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Dare to differentiate: A strategy for gifted students

Jennifer Bejr, Rebecca Garfield and Janna Somers
Curtin University of Technology
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During pre-service field experiences, it became apparent that gifted students often required further challenging educational tasks to address their unique learning needs and academic capabilities. It was observed that these students exhibited off-task behaviours, raising concerns that they were not meeting their full academic potential. This paper is the result of an Action Learning Research Project (ALRP) designed to engage and motivate gifted primary aged students in the English Learning Area Writing Strand, by developing and implementing a Tic-Tac-Toe (TTT) choice board strategy for differentiated instruction. Three students from a mainstream Year Five classroom were selected by their class teacher for participation in this project. Individual choice boards were developed according to the students' personal interests to increase their engagement and motivation in the English Learning Area Writing Strand. Student interviews, surveys, and observational checklists were used to determine the study's effectiveness. Analysis of the results show that implementation of the TTT choice board within this study effectively motivated, engaged and extended gifted students within their mainstream classroom. The success and high impact of this ALRP has generated opportunities and interest in further development and research on a larger scale.


Introduction

As pre-service teachers, we noticed that students identified as 'gifted' often completed Writing tasks well in advance of allocated time. As a result, these students often became bored and distracted and we experienced growing concern that these students were not achieving their full potential. The purpose of this project was to provide gifted students in mainstream classrooms with enriching experiences within the Writing Strand of the English Learning Area through student-chosen learning experiences which were of high interest to them personally.

In reviewing relevant literature, it became apparent that gifted students are at risk of lowered achievement in the classroom, and that differentiated learning strategies could increase the individual motivation and academic potential of these students. Curriculum instruction in mainstream schools generally addresses middle range ability students (Cleaver, 2008), which may result in gifted students becoming unmotivated and losing interest in class activities, leading to issues with under-achievement and disruptive behaviours (Bowe, 2005; Cleaver, 2008; Foreman, 1996; Groundwater-Smith, Ewing & Le Cornu, 2007; Marsh 2004).

In Western Australia, schools are currently focussing on the outstanding performances of students in a widely diverse range of Learning Areas (Department of Education, 2010). As the Department of Education defines the term 'gifted' as a student's outstanding potential and ability in one or more domains, (e.g. intellectual, artistic or sensorimotor), this leads to the expectation that a higher proportion of the student body will be identified as requiring gifted and talented provision, with this figure possibly equating to as high as 15% of each school's collective enrolments (Department of Education, 2010).

Gifted students have different learning needs in comparison to their peers and teachers are required to respond to these needs. As teachers, facilitating these students to achieve their academic potential is not an elective nor is it discretionary, it is a professional obligation (Gifted Education Research, Resource and Information Centre, 2005). This project researched the effect of a differentiated learning strategy in the form of a choice board called 'Tic-Tac-Toe' to extend the learning of three Year Five students in Writing tasks. This project was designed in response to the question; "Can the differentiated teaching strategy of a Tic-Tac-Toe choice board enrich the learning of gifted Year Five students in the Writing Strand of the English Learning Area?"

Literature review

Introduction

Meeting the academic needs of gifted students on a daily basis in our classrooms is a challenge for all teachers. During our pre-service field experiences as undergraduates in primary school education, we have observed that many high ability and 'gifted' students complete their lesson activities well within the allotted lesson time frame. They will then often appear to become bored and restless, and consequently may disrupt others around them that are still completing their activities. We believe these students require extended and enriched curriculum in order for them to be engaged, motivated and reach their academic potential within the classroom.

Our professional undertaking as future teachers is to ensure that all students in our classrooms are provided with the opportunity and tools to maximise their learning. The purpose of this review is to explore the need for differentiated curriculum strategies to engage and motivate gifted students in their daily classroom work, incorporating the use of TTT choice boards.

Through the revision of relevant literature, it became apparent that gifted students are at risk of lowered achievement in the classroom, and differentiated learning strategies could increase individual motivation and academic potential. It was also evident that all students within the classroom, ranging from low to high-ability and gifted categories, will at times require encouragement and strategies to engage and motivate them in their daily classroom tasks; however, this review will only discuss these needs for students within the gifted category.

Gifted at risk

Gifted is a term defined as "a student's outstanding potential and ability in one or more domains, (e.g. intellectual, artistic or sensorimotor)" (Department of Education, 2010). The traditional criteria applied to identify gifted students generally utilised intelligence quotient test scores (Smith, Pollaway, Patton & Dowdy, 2006; Bowe, 2005; Porter, 1999); however, contemporarily a broader range of identifying guidelines are now employed which include the following major points: The Western Australian Curriculum Framework provides a structure for schools and educators to construct, with flexibility, educational programs that meet the needs of their students (Curriculum Council, 1998). Contained within the framework are Learning and Teaching Principles that influence the construction of the programs, including the Principle "Inclusivity and Difference - Learning experiences should respect and accommodate differences between learners" (Curriculum Council, 1998, p. 35), which incorporates the gifted cohort.

Are our classrooms meeting the needs of these students? According to Cleaver (2008, p.2), "seventy percent of the kids who are high ability are underachieving", and the unique educational needs of gifted students are not met or are poorly addressed in our daily classrooms (Holz, Diezmann & Watters, 1999; Marsh, 2004; Woolfolk & Margetts, 2007). Teachers are generally addressing the middle range ability students (Cleaver, 2008) and as a result, gifted students are often bored, frustrated, unmotivated and disinterested, leading to potential underachievement and poor behaviour (Bowe, 2005; Cleaver, 2008; Foreman, 1996; Groundwater-Smith et al., 2007; Marsh, 2004).

Educational challenges

Gifted students have different learning needs in comparison to the general class cohort, requiring less revision and consolidation time, but needing higher levels of stimulation and challenge (Porter, 1999). They exhibit intrinsic motivation and metacognitive thinking, learning spontaneously with a preference to direct their own learning, and often have wide and passionate interests that they enjoy linking into their school learning (Senate Standing Committee on Education, Employment and Workplace Relations, 2001; Woolfolk & Margetts, 2007). Teachers need to consider the unique educational needs of gifted learners by providing enhanced higher thinking and processing tasks that will challenge them at appropriate levels, rather than providing 'busy work' time fillers, with the awareness that gifted students are capable of pursuing independent projects that reflect their interests (Rief & Heimburge, 2006; Renzulli, 1999; Stein & Poole, 1997). Many researchers support the use of open-ended assignments and independent projects based on a student's individual interests to provide motivation, allowing students to take their learning to a deeper level (Cleaver, 2008; Kondor, 2007; Porter, 1999; Renzulli, 1999; Stein & Poole, 1997) as they apply higher order thinking skills and can transfer their knowledge with ease to new and abstract contexts. These researchers also agree that the following points should be considered when designing activities to meet the teaching and learning needs of gifted students: An important goal of education is to empower students to become independent learners (Curriculum Council, 1998). The afore-mentioned considerations promote the self- regulated learning so characteristic of gifted learners, providing students with the opportunities to engage in authentic and challenging tasks whilst directing their own learning. Gifted students often become immersed in a topic of interest and will study intensively, showing prolonged periods of concentration, high levels of perseverance and a high intrinsic motivation (Alber, Martin & Gammill, 2005; Woolfolk & Margetts, 2007). Mainstream classroom instruction often lacks challenge for gifted students, as teachers attempt to address the full bell curve of student aptitude (Rotigel & Fello, as cited in Kondor, 2007, p. 6). As the research has shown, if instruction is to be effective to gifted students, teachers should employ strategies that are flexible, stimulating and challenging, structured to meet the unique needs of gifted learners (Fasko & Kline, as cited in Alber et al., 2005, p. 51).

Differentiation of curriculum

Scott, Callahan and Urquhart (2009) assert that the purpose of differentiating curriculum for gifted learners is to provide challenging educational tasks, whilst addressing their unique characteristics and needs. In past decades, various differentiation strategies have been employed to meet the needs of gifted students, including acceleration through particular subjects or year levels, ability grouping, and special programs within the school and/or the community (Woolfolk & Margetts, 2007). The majority of research suggests that current trends favour inclusive classrooms and integrated curriculum within mainstream settings, and will continue to be the more typical setting where instruction for these students is received (Smith et al., 2006). Van De Walle, Karp and Bay-Williams (2004, p. 94) support this view, and advocate that "Children who are gifted need to be challenged in daily instruction, not just when they are pulled out for a gifted program".

Differentiation of curriculum is defined in the strictest sense by Porter (1999, p. 172) as "the provision of different learning activities for same-age children who have different learning needs and preferences"; however, a broader interpretation recognises the modification of the curricular elements: content, processes and products (Senate Standing Committee on Education, Employment and Workplace Relations, 2001; Porter, 1999; Van Tassel-Baska, Zuo, Avery & Little, 2002). As discussed previously, gifted students gain deeper and richer understanding of learning tasks when teaching and learning strategies provide learning opportunities that are open ended, authentic, challenging, and have been produced with a learner- sensitive focus and personal interest. Differentiation to curriculum content, processes and products should also reflect these design points.

Curriculum content refers to the ideas, concepts and information presented to students (Brady & Kennedy, 2007). Porter (1999) suggests that activities detailing these points should be tailored to the ability of the student, providing the level of abstract and complex thinking to match the student's prior knowledge, whilst being open-ended and promoting student's interest. The Curriculum Council (1998, p. 35) asserts that students "be provided with a rich variety of learning opportunities which enables them to build on their ... personal strengths and work in preferred ways".

Curriculum process is the methodology that teachers choose to present content to students and the metacognitive skills chosen by students to engage in activities. The content delivery requires teachers to consider the type and level of questions asked, and the mental and physical tasks expected of the student (Senate Standing Committee on Education, Employment and Workplace Relations, 2001). This delivery is of particular importance to the gifted student, as it will include the student's preferred learning style, match tasks to the developmental levels and interest of the student, promote metacognitive skills and encourage autonomy and self-regulated learning (Porter, 1999; Stein & Poole, 1997).

Curriculum product refers to the evidence of a student's learning, whether that is a physical product, or reflection of cognitive processes (Smith et al., 2006). To encourage motivation and satisfaction, gifted students will need to take their product beyond the level normally achievable by similar aged children, and should be encouraged to, from a multitude of formats, produce evidence of their learning relevant to their interests and learning styles. Providing student choice for products delivery enhances their imagination and creativity (Van Tassel-Baska, as cited in Kondor 2007, p. 8) allowing students the autonomy to choose how they will display their understanding of concepts and processes. Again, it is vital to the gifted student that their interests are taken into account (Cleaver, 2008).

Motivating and challenging activities can be tailor-made for gifted students by differentiating the curriculum elements. Teachers need to provide for individual differences when designing curriculum experiences to enable all students to participate equally in the learning process, and can promote and encourage self-motivation by providing a variety of choices for students to explore (Groundwater-Smith et al., 2007).

Choice boards

Smith et al. (2006, p. 376) states that "addressing the needs of students with exceptional abilities in the context of the general education classroom is a monumental challenge", whilst Kondor (2007) contends that embedding differentiation into individual lessons in the mainstream classroom is a time consuming task that requires excessive planning time. A choice board is an organisational grid format, presenting a range of projects to students that can be delivered without disruption within a mainstream classroom. Students can be asked to complete projects on the board utilising a 'Tic-Tac-Toe' (TTT) three in a row method, and work on the projects within a negotiated time frame to enrich their learning after completing their regular classroom activities. The board can be produced to address a specific curriculum Learning Area or strand, or incorporate a variety of Learning Areas.

Students take ownership of their learning when offered choice, (Cleaver, 2008) therefore, choice boards should be produced, as suggested by the reviewed literature, in collaboration with students to cater for their individual interests and learning styles. Teachers can use the board production to differentiate curriculum specifically to a student's needs and learning styles, whilst ensuring the activities are open-ended, authentic, and learner-focused. As a collaborative process, teachers can be assured that projects include the breadth and depth of learning that will challenge students, while providing encouragement and freedom to independently explore their personal interests (Alber et al., 2005).

Summary of literature

Gifted students are at risk of not achieving their full potential in our classrooms, becoming bored, disinterested and frustrated, whilst teachers grapple with the often time consuming and daunting task of addressing their unique educational needs (Cleaver, 2008; Holz, Diezmann & Watters, 1999; Marsh, 2004; Woolfolk & Margetts, 2007). As educators, we are ethically bound by our curriculum framework to recognise and provide appropriate learning opportunities for all students, including the gifted cohort (Curriculum Council, 1998). The research has shown that these students require higher levels of stimulation and challenge that match their learning requirements, inspiring the application of higher order thinking to new and abstract contexts, and immersing students into a deeper level of investigation (Cleaver, 2008; Kondor, 2007; Porter, 1999; Renzulli, 1999; Stein & Poole, 1997).

Teachers can differentiate the curriculum elements of content, process and product to address the student's educational requirements, learning styles and personal interest by ensuring the activities are open-ended, authentic and focus on the learner's interest (Rief & Heimburge, 2006; Renzulli, 1999; Stein & Poole, 1997). A choice board can, when differentiated for individual needs and designed collaboratively with students, provide the format to address the teaching and learning considerations of gifted students within the mainstream classroom, motivating them to autonomously direct their own learning (Porter, 1999; Stein & Poole, 1997). As stated by Kondor (2007, p.8 ), "Providing students with choices and meaningful, authentic opportunities for them to construct knowledge will not only meet their learning needs, but will also motivate them to achieve excellence". It is evident through the research that there is a need to differentiate curriculum for gifted students, and by using a TTT choice board format, students can be motivated to passionately engage in their own learning.

Methodology

This project was co-ordinated by three undergraduate students, completing the final year of a four year Bachelor of Education (Primary) degree at Curtin University of Technology and took place in a mainstream classroom over a three week time frame during term two of the school year, with the Principal of the school's signed consent. This ALRP was conducted using the Action Research Cycle (Figure 1).

Figure 1

Figure 1: Action research cycle (Stringer, 2008 p. 5)

Based on the information gathered, we implemented a project designed to engage our sample group. We collected, interrogated and categorised the data to identify key recurring themes. We shared the outcomes with the school's teaching staff which has generated implementation of the project into other classrooms and a request for professional development for the teaching staff, setting this project's action research cycle into another rotation.

Choice boards

We presented each student within the study with a personalised folder containing a tailored choice board and instructions, to be used after completing daily classroom activities. The choice board presented a range of activities in an organisational grid in a tic-tac-toe format (see Appendix A), from which the students then selected three activities horizontally, vertically or diagonally within the grid to extend their writing skills. These tasks and projects incorporated students' personal interests, learning styles and preferences and can be tailored to match students' developmental levels, prior knowledge and personal interest whilst addressing students learning needs and abstract thinking.

The choice board was produced using the information gathered from the classroom teacher, student reflections and interviews. We then used this data in conjunction with the Western Australian Department of Education and Training K-10 syllabus (Department of Education and Training, 2009), Western Australian Curriculum Framework (Curriculum Council, 1998), First Steps Writing Books (Annandale et al., 2005; Annandale, Bindon, Handley, Johnston, Lockett and Lynch, 2005), and the Literacy Net programme (Department of Education and Training, 2005), to devise the activities. Choice boards provide challenging educational tasks, through rich, open-ended and authentic activities, that when strategically placed, can allow teachers to extend students in specific areas. (Annandale et al., 2005; Annandale, Bindon, Handley, Johnston, Lockett and Lynch, 2005)

Sample group

The sample group for this project consisted of three Year Five students who had been selected by their classroom teacher, had chosen to participate in the project and had obtained signed parental consent to do so. These students, aged between nine and ten, were selected based on their suitability for participation in this project, having been identified by their teacher as the most likely to benefit academically from the choice board activities implemented during this project. These students were part of a combined Year four/five classroom, consisting of twenty eight Year four and five students. Their classroom is situated within a mid-socio economic government school, located twenty kilometres north east of Perth in Western Australia.

The students and their parents/guardians were informed that withdrawal from the project could take place at any time and that the students would not be identified in any way. Throughout the project, the students participating were treated with respect and courtesy at all times, and the co-ordinators of this project were approachable and welcoming and provided support and encouragement to the students participating for the duration of the project.

Procedures

Prior to implementing the project, the class teacher completed an Observation Checklist, which consisted of pre-determined observational points designed to gauge each student's level of motivation and reflection of 'off-task' and 'on-task' behaviours through body language and visual cues. These checklists provided a baseline for the student's 'off-task' and 'on-task' behaviours during class-scheduled Writing tasks. During the first stage of the project, the students were interviewed and completed a PMI (Plus, Minus, Interesting) reflection sheet for the purpose of determining their opinions and perceptions toward set Writing tasks prior to the project's implementation. The students then engaged in three Writing activities as individually selected from their choice boards using the instructions provided, which required the students to complete their chosen activities in a Tic-Tac-Toe (three in a row) format.

During the project's implementation, the classroom teacher completed a second Observation Checklist for each student as they worked on their selected activities, to compare and contrast student's off/on-task behaviours before and after involvement in their selected choice board activities. Upon completion of several activities, student's work samples were also collected, providing concrete evidence for analysis and verification of the successful implementation of this project. During the final stage of the project, the students completed another PMI reflection sheet to compare and contrast their previous opinions and perceptions.

This project aimed to improve the students 'on-task' behaviours through the implementation of choice board activities which were designed to be of high personal interest to the students, increasing these student's performance and engagement in Writing tasks. In order for these students' performances to be measurable, the Observation Checklists were developed to record the students' 'off-task' and 'on-task' behaviours as exhibited and observed prior to and during the project's implementation.

'Off-task' behaviours refer to specific student behaviours as observed by the classroom teacher that hinder students from task completion. According to Mather & Goldstein (2001), there are four basic student behaviours that are recognised as off-task; calling out, inappropriate verbalisations, being out of one's seat, inactivity or not being engaged in the topic, and/or noncompliance. As acknowledged by Elkhatib (1991), off-task behaviours or inattention has negative consequences for learning.

'On-task' behaviours refer to the student's attention to the task at hand and ability to focus on a designated activity (Lantz, McKenna, Price & Stralow, 2007). These behaviours include; attention to instructional activities, listening and following directions and active participation. Research has shown these behaviours to be important factors that are essential to creating a learning environment which motivates students (Lantz, et. al. 2007). Students who are highly engaged in activities also show the most intellectual improvement (Jason & Kuchay, 2001).

For the purpose of this project, off-task and on-task student behaviours have been categorised as follows:

Table 1: Off-task and on-task indicators

Off-Task BehavioursOn-Task Behaviours
  • Gazing around classroom
  • Playing with objects on desk
  • Not following direct instructions
  • Calling out/speaking out of turn
  • Talking with peers during instruction
  • Making noises unrelated to tasks
  • Returns to the activity
  • Copes with task interruptions
  • Asks for help from teacher
  • Asks for help from peers
  • Helps others
  • Corrects errors

Data collection

Results for analysis were obtained through student interviews and PMI's, collected work samples and observation checklists as completed by the class teacher. These documents were analysed using the following methods;

Interviews/PMI's
Provided first-hand written documentation of each student's attitudes towards Writing tasks. This information was collected before and after the project's implementation to allow for comparison and contrasting of information collected. Students were interviewed to clarify their written PMI responses and gain insight into their personal interests.

Work samples
Provided visual representation of the student's work produced as a result of their choice board selections. These samples are demonstrative of the quality of work each student was able to achieve in accordance with the performance criteria of each activity completed during the project and clearly reflect each student's interpretation and individual approach to their chosen writing tasks.

Observation checklists
Provided teacher insight to the student's behavioural performance prior to project implementation and during their chosen Writing tasks throughout the project. These observations evaluated the off and on-task behaviours of students, quantifying the data.

Results

In collecting and analysing the PMI's as completed by the students pre-project and post-project, the following responses were evident:

Table 2: Pre-project PMI: Student's attitudes to writing tasks

Plus (+)Minus (-)
  • Freedom of creativity
  • Self-expression
  • Use of imagination
  • Variety of genres explored
  • Laborious - takes too long
  • Focus on handwriting skills, not writing
  • Can be boring (content/genre)

Table 3: Post-project PMI: Student's attitudes to writing tasks

Plus (+)Minus (-)
  • Variety of tasks (differentiation)
  • Student-chosen activities
  • Choice of presentation (e.g. poster)
  • No time limit for completion of tasks
  • Too many good activities - didn't know what to choose first.
  • Uncertainty regarding open-endedness of tasks (requested need for guidance)

Table 4: Pre-project student opinions: Student's opinions on what would make writing tasks more interesting


Student Quote/sInterview Clarification
Student 1"By having writing activities in writing".Activities involving more than handwritten work (e.g. PowerPoint).
Student 2"To write a bigger word than a smaller word".Freedom to extend descriptive vocabulary.
Student 3"If the children got to choose the topic".Student negotiated topics based on personal interest.
"Having a few suggestions".Student input for activity choices.
"Short quick writing sessions then a break then writing".Breaking up laborious handwriting tasks into shorter time frames.

Table 5: Post-project student opinions: Student's opinions on what made writing tasks more interesting


Student QuoteInterview Clarification
Student 1
"It's all good".
Student 2"It was interesting that I could do activities that I haven't done before".Experiencing new activities made Writing tasks interesting.
Student 3"It was much more fun than writing full on without a time limit".Students were able to present their work in a format of their choice.
"I was so interested I just went straight to the work".Tasks were engaging, motivating and promoted self-regulated learning.

In collecting and analysing the Work Samples as produced by the students during the project, the following conclusions were made:

Table 6: Student's work produced during chosen activities


Student-Chosen ActivityActivity Description
Student 1'Don't Forget the Lyrics...'Create song lyrics in a style of your choice, e.g. heavy metal.
Student 2'Crazy Comic'Create a comic strip showing your first encounter with ... Make sure the dialogue is realistic for your characters.
Student 3'Personality Profile'Produce a biography on a person you admire.
'Don't Forget the Lyrics...'Create song lyrics for a soon-to-be-released horror movie, in the style of your choice.

In collecting and analysing the Observation Checklists which recorded each student's 'off and on-task' behaviours as completed by the classroom teacher prior to and during project implementation, the following observations were noted:

Table 7: Pre-Project off-task and on-task behaviours
Student's individual total of off/on-task behaviours as observed during writing tasks


Off-taskOn-task
Student 154
Student 224
Student 325

Table 8: Mid-project off-task and on-task behaviours
Student's individual total of off/on-task behaviours as observed during writing tasks


Off-taskOn-task
Student 124
Student 205
Student 305

Figure 2

Figure 2: Pre-project, student's combined total of off/on-task behaviours as observed during writing tasks

Figure 3

Figure 3: Mid-project, student's combined total of off/on-task behaviours as observed during writing tasks

Discussion

As shown, the results clearly indicate that the students were motivated and engaged in Writing tasks when the tasks included the freedom for creativity and imagination. Taking into account the student's viewpoints during interviews and written PMI's, the choice boards were developed to be reflective of each student's personal interests and their suggestions for the improvement of in-class Writing tasks. Table 4 shows that the students expressed a preference for short, quick writing sessions, negotiated topics, presentation formats other than handwriting, freedom to extend descriptive vocabulary and having input in topic selection. In response to these preferences, the choice boards were created to allow students to approach each activity autonomously by offering Writing tasks that were rich, open-ended, relevant and meaningful, incorporating a variety of genres and presentation styles.

Prior to the introduction of the choice board, students behaviours were described by their teacher as generally being on task, although they all displayed the off task indicators of gazing around the classroom and playing with objects on their desks. Student 3 was also noted to calling out inappropriately, swinging on their chair and chatting with peers when receiving instruction, as well as engaging in activities not related to the instructional task such as passing notes. Following the implementation of this project, these off-task indicators were greatly reduced. As shown in Table 8, Students 2 and 3 displayed no off-task behaviours. Student 1's behaviours were significantly reduced by two thirds with the teacher reporting that their remaining behaviours caused no distraction to other students.

During the action stage of this learning project, the classroom teacher reported the following:

All students reported that during the action stage of the project, they were unable to 'switch off' after school, choosing to continue work on their activities at home. Student 1 reported that they spent all night thinking about their song lyrics that they ended up getting up at five in the morning to write and sing their lyrics, whilst Student 3 shared that they had been practicing their song lyrics in the shower. Students 1 and 3 showed extreme initiative and ability to self-regulate their learning by researching lyric structure using technology such as an iPod and the internet. These actions substantiate the assertion that students take ownership of their learning when offered choice (Chapman & King, 2005; Cleaver, 2008; Hargrove, 2005).

Reflective comments of the students included Student 3 listing "I can't choose which one" as a negative, as they were inclined to select every activity available on the choice board. All activities on the board motivated and engaged this student so much, that they expressed difficulty in choosing which activity to begin with. Student 2 expressed uncertainty towards the open-endedness of the tasks, in asking 'can I really just do whatever I want?' referring to the poster size, layout and materials to use for their 'Poster Promo' activity. Further questioning revealed that this student had not had as much experience with the kinds of open-ended tasks the choice board required of them, as Students 1 and 3.

Many of the Western Australian Curriculum Framework's Learning and Teaching Principles are addressed in this project by accommodating differences between learners (Curriculum Council, 1998) and connecting and challenging students with motivating, purposeful and engaging Writing tasks. The choice boards provided enhanced higher order thinking and processing tasks that were challenging, and allowed students to pursue independent projects, reflective of their interests (Cleaver, 2008; Kondor, 2007; Porter, 1999; Renzulli, 1999; Stein & Poole, 1997).

By the project's conclusion, it was evident that the student's positive attitudes towards Writing tasks had increased. The students expressed enjoyment of the differentiation of tasks, the freedom of task presentation, the ability to choose their own activities and the absence of time limits. Student 2 said "it was interesting that I could do activities that I haven't done before" (Table 5), while Student 3 commented that "it was much more fun than writing full on without a time limit" and "I was so interested I just went straight to the work". Although Student 1offered no written response, when interviewed, they said "I didn't write anything 'cos it's all good". These comments show that the Writing tasks offered were motivating, engaging and promoted self-regulated learning. Many researchers support the use of open-ended tasks and independent projects based on a student's individual interests to provide motivation, allowing students to take their learning to a deeper level (Cleaver, 2008; Kondor, 2007; Porter, 1999; Renzulli, 1999; Stein & Poole, 1997).

Limitations

The actioning of this project identified the following limitations: A larger sample group from across the school and district may show a variation in results. The checklists were completed at different times of the day; ideally, pre and post checklists should have been completed at the same time of day to ensure consistency of behavioural indicator results.

Future research direction

It would be interesting to research the benefits of this project on high and low ability learners in the mainstream classroom. Given the positive results of the choice board ALRP, it may be worthwhile trialling this project across a larger sample scale and location.

Conclusion

Overall, we found that students were engaged in their Writing tasks, displaying more motivation and positive attitudes after the introduction of the choice boards. These boards can be used to differentiate curriculum specifically to a student's needs and learning styles, whilst ensuring the activities are open-ended, authentic, and learner-focused. They include the breadth and depth of learning that will challenge gifted students, providing them the encouragement and freedom to independently explore their personal interests (Alber et al., 2005).

Figure 2 and 3 clearly show that the combined on-task behaviour indicators of the students increased from 59.1% to 87.5%, while off-task behaviours were significantly reduced from 40.9% to 12.5%. This comparison shows that planning for and implementing strategies of differentiation, such as the choice board, allows teachers to effectively create a classroom learning environment that affirms self-identity, insists excellence, encourages creativity, allows for individual pacing and promotes autonomous learning (Mulhern, 2003). Mainstream classroom instruction often lacks challenge for gifted students, as teachers attempt to address the full bell curve of student aptitude (Rotigel & Fello, as cited in Kondor, 2007, p. 6). As the literature has shown, if instruction is to be effective for gifted students, teachers should employ strategies that are flexible, stimulating and challenging, structured to meet the unique needs of gifted learners (Fasko & Kline, as cited in Alber et al., 2005, p. 51).

It is clearly evident that the differentiated teaching strategy of a TTT choice board enriches the learning of gifted students in the Writing Strand of the English Learning Area. When differentiated for individual needs, and designed collaboratively with students, choice boards provide the means of addressing the teaching and learning considerations of gifted students within the mainstream classroom, motivating them to autonomously direct their own learning (Porter, 1999; Stein & Poole, 1997). As stated by Kondor (2007, p.8 ), "Providing students with choices and meaningful, authentic opportunities for them to construct knowledge will not only meet their learning needs, but will also motivate them to achieve excellence".

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Appendix A

Appendix A first slide

Appendix A second slide

Authors: Jennifer Bejr, Rebecca Garfield and Janna Somers
Curtin University of Technology. Email: jenniferbejr@yahoo.com.au, rgarfield84@hotmail.com

Please cite as: Bejr, J., Garfield, R. & Somers, J. (2010). Dare to differentiate: A strategy for gifted students. In Proceedings Western Australian Institute for Educational Research Forum 2010. http://www.waier.org.au/forums/2010/bejr.html


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