferences, or their attitudes about learning and/or areas of interest. Although all three types of assessment are important, the majority of this post today will focus on assessing student readiness to learn new skills and concepts.

Learning about what preexisting knowledge your students are coming to you with is just so, so, so important. Did you know that your gifted students come to your classroom already knowing up to 80% of the material you plan on presenting? And preassessment has actually been found to be beneficial to student learning, not just because it tells you what they know, but also because it acts as a sort of primer for the brain, helping to pave the road for future learning. Remember, this is assessment FOR learning, not assessment OF learning. You are giving your students another test of sorts, but it should be presented to them in a way that helps them to understand that it is NOT a graded assignment. It is meant to help you, the teacher, get to how much of the content you need to teach them. And here's the kicker--it doesn't have to be a test or feel like a test if you get creative about it.

It is not sufficient to just give a pre-test, then proceed with the regularly scheduled programming without adjusting your instruction (and sadly, many teachers do just that <---insert frowny face). It's what you DO with the information that is most critical in the education of those young people in your care.

{By the way, let's not blame the teachers for not always knowing what to do with this information. It is fairly customary for new teachers to have only one or two (if they're lucky) courses in assessment in undergraduate-level programs.  Teachers really don't get enough training in the complexities of assessment and grading before they're expected to become the expert in their own classrooms. I've been a teacher for more than 10 years, and I am still learning about best practice in assessment. I'm not sure I'll ever be done! It is because of the reasons I listed above that I feel so strongly about sharing the things I have learned in this journey as an educator.}

My goal for this post today is to leave you with some ideas for how you can quickly and effectively assess your students before you teach. Then in the following posts, I'll provide some suggestions for what to do with all that great information! If you ever have any questions that pop up in your reading, please don't hesitate to leave a comment at the bottom of the post, or email me using the link in the sidebar of my blog!

Decide What You Want to Know

When you start your preassessment journey, you first need to think about what information you want your students to know at the END of the lesson, unit, year, etc. The pre-test should measure children's knowledge of the same objectives that you are responsible for teaching. I suggest starting by reading your standards closely or taking a peek at your school's curriculum map or assessment map. What is it that your students need to know or be able to do by the end of the instruction? It's important that you align the assessment to correspond in both content and difficulty--especially with the verbs you see in the standards. If they have to interpret products of whole numbers, (CCSS 3.OA.A.1) then the pre-test you give them should measure whether they can indeed, interpret the product, not just whether they can calculate the answer. For example, it's not enough that they can find the product of 5 x 7, they need to be able to describe the context in which they would need to express a problem like that. This can be tricky and takes practice if you're just starting out, but once you get the hang of it, aligning your problems to the standards gets easier. This practice will also help strengthen your understanding of the standards as well, so it's a win-win, right?

Decide How You're Going to Gather the Information You Need

Formal Preassessment

I think of these assessments as more traditional, a little less fun, but very helpful in the specificity of information that they can provide.
  • Chapter tests-- If you're lucky enough to be working in a district (or if you're homeschooling) and using curriculum that already has different versions of post-tests for each chapter, USE THEM! In my most recent teaching position, we used a math program that had three different levels of tests, and two versions of each test. I always used the form A test before we started the chapter, and then the form B test when we finished. 
  • Quarterly tests/Benchmark tests-- These tests, again, are already part of what you use in your school to measure student progress toward learning grade level standards (I hope). If not, you may need to create your own or find one someone else has already created. If you use these for pre-tests, be sure you either have different versions of the test available for use or that you take time to create a test that mirrors the tests because you want to be sure you don't skew results of  the end-of-quarter or benchmark tests)
  • Portfolios--If you use these, they are a great starting point for preassessment. These seem to me to be especially relevant for demonstrating a child's readiness in writing and visual arts, but I am sure they are helpful in other areas as well. The only reason I would caution the use of them as a standalone pre-test for other subjects (and even for writing) is the simple fact that you can't always guarantee that ALL of the child's previous learning is completely exemplified in the portfolio. It is hard to be sure that a work sample in a portfolio is a true example of all they can do. In other words, how do you know that the child reached the ceiling of his or her learning on that particular concept? Sure, they showed that they can multiply two-digit factors, but if they weren't prompted to do more, how can you be sure whether they can or cannot actually do more? Additionally, the use of portfolios requires having an accompanying rubric or checklist. 
  • Checklists of skills the child has demonstrated--Go here for an AWESOME ebook of checklists you can use for grades 3-6. Seriously, check it out. You can see a sample on Google Books here. This is not an affiliate link, I just like this book. There are a TON of checklists on Teachers Pay Teachers, depending on what you need, I'm positive you can find something there. 
  • Running Records--these are great for on-the-spot assessments of how your student is reading. To be sure it's VERY important that the child you are assessing is reading a book that is at or slightly above their instructional reading level so that you can get a true picture of their strengths and weaknesses. Here is a great article from ASCD summarizing how to conduct a running record, if you haven't done it before. You should also check to see whether your district has identified benchmarks or cut-scores in reading rate, accuracy, and comprehension when you use this as a pre-test so that you know where your student stands in comparison to his or her grade-level peers. 
  • Audition-Teachers of performance arts, this is a great way to learn your students' limits. Using a checklist or rubric is also a must for this type of preassessment. 

Informal Preassessment

These measures are a little more fun! Quick and easy to prepare and administer, they still provide valuable information, but I find them a little less accurate and/or thorough than the formal options.

  • Four Corners--This is a super quick way to gauge what your students know. There are a couple of different ways you can use this strategy. Using multiple choice questions you create or questions from your curriculum, label each corner of your classroom A, B, C, D. You pose the question, and students walk to the area of the room that matches with the answer they've selected. I would advise you to have students record their answers on a piece of paper, before allowing them to walk to the corners. This way, not only do you increase student accountability, you also have a physical copy of their pretest results. Further, having students record answers before moving creates an environment that decreases the likelihood of peer-pressure related answer selection. 
  • Graffiti Wall-This strategy is quick and simple. The only supplies you need are large pieces of chart paper, markers, and concepts that you plan on studying soon. Post the chart paper on the wall, and challenge students to come to each page and record as much information as they possibly can about the topic. They can write phrases or ideas--they don't have to write complete sentences. They need to sign their work (so you know who wrote what, of course) and they should get started writing as soon as they get to the paper. Enforcing the write right away rule is helpful because it decreases the likelihood that a child is copying from another student. This activity is something students really enjoy because it feels a little taboo when you call it graffiti! They also like the novelty of writing on the big teacher paper, and if you reserve special markers for them to use, it makes the experience all that much better. Limitations to this strategy could be that a student simply doesn't recall quickly everything they truly know about a topic, which is why I would recommend having maybe a quick conversation about the topics you've chosen, without revealing too much information. This just helps get children's brains warmed up a bit and primed for expressing their knowledge. You can also provide so keywords on or near each sheet of chart paper to help jog students' memories a bit. If you were concerned about copying, you could allow each student to have his or her own piece of paper instead. Modifications of this strategy include having students making voice notes or recordings of their knowledge on a device, typing out their answers on google docs, or verbally telling you their thoughts. 
  • Entrance Slips--Much like the commonly used exit slip, students can complete the task or problem you plan on giving at the end of the lesson before you teach them. Like I mentioned above, you need to make sure the question you provide is rigorous enough to capture your true learning objective for the day. After students complete the problem or task, you can quickly sort the slips (I frequently used sticky notes for this) into piles of students who either already know what you're planning to teach, or who don't know it. Of course, you need to have a plan already in place for what you'll do with students who already know the content. I actually found it helpful to give the entrance slips a day or two ahead of the lesson (but not much more that that) so that I had time to make a meaningful plan. More on that in a subsequent post!
  • Five Hardest, or Hardest First--Many times, traditional assignments for independent work in class or for homework are designed in a way that questions toward the beginning of the paper are easier, and the questions at the end are more challenging or complex. For gifted children, forcing them to complete the entire assignment can be grueling and create negative feelings toward your subject or class. Allowing students to voluntarily attempt the most difficult problems first is a great way of finding out whether they truly understand the concept. If they do demonstrate an understanding of the learning objective on the most difficult tasks, please, I'm urging you, don't make them do the rest of the page! It would be torture, I tell you! Torture! 
  • Quick Write or One-Minute Paper-- Similar to the graffiti wall, this strategy encourages students to write down all they know about a particular topic. This time, though, unlike the graffiti wall, their writing should be a little more coherent. If you teach a subject in which writing conventions, overall cohesiveness, and quality of writing are not important, you can most certainly adjust this activity as you see fit (though it does provide a great opportunity for cross-curricular writing connections...). This is meant to be quick--but be careful! Gifted students (and others!) often feel extra pressure when a time element is involved, so it's important that you let children know ahead of time what your goal is, and feel free to loosen the time constraints if you see that your students are underperforming because of the time pressure. It would be counterproductive to give a preassessment on which students can't show you what they truly know because their brains aren't working properly under the pressure. 
  • Interactive Games--Games like Kahoot allow students to show you what they know in a super fun, technological way. Limitations, of course, would include access to technology. If you haven't tried using a game like this in your classroom, I urge you to do so. You won't regret it! 

A Final Note About Preassessment

The list above is most certainly not an exhaustive list of all of the preassessment strategies but the strategies I've included are what I found to be most helpful in my 10 years of teaching. Whatever you use to determine what your students know,  DO NOT GRADE THESE ASSIGNMENTS! No matter how tempting it may be to jot their scores down in your grade book, remember these activities are intended to occur BEFORE you've taught the material. It's not fair (and really not ethical) to evaluate students on something they're not yet supposed to know. Each time I gave a pretest to my students, I always, always, always, let them know that they could completely fail the assignment F minus style and I would be happy to see their paper. After all, if they bomb it, I know exactly where to start teaching, right? It's the kids who already know the information that added a little more challenge to my planning (of course I didn't mention the last part to students--they don't need any extra pressure). What I DID do with the scores is have students record them on a graph. Particularly if I had given them a chapter post-test as a pre-test. Then I could confer with students and together, we'd set goals about how much growth to shoot for. We graphed post test results as well, and applauded successes along the way, or determined what work was left to do.

As always, thanks so much for reading this LONG post! I hope you found the information helpful.

Ready to read more on differentiation? Click here to read about what it means to differentiate content. 

As a thank you for making it all the way to the bottom of this post, you can click to get free access to this Pre- and Post-test Growth Chart  I made for my students. *Just to be clear, by clicking to get the freebie (and instant access to the growing collection of free resources in my library of subscriber exclusives), you're also agreeing to be added to my email list, where I'll send occasional messages with fresh ideas, tips, and other resources straight to your inbox. You can unsubscribe at any time.*

If you have any questions or suggestions for other great preassessment tools, please feel free to email me ( or leave a comment below!



Meeting the Needs of Your Gifted Student: Differentiated Instruction--Overview 1/6

If you've been in the education field for any length of time, there is no doubt in my mind you've heard the term differentiation or differentiated instruction. It's hard to sit through even one staff meeting or PD session without hearing the terms once or twice, right? There is also no doubt in my mind that your understanding of what those terms truly mean, as well as your comfort level with actually implementing differentiated instruction in your classroom is likely as varied as the personalities of the students in your classes. The truth is, all of us teachers fall somewhere along a spectrum of knowledge and implementation for classroom differentiation. Some of us are well-versed and have been walking the walk for years, and some of us are just starting out--learning what differentiation is, learning what it looks like in the classroom, and learning different strategies for implementation.

I'm going to embark on a series of posts tackling differentiation. This is the first of six posts focusing on different aspects of differentiation. First, I'll outline what is really is (and isn't), and then I'll work on giving practical strategies, tips, and resources for making it work in your classroom. Differentiated instruction can be hard. Capital H hard. It can feel overwhelming and scary and frustrating. It can leave you wondering whether it is really worth the extra work it takes to make it happen. The good news is that differentiation is possible. There are some ways that you can schedule your days or lessons to make it easier, and it is 100 percent worth it. Not only will your gifted students benefit from it, but all of your students will benefit.

Differentiation is...

First, the definition. As the term implies, differentiation means different. Differentiated instruction is meeting students right where they are and giving them the content, tools, and strategies that they need to meet (or exceed) grade level standards. It's not a program, or package, or worksheets. It's a philosophy, a way of teaching. It's knowing your students so well that you can provide for them just what they need to continue learning. It's operating your classroom with the understanding that your students are all unique in their needs, and that they all need something different from you in order to have a successful school experience.  

According to Susan Winebrenner, author of one of the most useful books for educators Teaching Gifted Kids in the Regular Classroom (2001), there are five ways you can differentiate for students in your classroom. Differentiating through content, process, and product are the three most common ways teachers meet student needs. However, teachers can also differentiate the learning environment and the way student learning is assessed. All are important, and my subsequent posts will follow up on these key areas.

Differentiated instruction has a few key components that are important to consider as you get started (or continue your journey!).

One, the structure of your instructional time is critical to your success in differentiating. If you're providing different activities, content, or processes for learning, you have to allow time to give students different instructions for activities or processes, or you need to carve out time to deliver different content to individuals or groups of students. One way I provided for the element of time in my classroom was by setting up guided reading and guided math groups, or a Daily 5-esque structure of mini-lessons and independent work time. This allowed me to have all students in the classroom engaged in various learning or application opportunities while allowing me to work with individuals or small groups of students. The nice (and research-based) thing about providing students with small bursts of content instruction and then lots of time to apply their learning was that not only did it address students' attention span, it freed me up to work with students and support their learning as it was happening. I could interject help right as mistakes or misunderstandings were occurring, providing on-the-spot scaffolding. I could also provide hard enough content, activities, or experiences for my gifted learners so that they were challenged appropriately.

Second, differentiated instruction must be based on knowing your students. You have to know them really, really, well.  This means you need to spend time getting to know them as people--personality, learning preferences, etc., and also as learners--what skills and strategies do they already know, and what do they need to know next. Learning what their previous achievement or IQ scores is helpful, for sure. Finding out this information is necessary so that you can plan for instruction, learning activities, and flexible groups in your classroom. However, please note: it is important not to group your students ONLY by their ability. Just because two students have an IQ of 130 doesn't mean they have equivalent skills in analyzing nonfiction text. It also doesn't mean that they are better at analyzing nonfiction text than your student with an IQ of 115. IQ is a measure of perceived potential, not of students' previous achievement. Aside from being an attentive teacher, one of the best ways you can get to know your students is by using formative assessment. The information you can glean from a simple pre-test is not only helpful, it is imperative. One of the worst things we can do for any student is to make them "learn" content or skills that they already know.

Finally, differentiation should involve student choice (at least sometimes!). Allowing students to choose what they're reading, what they want to research, or how they'll show their learning are just a few ways we can provide for students learning preferences and interests. And if we do this often, we find that our students are more engaged, more involved, and more receptive to learning new material--even when it's time to learn something they didn't have a choice about.

Differentiation is NOT...

So, just like when we teach our students new vocabulary, we have students think of examples of the word, and we also strengthen their thinking by having them think about the non-examples.  It's important to note a few important things about what differentiation is NOT. 

Differentiation is NOT tracking students by broad ability, or even grouping them solely based on ability within the classroom. Like I hinted at above, these models don't allow for enough flexibility in meeting students' needs on a case-by-case or skill-by-skill basis. Further, tracking often results in children who are in minority populations or who have lower socioeconomic status being placed in lower groups based on teacher bias and then getting stuck there because they receive lower quality teaching ( The alternative to tracking and ability grouping is flexible grouping, particularly in the areas of math and reading instruction. And IF students are grouped flexibly within their classroom, they should be matched to curriculum and instruction that is closely related to their needs (Tieso, 2005).  Cross-grade grouping in reading has also been shown to be successful (Robinson, Shore, and Enerson, 2007). 

Differentiation is NOT group work IF each group is doing the SAME thing! I've seen this happen many times. If they're working on different activities at the same time, great. However, if your intention is that they will all still complete the same activities, just at different times, this is NOT differentiation. You might as well just do several whole-group activities and save yourself some trouble because these are essentially the same thing. 

Finally, differentiated instruction does NOT mean everyone in your classroom is on an IEP! While goal setting and progress monitoring are valuable tools, and individualization is ideal, it is not realistic to think that you will be able to fully differentiate every subject for every student every day of the year. You just can't. You're only going to frustrate yourself or burn yourself out. 

If you're interested in learning more about strategies for differentiating, including tricks and tools for implementing them in your classroom, click here to visit the next post in the series about preassessment. 


Robinson, A., Shore, B. M., & Enersen, D. L. (2007). Best practices in gifted education: An evidence-based guide. Waco, TX: Prufrock Press. 

Tiesco, C. L. (2005). The effects of grouping practices and curricular adjustments on achievement. Journal for the Education of the Gifted, 29, 60-89. 


Why Are We Holding Back Our Brightest Kids? The Truth About Academic Acceleration and Your Gifted Child

Think of some of today’s young talented celebrities: Lebron James, Taylor Swift, Dakota Fanning. These are people whom the country has deemed to have some sort of genius—athletic, musical, or dramatic. These are people who were given permission to reach their potential as gifted people at their own pace. Imagine someone telling Lebron that he couldn’t play basketball for the NBA right out of high school because he was too young – or because we were concerned that he wouldn’t develop good social relationships with his older teammates. Imagine telling Dakota Fanning (the youngest person ever to be nominated for a Screen Actors Guild award) that she wasn’t ready to be an actor because she might not fit in with her peers on the set. It sounds ridiculous, right? Yet teachers, parents, and administrators express these types of concerns about our brightest young people and hold them back based on these same presumptions each day. Most educators deeply mistrust the idea of accelerating gifted and talented children, believing (often incorrectly) that acceleration will negatively impact kids socially and academically. Today's post will explore some really important information that you should consider carefully if you are a parent or teacher of a gifted child. The majority of this post has been taken from a paper I wrote in grad school a while ago, but the information still rings so very true. 

What is acceleration?

Acceleration occurs when students are allowed to “progress through an educational program at rates faster or at ages younger than conventional” (Brown, 1993). Acceleration can apply to a wide range of strategies, beginning as young as kindergarten, and continuing through college. It can apply to 18 different strategies, including skipping entire grades, early entrance to kindergarten or first grade, subject acceleration, in which students are moved to higher grade levels only for particular subject matter, “telescoping” curriculum—that is accomplishing 3 years worth of curriculum in 2, participating in fast-paced extracurricular classes, or entering into college early (Robinson, Shore, & Enersen, 2007).  Acceleration can also take the form of continuous progress, self-paced instruction, curriculum compacting, mentoring, correspondence courses, early graduation, concurrent/dual enrollment, advanced placement, credit by examination, acceleration in college, early entrance into middle school, high school, or college (Colangelo, Assouline, & Gross, 2004). 

Why accelerate?

The need for acceleration of gifted students becomes evident when we consider several factors that we know about gifted learners. First, these students tend to learn more quickly than their peers. They can absorb and process information efficiently. Second, Gifted students are able to comprehend information in greater depth than other students. Third, talented students come to class with readiness that is different from that of average ability students. It has been noted that they come to class already knowing between 50 and 85 percent of the prescribed material (Den-Mo, 2007).

There is not much documentation on the history of acceleration. According to Brown, acceleration is a recent educational option—stating that, “the idea that children should remain with their chronological peers was not widely held before the mid-nineteenth century. It was expected that student performance would mandate where students were placed and when they graduated” (Brown, 1993, p. 3). It was not until later when school attendance increased because education for all became a mandate, and psychological theories about child development led to the creation of a more formalized age-grade structure (Brown, 1993). 

What are the effects?

The good

Much research has been conducted on the effects of acceleration in any of its forms, with benefits shown in most cases.  In A Nation Deceived: How Schools Hold Back America’s Brightest Students, the authors conducted a meta-analysis of studies conducted on acceleration and found that bright students almost always benefit from accelerated programs of study (Colangelo, Assouline, & Gross, 2004, p. 29). On achievement tests, “accelerated students perform almost as well as their older classmates, even those with similar IQs—meaning that an accelerated 7-year-old with an IQ of 133 typically scores nearly as well on the same test as a 133 IQ 8-year-old who has had an extra year of school” (Cloud, Badowski, Rubiner, & Scully, 2004, p. 57). These same accelerated children far outscore their age-mates, who are equally gifted, but remained in their grade-level (Cloud, Badowski, Rubiner, & Scully, 2004). The meta-analytic studies conducted by the University of Iowa also showed that other provisions for gifted students were less effective than acceleration, with the average effect size being .41 for special programs of enrichment for gifted and talented students. The study also concludes that accelerated students are more likely to aspire to advanced degrees (Colangelo, Assouline, & Gross, 2004). 

The most frequent refrain that teachers, parents, and administrators voice about acceleration is a concern for the social-emotional well-being of the children. While acceleration, especially radical acceleration (think 11-year-olds attending college), and grade skipping can come with potential issues, the research has shown that in general the benefits outweigh the negative effects—especially when plans are made carefully and several recommended factors are considered prior to moving the student. Researchers have found that there is almost no effect on the participation in school activities. Accelerated students participate as much in extracurricular and co-curricular activities as their non-accelerated peers (Colangelo, Assouline, & Gross, 2004). 

The (temporarily) not as good

There are several issues that may arise when a child is accelerated though they have usually been deemed small and short-lived in most cases. According to the University of Iowa study, the meta-analysis showed that students may experience a slight readjustment in their self-image because of the move to a more intellectually challenging atmosphere with academic peers. The authors note that this effect usually seems to be quite small and short-lived, but that it shouldn’t be ignored, and that the profound benefits of acceleration outweigh the social risks in most cases (Colangelo, Assouline, & Gross, 2004). Some researchers have found a little-fish-big-pond effect on the self-esteem on some kids, but again, the effect is usually small and temporary. It has been speculated that this effect may even be healthy for the egos of these super-talented kids (Cloud, Badowski, Rubiner, & Scully, 2004)! In a 2010 article, researchers note, “To be clear, there is no evidence that acceleration has a negative impact on a student’s social-emotional development” (Colangelo N. , et al., 2010). This is somewhat of a contradiction to what I had previously stated, however, it may be safe to say that there is little evidence that a child’s social-emotional development will be harmed in the process of acceleration, as long as their case is carefully considered prior to making changes in their educational plan. 

How do I know if the gifted child in my life is a good candidate for acceleration?

When it comes to deciding which students are good candidates for acceleration, several factors should be considered. Feldhusen, Proctor, and Black suggest that there should be a “comprehensive psychological evaluation of the child’s intellectual functioning, academic skill levels, and social-emotional adjustment by a psychologist” (2002). Following that, they make several recommendations about the child. They should have:
  • Intellectually, an IQ of 125 or higher or have a level of mental development above the mean for the grade he or she desires to enter. 
  • Academically, the child should demonstrate skill levels above the mean for the grade desired. If the child is high in several skill levels but low in only one, they child may be advanced to the appropriate grade level as long as private tutoring is provided in the area of weakness. Conversely, some children’s academic skill levels vary considerably. If they are far advanced in math, for example, but at- or below-level in language arts, subject area acceleration may be the most appropriate option. 
  • Socially and emotionally, the child should be free of any serious adjustment problems. Additionally, the child should demonstrate a high degree of persistence and motivation for learning. However, in specific cases, there may be serious adjustment problems caused by inappropriately low grade placement. In such cases, the problem may be alleviated by grade advancement. 
  • Physically, the child should be in good health. The child’s size should only be considered to the extent that competitive sports may be viewed as important in later years. The psychologist should determine that the child does not feel unduly pressured by the parents to advance. 
  • The parents must be in favor of grade advancement, but the child should express a desire to more ahead as well. 
  • The receiving teachers must have positive attitudes toward acceleration and be willing to help the child adjust to the new situation. 
  • Transitions should generally be made at naturally occurring points throughout the school year. 
  • All cases should be arranged on a trial basis, and the child should not be made to feel he or she is a failure if it does not go well. 
All bulleted information: (Feldhusen, Proctor, & Black, 2002, pp. 170-171) 

The Iowa Acceleration Scale (IAS), created by Great Potential Press, Inc. is on of the best tools to help determine whether a child is a good candidate for subject-area and/or whole-grade acceleration. This tool takes what could be a subjective decision, left up to anecdotal data and presuppositions about the child, and changes it into an objective decision by quantifying information such as the child's birth order, extracurricular involvement, his or her feelings about acceleration, his age, size, and many other factors. The IAS combines that information with scores from grade-level and above-grade-level nationally normed tests. 

It appears that the case for acceleration is very clear, supported by years of documentation of the positive effects. And yet, for the most part, general education practitioners often resist making this option available for their bright students, even though the research suggests that doing so is effective (Viadero, 2004). If we can’t provide children with neatly tailored educational packages designed only for them, then at the very least we should enable them to move ahead at a pace and to a level that meets their needs! Research finds little data to support the notion that people are affected negatively in the end. In fact, longitudinal research has shown that accelerated students attain advanced degrees, produce scholarly works, and contribute professionally at rates well above societal baselines (Feldhusen, Proctor, & Black, 2002). It is important to get the word out to educators and parents that acceleration is an option, and it is an option well worth considering. 

Success Stories

In my time teaching gifted children, I have been a part of acceleration teams in two different schools. We always used the Iowa Acceleration Scale, met with parents multiple times, had very open dialogue with the children in consideration for this academic intervention, and had honest conversations with teachers who would be receiving the accelerated children. I'm proud to say that (to my most up-to-date knowledge) every. single. case has been a success. I experienced the process both as a teacher sending the child up to a new teacher (or teachers) in the grade level above me, as well as a teacher on the receiving end of the acceleration, accepting the accelerated child into my class. Each time, I watched the acceleration play out just as the research has suggested it would. There was usually a period of adjustment in the beginning (going from the big fish/little pond scenario to the little(er) fish in a big(ger) pond),  sometimes the child was reluctant at first to have to work at learning, or disappointed to get scores on assignments or tests that were slightly lower than what they were used to getting. However, it wasn't long before the successes started happening. In each case, not only did the child quickly assimilate to the next grade level up, but they also rose to the top of that class as well. 

Do you have a success story? I would love to hear it! Leave me a comment below and tell me about your experience. 

You may be interested in reading more about people who have experienced the acceleration process. Here are some websites at which you can find more information: 
Whole grade acceleration success stories

Read more about acceleration, including the follow-up publication to A Nation Deceived: How Schools Hold Back America's Brightest Students, titled A Nation Empowered How Evidence Trumps the Excuses Holding Back America's Brightest Students.  This website has all the latest information, including the poster below, which is an awesome summary of their research. 

Thanks for reading!


Brown, R. S. (1993). School acceleration: What does the research say? Scope , 2-9.
Cloud, J., Badowski, C., Rubiner, B., & Scully, S. (2004, September 27). Saving the smart kids. Time , pp. 56-61.
Colangelo, N., & Assouline, S. (2005). Accelerating gifted children. Principal , 62-62.
Colangelo, N., Assouline, S. G., & Gross, M. U. (2004). A Nation Deceived: How Schools Hold Back America's Brightest Students. Iowa City: The University of Iowa.
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