|[ Abstract for this presentation ] [ Proceedings Contents ] [ Program ] [ Abstracts ]
Dare to differentiate: A strategy for gifted studentsJennifer Bejr, Rebecca Garfield and Janna Somers
Curtin University of Technology
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.
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?"
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.
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).
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).
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).
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.
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.
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)
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.
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:
|Off-Task Behaviours||On-Task Behaviours|
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.
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.
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.
|Plus (+)||Minus (-)|
|Plus (+)||Minus (-)|
|Student Quote/s||Interview 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.|
|Student Quote||Interview 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:
|Student-Chosen Activity||Activity 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:
Figure 2: Pre-project, student's combined total of off/on-task behaviours as observed during writing tasks
Figure 3: Mid-project, student's combined total of off/on-task behaviours as observed during writing tasks
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:
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).
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".
Annandale, K., Bindon, R., Broz, J., Dougan, J., Handley, K., Johnston, A., Lockett, L., Lynch, P. (2005). First Steps Writing Resource Book (2nd ed.). Port Melbourne: Rigby Heinemann.
Alber, S., Martin, C., & Gammill, D. (2005). Using the literary: Masters to inspire written expression in gifted students. Gifted Child Today, 28(2), 50-59.
Bowe, F. (2005). Making inclusion work. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Merrill Prentice Hall.
Brady, L., & Kennedy, K. (2007). Curriculum construction (3rd ed.). Frenchs Forest, NSW: Prentice Hall.
Chapman, C., & King, R. (2005). Differentiated assessment strategies: One tool doesn't fit all. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press.
Clark, B. (2002). Growing up gifted. (6th ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Merrill Prentice Hall.
Cleaver, S. (2008). Smart and bored: Are we failing our high achievers? Scholastic Instructor, 117(5), 28-32.
Curriculum Council (1998). Curriculum framework for Kindergarten to Year 12 education in Western Australia. Osborne Park, WA: Curriculum Council.
Department of Education and Training (2005). Western Australian Department of Education Literacy Net. Retrieved from http://det.wa.edu.au/
Department of Education and Training (2009). Western Australian Department of Education K - 10 syllabus. Retrieved from http://K-10syllabus.det.wa.edu.au/output/outcomes/english
Department of Education (2010). Gifted and talented: Developing the talents of gifted children. Perth: Western Australian Department of Education. Retrieved from http://www.det.wa.edu.au/curriculumsupport/giftedandtalented/detcms/
Elkhatib, L. (1991). Self recording of on-task behavior with learning disabled children. Yarmouk University, CUHK Education Journal, 19(2), 161-168.
Foreman, P. (1996). Integration and inclusion in action. Sydney, NSW: Harcourt Brace.
Gifted Education Research, Resource and Information Centre (2005). Gifted and talented education: Professional development package for teachers, module one. Sydney, NSW: University of New South Wales, School of Education.
Groundwater-Smith, S., Ewing, R., & Le Cornu, R. (2007). Teaching: Challenges and dilemmas (3rd ed.). South Melbourne: Thomson Learning.
Hargrove, K. (2005). In the classroom: What's a teacher to do? Gifted Child Today, 28(4), 38-39.
Holz, C., Diezmann, C.M., & Watters, J.J. (1999). New horizons: School-based change in gifted education. Apex: The New Zealand Journal of Gifted Education, 12(1), 27-36.
Jason, L.A., & Kuchay, D.A. (2001). Ecological influences on school children's classroom behavior. Education, 105(4), 411-413.
Kondor, C.A. H. (2007). One size may not fit all, but the right teaching strategies might: The effects of differentiated instruction on the motivation of talented and gifted students. Portland State University. June 2007, 1-35. Retrieved from http://www.eric.ed.gov/PDFS/ED497701.pdf
Lantz, C., McKenna, B., Price, B., & Stralow, D. (2007). Increasing on-task behavior through motivational activities. Chicago, Illinois: Saint Xavier University. May 2007. Retrieved from http://www.eric.ed.gov/PDFS/ED496134.pdf
Marsh, C. (2004). Becoming a teacher (3rd ed.). Frenchs Forest: Pearson Education Australia.
Mulhern, J. D. (2003). The gifted child in the regular classroom. Roeper Review, 25(3), 112-115.
Porter, L. (1999). Gifted young children: A guide for teachers and parents. NSW, Australia: Allen & Unwin.
Renzulli, J. (1999). Teach to the top. Instructor, 117(5), 34.
Reif. S.F., & Heimburge, J.A. (2006). How to reach and teach all children in the inclusive classroom: Practical strategies, lessons, and activities. San Francisco, USA: Jossey-Bass.
Scott, T., Callahan, C., & Urquhart, J. (2009). Paint-by-number teachers and cookie-cutter students: The unintended effects of high stakes testing on the education of gifted students. Roeper Review, 31(1), 40-52.
Senate Standing Committee on Education, Employment and Workplace Relations (2001). The education of gifted and talented children. Retrieved from http://www.aph.gov.au/senate/committee/EET_CTTE/completed_inquiries/1999-02/gifted/report/index.htm
Smith, T., Pollaway, E., Patton, J., & Dowdy, C. (2006). Teaching students with special needs in inclusive settings (4th ed.). Boston: Pearson Education Inc.
Stein, G., & Poole, P. (1997). Meeting the interests and needs of gifted children: A strategy for teaching and learning. Early Child Development and Care, 130(1), 13-19.
Stringer, E. (2008). Action research in education (2nd ed.). Upper Saddle River, New Jersey: Pearson Merrill Prentice Hall.
Van de Walle, J. A., Karp, K. S., & Bay-Williams, J. M. (2004). Elementary and middle school mathematics: Teaching developmentally (7th ed.). Boston: Allyn & Bacon.
Van Tassel-Baska, J., Zuo, L., Avery, L. D., & Little, C. A. (2002). A curriculum study of gifted student learning in the language arts. Gifted Child Quarterly, 46(1), 30-44.
Woolfolk, A., & Margetts, K. (2007). Educational Psychology. Frenchs Forest, NSW: Pearson Education Australia.
|Authors: Jennifer Bejr, Rebecca Garfield and Janna Somers|
Curtin University of Technology. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.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