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Dissing differentiation

April 21, 2008

Can a teacher differentiate too much?

Usually, parents of gifted students complain because teachers do not do enough differentiation. After all, it is difficult for a classroom teacher to modify the curriculum to meet the needs of each group of students in a class, when there are English language learners, failing students, dyslexic students,  students who missed classes due to health problems, regular kids, and gifted kids, all in a single classroom. Typically, the complaint is that gifted kids get short shrift in the frenzy to ensure everyone meets the minimum proficiency standards of TAKS.

Ironically, this year a CISD English teacher came under fire from parents for differentiating too much. In a class for gifted kids, she realized that there were a handful of students who were ready for even greater challenge, so she revised the curriculum for them and gave them a different, more rigorous set of assignments. She grasped the idea that highly or profoundly gifted kids are as different from moderately gifted kids as the latter are from the average kid, and responded with appropriate curriculum modifications- exactly the kind of response that we, as parents of gifted students, should applaud.

However, applause was not the common response. Parents complained because their students were not asked to participate in this special group. (I admit that was my initial reaction, too.) The griping was so pervasive that this teacher gave up on the idea of differentiating.

There is a lesson for parents in this tale. If we want differentiation for gifted students, we need to support it everywhere – even when our own children are not on the receiving end.

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