Sunday, December 02, 2012

Questions about Differentiation

I know I have talked a lot about differentiation - how it is not adequate for highly gifted students, how most teachers don't seem to be able to do it consistently or adequately.  So now I have additional questions.  Has the gifted field's emphasis on differentiation helped?  Are there more accommodations for gifted children or fewer?  Are the needs of more gifted children getting addressed at an appropriate level or not?

I don't know if there is research about this, but I do know that one state I lived in, Illinois, dropped funding for all gifted programs.  I have also been told that a school district neighboring where I live now has eliminated all gifted teacher positions.  The thing that I feared a dozen or so years ago seems to be coming to pass.  Educators of educators tout differentiation -> new teachers are all expected to subscribe to the differentiation mantra -> now that all teachers can differentiate, they can take care of the needs of all students in their classrooms -> special programs are no longer needed.  Only, there are laws about students with disabilities and there are high stakes tests for students who are struggling with the regular curriculum.  So, it turns out that the special teachers who help students with disabilities or those who need extra support are still there - and in even greater numbers.  There are literacy support teachers, numeracy support teachers, ELL teachers, LD teachers, special education aides.  Do you notice the one group that there is no more?  GT teachers. 

Don't get me wrong - I think differentiation is a great thing for teachers to learn to do.  And, as much as they can in the limited time they have available, all teachers (in my opinion) should be able to differentiate for the students in their classes.  But has the gifted field's emphasis on differentiation helped gifted students get the services they need?  Convince me. 


  1. Gagne has compiled a lot of data saying that differentiation in regular classrooms hardly ever happens, despite good intentions of teachers. I know that a lot of what I can do in a gifted classroom would not be possible in a regular classroom. Kids who were not thinking at that level would not be independent enough, or committed to their work enough, for me to spend the time it takes to get the gifted kids thinking at a deep level.

    I see differentiation within the regular classroom as the minimum provision, rather than best practice.

  2. My first comment is:
    Has anything helped gifted students get the services they need, on the whole?

    Second: It has helped some students get some of the services that they need some of the time.

    Third: Differentiation works. Unfortunately, few teachers use it or understand it and as the grade number goes up, the percentage of teachers using it effectively goes down, and it wasn't high to start with.

  3. I agree with Gagne - it isn't happening. I look and look for it, as I go from classroom to classroom (as a sub) and I don't see it. As a provision for gifted students, it seems to me that it is pretty useless. And perhaps, worse than useless, because it has, to some extent, displaced other accommodations.

  4. Josh, I am sorry for the late publishing of your comment. I somehow missed seeing it.

    Your points:

    First: Has anything helped gifted kids get the services they need? IME, yes. Dedicated classes, dedicated schools, grade skipping, subject acceleration, even some pullout classes.

    Second: It is too hit or miss. Yes, it is better than nothing, but as gifted policy, I feel it is too haphazard to rely on.

    Third: It may work, but if it is used only rarely, again, I feel it is not good gifted policy.