Tag Archives: gifted

When Moreferentiation Requires an Uppervention

image from Krissy Venosdale (@venspired)
image from Krissy Venosdale (@venspired)

The other day, some teachers and I mulled over a relatively new conundrum in the standardized testing world.  If you are going to measure growth in a student’s ability using a standardized test that tests the minimal skills required to pass a grade level, where does this leave the gifted student?  If he or she is already able to do 5th grade math in 3rd grade, then how will we know for the next three years if that student ever learned anything new?  Achieving a 99%ile every year does not necessarily prove growth.  Alternatively, receiving a failing score doesn’t necessarily demonstrate lack of growth; it might prove merely that the gifted student was tired of taking irrelevant tests.

We couldn’t come up with the best, objective way to measure learning growth in this population.  However, we all agreed that when a gifted child genuinely enjoys coming to school, he or she is probably learning.

How can we foster this love of learning so that these students will continue to grow even when minimum standards do not require it?  According to Lisa Van Gemert (@Gifted_Guru), one thing we should not do is moreferentiate. In her article, “Top Ten Ways to Annoy a Gifted Child,” Van Gemert explains “moreferentiation” as giving a child more of the same work.  I know – none of us do that, right?  Well, I will be the first to admit that I have done something just as unhelpful – told them to read a book or asked them to tutor other students.  In fact, when I was a classroom teacher, I was guilty of about 8 out of the 10 things that Van Gemert lists in her article.  Ouch.

So, what can we do for these students?  Josh Work has some suggestions in his recent article for Edutopia, “Uppervention: Meeting the Needs of Gifted and Talented Students.”  I think one of the recommendations that I’ve seen to be the most successful in the classroom is to “Develop Deeper, Not Wider.”  This could be the use of Genius Hour projects or another type of independent research that is based on something that interests the student.

If you are looking for some more ideas, I also wrote a post this year called, “It’s Not Enough,” which outlines some other suggestions for giving gifted students more opportunities to grow.

There is not one right answer for meeting the needs of gifted students.  Every student is unique.  However, there are many wrong answers.  My challenge to all educators is to eradicate the “Top Ten Ways to Annoy a Gifted Child” and find at least one way to inspire all of our students to leap out of bed in joyous anticipation of each day of learning in our classrooms.

Photo Mapo + Tellagami + Aurasma AppSmash

Shanghai Photo Mapo
Shanghai Photo Mapo/Tellagami Project (Scan with Aurasma app to see video.  Be sure you are following the Hidden Forest channel.)

UPDATE:  Photo Mapo is no longer free (.99) and Tellagami no longer offers the text-to-speech or customization in the free app.  You can read more about the Tellagami changes here.

Yesterday I wrote about an app-smashing project my GT 5th graders did, and today I want to present to you one that my GT 1st graders have been working on.  They have been researching countries, and recently created Photo Mapo postcards to tell about particular interesting landmarks. Typing is a bit of a laborious process for some of the 1st graders on the iPads, so I let them keep their Photo Mapo descriptions fairly short.  However, I wanted them to elaborate a little more.  This was the perfect opportunity for them to use Tellagami. With Tellagami, the students were able to choose if they wanted to type or record their own voices.  This involved some heavy decision-making for some of the students. On the one hand, they weren’t fond of typing.  On the other hand, they loved all of the different accents they could choose for their avatars if they did take the time to type the script! For some of them, that was plenty of motivation 🙂  Others decided they would rather speak for themselves. Once the students created their Tellagami videos, I loaded them up to Aurasma studio.  Now, you can scan their Photo Mapo postcards, and see the videos that give a bit more detail.  Their parents will be able to view them at home, as well, by scanning the pages with the free Aurasma app. For more ideas on using Augmented Reality in the classroom, check out my Augmented Reality Resource page – to which I just added an amazing lesson from Andy Plemmons using Layar for a 4th Grade Wax Museum.

Spain Photo Mapo
Spain Photo Mapo/Tellagami Project ( Scan with Aurasma app to see video.  Be sure you are following the Hidden Forest channel.)

App-Smashed Character Strength Floor Plans

Scan with the Aurasma app to see a video explanation. (You must be following the Hidden Forest Elementary channel.)
Scan with the Aurasma app to see a video explanation. (You must be following the Hidden Forest Elementary channel.)

Several years ago, I got a fabulous idea from a book called What’s On Your Mind? by Joel Anderson and Joan Brinkman.  One of the lessons recommends that gifted students create an “Eight Trait Floor Plan.”  The students are asked to think metaphorically about what a blueprint of their attributes might look like.  Which “rooms” would be the largest?  How many doors would each room have – and where would they lead?  The book gives many excellent questions to help students visualize this “House of Traits.”

I’ve used variations of this lesson with my GT 5th graders over the years.  Sometimes the students created the floorplans in MS Excel, sometimes on graph paper.  Generally a description accompanied it, whether typed or written. It’s been so interesting to see the creative ways students visualize their own attributes – from hidden rooms to indoor pools to closets with no doors.  The project is always insightful for me and for them. Last year, it was an excellent introduction to their Dream Team projects.

We were kind of cutting it close on time this year, so I gave the students graph paper instead of asking them to complete the floor plans on computers.  I directed them to the Periodic Table of Character Strengths to choose their traits.  Instead of adding paragraphs to the bottom that explained their floor plans, they were told they could use one of the creation apps on the iPad, such as: Tellagami, Puppet Pals, or ThingLink.  I promised the students who created videos that we could add some “Aurasma-tazz” by linking them with the Aurasma app.

One of the projects is pictured at the top of this post.  If you have the free Aurasma app, you can follow our channel (Hidden Forest Elementary), and view the Puppet Pals video that accompanies the floor plan by scanning the image above.  Or, you can view the video that I’ve embedded below.

The advantage of using the Aurasma app is that my student can take this project home, and her parents don’t have to go to a website to look for her video explanation.  All they have to do is scan the picture with Aurasma.

If you are not familiar with Aurasma, which is one of several augmented reality apps, here is a link to my page of Augmented Reality Resources.  This page includes links to tutorials, as well as other activities.

Transum Software

Transum Software

Don’t be mislead by the title of this site.  You are not required to download any software, and the math resources here are fun and free.  Although primarily designed for middle and high school students, there seem to be a lot of activities that could be used in upper elementary – and it would be a great site to refer to for extension activities.

The first thing I discovered when exploring the site was the “Starter of the Day” link, which gives a mathematical brain teaser for each day of the month.  Below is the example for today:

Starter of the day for 4/23/14 from Transum Software
Starter of the day for 4/23/14 from Transum Software


Shine + Write has many activities that would be great to use with an interactive white board.  This “True or False” game, for example, takes some thought.  Fun Maths has a page of games and math tricks that will be sure to entertain. Investigations offers challenges that might be good for gifted math students to work on independently.

There are many other links on Transum Software that you may find useful.  If you are looking for a way to make math class more exciting, I highly recommend checking out this site.

Spring S.C.A.M.P.E.R.

Ms. Trayers (@jtrayers) at Not Just Child’s Play and I are always on the same wavelength!  I tried a new S.C.A.M.P.E.R.  activity for spring this week, and she posted about an Easter one that she did with her students.  I absolutely love that she had her students write their justification for the partners they chose for the Easter Bunny.  They are fabulous!

I need to add more writing to my curriculum and I am going to definitely use it more with these S.C.A.M.P.E.R. activities.  Usually, I just have the students do an illustration as a fun warm-up activity, but I like her idea to add a little more “depth” to their drawings.

The one I chose to do this week was from my Spring S.C.A.M.P.E.R. Packet, which you can find on my TPT site.  I asked my 1st grade GT students to imagine that a mother bird’s eggs has hatched but the last one is a huge surprise.  What is it?

There were a couple of Easter Bunnies, but then there were two that were opposite extremes of each other.  One student drew a baby hippopotamus, and another student drew a tiny little fly!  I asked them to identify what other S.C.A.M.P.E.R. piece they used to come up with these ideas, and they correctly named the “Magnify/Minimize” one.  And then there was the very cute, upside-down, walking baby cactus.  Talk about imagination!

Here is a free copy of the page that I used if you are interested.  You can find the rest of the packet, and other themed S.C.A.M.P.E.R. packs in my TPT store.

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What Do Your Students Take Home?

tweeted by @poida
image tweeted by @poida

As a GT teacher, I only see most of my students once a week.  I worry a lot that, once the classroom door closes behind them at the end of the day, the hours we spent together quickly fade. That’s why I try to do my best to connect our class activities to their real lives.  Every once in awhile I like to shock or provoke them into considering something that can’t easily be forgotten. Ethical discussions like The Trolley Car Dilemma tend to “stick.”  Students bring them up weeks later – sometimes even the following year.  Yesterday, my 2nd graders went on a field trip where some of them ate fried insects.  I’m pretty sure they won’t forget about that any time soon.  In fact, I’m pretty sure I won’t forget about that any time soon.

I guess that what I hope is, at the end of the day, when a parent asks a child, “What did you do in school today?” the child can give a better answer than, “Nothing.”

No, I take that back.

At the end of the day, what I really hope is that the parent doesn’t have to ask the child, “What did you do in school today?”  I hope that the child is so excited about her day that she will blurt out a summary without any need for prompting.  I hope that the child will sit at the dinner table and say, “We talked about this today.  What do you the rest of you think?”

I hope the child thinks about how much his teacher cares about him.  I hope the child thinks about questions that still need to be answered.  I hope that the child doesn’t dwell on what he was taught, but on what he learned.

And, most importantly, I hope the child can’t wait to learn more tomorrow.

It’s Not Enough

Harry S Truman

You know the one – that student who always finishes first, and appears to have nothing else to do.  Sometimes he or she gets into trouble.  Sometimes, you get tapped on the shoulder, and hear a voice say, “What should I do now?”

You’re busy. There are other children who didn’t understand, who need your help.  So, you fall back on one of the oldies but goodies.  “You can read your book.”  Or, maybe, “Why don’t you go help Jeannie?”

Some students are quite happy to be told to read a book.  Left to their own devices, they would probably read all day.  And some students enjoy helping others.

But not all.

And even if all students were thrilled with those choices, the problem is that those choices do not solve the real problem – which is that they are not learning anything new.

I recently read a blog post that recommended those solutions for gifted children.  It was a well-meaning post, but it infuriated me.  Too many people will read those suggestions and feel that they will be meeting the needs of everyone in their class if they resort to those strategies daily.

As teachers, it is our obligation to make sure that every child in our class learns something new every day.  If we don’t do that, then we are just glorified babysitters with college degrees.

Some people like to justify using  students as peer tutors by saying, “Teaching helps them to learn, too.”  But, if they already knew the topic so well that they could finish in 5 minutes what will take the rest of the class 45 minutes, how much more do they need to learn?  And, if they are not high in social skills, then the student who is being “helped” is at a disadvantage, too. Social skills will not magically improve by forced interactions – particularly if the teacher is not there to give guidance.

As for the book solution, it is useless if there is no specific purpose.  Even if the student is reading a book that would be considered advanced for his or her age, it is just another way to pass the time.  The student might as well be sitting in an armchair at home eating potato chips while he reads Beowulf.

So, what should you do?  There is not one right answer.  But here are some things that I’ve come across in my 24 years of teaching that might be worth trying:

  • let students “test” out of units by giving them a pre-test
  • assign students an upcoming skill that he or she can learn and then teach the class
  • teach units that are open-ended, particularly project-based learning units, and that allow for all students to take the learning as far as their own abilities allow
  • allow students to use Khan Academy or other video curriculum to work on advanced units (but integrate this with other collaborative classroom activities)
  • give them the answers to a multiple choice assessment, and have them create the questions
  • allow them to work on a Genius Hour project (also called Passion Projects or 20% Time)
  • use Ian Byrd’s Differentiator (or assign the student to use it) to plan a project
  • give students a tic-tac-toe board of choices – but make sure they include rigorous choices, and not just “busy work”

There are entire books written on this topic, and many people who can give great suggestions.  I highly recommend www.byrdseed.com, notjustchildsplay.blogspot.com, and venspired.com for some fabulous online GT resources.

I am passionate about this topic for many reasons.  But the largest reason is that I have regrets.  For many years, I was the teacher who thought it was okay to let students read a book or help someone else when they finished their work.  I can’t tell you the exact moment that I realized that it’s not okay for this to be your entire differentiation toolbox.  But I really wish I could go back and give those “early finishers” the education they deserved.