I’m a gifted resource teacher in my division, serving one school. Our model of gifted services is 60/40—60% of my time should be spent helping TEACHERS develop their skills at differentiation through coaching, demo teaching, co-teaching, observing and giving feedback, helping create and share classroom units/materials/modules/lessons/assessments/resources and parent communications as well as support their PLC work. Forty percent of my time should be spent working with kids directly and that generally turns out to be the highly different learner—not just the Level 1 or 2 gifted kids who are fairly easily differentiated for in the classroom. (See Ruf Estimates Levels of Giftedness adapted from Deborah Ruf via Losing Our Minds.)
Our county has spent quite a bit of time and money in the past ten years helping teachers work with concept-based learning, and tying together Curriculum, Assessment and Instruction. We constantly talk about CAI, differentiation and our Framework for Quality Learning, along with our Professional Learning Communities work. As a support person, my role varies with each teacher and classroom, depending on a ton of variables, which often include the teacher’s skill at differentiating, the teacher’s ability and desire to collaborate, the number of kids needing services, how different those kids’ learning needs are from their classmates, how far ahead they are, what their specific strengths are, class size, and many others. So what I do with each teacher and each grade differs, sometimes as often as daily.
Sometimes our collaboration works well and sometimes there simply isn’t enough planning time. What often happens when we plan together is that we jump right into the Instruction piece without looking at the C and A of the CAI. We don’t look TOGETHER at the deep understandings of the curriculum and pre-assess, but instead say, “These kids need something different because they are gifted.” There’s no differentiation for the gifted kids because they all come out with me at one time, for one subject, OR they are grouped in the grade level, where they are paced a bit faster, or given more problems to solve, or the work is a bit more creative or fun. OR the teachers pre-assess and if a gifted kid misses 1 or 2, they say the kids need the grade level instruction, when in fact, the item MAY have been missed because the kid saw the task as unworthy of effort or quite simply, s/he didn’t try out of boredom.
Meeting gifted kids’ needs is NOT easy. . .and knowing how to do that is foreign to many teachers, especially when the kid is extremely gifted—s/he may present as unmotivated, unwilling or simply lazy, when in fact, they may truly be choosing NOT to play the game of school. My job is not only to advocate for the child, but to help the teacher gain a deeper understanding of how that particular child may think or learn.
I am very lucky to work with an extremely talented bunch of Kindergarten teachers who are very adroit at teaching ALL kids. They differentiate, and meet the needs of all of their children within the classroom community they build. The collaboration with them is fairly predictable and, I think we all agree, very effective. Each year, my K teachers identify an area of the curriculum or a teaching strategy they would like to explore more and I then provide lots of resources and do some demo lessons/co-teaching. They run with it from there, generally on their own, talking about it at PLC meetings, sharing and collaborating about their experiences, just because that’s who and what they are, as individuals and as a team.
I wish each of my grade level teams were as cohesive and easy to work with, but they’re not. They are all individuals and need different things. Some push me to my limits supporting them and others need my pushing–and sometimes we both push and sometimes we both pull. Each teacher is different, each team is different, and I have to say I love the challenge of trying to set up situations where we all grow and learn. My goal this year is to help all of my teachers in ways that show them who I am as a teacher and as an individual, and in ways that impact upon their hearts and souls as teachers, so that the kids are the ones who gain. #evaluatethat!