As part of Mary St. George’s New Zealand Gifted Awareness Week Blog Tour, this post addresses homework for the gifted student.
Admittedly, as a classroom teacher, I avoided differentiated homework for many years. The idea of finding, assigning, grading, and following-up with multiple assignments seemed prohibitively time-consuming. Until I tried it.
This post begins with essential understandings and ends with some practical ideas.
1. Homework for gifted students should not be ‘more of the same’. If you want your class to spend their homework time reviewing the process of adding fractions, gifted students will not learn anything additional if you give them 20 computation problems while the other students do 10.
2. The homework objective should align with the class objective. Let’s say you’re studying groups of people native to your country of origin. You want the class to use a few websites or book pages to locate information critical to the understanding of the natives’ culture. You have a student in your class who is a font-of-all-knowledge on the topic. Assigning the student to research modern Estonia won’t lead the student to a deeper knowledge of native cultures. Asking the student to make a video portraying his or her knowledge of the culture may help the student learn more about tech skills than native culture. You want to further this child’s understanding of native cultures – the same objective you have for others.
3. You don’t need to create a new differentiated assignment each day for each subject. You can’t. You just can’t.
4. Make sure the student (and parents!) know that the gifted child is not expected to spend any more time on his or her assignment than you expect of the rest of the students. One of my favourite Australian phrases is “Have a go.” Some gifted students will pressure themselves to find a correct answer the next day (After all, the other students have to have all their answers correct the next day). Ask the gifted student to work on the alternate question or topic for 20-30 minutes. The next day, the student can tell you what he or she thought about or tried. If you have multiple gifted students who did the same alternate assignment, they can meet together to come to share thinking and come to consensus on an answer.
Option 1: Add a thought-provoking question.
In my ground rules example, I mentioned a homework assignment for practicing the addition of fractions. With gifted Year 5 students, the directions change. Say,
“Instead of doing all of these problems, pick two – just so I know that you know you remember how to add fractions. But I’d like you to spend the remainder of your homework time thinking through one of my dilemmas: We teachers tell you that fractions and decimals are the same. I’m not sure if that is true. When I add 1/3 + 1/3 + 1/3, I get 1. When I add 0.333 [repeating] + 0.333 [repeating] + 0.333 [repeating], I get 0.999 [repeating]. Those aren’t exactly the same. Can you help me figure out why? What happens to the extra 0.001?” – or
“We’ve been working on the rules of divisibility for 2, 3, 5, 6, and 10. Can you figure out rules for 4, 7, and/or 8?”
Many teachers get stuck on the idea that students have to turn in something to be graded. If a gifted student has grappled with a difficult question, write anecdotal notes about your conversation(s) with them. You’re holding them accountable by having the follow-up conversation.
Option 2: Give the student choices as to how to extend knowledge
Returning to the example of the student who could give a college lecture on many aspects of native culture, consider giving the student a few other homework choices that deepen knowledge or add complexity. The conversation goes something like this…
“Look, Jung Ho, I now that you already know everything in the reading assigned for tonight. I’m wondering if there is anything else you might like to know.
- If I set up a Google hangout with an historian or a person of Aboriginal descent, what questions would you want to ask that person? How ’bout you spend tonight thinking about those questions and we’ll discuss them tomorrow?” – or
- I’ve been thinking about the apologies made to the Aboriginals by the Australian government. Have countries like New Zealand, South Africa or the United States made similar apologies? What, if anything, might they need to apologise for? Would you say the colonists’ treatment of native Australians is better or worse than the treatment of those native to New Zealand, South Africa or the United States? Would you like to look into that?” – or
- I watched the All Blacks do the haka before yesterday’s football game. It made me wonder about all the ways the Maoris’ culture is similar to or different from the culture of the Aboriginals. Would you like to look into that?” – or
- I’ve been thinking about all the explorers who encountered native cultures from different countries. If you were a native, which explorer would you have most wanted to ‘discover’ your country? Which one would you dread the most?” – or
- “When I was in Mexico, I went to an art gallery and saw pictures of the native Mexicans’ encounters with Cortez. The natives were visibly oppressed. Then I went to Spain and saw Spanish artwork of Cortez’s encounter with the Mexican natives. The natives were smiling. Would you like to look into some artwork depicting colonials’ encounters with natives and see if you notice other things?”
Option 3: Work with the student to develop a learning contract.
The beauty of a learning contract is that the student both plans it and completes it. Your input is critical, but the onus of the contract (especially for older students) lies directly on the student(s).
Homework contracts may contain any of the following:
- Overarching question
- List of sources to investigate
- Journal pages to document investigations and thinking
- Presentation format or picture of the end product
- Timeline of due dates (most important!)
Projects can seem overwhelming for some gifted students. Also, gifted students sometimes get so engrossed in reading and research that they never get to information synthesis or presentation.
You’ll want to hold the student accountable for an end product but also allow the due dates to be fluid. As students continue to research and think, a final project may morph into something completely different. Your goal is to make sure students are working and to push their thinking.
Option 4: Make worksheets two-sided.
Worksheets are most prevalent in math. One side of a sheet could comprise computational problems that help students review the day’s lesson. The other side could extend the concept with a problem-solving situation or a thought-provoking question.
As much as possible, align the mathematical strand with the problem-solving concept. One side might be the addition of decimals. The other side might ask students to make an organised list to find the number of possible combinations of coins could pay for a $5 load of laundry.
The key is that students can choose. Many students not identified as gifted will want to ‘have a go’ with the challenge problem. Some parents will require their child to do both sides, even if you’re explicit that students should only spend x-number of minutes per night. It doesn’t hurt them.
If you ask students to do ‘more of the same’ or you require them to do things they already know, you teach them that homework is pointless. You want to teach gifted students that homework can be valuable for them too.
Need more ideas? Check out Dr. Sarah Eaton’s post on Alternatives to Traditional Homework.
What have you found to be successful strategies for differentiating homework for gifted students?