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Fall Blog Series - Part 2

Fall Blog Series!

Week Two

By Kimberley Hackman

fall foliage

As we are heading further into the fall season and beyond the “back to school” phase, this is the perfect time to replenish our gifted educational resource base! The fall months are often when we are finishing gifted assessments, introducing parents to the world of gifted, and even assisting teachers with gifted differentiation. Each post in this Fall Blog Series will touch on an important topic that is hopefully relevant to your environment, and can be implemented right away!

Topic: How to change ‘busy work’ to engaging, rigorous work in less than 10 minutes!

To Ponder: “It is not enough to have a good mind; the main thing is to use it well.”

– Rene Descartes


3 Common Mistakes

Unfortunately, educators and parents are well intentioned, and think they are giving rigorous work when instead, the work lacks sufficient depth and complexity to extend students' thinking. Let’s take a look at a specific example, The Choice Board, to highlight these common mistakes.

#1 Common Mistake: Choice

choice board example

At first glance, this Choice Board (right) for 5th Grade math students might look like it extends a student’s thinking on the concept of graphing. However, the ‘choices’ lack specific expectations for high-level thinking, and thus, students can choose to complete these tasks with little depth or complexity.

It does include choice, which is a key element for engagement. However, the words “For a challenge, see if you can complete them all!” is the RED FLAG that this is not high-level, cognitive work. It is busy work and the message communicated to students is MORE work is better. While there is value in productivity, we want academically or intellectually gifted students engaged in activities that involve critical and creative thinking that extends their understanding beyond their current level.

#2 Common Mistake: Creativity

This choice board includes opportunities to be creative, which makes it a good extension for advanced learners, right? WRONG. The creative level (highest level in Bloom’s Taxonomy) should entail a student transferring their learning to something newly created. If your students are using art (think: markers, glue, etc) to an extension activity, it is not necessarily deepening their level of understanding on the topic. In this Choice Board example, a student could physically make a game board and write questions at a level below their ability. Yes, the rules of the game might be something the student creates, but it is not an extension on the learning goals (ie: Graphing). In short, simply adding an art project to a learning objective does not raise the complexity of the activity.

#3 Common Mistake: Integration of Subjects

Some tasks in this choice board integrate other subject areas, like poetry and music. However, students might not transfer their learning (of graphs) to these various contexts in a way that increases their understanding. There is no demand to evaluate, analyze, or create conclusions or arguments that build a deeper awareness of the concept. It requires the very basics, recall and remember the information to plug words into a song or poem.


The Fix: Small Tweaks, Big Results

So, how does one provide an extension on this topic that will deepen knowledge and provide critical and creative thinking? Staying on this same example, let’s improve this Choice Board so it does provide sufficient depth and complexity for our academically or intellectually gifted students.

#1 Tweak: Choose One

Have students choose ONE of the boxes for a long-term project.

#2 Tweak: Clear Expectations

All students need expectations, even our gifted students! Do not assume that because a child is gifted they will always put in their best effort or naturally add complexity to their project. Most gifted students need assistance in adding rigor to independent work. An easy way to do this is to create a rubric that sets clear expectations and holds students accountable to create their best work.

#3 Tweak: Deepen Learning By Creating Complexity

Let’s tweak one of the boxes in the graphing choice board. The bottom-right, green box has students create a question, poll subjects, and create a graph to display the data.

Before: Students could gather categorical data and create a simple bar graph to complete this assignment. Example: “What type of ice-cream do you like the best?” Their graph would be simple and their written response would most definitely lack opportunity to analyze or evaluate their data at a level that would provide growth for a 5th grade gifted student. Conclusion, the product could display work well below grade level!

After: Instead, more scaffolding needs to be in place. By adding a few requirements (to a rubric, perhaps) students can raise the difficulty of their project. Remember, the purpose of the tweak is for the work to require critically thinking about the topic. Students need to be making predictions, analyzing data, and drawing conclusions.

(1) Brainstorm topics of interest and choose one

(2) Write multiple questions that collect statistics within this topic

(3) Choose a final question - What predictions can you make? Will the data lead to a conclusion?

(4) Research - What research will you need to do to complete this project? (Instead of limiting their data to a classroom poll, allow students to research statistics on their question).

(5) Create a graph and express an argument/conclusion in a written paragraph. What does your graph show? Who can benefit from this graph? How can your graph be used in real life?


Here are three examples that came from my 5th Grade math class:

Topic of Interest / Pressing Question

Critical Thinking / Extended Learning

My parents have owned our house for almost 20 years. How has the price of houses changed since 2000?

“I noticed that house prices went up and down. I assumed they would just go up. I want to research more on why house prices decreased in 2009 but then really increased in 2020.”

Do the wealthiest countries in the world have the largest populations? I’ll create two graphs: Top 10 countries based on population and Top 10 wealthiest countries

“India’s and China’s population is huge compared to America!!”

“The population of a country does not seem to be connected to its wealth.”

I am an entrepreneur and want to invent something for pets that makes a lot of money. I want to look at pet expenses because I need to see what type of pet costs the most to won and also what kind of pet supply owners spend the most money on for their pets.

“According to my graph, Americans spent the most money on dogs and the highest cost for dogs is veterinarian bills! According to my research, N.C. is 3rd in best paying states for vets. This information would help a vet choose where to open an office to make the most amount of money. Come to N.C.!

These activities were engaging because the student chose a topic of interest, which improved motivation. Also, the data was more complex (some into the billions!) which was drastically different from the initial choice board polling students in the classroom (values less than 30). The graphs provided an opportunity to evaluate and analyze! Students made connections based on their graphs that led to more questions that needed research!! Learning never stops! And their experiences built a deeper awareness of the utility of graphs because they were required to form conclusions.

To Extend:

What lessons do you find are the hardest to differentiate? Can you share one way you will make a change this week using something you read above? Share in the comment section below!

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