During the 2002-03 school year, I realized that I was frustrated with some of the instruction or lack of instruction and the lack of challenging lessons that I was witnessing with our academically and intellectually gifted students. Gifted students were being sent to our library media center with projects that amounted to no more than a regurgitation of factual information to be spit out into a PowerPoint presentation. (We had just begun our love affair with this particular presentation tool!)
Where were the how and why questions? Where were the challenges to thinking differently about the topics? How could I improve the teaching these students were receiving and challenge their learning? How could these students get the best instruction and direction in order to maximize their talents and gifts?
I conducted some informal action research. My question: what happens when you modify the assignment for one group of gifted students?
The students’ assignment was a report on Charles Dickens. Having already read A Christmas Carol, they were to created presentations about Dickens’ life and works with X number of slides in a PowerPoint presentation. (The thought of the assignment still makes me gag!) So while students did need to know the background information about Dickens’ life, I challenged one of the two groups to focus on why he wrote the stories he did and how his being in debtors’ prison affected his writing, questions that their language arts teacher had not suggested or required of them. Just those two little questions of how and why pushed their research, their learning and their product to a deeper level. This group’s learning and presentation was more dynamic and more interesting; the other group’s research and presentation was boring and lackluster. (Yes, I feel bad that the second group didn’t get the same challenge.)
In the end, this particular assignment forced me to reassess what I as an educator wanted for our gifted students: challenging, rigorous, vigorous assignments that stretched their learning and grew them academically.
With the changes in our standards and curriculum over the last ten years, I think that all of our students have benefited from a new level of inquiry instruction. We still need to make sure that those gifted students who are “dumped” in the media center for group projects are being challenged and it’s up to us to support their growth and learning.
(For more information on Charles Dickens, check out the resources at the Charles Dickens Museum site.)
Author: Deanna Harris
I have spent my career in education as a middle grades language arts teacher, a middle grades teacher librarian, and a coordinating teacher at the NC Department of Public Instruction. During my twenty-three years, I have focused on teaching and learning, student achievement, and teacher leadership. I have worked with beginning and veteran teachers through mentoring, internships, staff development, and professional learning teams.