Book Review: Differentiating Instruction with Menus: Science

51ngmwuarelScience….is hands-on and can be as fun as you can make it. Science teachers work real hard to teach complicated ideas in science to you children. This book is a great resource that many of those teachers need to get. Differentiating Instruction with Menus (Science) covers Physical, Biological, and Earth Science. Laurie took some of the most important topics of each and created some great menus for them.

These menus will help to deepen student engagement, and interest in science. Everyone of us have had students who has a desire to learn everything, and wants to learn it now. Well, this book and the series, will help you with those students. By creating a choice board, a menu or tic-tac-toe board you allow students the freedom to learn multiple topics over a selective period of time. Students love the fact they can pick and choose what they will learn, and what products they will do to share their learning.

I would encourage all teachers and home school parents to check this book out along with the whole series. These books contain so much information to help you not only use the menu, but you can use the information to make your own menus.


Book Review: Differentiating Instruction with Menus: Social Studies

e5383Social Studies is one of my favorite subjects to teach in every grade that I have been assigned to. I feel that this subject area is one of the most versatile subject areas because it is so diverse. This book, Differentiating Instruction with Menus: Social Studies, is a great resource you teachers and home school families to have. It aligns with the State curriculum, and is chalked full of ideas to use in the classroom.

What i really like about this series is the fact that each of Laurie’s books is written the same way. She includes a lot of different menus based on history, geography, U.S. documents, and people. All of these are major aspects of Social Studies. She has included several different menus to help bring out the creativity of your students, and to help deepen their knowledge of Social Studies.

I would recommend this book and the whole series to every teacher, and home school parent. I have used this series often in my gifted classroom, and I will continue to do so. They are written so well, and they have so many ideas you can use, or you can use as a starting off points.

Book Review: Differentiating Instruction with Menus: Language Arts

258_fcvAs I have stated before, Differentiating Instruction with Menus is one of my favorite book series. I have found that my students really enjoy the opportunity to have some choice in their work. Giving students ownership in their learning is a great aspect of Education.

What I love about this book, is the fact that it has menus for different types of literature including fiction and nonfiction. Each section has a treasure trove of ideas teachers can use to enhance their language arts classes for their gifted students, and their regular education students. Each section has discusses ways to use menus for genres of literature, and different types of books.

One aspect of this book that I really enjoy is the fact Laurie includes some rubrics. There are all purpose rubrics for students to use, along with rubrics for student taught lessons. I love rubrics just for the fact it gives students the expectations starting off. It allows teachers to quickly grade projects and presentations. There are also scales that can be used by both teachers and students to help rate their performance on projects and presentations.

Overall, this is book that I recommend to teachers, and home school parents to help their students to succeed in language arts. Using this book you can use the ideas in it just as they are written, or you can take the idea and change it to fit your own situation.


Addition of Complexity

I was reading a blog post from Ian Byrd today, called 7 Ways to Add Complexity. Ian does a great job of explaining ways that will add complexity to the gifted classroom. Complexity is a great way to add rigor to the curriculum.

One aspect that I feel is important to gifted children is that the curriculum be challenging and relevant. Gifted children want to be challenged. It is our job as GIS to figure out how to challenge them in a way that makes them grow, not only in learning, but as a person.

Last year I did a competition with my 7th graders. My students had to create a working simple machine based on some household items. The items changed as the challenge did each week. For one challenge I gave them a few household items such as plastics spoons, rubber bands, different sized popsicle sticks, and some pushpins. They had to make a catapult that would shoot a penny more than 10 feet. They worked with a partner to figure this out. I gave them 10 minutes on the computer to research catapults, and do make a rough design on paper. Once the time was up students had to use that materials and their simple sketch to make their model. Each of my students loved this. My extroverts loved to boast about their models, and my introverts were proud peacocks when they won.

Complexity can come in different forms. It can come in shortened time, and few resources. Complexity doesn’t have to be something over the top. Sometimes, you just have to shake things up to make them more interesting. Using items that are different from what the students would expect is great way to get complexity. For example Ian writes in the article mentioned above, that he had a 6th grader write an essay using kindergarten paper.

In our world of education, we have to push our gifted students more and more. We are expecting them to show growth through the year on standardized tests. I believe that without complexity and a good knowledge of differentiation skills students won’t progress like they should.

What do you do to add complexity to your curriculum? What differentiation strategies do you use that work best with gifted students? Share in the comments section below.

A Shameless Plug: On Sunday Feb 28 at 9pm ET #ohiogtchat will be doing a review of Ian’s work on Differentiation on Twitter. For more information follow @jeff_shoemaker and @HeatherCachat, or go to our website

Does Differentiation Work?

Last week I was on Twitter, and came across an article by Jim Delisle. I have read many articles, and few books by Jim. I have a lot of respect for him and his work. In this article I think there are some good points, and some points that I don’t necessarily agree with. (If you have any comment on this, I would love to hear from you in the comments sections below.)

Here are a few things I do agree with from Jim’s article:

  • Differentiation is hard, and at times confusing
  • Education bounces back and forth between paradigm shifts
  • Many teachers are not differentiating
  • Differentiation asks a lot of both teachers and students
  • Classrooms should be homogenous. ( I know many of you will have issue with this.)

Here are a few things I don’t agree with from Jim’s article:

  • Differentiation is a failure
  • Differentiation is a form of lip service for those who want to teach students to their full potential
  • Differentiation is only a theory where teachers talk about doing it but don’t

From personal experience there are many teachers who do not differentiate. They are unclear of what to do. They often thinkdo I need to differentiate the curriculum or the strategy? I know that it is easier to differentiate when the students are more on the same ability level. There is a big BUT! I honestly believe, that if a teacher sees that a child is struggling, either because the work is too hard or too easier they won’t step up and do something for that student or a group of students.

I know teachers have a lot of students in their classes, especially in the middle and high school, and there are demands of testing and teaching to those tests. I feel that teachers who have a handle on their curricula can make differentiation work if they really try. I am not saying that differentiation is easy or impossible, because ultimately the extra work goes on the teacher.

I am lucky. My classes are homogenous. I teach gifted children who for the most have the same I.Q. range and ability. My classes are also smaller than the normal teacher student load. I differentiate a lot. I differentiate not so much the curricula but the products my students create. I have some students who are good artists, and some who love to debate; I have some students who love to use technology, and some who are very shy and would rather not get out in front of a group of people they know and share what they are working on. I think if I had a class of 25 students with varying abilities I may have a different view of what differentiation might be. In essence, in every class you may be differentiating your material for just a handful of students.

I believe differentiation is a mindset. It’s not easy. It’s a lot of work for the teacher, and I because of that it most often fails. I do agree with Jim that there are a lot of variables when trying to see if differentiation can or could work. I also believe that if a teacher doesn’t have this mindset they will be closed to the idea of implementing it in their classroom.

What do you think? Is differentiation a mindset….a failure….impossible task given to teachers from administrators…or just another shift of the educational pendulum?

As a side note: The Ohio Association for Gifted Children hosted a tweetchat on this topic. You can check out the transcript, and resources from that chat here.

Enrichment vs. Extension In the Regular Classroom

What is the difference between an enrichment project and an extension activity, and how does curriculum compating help gifted students?

That’s the main question that I had to try to answer to a few fellow teachers. I believe that each has a place in the regular classroom for gifted students who need to have an alternative assignment to help meet their educational needs. To begin, let me discuss the differences, then how they can be used in the regular classroom.

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Enrichment Projects

Enrichment projects are projects based on a topic the student is interested in that will lead to new in-depth learning, or these projects can be based on the topic you are currently teaching, but allow gifted students to have a compacted curriculum. To help challenge these students teachers need to create enrichment projects that allow them to dig deeper into the content you are covering. These projects are done either by themselves or with a partner or small group. These projects are usually hands-on and bring in some real world lessons. These projects can use students’ prior knowledge as a baseline, and the project will push the student deeper into the topic. The project enhances a student’s education by bringing new concepts to light or by using old concepts in new ways.

Extension Activities

An extension activity is an activity that extends the learning of the lesson. Extension activities can be done in small groups or by a single student. These extension activities are leveled to fit the student. For gifted students these are challenging. For struggling students these activities can be a reinforcing skill activities. Students don’t choose their extension activity like the enrichment project.

The Why and How

I spent many years as a regular education teacher, and I remember the demands on time and resources that comes with that. Many teachers think that having students doing different assignments is too much of a hassle. I personally believe that it is my responsibility to provide the best education for my students. The best doesn’t always translate into easy.

The reason regular education teachers must have enrichment and extension activities in their classrooms and part of their instruction is because students need to take what they know or what they learned and apply it to the next level. Generally, extension activities and enrichment projects are at the upper Blooms Taxonomy levels. Our role as teachers is take our students to where they are and take them up the Blooms latter.

There are many benefits of having extension activities and enrichment projects in your teacher’s bag of tricks.  Here is a short of list:

  •  Enrichment projects and extension activities challenges gifted students without giving extra work when they are finished with classroom work
  • Enrichment projects and extension activities allows students to apply new knowledge to the next level
  • Enrichment projects and extension activities allows gifted students to not do work that is repetitive. (Gifted students resist work that is repetitive.)
  • Enrichment projects and extension activities allow students to have their own educational experiences.

Gifted students love to be challenged. They also love to have the opportunity to explore some of their own interests. Sometimes it isn’t hard to match some of their interests to projects that you can connect to your state standards. Gifted students also shouldn’t be punished for getting their work done quickly. They don’t want more work. They want to be challenged just like their peers. Gifted students shouldn’t be placed as tutors throughout the classroom to help those who are not finished. This isn’t fair to them since they are there to learn not to tutor. By tutoring other students you rob them of the opportunity to have their own learning experiences.

If you are a regular education teacher, and aren’t incorporating enrichment projects and extension activities into your classroom here is a way to start. Take it easy, and do this at your own pace. When you get a good routine down, your students will benefit from it. Susan Winebrenner states in her PowerPoint 10 steps to help gifted students through instruction so they can have enrichment projects and extension activities.

One: Teacher identifies key concepts all students are expected to master.

Two: Teacher prepares pre-assessment and extension materials.

Three: Students are allowed to briefly examine the upcoming content.

Four: Students may volunteer to take a pre-test to demonstrate their previous mastery of upcoming content.

Five: Eliminate practice, drill, and instructional time for students when teaching concepts students have already mastered. Allow students to work on extension activities during the time other students are experiencing direct instruction.

Six: Expect students to participate in direct instruction when concepts they have not mastered are being taught.

Seven: If pre-testing is not possible because content is new, streamline instruction of key concepts so eligible students can still spend part of their learning time on extension activities.

Eight: Expect all students in the class to participate in content assessment activities at the same time.

Nine: Keep records of this process and of which extension activities students choose. Teach students how to keep careful records of their own progress.

Ten: Meet regularly with students who are experiencing compacting to help them locate resources, to develop the confidence to choose challenging work, and learn to follow the behavioral expectations for working independently.




Differentiation of enrichment projects or extension activities can come in many different forms. One of the easiest to use is a choice menu. Doing a Tic-Tac-Toe board with projects in them is a great way to start. (I wrote about these on this slide show.) A great resource to use is Laurie Westphal’s Differentiating Instruction with Menus series. She has a book for every subject. 

What are you doing in your classroom to challenge and grow your gifted students? How do help regular education teachers teach gifted students?