Does your brain balk at pairing up Common Core and gifted students? How in the world is a teacher supposed to individualize curriculum delivery when she must adhere to the standards found in the Common Core?
Well, regardless of what you may think about CCSS, it actually makes our jobs much easier when it comes to challenging our gifted students. That's because the standards are incrementally additive from grade level to grade level.
(I just made up “incrementally additive.” But in reality, you'll see that it's perfectly descriptive.)
So let's take a quick look at some math standards.
Moving up in math
Here are the very first standards listed for math in grades 3 and 4:
3.OA.1. Interpret products of whole numbers, e.g., interpret 5 × 7 as the total number of objects in 5 groups of 7 objects each. For example, describe a context in which a total number of objects can be expressed as 5 × 7.
4.OA.1. Interpret a multiplication equation as a comparison, e.g., interpret 35 = 5 x 7 as a statement that 35 is 5 times as many as 7 and 7 times as many as 5. Represent verbal statements of multiplicative comparisons as multiplication equations.
OK, let’s be honest: we can tell that 4.OA.1 is building on 3.OA.1 but it’s kind of hard to quantify exactly how at a glance. It becomes more obvious if we break them down into “I can” statements:
- I can explain the products of whole numbers.
- I can write and solve a multiplication equation.
- I can multiply two numbers.
- I can read multiplication equations as a comparison of two numbers.
- I can compare amounts using multiplication.
Now we are getting somewhere! How do we use this to challenge a gifted third-grade student who has finished his worksheet.. without advance preparation, without taking a ton of time to explain something new and without straying far from the work the rest of the class is doing?
We just turn their paper over and jot down an equation using numbers from one of the existing “explain the products of whole numbers” problems on the third-grade sheet. This transforms the standard from third grade to fourth grade. If they get that, we can add more rigor by making the numbers in the equation a little bit larger.
We just made the practice exercise incrementally harder while keeping it based on Common Core.
So while a few kids are working ahead a bit on 4.OA.1, you are continuing to support those students who are struggling with the concepts embodied in 3.OA.1 – but everyone is still working on essentially the same standard. Which means you aren’t trying to manage entirely different activities during your math block to keep early finishers busy.
Escalating with ELA
You’ll see the same concept in reading:
RI.5.1. Quote accurately from a text when explaining what the text says explicitly and when drawing inferences from the text.
RI 6.1. Cite textual evidence to support analysis of what the text says explicitly as well as inferences drawn from the text.
Problem: Shania has finished her reading worksheet on which she has selected appropriate multiple-choice answers to confirm textual support for inference statements. She’s about to become bored… until you say:
“Shania, those answers are perfect, you little smarty-pants! But I’m wondering… what do you think the author is really saying when he writes, ‘the apple tree bloomed late that year?’ Can you find text references to support your thoughts and write them on the back of your paper?”
That’s a pretty easy leap for Shania, but she’s now working on a 6th grade standard without missing a beat, and in the process learning inference so thoroughly that she’ll ace her unit assessment!
Easier said than done…
… is that what you are thinking? The implication of my examples, of course, is that you need to be familiar with the Common Core standards for the next grade level. If you have them at your fingertips, then it really is no sweat.
What’s the easiest solution for this? Check out my “Common Core Standards and Examples” handbooks! These are one-page references with absolutely everything you need to individualize for advanced students, all spelled out for you in detail.
Have no fear: when it comes to gifted individualizing, Common Core is your friend.
Working at higher grade levels
On this page, I've shown you one of my themes for challenging gifted kids: working ahead to higher grade levels, even if they are staying within the same subject matter. It's only fair to warn you that this can cause friction with your fellow teachers. I know this because I've experienced it.
The friction comes when your students show up in the next grade level with a working understanding of the curriculum. Some teachers can become irritated when there is a portion of their class that is advanced beyond the level they are prepared to teach. I've even seen informal policies stating that students are not allowed to work above grade level!
It's these sorts of policies and attitudes that result in gifted kids being kept busy with… well… busywork instead of rigorous academics. These kids need rigor for their own personal development and the only way to add rigor is to begin moving up to higher grade-level standards. There's just no other way.
Subsequent teachers are shortsighted if they see this as a problem. Having more children who quickly grasp the subject matter leaves additional time to individualize for those who are struggling.
I fully understand that this can also challenge those teachers because they have to push those gifted kids to even higher grade level standards which requires their full understanding of the entire continuum of Common Core.
Besides, let's be realistic: unless one of your gifted kids is a true genius, they will never advance through the entire curriculum of the following grade level in any subject. So they may have some advantages early in the year, but soon enough they'll be coming across new material and working to master it rather than breezing through it.