Posts Tagged ‘gifted students’

Don’t Teach to the LCD

Teachers get into our profession for different reasons. Some of us truly enjoyed school and have always wanted to be teachers. Some of us value the independence of our own classrooms. Some of us like being part of a team. Some of us like the job security (true until recently). Some of us like the vacations. However, all of us share two common denominators: we enjoy working with students and we want to help make a difference in their lives.

These common denominators require some degree of compassion, empathy, and idealism. Admirable and necessary character traits for an educator, if you ask me. However, our penchant for helping individuals can work cross-purpose to our overall mission of helping all students. In fact, we often wind up teaching to the LCD (the Lowest Common Denominator). Perhaps I  had better explain…


  • We may spend an inequitable amount of time, resources, and personal teacher attention on students who need instructional remediation. Our desire to see every student succeed often means that we give more to the neediest. Remedial instruction often includes more instructional time within the school day. “Early Bird” classes in primary, intervention classes in intermediate, middle, and high schools provide that additional time. Our schools fund these special classes, which often include lower teacher to student ratios and more supplies (such as remedial texts) to students who perform lower than grade-level norms. Within the “regular” class setting, students with instructional and/or behavioral challenges receive more personal teacher attention than do other students. Now, few teachers would argue that these students do not deserve this additional time, resources, and personal teacher attention. This would run counter to “who we are” as educators. However, in the real world there are fiscal, legal, and systemic constraints. All students can certainly be labeled as needy—think middle-performing and gifted students… Don’t these students deserve equitable time, resources, and teacher attention? Teachers are less comfortable with the concept of “taking away” instructional time, resources, and personal teacher attention. But, schools are reductive entities. Giving more there takes away from here.
  • We may slow down the instructional pace to ensure that all students have a greater chance at mastering our teaching objectives. Typically, this means that we repeat instruction, provide additional examples, and spend more time on guided practice. Increased success in mastery of the teaching objectives for remedial students often comes at the cost of boring middle-performing and gifted students to tears.
  • We may cater to the perceived needs of remedial students. Beyond special classes, we spoon-feed alternative instruction (pre-teach/re-teach, TPR, student choice, learning styles, and more) within the classroom. Teachers may provide peer tutoring or use instructional aides to monitor progress of remedial students and especially special education students. Teachers repeat or re-explain whole-class instructions to individuals. In catering to the needs of some students, we may find ourselves unintentionally lowering expectations for these students. For example, we may be advised to reduce the class or homework for individual students. We may choose to ignore teaching certain challenging standards. We may adjust tests, grading scales, or the type of assigned work.


  • Commit to spending an equitable amount of time, resources, and personal teacher attention on all students. Often, this means middle-performing students who can get “lost in the shuffle.” Think of the student names that are hardest to learn. They belong to your middle-performing students. I will bet that you quickly and more easily learn the names of your students with instructional or behavioral challenges and the names of your brightest students.
  • Be an anti-tracking advocate. Tracking students assumes that there is such a possibility of a homogeneous class. There is no such animal. For example, as a reading specialist I can assure you that lumping together a group of remedial readers into an intervention class does not make homogeneous instruction possible. Students are remedial readers for a wide-variety of reasons. At the other end of the spectrum, no two gifted students are gifted in the same way. Tracking costs additional money. Reducing class sizes for some raises class sizes for others. Scheduling tracked classes is a nightmare and involves real costs. We can also discuss the negative social stigma for some students that often derives from tracking.
  • Differentiating instruction for all of your students means that all deserve your personal attention. All students need to be personally challenged at the points of their diagnostically assessed instructional needs. Affording equitable personal teacher attention does not necessarily mean that you interact in the same way with each student; however, assigning appropriate learning activities needs to reflect that goal.
  • Speed up your instructional pace. You don’t have to become a “fast-talker,” but becoming consciously aware of how you manage class time, and especially how you deliver instruction, is essential to the success of all of your students. Counter-intuitively, remedial students benefit from a “hurried, yet relaxed” instructional pace. Setting a daily time for differentiated instruction will allow you to judiciously address students who need more time.
  • Guard time-on-task zealously. Use the full amount of class time by designing effective “openers” and “closers.” Train your students to make quick instructional transitions. Know your own proclivities. If you are the “funny teacher,” tell fewer jokes. If you are the “share my personal life teacher,” tell less stories and spend more time on Facebook®. Having a peer observe your time-on-task instructional patterns can be an eye-opening experience. Advocate forcefully for fewer class interruptions.
  • If two instructional activities or methodologies accomplish the same mastery, teach the one that takes less time. To tread on a few cherished traditions: sugar cube or toothpick forts and castles, dioramas, masks, oral book reports from every student, and quite a few science projects just have to go. Process and fun are fine, but we have choices to make as professionals.
  • We know from years of educational research that maintaining high expectations for all students is essential to their success. Guard against those that would provide the “realistic” caveat to that statement. Maintain your idealism that all students can and must learn. Treat students as individuals and know their needs, but don’t cater to them and avoid spoon-feeding. Encourage independent learning and maximum effort from your students.

Teachers are habitual creatures, just as are our students. It takes time to change from teaching to the Lowest Common Denominator to differentiating instruction for all of your students.


The author of this article, Mark Pennington, has written the assessment-based Grammar, Usage, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary (Teaching the Language Strand) Grades 4-8 programs to teach the Common Core Language Standards. Each full-year program provides 56 interactive grammar, usage, and mechanics and include sentence diagrams, error analysis, mentor texts, writing applications, and sentence dictation formative assessments with accompanying worksheets (L.1, 2). Plus, each grade-level program has weekly spelling pattern tests and accompanying spelling sort worksheets (L.2), 56 language application opener worksheets (L.3), and 56 vocabulary worksheets with multiple-meaning words, Greek and Latin word parts, figures of speech, word relationships with context clue practice, connotations, and four square academic language practice (L.4, 5, and 6). Comprehensive biweekly unit tests measure recognition, understanding, and application of all language components.

Grammar, Usage, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary (Teaching the Language Strand) also has the resources to meet the needs of diverse learners. Diagnostic grammar, usage, mechanics, and spelling assessments provide the data to enable teachers to individualize instruction with targeted worksheets. Each remedial worksheet (over 200 per program) includes independent practice and a brief formative assessment. Students CATCH Up on previous unmastered Standards while they KEEP UP with current grade-level Standards. Check out the YouTube introductory video of the Grammar, Usage, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary (Teaching the Language Strand) program.

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Differentiated Reading Instruction for Gifted Students

As an MA reading specialist, much of my time is spent advocating for differentiated instruction. Clearly, not all students progress at the same rates nor have the same academic needs. Most of my attention is on encouraging teachers to help students “catch up” on gaps in their reading skills while they “keep up” with grade level standards. However, reading differentiation also applies to students at the other end of the academic spectrum. Gifted students frequently get lost in the mix because their needs tend to whisper, while the needs of remedial reading students tend to shout.

A common misconception about gifted students is actually a misconception about the nature of reading instruction. Most educators view reading from the dichotomous framework of learning to read and reading to learn. Reading is viewed as a skill set to be acquired much like memorizing the multiplication tables. Once both reading and multiplication are mastered (typically in the third grade), these tools are used to read the social studies textbook for content and complete long division. All that is left to learn for reading is more vocabulary. All that is left to learn for multiplication is different applications such as multiplying fractions, decimals, etc.

However, reading is not solely a basic tool to be mastered. Reading is not a simplistic “how-to” that is once learned well and thereafter applied. Academic reading is multi-faceted and complex. In other words, there is plenty to learn that will challenge gifted students throughout their K-12 experience. In fact, the old learning to read and reading to learn dichotomy is limiting our “best and brightest” students. In a 2002 study, fully half of college-bound juniors and seniors were not proficient at reading freshman survey course college text (ACT).

Tips to Differentiate Reading Instruction for Gifted Students

1. Use a good diagnostic assessment to screen gifted students, just as you would for students of all levels. Gifted students should demonstrate greater proficiency, and have less specific challenges, than remedial reading students; however, it has been my experience that some gifted students do struggle with basic reading skills, such as decoding, and that they are simply adept at using coping skills to avoid confronting their reading issues. Sometimes “gap filling” can make all the difference in the world to a gifted student. Former California State University education professor, John McFadden, tells his personal story as a gifted nine-year-old who could not read.

“…We learned reading by the look-say method of Dick and Jane reading. The other students seemed to catch on, but I struggled. In third grade, my parents hired a tutor, who taught me phonics. Phonics unlocked the door of reading for me, and I quickly became a good reader.”

2. Make independent reading an important part of your teaching, especially for gifted students. Allow students free choice of authors and genres, though encourage exploration with new ones. Self-initiated and self-directed learning are critically important skills to nurture in gifted students (Passow 1982). Make sure that your students are self-selecting at their instructional level. All-too-often, gifted students read below their grade level. I recommend using word recognition as your primary means of matching reading levels. For more, see How to Determine Reading Levels. Avoid the arbitrary constraints of Degrees of Reading Power (DRP), Fleish-Kincaid, Lexiles, Fountas and Pinnell Levels, Accelerated Reader ATOS, Reading Recovery Levels, Fry’s Readability, John’s Basic Reading Inventory, and Standardized test data reading levels. Motivation is important as well as average length of word, sentence, and vocabulary.

3. Teach gifted students to be analytical readers. Training gifted students to internalize reading discussion with the author will prompt the “out of the box” critical thinking that we hope to see in these students. Beginning reading instruction tends to teach the wrong message to many of our gifted students. Gifted students who catch on early to reading instruction can be habituated into practicing reading as a passive activity of blending and word calling. The more we can stress the active and relational nature of reading instruction as a conversation between author and reader, the more we will challenge our students. Using comprehension discussion starters is a terrific means to this end.

It’s time to differentiate reading instruction for all students, including our gifted ones. An entirely different curriculum is not the answer, but gifted students do need to be taught differently to maximize their progress and love of learning.

Mark Pennington, MA Reading Specialist, is the author of the comprehensive reading intervention curriculum, Teaching Reading Strategies. Designed to significantly increase the reading abilities of students ages eight through adult within one year, the curriculum is decidedly un-canned, is adaptable to various instructional settings, and is simple to use—a perfect choice for Response to Intervention tiered instructional levels. Get multiple choice diagnostic reading assessments , formative assessments, blending and syllabication activitiesphonemic awareness, and phonics workshops, comprehension worksheets, multi-level fluency passages recorded at three different reading speeds and accessed on YouTube, 586 game cards, posters, activities, and games. Also get the accompanying Sam and Friends Phonics Books. These wonderful decodables use cleverly illustrated teenage age characters to make reading come alive for older remedial readers.

Pennington Publishing's Teaching Reading Strategies

Teaching Reading Strategies

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