In looking at different cities and their plans for gifted students, there is one thing most of them now have in common. They advocate differentiation and Common Core. The real buzz word is differentiation!
Differentiation sounds soothing, like it will give every parent what they always dream of, personalized attention for their child. It advertises that every child’s differences will, in fact, be considered. Differentiation takes the edge off the word Common.
We all want our schools to care and address the unique needs of our children. But with this differentiation, there is a caveat. With Common Core State Standards, differentiation leads everyone to the same goals!
Carol Ann Tomlinson is the education professor who devised the thinking behind differentiation, and I have much respect for her, and, to some extent, classroom differentiation is good teaching.
Differentiation has also been around for a long time. It is often discussed in regard to inclusion. In the past, most teachers varied some of what they taught to reach the differences all children bring to the classroom. However, most classes were more homogenous and possibly smaller. A teacher can alter their plans for a few differences easier than preparing for a wide variety of differences—some serious.
Such a class also requires much preparation, and schools don’t always think much about grouping students when they set up classes. Most teachers don’t know the students they are getting until the week before school starts. But now, differentiation has been chosen as the way to lead all students to the Common Core State Standard Promise Land.
For gifted students, the idea is that since Common Core addresses critical thinking skills (the CCSS was never field-tested) CCSS is good for gifted students. But it is also implied that every child will wind up gifted and college ready at the end! This is what business sees as quality control. This is what Common Core is all about.
Look at it this way, no matter what your child is like, no matter their uniqueness, they will be produced out of school like a cheeseburger out of McDonald’s.
There is an argument for making schools the same, when it comes to what schools offer, but it is based on much false information and worthy of a whole post on its own.
And it is easy to argue that CCSS, used to reach the standards, with differentiation, will be better than what gifted students had in the past, because gifted programming, in most places, has not usually been great. It has often meant a once a week pull-out program in elementary school, with projects that any child would love, and a variety of different curriculum adjustments in middle and high school depending on where you live. Few of these programs truly addressed the needs of gifted students, as I have stated before.
The word Common, is just that. Those who wrote the standards are probably kicking themselves for this word because no one wants a common child. That’s why Common Core Science is being rolled out called Next Generation…. But when you have the same goals for every child (standards in general are like that) it ignores real differences in children, and that especially stands out for students who are gifted.
Every child has gifts and talents, but, and this is a very important point, not every child is gifted. Giftedness is primarily determined by a high Intelligent Quotient (IQ) and consideration of achievement testing and behavioral observation. Hoagies has an IQ chart and explanation HERE.
This identification procedure is controversial, especially in regard to cultural and ethnicity issues, and there is certainly a debate here, but I would argue that the Common Core folks don’t want debate, and they assume gifted students don’t need much different, just like students who have learning disabilities don’t need adaptive skills either. They don’t care if students work on different material, just so they work towards the same end.
Along with this, there have been a number of attacks on gifted students. The following is one from a Teach for America (TFA) recruit. I’m sorry I had trouble imbedding it into the post. Make sure you scroll down if necessary.
Notice the ugliness of what is said, and the suggestions surrounding the use of the word “grit.” Since TFA know little about gifted students, nothing in how to reach these students and teach them, they damn the whole group as whinny children and that they shouldn’t be identified as gifted! I would argue that there might, in fact, be gifted students who whine, but there is something behind their behavior that should be explored and understood.
Some students are gifted in one area and have learning disabilities in another area. Some have autism but are also gifted. Other children are gifted but have emotional problems. No two children are alike, and all children really do need differentiation, but not all should be headed in the same direction.
Here is where good testing is valuable, but the Common Core enthusiasts don’t understand testing, nor do they understand differences in children.
Teaching gifted students to reach the same standards as students who are at a lower or average grade level is not really gifted education at all.
This is hardly enough. Making differentiation and Common Core look like it is a solution to the problems facing gifted children, or any child, is deceptive at best.
The other thing I worry about with differentiation is what will happen when a teacher with little background in understanding gifted students or any student with disabilities, fails to do differentiation correctly in a class of 30-40 students. Will they lose their jobs?
Will differentiation ultimately be turned over to virtual education, plugging everyone into an individualized computer program? I think it is one step away from this and a valid concern with what we see with the push of technology in the classroom.
Gifted students are different they need a different direction.