Monday, November 26, 2012

Differentiation at NAGC

OK, I will admit it - I only went to one day of NAGC this year.  I am a substitute teacher, which means I don't make very much money ($95 per day * around 160 days per year = about $15,200, which isn't enough to live on in most places in the US).  And there were no single day registrations available, unless you registered as a parent and went to parent day.  So, I registered as a parent and then went over to the regular meeting and attended the regular sessions.  Maybe that isn't what I was supposed to do, but the woman working the registration desk was the one who recommended it, so I took advantage of it. 

I met up with two people I knew for lunch, Sally L. and Carolyn K and we got into a discussion about differentiation.  I explained that I am opposed to it.  Carolyn K was rather shocked at my assertion, but I further explained that the reason I was and am opposed to emphasizing differentiation for gifted students is that most teachers can't do it.  It is a great idea, but it just isn't working.  As a substitute teacher, I go to dozens of classrooms a year.  As a former teacher of the gifted, I am always looking for evidence that teachers differentiate their instruction for gifted students.  I don't see it.  Sometimes, I will see different spelling lists for different students; different book groups; or kids moving to a different room for math.  But within the individual classrooms, there just isn't much differentiation to be seen.

Some people have told me that, as a sub, I might not see the differentiation that is going on in the classroom on a regular basis.  This is true.  Oftentimes, teachers will dumb down the lesson plans, so that subs can handle their classes.  But, if this were the case, I would expect to see pointers to some indications that this is a different day - kids unsure about assignments; kids with questions different from the majority of other kids' questions; kids with different materials or working on different assignments.  I see these things for the kids with disabilities and for the kids who are struggling with regular classroom work.  I do not see them for gifted kids.

And, I believe Renzulli himself did a study that showed that teachers he trained thought they weren't doing enough differentiation, that they thought they were doing more than they were, and that observers of their classes saw less differentiation than they even thought they were doing.

As I have said before, I think differentiation within the classroom isn't working - especially for HG+ kids.  It isn't consistent enough, it isn't at the correct level, it isn't supported enough, and it isn't at the correct pace.

And now, for Carolyn K, I have an additional question.  How many of the sessions that you went to at NAGC were differentiated?  For me, it was none.  It wouldn't have mattered if I were a newbie GT teacher or a seasoned veteran, none of the talks I went to adjusted for the level(s) of the audience.  It is true that the talks specifically scheduled for parent day were differentiated for them.  That is the kind of differentiation I support and believe works.  But differentiating a single class is hard.  Most people can't or don't do it.  They can differentiate the offerings, as NAGC does, by having a wide range of choices available.  But within each choice, people just don't differentiate what they offer.  And these presenters had months to prepare.  Regular classroom teachers don't have the luxury of that kind of time. 

I will say it again.  I think we need to emphasize different offerings, not differentiation within a single teacher's classroom.  Most teachers (and NAGC presenters) can't or don't do it.

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