Differentiating Instruction for Gifted Learners: A Case Studies Approach
reviewed by Deborah Dailey — March 09, 2017
Title: Differentiating Instruction for Gifted Learners: A Case Studies Approach
Author(s): Christine L. Weber, Wendy A. Behrens, & Cecelia Boswell
Publisher: Prufrock Press, Austin
ISBN: 1618215310, Pages: 202, Year: 2016
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Differentiating Instruction for Gifted Learners: A Case Studies Approach is an excellent tool for teacher preparation programs (for both gifted and general classrooms), professional development providers, general education teachers, gifted teachers, school administrators, and parents. Additionally, this resource is useful for parents or advocates of gifted children. Using research-based strategies, authors Christine L. Weber, Wendy A. Behrens, and Cecelia Boswell provide examples of how differentiation might look in general classrooms, cluster classrooms, and full-time Gifted and Talented Education (GT) classrooms. Through the scenarios that are described in the volume, readers can visualize if and how the needs of gifted learners are being addressed. For parents and advocates, this may validate their concerns and prompt them to seek additional help for their children.
From their introduction to the books appendices, readers are provided with multiple resources and accessible tools to improve the education of gifted children. Weber, Behrens, and Boswell state that these scenarios encourage detailed analysis and critical reflection of the most current and prevalent issues in differentiated instruction including flipped classrooms, [twenty-first]-century thinking skills, and the [Common Core State Standards] CCSS (p. 4). Differentiation is also examined in a variety of programming options across K12. In the introduction, the authors describe the benefits of case studies and how they are relevant to educational practice. Additionally, they provide a matrix of the scenarios and key issues presented in the volume.
Reading Chapter One, Implementing Case Studies to Support High-Quality Professional Development, is essential to utilizing the books case studies. Weber, Behrens, and Boswell discuss support systems that encourage innovative teaching practices as a part of continuous improvement. These conditions include teacher collaboration, professional development that utilizes the active engagement of educators in new teaching methods, and a school culture that encourages a shared supportive vision of innovation for new methods of teaching. The authors also provide features of effective professional development and online professional development resources. Weber, Behrens, and Boswell recommend the use of case studies in professional development settings to engage educators in the investigation of the issues involved in each scenario. Additionally, Chapter One provides readers with a list of generic questions to consider when utilizing these case studies in professional development. The list includes inquiries concerning the focus of the case study and the issues being addressed. It also involves cultural, demographic, and other factors relevant to the case study under examination, actions to be recommended, and research to support these actions. Additionally, Weber, Behrens, and Boswell add a question about needing more information to analyze the case study being investigated. My biggest qualms with the book are its lack of direction and an insufficient amount of information provided in these scenarios. The scenarios would be more useful for gifted preparation programs if there were suggestions on addressing their unique issues. I appreciate that the scenarios are open-ended in nature. However, many readers of this volume may not be experts in the field of gifted education and would like to see expert recommendations on how to handle certain issues. For example, multiple lesson plans are included, but there is no discussion about how they meet gifted learners needs. This is left for readers to decide as directed through discussion questions at the end of the scenario. A positive addition to the volume would be examples of exemplar lesson plans that contrast with mediocre lesson plans designed to meet the needs of gifted learners. To keep it open-ended, the authors would not need to identify the exemplar. Instead, the reader could distinguish between the two. This would be especially helpful for school districts that may not have gifted experts employed or those that want to train their teachers in differentiation for gifted learners.
In Chapter Two, Weber, Behrens, and Boswell provide additional recommendations for using their case studies. This includes prompts to encourage reflective thinking and a rubric to assess performance on case study analyses. In the third, fourth, and fifth chapters, the authors present case studies on differentiation in a variety of programming options including regular classrooms, cluster classrooms, and full-time GT classrooms. Each scenario begins with a description and corresponding demographics of the school and classroom under investigation. Most of these scenarios provide information about the teacher, but this could be improved with information about their certification and background. One of the books asset is its inclusion of activities, extensions, and discussion questions. These inquiries and activities are high quality, encourage reflective thinking, promote problem solving, and provide excellent lessons or project ideas for teacher preparation programs. One of my favorite extensions that I may use in my own gifted teacher preparation course includes instructing readers to [d]esign a professional development plan for K12 teachers working in a rural setting that addresses common characteristics and classroom issues for gifted and highly able learners" (p. 38). I would add an additional requirement that gifted teacher candidates present this professional development in their schools or districts. Weber, Behrens, and Boswell also graciously provide a myriad number of resources that are helpful for all types of educators. This includes teacher preparation program providers, pre-service teachers, in-service teachers, administrators, and parents.
Chapter Three focuses on differentiation in the regular classroom. This chapter forms the bulk of the book and includes 14 case studies. These case studies are situated in elementary, middle, and secondary schools. They emphasize subject acceleration, special populations, International Baccalaureate (IB) programs, and various differentiation strategies. One scenario, titled Jacob, provides the perspectives of a gifted four-year-old preschooler, his parents, and his teachers on this students need for acceleration. Despite being accelerated into Kindergarten, Jacob is quickly mastering the required content. Through discussion with all of the stakeholders who are involved, decisions are made to accelerate the curriculum, but not to advance him to a higher grade. Readers are then tasked to find tools and strategies to meet Jacobs instructional needs.
Twice-exceptional learners are addressed in many scenarios. This includes those with emotional/behavioral disorders, attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorders (ADHD), and specific learning disabilities. One scenario, Paul, is about a young boy who lives with his maternal grandfather on a reservation. The readers are guided through this student's life with his grandfather and alcoholic mother. Due to issues that are occurring at home, Paul is frequently absent from school. Also, because of his proficient performance in mathematics, school personnel members consider him for the gifted program, but are concerned because his reading is below grade level. By following this process, readers need to decide whether Paul should be tested for gifted program services. They also must decide if Paul's excessive absences should be reported to the Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act (CAPTA) as instances of child neglect.
My favorite scenario in Chapter Three concerns flipped classrooms. SPARK: Ms. Duncans Flipped Classroom guides readers through the process of integrating innovative teaching strategies in their classrooms. Ms. Duncan conducts research on flipped classrooms, writes a grant for funding, and incorporates her innovation in the classroom. Additionally, Ms. Duncan prepares a presentation for her students parents to inform them of these changes. This is an excellent example of how to be innovative, thorough, and responsive to parents. Through the discussion questions, readers are guided to consider how this type of classroom could meet the needs of gifted learners.
Chapter Four focuses on differentiated instruction in a cluster classroom. Even though this type of classroom is clustered, I do not see how the scenarios in this chapter differ from the scenarios discussed in Chapter Three. One scenario focuses on gifted students living in poverty. For example, students in a Grade 910 course for gifted learners are given a choice between two units of study. Readers are then asked to compare and contrast the units. They are also required to suggest the units or unit parts that best address the experiences of these gifted children who live in poverty. Finally, the scenarios in Chapter Five are situated in full-time GT classrooms. They explore how students in a gifted classroom could still have very diverse needs. Lesson plans from these scenarios incorporate methods like choice boards to differentiate various types of content, processes, products, and affective needs (Tomlinson, 1999).
In conclusion, I was very excited to read Differentiating Instruction for Gifted Learners and my expectations were exceeded. Its multiple scenarios are authentic, relevant, engaging, and sometimes leave readers with more questions than answers. By reading this book, educators could engage in thought provoking discussions that could lead them to change their practice. As an educator, I wear multiple hats. I am a gifted teacher educator, initial license (general) teacher educator, and professional development provider. Through all of my teaching roles, I plan to use this book as a resource to provide students a glimpse of diverse classrooms with gifted learners. I will use the discussion questions for reflection and the activities to encourage students or teacher candidates to consider how they will address the needs of gifted learners. Due to its limited focus on differentiating for gifted learners in initial licensure programs, I am especially excited to use this resource with my general education teacher candidates.
Tomlinson, C. A. (1999). The differentiated classroom. Responding to the needs of all learners. Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.