Meeting the complex needs of gifted learners…one student at a time

In January the Loveland Gifted Team sent a survey out to parents asking for feedback on What topics, questions or information would you be interested in hearing more about and discussed during the parent information night” in the spring. As I was looking carefully at the responses, there were many questions and points that came up that I know I address as a Gifted Intervention Specialist and an ELA teacher. I would like to devote this blog post to sharing what I do to meet these needs, why I use specific instructional approaches, and how I ensure I am not only meeting academic needs but unique learner needs.

First, why do I serve students in ELA only? Well let me start with explaining that the state of Ohio only mandates that school districts identify gifted students; there is no mandate for service or funding for services. The fact that we strive to meet gifted needs without the extra support from the state to as many students as we can says a great deal. This year I see 78 students a day. That is 78 8-10 year olds to get to know and meet diverse needs of. I work with more children than ANY OTHER teacher at LES. Therefore in order to do the best I can, my academic focus has to be narrowed. In fact, I am technically only focusing on 19 reading standards, although I integrate so much more. I am held accountable however for 100% of the ELA growth for 63 students. I get “one hour” on paper a day (in reality it doesn’t always work out that way…) Then for another 15 children I provide enrichment support through computer science/coding activities. As much as I would like to support/service more students in more areas, this is the reality. So again, why “reading only”? Reading is essential for all other content areas and so it is the area that I can have the greatest reach and impact.  (Note that we are working to meet math needs as well at LES, but that could be a whole separate post…)

Now “how do gifted classes differ from regular classes?” While I cannot speak for our other gifted specialists and how they run their classroom, I think I can say that one big difference is that we also incorporate gifted standards. For example, I know that I focus heavily on the National Association for Gifted Children (NAGC) and the standards they set. There are six programming standards outlined for meeting gifted needs specifically. In the area of “learning environments” alone, take a look at these few and how I address them:  

  • 4.1.1 “Educators maintain high expectations for all students with gifts and talents as evidenced in meaningful and challenging activities.” Expectations are key. I set a VERY high bar so that students have something to WORK TOWARDS. Everything is connected to a “life skill” as well. If students are easily meeting an expectation, then they need the bar raised. My students need work to push them outside of their comfort zone and tasks that diversify their learning “reportoire”.
  • 4.1.3 “Educators create environments that support trust among diverse learners.” Giving our gifted children time to be around like minded peers for a small part of their day helps ensure a “safe place” where they realize they aren’t the “big fish” and they learn they are “not alone”. I work on so many social skills through monitoring their interactions and practicing alternative ways to communicate with peers. They learn empathy for others as I design situations to interact so that I can model ways to respond.
  • 4.1.4 “Educators provide feedback that focuses on effort, on evidence of potential to meet high standards, and on mistakes as learning opportunities.” Feedback is essential and it needs to be constructive. I tell my 3rd graders first thing “I will not put a smiley face and ‘great job’ on work because that does NOT help you grow.” I will point out ways they can keep improving and I always find ways to point out my errors or how I am cultivating a growth mindset myself. Feedback is about working to a higher expectation; over time, my learners appreciate the way we grow over time and will always confess there is still more they can do to continue growing. I try to intentionally create moments for students to make mistakes because I can also be a safe learning environment. One motto is “own it and move on”. When tasks are “easy” or focus on a “cute or flashy” product, there is really not much opportunity for growth. We make learning a PROCESS that never stops.
  • 4.1.5 “Educators provide examples of positive coping skills and opportunities to apply them.” This is critical. I have to set high expectations to help students learn to cope with them. I cannot tell them how to cope; I have to put them into situations that will FORCE them to cope and then I work through it with them. They cannot apply skills without the opportunities to practice them authentically. This means I HAVE to design an environment to make them frustrated and uncomfortable so that I can help them deal with these feelings and cultivate strategies for success.
  • 4.2.1 “Educators understand the needs of students with gifts and talents for both solitude and social interaction.” I learn quickly who prefers to cuddle in a corner and work independently and who thrives on chatting it up. Therefore my routines incorporate and reinforce opportunities for doing what they prefer and how to do what isn’t ‘comfortable’. Routines like regular discussions of texts ensure that we practice and reinforce how to have real conversations because this is a skill needed for life.
  • 4.2.2 “Educators provide opportunities for interaction with intellectual and artistic/creative peers as well as with chronological-age peers.” This is what makes pull out into a specific “gifted class” so key. When I consult with the teachers I share students with it helps me coordinate to meet varied social needs. Often kids open up around intellectually similar peers so my room is a haven for them; however they also need to learn to interact successfully with chronological-age peers as a ‘real-life’ skill. This is why I work so much on discourse strategies for life.

Of course am I not only working to deliver the grade level curriculum to students, but I am doing so at an advanced/accelerated pace AND I am mindful of these needs. Sometimes my focus isn’t always academic. There are days that I do more social/emotional coaching than language arts goals. Overall, this is how I try to plan intentionally to meet the two…

I use 2 very specific instructional approaches to set the stage for meeting hundreds of needs. They each center around a predictable, structured routine. They each integrate a homework component as well. I have written many a blog post on my homework views which I believe are age appropriate and clearly outline what I would expect. I am also reasonable about working with children and families to ensure this expectation stays age appropriate and reasonable. Homework expectations give me an opportunity to extend situations for parents  to continue helping their child work through needs. While this may not be “easy” or “comfortable”, the primary goal is to work as your partner to help your child take personal responsibility and let me guide them to build skills for independence and self-reliance. Therefore, I’ll address why my routines incorporating homework help meet these unique needs: anxiety, perfectionism, low self-esteem, motivation, organization, risk-taking, feelings of frustration or being overwhelmed.

Again, the best way to help a child learn to cope with issues is to put them into situations that force them to face these issues. They cannot apply strategies or learn them without authentic real-problems. Therefore I create some “stress” by having a high expectation that I help students work towards meeting. I will create a sense of being overwhelmed by outlining what I expect, which for 3rd and 4th graders ends up being the writing of a response to reading letter each week and assigned reading from a novel with the preparing of notes to come to class to discuss. The key to this is that it is a consistent expectation that I help children develop OVER TIME. In short, I scaffold to meet their needs and each week they build stamina and fluency. Think of it as training for a marathon…I tell them how “far” they are going to eventually be expected to run. Then we take small steps to get there. I ask parents to trust in this process because over the past 5 years the growth and progress children make is phenomenal. They see it when we self-assess and reflect; and look of pride in their faces is worth every hurdle they feel along the way!

What might this look like? Well it always depends on the child, but here’s a general idea by some common issues I see:

Anxious children will flip out because they will think they CANNOT do it. I will reassure them and offer to help at school. I will take whatever effort they give and provide small bits of feedback to steadily grow. How a parent can help: reassure their child that Mrs. Weber is not asking anything of them she didn’t think they could do. Remind them that they can and should ask Mrs. Weber for help. Tell them you will email me if they still can’t seem to handle it and let it go at home; I always email back telling you to tell them we will work it out together. I haven’t lost an anxious child yet!

Perfectionist children often either take excessive time or they procrastinate and put their expectation off. We’ve got that covered here too. First I reinforce that I will honor any effort they give me and they learn really quick that no matter how “perfect” something is, we all have room to grow. They will ask for constant reassurance “is this right?” My answer “well what do you think?” or I work them through the idea that most of what we do is objective, so there isn’t a right or wrong answer or way. Perfectionists need time to learn to trust me.  If they lean on the procrastinating end, then let them “fail” here and show up unprepared. They learn I am not mad. I work through it with them and we talk about what they can do differently for next time. Perfectionists need to experience “failure” more than anyone else so they can learn that the world will still turn and life will go on. Perfectionists need the homework expectation to help them learn how to “relax” and how to realize that in real life they are going to have obligations that they will just do their best to meet and sometimes they will “crush it”, sometimes they won’t, but always they will come out fine. I love my perfectionists because I get to help them embrace the ‘imperfections’ we all have. So for the parents of these perfectionists, let your child try and fail with me because nothing I would ever ask them to do is out of their reach. If necessary, set a timer and tell them they go with what they have in that time frame. We will navigate through it.

Low self-esteem children learn that over time they grow when they use and apply feedback. It is so exciting to pull out a child’s very first attempt at something and let them marvel in how much progress they have made. The best defense against an “I can’t do it” attitude is to prove it wrong. These are the children that I will provide small goals through feedback to build confidence. These are the children that will need to feel validation for any effort or contribution they make. Self-assessment and peer assessment are especially difficult for these children so I find that I spend more time building confidence through setting small goals together.

Motivation… this is tricky. For most children holding them accountable is motivating enough. I typically only give a few “oops” I forgot or “I didn’t because…” excuse moments before I put consequences in place. This is where life expectations come in. I share regularly how if I pay my electric bill late, I still owe a fee; and I don’t get rewarded for doing what is expected of me (“when is the last time your mom or dad got pulled over for stopping at a red light like they were supposed to?”) I’m that teacher. I do not reward students for doing what I expect. In life our motivation to come to time to work is that we want/need to keep our jobs. Homework to me is their job, and so I will hold them accountable and point out when they come unprepared. Usually it means we work out why that happened and how we can plan to make sure we correct it for the next week. Don’t like it? Well I don’t like paying my taxes. I hate filling out the forms…but I do it because I value what my tax contribution means to myself and society and I do it because it is the law. I try to show each child how the assignments I give translate into some skill for life therefore I find that motivation isn’t usually too much of a problem. For the few that it becomes an issue for… then they start to lose privileges in my classroom, which also relates into how not doing what is expected causes a loss of “privileges” in the real world.  (On a side note, my oldest child is/was gifted and UNMOTIVATED, so parents, I feel your pain! She’s 25 now and is starting to get that her lack of motivation has caused her grief. The hardest thing I have ever had to do is not give in and enable her for her decisions to not do what was expected of her.)

Organization skills are hard to teach because I could set a system up for students and it work for about ⅓. Therefore I help students learn ways to be organized that work for them. Furthermore, the best way to get students to learn to cultivate a system that works for them is to give them real reasons to be organized. Traveling between my room to a homeroom to a home means they have to keep many things straight. One of the biggest reasons why I give “homework” is so they can have some practical application here. I count on and expect “oops” moments. My children learn over time to find ways to make sure they bring the book or paper I ask of them. I keep my system simple: everything due on Friday. They can always turn in early, but by Friday they know I am looking. I hold them accountable and will call them out if they are “unprepared”, but it is never to embarrass. Usually it goes like this… “I didn’t do my letter because I was really busy last night.” I answer “well you knew about it Wednesday, and Tuesday, and Monday… hmmm… how might you make sure this doesn’t happen next week?” And then we talk about a plan.  My favorite… “I don’t have my letter/book because my mom didn’t put it in my backpack.” This gets a quick “It is not your mom’s job…it is yours. You need to make sure it gets into your backpack.” We work through the excuses and usually it comes down to executive functioning needs for those who are most in need of extra help. I’m always willing to help a child here, but find that most of the time they just need to be expected to have something to be responsible for outside of class and then accountability for when they “fail” to help them work on systems they can use. Usually when a child is part of developing the system they take more ownership in it and they are much more successful with it. The key is to keep the expectations high and the accountability in place, as well as make the accountability reasonable…relate this to real life too. I’ve been caught many times not having what I needed when I needed it. These lessons have stuck with me more than any other. These years are perfect for letting your child make mistakes and learn. They realize that I will be disappointed, but never mad and always, ALWAYS willing to help them figure out how to make it better next time.  

Risk taking occurs when the reluctant child starts to see that the small steps we take pay off. I give focused, specific feedback to get the process started and then gradually release the supports so that these types of children no longer seek the reassurance they needed initially. When getting the opportunity to work with children for two years, I find that once they trust the feedback I give, the more confident they become. I also see students start to really take risks in the discussions we have weekly on the texts they read outside of class. Shy, quiet students start to shine through the practice and routine over time.

Frustration/feeling overwhelmed is something I intentionally create. I make this happen so that children can experience this with me and I can help them work through it. Learning to cope with a high expectation in a safe environment helps prepare them for the challenges they will face later in life. Dealing with not meeting an expectation lets them experience disappointment that we can easily overcome through talking about feelings and “re-prioritizing” what is really important. We work through lots of tears! Tears now help create stronger, more resilient souls. However, I depend on parents to help me adjust and gage the level of frustration their child goes through. If it feels like too much, we communicate to adapt. A quick email lets me know how a child is responding at home and I can then customize to meet that child’s needs.

These are just some of the ways more common needs are met through my expectations to extend learning beyond the classroom through homework. As a reminder, I NEVER expect more than 10 minutes per grade level (30 for 3rd; 40 for 4th) TOTAL for all subjects. I advocate working to fit family needs and even suggest things like setting a timer to ensure a healthy balance.

The next big routine involves social skills. I ask that my students read select novels outside of class and prepare for a weekly discussion (preparation depends on the text and the current standards we are working on in class). Every Friday we have small group discussion about the assigned text portion for the week. The goal is to have a common reading experience to build discourse around. I explicitly teach skills for reciprocal conversation (like eye contact, active listening, taking turns, respectfully disagreeing). Students become very skilled at collaboration, which is especially important for gifted children who need structured practice with how to relate to peers appropriately and effectively. This occurs over time with practice, feedback, and more practice. I hold the children accountable to themselves and each other by recording conversations so that I can review later when needed for students to listen to and reflect upon.

Through embedding discussion systematically and routinely, students get a chance to practice effective communication skills in a safe environment. This too addresses the unique social needs because again I create a situation where children have to develop and expand coping skills.

Clearly what I do in my classroom is way more than provide “ELA” instruction. Through ELA standards, I am growing gifted learners. I am meeting their unique needs using two core instructional practices that enable me to customize and differentiate learning. Furthermore these two practices build communication and critical thinking skills for life.

Tools or toys? Ensuring that our young tigers learn to use digital access safely and responsibly

Parents of students I serve know that I harness the instructional power of digital tools. Sometimes heavily. With safety and security being on everyone’s minds these days, now is a good time to review what, why, and how digital access can and should be used in any classroom.

First and foremost, digital safety and responsibility is taught and instilled. When students log in, they are entering a new environment. We wouldn’t take our children to the store and say “see you in an hour”. We wouldn’t drop them off at the park and say “have fun while I run an errand”. Therefore we shouldn’t let them log in without ensuring we see their screens and monitor their use. They are 8-10 and will make mistakes. They are curious and will open a tab or initiate a search. It is our jobs as teachers and parents to be there when those moments happen. Of course we work to reduce them, but they can and will happen. Therefore, we teach children that navigating the Internet is just like going out into the real world. There are wonderful things to discover, but safety and security is always number one.

We are prepared to monitor. In my classroom, my children learn quickly that I will check their history, their digital footprint, and I will hold them accountable. Something as simple as giving into the temptation of a “game” will cost them access in my room because I stress that my devices are tools and are privileges. I am prepared to reinforce a consequence for using a Chromebook in an “off task” way just as I would take away a pencil if it were used in a way other than to write. This is a non-negotiable.

What do I have my students use digital tools for? Well where do I start? First are productivity tools like gSuite applications to demonstrate learning and “create” products for others to learn from us. While fancy fonts and flashy images are fun, it is always about the quality of content. We use digital tools to access up-to-date and current information. This then leads to the WHY? As we read, we come across words we don’t know and honestly a quick online search of a definition is much faster and efficient than grabbing a dictionary. We look up a word in question and get back to the discussion or task at hand. Often a discussion leads us to wanting to know more about a related topic, so we search that too. It is about adopting the mindset that our Chromebooks, iPads, whatever are TOOLS. The reality is that we want our learning energy to be focused on thinking and problem solving; on collaborating and communicating. Digital tools help us get the information we need and share the thinking we have in ways that transcend how we learned as children.

Now how to ensure… well it is easy to let a device pull us off task. I fall victim myself. So I teach children about self-regulating and monitoring. At least once an hour I am asking… is that an on task choice? Children can get distracted with a chromebook or a piece of paper. There really is no difference. What is different is they can hide their “distractions” easier when online, so I make it clear that I can and will access their screens anytime. Until they earn some trust, I have them sit where I can see their screens. It is that simple. Once they earn trust, I still walk around the room and take their Chromebook for inspection. They learn quickly that a misstep carries a big consequence.

This leads me to my attitudes on “controls”. I am 100% in support of filters to help with safe searching. Even with these filters inevitably my curious learners might get a hit on something we didn’t expect that may not be fully age appropriate and so I teach them how to navigate away. I see no difference between steering a child away from a bulletin board or ad in public that I do not feel is “kid-appropriate”. Our kids are going to experience and see content we wish they wouldn’t so we have to teach them to responsibly navigate away from it. I want to shelter my students but I also know that they are going to need life skills to know how to cope or handle something when I am not there to do it for them.

Then there are the “temptations”. When I was in school, we passed notes. Our curious kids today can send a doc to each other or an email. Same curiosities and ways to be “off task”… the tools and delivery have changed. When I was in school we made up games to distract ourselves in class. Ever sit in class and play tic-tac-toe with a classmate on paper? Well today we can open a new tab and play a math game.  Again, same desire to lose focus but different way to do it. So is the answer taking the device or blocking sites? I don’t think so. I think we teach kids to self-regulate and monitor; recognize they are letting themselves get distracted and how to get back on track. This too is a life skill…

So with letting our kids harness the power of digital tools, we also have to help them be responsible and we have to monitor for safety. It is really that simple. It takes time, energy, and effort on our part but in doing so we are helping our children learn to be the learners and citizens they need to be. For parents of students I serve, know that I am doing everything I can to ensure your children are using devices responsibly and safely when they are with me but also to instill those lessons for life.


What am I looking for in a gifted 4th grade reader?


Gifted Reading Grading Scale

(Needing heavy support and adaptation)


(Working with guidance; working at grade level expectations)


(Satisfactorily achieving; working above grade level expectations)


(Consistently going WELL above and beyond)

Most of my 4th graders had me as 3rd graders and so my focus is continuing to build on the foundation we laid the previous year. This year as my students’ 4th grade reading teacher I am working to meet 4th grade reading standards while pushing and challenging as much as possible. Expectations are amped up quite a bit because I know that when I expect more, I get more. At this point however I also recognize that some of my readers are going to just do the minimum I provide. I am ok with that because the minimum I ask now is still advanced and accelerated.

  1. Advanced means that I stretch expectations. I ask my 4th graders to read a novel independently outside of class and come prepared with some basic notes for discussions in addition to weekly response letters. We spent a great deal of time learning how to have conversations as 3rd graders and that investment pays off. I also offer “extras” for those who want and need to strive for more.
  2. Acceleration means more than just “keeping up”. The instructional pace continues to be fast. Students have access to lessons online and digital options for extended learning experiences. I provide tools and resources for independent needs and “as needed access”. I’ve set the stage and given the props, now they have to step up and “perform” to the level I know they are capable of.
  3. Heavy written emphasis: I continue to expect written response to text both in weekly response letters and in class responses. With response letters, I expect students to attend to feedback and use it as they work to improve. Even better…when they ask me for ideas to improve! That shows such inititative! I expect response letters to show steady improvement week to week. Another layer now is developing stamina and fluency with typed responses. I strive to give an in class response essay question each week giving 20 minutes to type a response to a question connected to the novel we are reading. At first I do not expect “completion” but rather look for growth over time.
  4. “On the surface” vs. “below the surface” thinking also continues. In fact, we spend most of our time “living” below the surface with our novel. In 4th grade however I put more emphasis on reading informational text and reading for “life” skills. This means that often I have to bring kids back to the surface of the text to really examine what an author is actually saying. Reading with a skeptical eye is so important as well.
  5. Complete independence and responsibility: After having a year to release responsibility, I expect my 4th graders to be independent in the classroom and out. They know that I am clear about what I expect and they have grown to appreciate the little amount of time we have together. They are also working to explore new and exciting learning options that are only available if I can trust that they do what they need to do without my micro-managing them.
  6. Self-assessment and reflection takes center stage. Students are starting to rely on their ability to self-monitor and regulate as they set their own goals for improvement. While some still need advice and support, most of my 4th graders are able to accurately assess where they are and determine where they need to go.

These are things I look for and work on in gifted reading. Students who are successful are performing “satisfactory” and considered a “level 3” on their report card. For the most part, even if a student is just doing the “minimum” for me, it is a 3 because I have such high and advanced expectations. A score of “4” is rare and reserved for those few that strive to go consistently above and beyond; please see the criteria in the “4” category on this rubric: Gifted reading rubric 4th

What am I looking for in a gifted 3rd grade reader?


Gifted Reading Grading Scale

(Needing heavy support and adaptation)


(Working with guidance; working at grade level expectations)


(Satisfactorily achieving; working above grade level expectations)


(Consistently going WELL above and beyond)

First and foremost, as your child’s reading teacher I am working to meet 3rd grade reading standards. Even though most of my readers come in reading above grade level texts fluently, this does not necessarily mean that they have learned or mastered the skills expected at this grade level. Therefore I strive to teach grade level skills, but do so in an advanced and accelerated way.

  1. Advanced means that I stretch expectations. One third grade goal is to “explain the central message, lesson, and/or moral using key details from the story” and this includes teaching adages or proverbs as common sayings that can help us. Teaching content like what an “adage” is still needs to be done for gifted readers because most (if not all) have never heard of this before. Your child’s 3rd grade homeroom ELA teacher is most likely having students work on determining a lesson with a folktale through a great deal of guided practice and whole group discussion/instruction. What I have done is have your child read 2 folktales independently and then consider what lesson they thought the tales had in common (we read a version of Stone Soup and The Giant Turnip). My readers were able to determine or figure out a possible lesson without any guidance. Therefore we moved onto to discussing the possible topic of teamwork and we looked at some sayings (adages/proverbs) that might fit. From there I am having the children work on writing a strong response comparing the two tales through the lens of a common lesson. We are further working on written responses using details from each text.  (See model lesson here) Therefore, while their grade level peers are working on determining the lesson in one tale with teacher support, I increased the expectation to stretch and extend.
  2. Acceleration means more than just “keeping up”. The instructional pace is faster in gifted reading as we spend a short amount of time on the actual lesson and more time on individually working with the goal. Gifted learners often do not need the same level of repetition with concepts that typical peers do. In fact, the repetition that is necessary in a general classroom can often frustrate gifted learners. Needless to say, if a lesson is missed it is hard to make up because we are moving along through goals steadily. If a child needs extra time or help with a skill, it will be given however asking questions for clarification, reading directions carefully when provided, and using resources provided is expected. I am opening the door to learning for your child but s/he has to take the inititiative to walk through.
  3. Heavy written emphasis: Another thing to consider is the huge shift from “oral” comprehension to written comprehension. It is not enough for your child to be able to communicate their understanding of what they read orally. They have to be able to construct well written responses. This is an expectation of all 3rd graders. What I find is that students who have been reading “above grade level” for years have probably not been doing the written comprehension to match those levels. This is often a “reality” check for most. Thus, heavy emphasis is now put on written expression. Not just in my gifted reading class but across 3rd grade in general. So while this feels like a huge expectation I am asking, know that it is actually expected by all 3rd grade teachers. In fact the state assessments have already asked students to TYPE a multi-paragraph essay! I am not officially your child’s writing teacher, yet I build your child’s writing skills through written response to reading. Therefore for written expression I am expecting a minimum of correctly used conventions (correct capitalization and punctuation should be mastered or the student should know to self-check his/her own work before turning in as “finished”; I taught 2nd grade for 10 years so I know what I should be able to reasonably expect). I am also expecting to see some level of fluency with writing. If a child is given 20 minutes in class to construct a response to something they read, then they should have evidence of some thought composed. I teach the children to put “NF” on written work when we run out of time to signal that they felt they needed more time before they were ready for me view as complete. Written responses provide me with visible evidence of thinking. The amount of “evidence” I have gives me insight into what type of a thinker your child is. If I lack evidence, then I am not able to fully assess your child’s skills.
  4. “On the surface” vs. “below the surface” thinking is another area I work on. Surface thinking includes a child’s ability to give me basics about a text: characters, setting, plot, problem, solution… these are all lower level thinking skills that generally have a right or wrong answer. Typically I find gifted readers are pretty skilled at these question types and can generally be successful without ever having to look back at a text to answer these types of questions (although I am trying to teach them the importance of cross-checking to confirm because some often think their personal knowledge serves them fully). These are also the types of questions my students have come to expect because they have a “right answer”. I look for gifted readers to go beyond that. I want them to wonder and consider and go “below the surface”. Going “below” often means they have to figure out what the writer didn’t tell them directly and use clues. We call it inferring or making an inference. Going “below” means wondering about questions that do not have a single correct or incorrect answer.  Here’s a great example to compare the two types of thinking using our novel Clementine: “Clementine and Margaret are similar because they are both girls and have a brother. Clementine and Margaret are both different because Clementine has a younger brother and Margaret has an older brother.”  vs. “Clementine and Margaret are both similar because they seem foolish. Clementine and Margaret are different because Clementine seems creative and Margaret seems conceited.”  The first example is very “surface” where as the second shows a higher level of thought.  This type of thinking takes time to develop and encourage. Some students are more literal, concrete thinkers where others are able to think more abstractly. To some degree, this is developmental yet I find that it really just needs to be pushed and encouraged for most.
  5. Increased independence and responsibility: I teach routines carefully and show students how they can have choice in what they read and do but reinforce that they are expected to use time wisely in class and to stay on task.  I also have expectations for doing work outside of my classroom. Forgetting or an “oops” now and then is normal and expected while repeatedly being off task or unprepared notes concern. At this point, we have built up to a weekly reading assignment with some extra written expectation and a weekly response letter. Stamina and fluency with response letters should be increasing over time.
  6. Process over product is a difficult concept for the gifted learner who has most likely grown accustomed to “being done” or being praised for work with general “good/great job” like comments. Many of the things we do are part of the overall learning process. For instance, I asked students to select an event from Clementine to illustrate in preparation for class discussion and in class lesson. My goal was that the process of illustrating the event would get them to think more deeply about the individual event. (I have found that sketching is a pathway to deeper comprehension). While I received some beautiful illustrations, my goal was not a piece of artwork, but to promote thinking and more close, careful consideration of the event. Also, learning can be messy! As we revise and work to continually improve the ‘tracks’ we leave behind as thinkers these efforts may not be something we would want to put on display. Furthermore, mistakes are fantastic learning opportunities! If I give your child something back to correct and return, then I expect that they take advantage of the practice they are getting with instilling habits and skills.

These are things I look for and work on in gifted reading. Students who are successful are performing “satisfactory” and considered a “level 3” on their report card. If a student is doing what I would expect from a “typical” 3rd grader, then that is a 2. For families wondering what might constitute a “4”, please see the criteria in the “4” category on this rubric: Gifted reading rubric 3rd

Routines and Expectations (again…)

To ensure a successful school year, routines and expectations must be taught carefully in the first weeks. While I have the advantage of working with 4th graders I had already as 3rd graders, my biggest challenge is getting routines and expectations into place with my new 3rd graders. Adding to the challenge is the fact that I only get to see my students barely an hour each day and I get fewer “days” than their homeroom classroom teachers due to scheduling conflicts.  Translation… it takes much longer to get routines into place. (See “part 1” of this topic for more info)

We have added Vocabulary and Poetry stations to our set of choices. Vocabulary consists of a set of QR codes the children can scan to get a special word. They then have sentence cards (many are pretty funny) to use with the word they scan in a sentence. Most of the children love this station and it gives me a chance to hold students accountable for correct capitalization and punctuation (which should have been mastered in 2nd grade and should be done consistently in written work). For poetry station, I showed the children how they can choose a poem and ‘sketch’ their thinking about parts of the poem. The focus here is on recognizing poems have a different structure and so we use the language “lines” and/or “stanzas” to refer to parts in the poem.

Word WizardA “side” activity that we learned is called “being a word wizard”. The focus is to work on inferring the meaning of words IN CONTEXT using context clues. Therefore I encourage the children to keep this in mind whenever they are doing any reading work so that they can jot down words as they come across them. (Some of the children have been trying to just find words in isolation and look them up, so I’ve had to clarify that the point is IN CONTEXT).

The next routine/expectation that I brought in was expectations for the novel we are reading together. In a previous post “The Why Behind The What” I explain why I use a few novels for us to read together. I have selected Clementine by Sara Pennypacker because it is not a challenge to read but works beautifully for various goals I have.

For 3rd graders, I start with just getting them adjusted to the expectation of having homework, as it is a new concept for many. With only 1 hour to do so much work, I think it is more than reasonable to expect some level of outside effort/preparation. Getting into the habit of doing what is expected and coming prepared to class is the first target. I want 3rd graders to take ownership and learn to be responsible on their own; that is without reminders from mom and dad. To help make this simple, Friday is our “book club” day and so every Friday we devote to novel work. Here’s a break down of what we have learned in regards to expectations so far:

Week 1: read the chapter and “annotate”. Then show up with your book and some annotations. Of course there were many “I forgot” or “My mom didn’t…” I put my hand up to the excuses and clarified: ‘This is the expectation and so you need to own the fact that you came unprepared. I am not mad. We all forget things in life however excuses won’t solve our problem. Let’s learn from this how we can try to remember next time.’ I also clarify that it is their responsibility to make sure they bring their materials (not mom or dad). I want parents to let me help their child learn to take personal responsibility now in a safe and secure environment. This is a LIFE skill. I have even used this comparison: “the electric company doesn’t care if I had the money in my account and forgot to pay because they still expect me to take care of my responsibility”. In life we deal with forgetting things and we just move on. That is what I want to instill.

Week 2: Again I asked the children to read the chapter and “annotate”. I added on an additional expectation and clearly outlined it in the “directions”:  Clementine ch 2

It just so happened that less than 1/2 of the children actually followed the ‘read like a detective’ part in the directions, and so I worked on pointing out how we need to read directions when they are given to us and not just automatically assume we “know what to do”.

Week 3: I started by giving each child specialized feedback so they could evaluate how they met the expectations in weeks one and two: clementine-feedback.jpg

It was eye-opening for many of the children. Again my goal is to help them step up and take personal ownership and plan to adjust what they do to meet the expectation.

Then after a group mini-lesson I gave them the next discussion guide:  Clementine ch 3.png

They had some time in class to get started, and right away many did not read the directions. Reinforcing this will be a re-occurring theme…

Week 4: Coming with their book and some annotations seems to be a habit now. We are still working on following special directions. The guide they were given is based on the Talk About Text lesson we did for the week (more on these in a separate post). Clementine ch 4 discussion guide . We also had our first lesson about how as 3rd grade readers, we are expected to respond to text in writing. I find this is a new concept for the children even though if they are tested at DRA level 28 or beyond, a written response component is expected at those levels. We did our first ACE response (which stands for “A” answer the question “C” cite evidence to support your answer and “E” explain how the evidence supports your answer.

Our Friday “book club” or novel work also serves another purpose: discussion. I am spending time to directly teach the children how to have conversations because this is another LIFE skill. We have started with how to make eye contact with each other. These are the “rules” we are learning: (1) Make eye contact with the speaker (2) Wait until others finish speaking (3) Listen for the pause then speak (4) Be empathetic to others’ ideas (5) Respectfully agree and/or disagree (6) Support your claims with evidence

So while it is taking a LONG time to get everything in place, know that our routines are solid and even though expectations set are high, we are working towards them!

All about “Ella”…The “plan” for gradual growth in meeting lofty expectations

4th graders started our new school year right away with a novel we are reading together.  (For more info see “The why behind the what…”) I set up a lofty set of expectations for our study of this novel with the intention of gradually building them to a high quality level. The bar is high, but I do not expect everyone to be at the top already…

First and foremost, I have minimum expectations because I recognize that not everyone will enjoy the reading. I get that and I do not want to completely turn a child off by forcing him/her to do every task. My hope is to inspire the highest level of participation possible. Here’s what you need to know about how I am gradually building what I expect to see.

  1. Week 1, chapters 1-3 (Sept 1) was about getting adjusted to this big routine. I was looking for each child to do the following: read the chapters and show effort in annotating.  That is all I focused on when I “checked” work. The primary goal was establishing that we need to come to class prepared with materials and prepared engage in a discussion with peers.  I gave students the Thursday before our “due date” to explore the options of a digital form with higher level prompts and a digital discussion of select text parts.  The hope was that they would try this on their own later because they enjoyed it. After a 20 minute or so discussion (which was recorded for the routine establishment) in class on Friday, students got onto their Chromebooks to answer the “exit ticket” question. They only got 20 minutes to respond because I am focusing on building stamina and fluency with these types of responses. I did not expect any child to write a full well-developed response at this time. It is about building this skill over time with repetition and practice. I have told the children that their skill here should be improving gradually as their “typing” becomes more automatic as well. No stress in this…because we will learn over time. In fact, I tell each child to put “NF” before submitting so that they let me know they felt they had more to say but ran out of time. Not doing this tells me that a child felt they did “their best” and I should grade it with full expectations of it being a top quality response. Honestly, no child should be at the “I think I’m done” level yet because I encourage them to use every minute possible to strengthen their response.
  2. Week 2, chapters 4-6 (Sept 8) I checked again to see if each child brought his/her book because coming prepared for anything in life is important. Taking ownership for knowing what you need, when you need it is important. I also took photos of annotations made to examine for “quality”. That is the next step. Since students get a task guide with prompts for discussion, I am looking for effort to attend to these prompts to be made. I will be following up through individual ‘conferences’ on the “quality” level.  Again students discussed for 20 minutes and completed a typed “exit ticket” response, but I’ll revisit those later as we examine ways we can improve. I also reinforced how personal responsibility can be taken when getting the “extras” they might need. For example, I referred to a “basic motifs in traditional literature” chart on their task guide. While I was late linking this in our Google classroom, I was surprised at the number of children who did not even bother to try to access it OR ask me in class about it prior to the discussion.  I told the children that if they couldn’t access the HyperDoc because they do not get time or their parents have rules/guidelines about access at home (which I fully support), then they can always ask me for a copy of helpful items. I will not make mass copies to be left behind or lost but am always willing when asked. Therefore this week focused on “owning what we are responsible for having prepared and for bringing it to class”.
  3. Week 3, chapters 7-9 (Sept 15) will be about reinforcing what is conferenced about in regards to “quality” in annotating. Again I will take photos of notes to hold students now accountable for doing what we discussed together. I will also “grade” the exit tickets for the first time to give students an idea of what they are doing well and so that they can start setting goals for improving. We are learning a “RACES” format, building on what I taught last year with Answer-Cite evidence-Explain how evidence ‘proves’ or supports answer. R is about restating the question (or using words from the question in a well written answer) and S is about self-checking. Here’s the rubric I use (note NO student is expected to get full points now!)Screen Shot 2017-09-09 at 12.12.55 PM.png
  4. Week 4, chapters 10-12 (Sept 22) all previous expectations will be reinforced and I will now start turning my attention to ‘quality’ in discussion. This means I will need to listen to 8 separate groups of recorded discussions at 20 minutes each. As 3rd graders, we spent a great deal of time modeling how to communicate effectively and to follow these “rules for discourse”. I can listen closely to the level of participation each student engages in as well. I will conference with students individually the week after to set goals based on my observations.Screen Shot 2017-09-09 at 12.23.00 PM.png
  5. Week 5, chapters 13-15 (Sept 29) we will look at the “full package” as this marks the end of the “interim grading period”. That is, what level are they consistently working towards. This is where I will start pointing out whether just the “minimum” is being done or extra effort is being put in. (I track who is doing the “extra” all along). While I will encourage students to “do more” on their own, at this point students who have not taken any of the extra options will start doing select ones in class so that I can make sure learning goals are met.
  6. Week 6, chapters 16-18 (Oct 6) while expectations established continue, I plan to have students use reading to start planning their first response letters as 4th graders. I will be helping students plan and work on these letters in class. Class discussions will most likely be impacted by the LES walk-a-thon and may not take place at all.
  7. Week 7, chapters 19-21 (Oct 13) students will be “juggling” reading expectations along with response letters. This week will give students a chance to feel some pressure with having the extra responsibilities so while I will tell them I am not “letting up”, I secretly will be anticipating some “I didn’t get time to…” comments.
  8. (Ella takes a break due to early release on Oct. 20th and to let students focus on catching up with any comprehension lessons as well as doing independent response letters; I anticipate week 7 will push them hard!)
  9. Week 8, chapters 22-24 (Oct 27) after having the week “off” students should return to full expectations (my hope is that they learned some lessons from managing adding letters to the novel expectations; more than likely a few will learn about “procrastination”!)
  10. Week 9, chapters 25-27 (Nov 4) full expectations with emphasis on “pushing yourself” to do the extra options. We will be examining our progress with “exit ticket” responses to see the progress we have made over time.
  11. Wrapping up, chapters 28-epilogue: we will be doing some special activities with the entire book for the rest of Nov. and into Dec. More info will come on this as I evaluate needs and learning goals. The next novel will be given to students prior to winter break with those expectations starting when we return in January.

Establishing Routines and Expectations

As I get to know my new 3rd graders and we start to build relationships, our first weeks together are mostly about establishing solid routines and expectations. We have finished 3 weeks of school, but I have only gotten to spend around 7-8 hours with them. (Students spend the first week in their homeroom classrooms and then have at least 2 days of MAP testing that most likely overlapped their scheduled time with me). This means it takes me even longer to get our classroom running smoothly.

First and foremost, I help the children adjust to the very different environment. Not just a physical difference, but a MINDSET difference. In order to challenge the needs of gifted learners at a variety of levels, I have to do things very, VERY differently. I have to provide choices and learning OPPORTUNITIES. I know that not every child will take every opportunity (and I would not expect them to), but they exist for those that have the drive to seek more or for those with different learning styles and preferences. I know that gifted doesn’t necessarily mean “strong” in language arts as well, so while I offer tasks that really stretch and push students as readers and writers, I also let students know that doing the “minimum” is OK (because my minimum is above and beyond typical grade level expectations) but the minimum will be done very well to the highest level of quality for each student.  (Parents concerned about “handwriting” note that I focus on spacing between words for legibility and correct letter size use; capitals vs. lower case letters used correctly. I am not going to stress any student out about beautiful “penmanship”).

I set a HIGH bar and guide students to reach it. I will give tasks that have a standard to work towards. This often throws off children who are used to being “perfect” or having something be “just right” or “acceptable” the first time. We are going to learn and grow by doing.  I told one of my students yesterday, it is like when people start learning to drive a car. After being given lessons or learning about driving from reading about it, you learn by just doing it, with support and guidance. I don’t expect students to do something “perfect” right away, and quite honestly, if they did, then the task wasn’t challenging enough.  This mindset is different for parents too, as they are expecting their child to get “full credit” or “top marks”.  Please do not expect that of your child in my classroom. How can I push and grow your child if we seek to have them do everything perfectly the first time? Again that means the task was too easy.

When it comes to grading… well, what matters is the progress a child makes and where they are at the end of a “grading period” so to speak.  I look at growing and progressing an individual child’s skill set, and while I have some standards in mind of where a child should be, I never compare children. Nor should parents. Each child is going to have different needs and I’m going to work to meet them. We will have goals that we set and adjust as we go.  (If you are concerned about “grading” note the “scale” I use; I put one number on your child’s report card 3 times.  This number is the result of my considering your child’s overall work ethic, skill development, and progress over time).

Gifted Reading Grading Scale
1 (Needing heavy support and adaptation) 2 (Working with guidance; working at grade level expectations) 3 (Satisfactorily achieving; working above grade level expectations) 4 (Consistently going WELL above and beyond)

Points… in my room I use “points” to track visible effort. Simply put, I cannot figure out what is going on in a child’s mind unless they note it. Some children are more inclined to share their thinking in a visible way than others. When you see “+10” on a piece of student work, it is NOT a grade! Feel free to ask me anything about something your child does and what goals I might have for your child; not “how can they get more points on this or that”? POINTS ARE NOT GRADES.

Feedback…This is CRITICAL to growth (and if you are interested I wrote an advice column for teachers on using feedback for OCTELA). I have already told my 3rd graders that I will put comments on work intended to help them grow and do better. As much as possible I try to make comments on work and if I take the time to do so, I expect students to read them. This will become very important as we move into specific aspects of our routine intended to build and develop written response skills. Screen Shot 2017-09-09 at 11.07.54 AM.png

Now routines… I have an extremely complex routine structure in my room because I have to account for learners who do the minimum and learners who strive to take on any challenge they can find. It takes time to unpack and introduce each individual component. Right now I’m focusing on independent choices students have through “stations”. These are tasks that focus on different types and styles of texts and give students choice.  So far we have learned “Metacognition”, “Listening”, and “Newsstand”. Stations are more about giving students a structured opportunity to interact with and think about texts in the classroom. Eventually we will learn about our full “menu” of learning options.

Metacognition is “thinking about one’s own thinking” and it is pretty flexible…choose any text of interest and annotate part of it.  We started the year learning about how we can “leave tracks of our thinking” behind when we read.  Of course we talked about how we do NOT do this for everything we read! By teaching the children to start annotating when they read, I am starting to build some “note-taking” foundations as well as help students pay attention to their “inner voice” when they read. The goal is to share what we are learning to be “quality” thinking. I want students to really pay attention to smaller parts of text or images that resonate with them in some way. There is no “correct” way to do this. However I do encourage and develop more “thoughtful” responses.  The children then use SeeSaw to take snapshots of their annotations in texts and upload them for me to review.  Parents can request access to their child’s annotations on request.  

Listening is specifically targeted at listening skills. I have iPods with short stories and the text is NOT available. I find that my gifted students have learned to tune out or “turn off” their “auditory” receptors because they get bored with repetition or when something they have already learned is being presented. In addition, they often do not listen attentively because they have learned their natural abilities often serve them well to just “figure things out”. I focus on building active listening skills. For this station, students listen to a text and during or after they are to retell or recount it. (This is a 3rd grade standard). This means that they tell the events of the text again with many details and it differs from a summary, which is short and sweet. In 1st and 2nd grade, students should have been given DRA assessments and prior to “level 28” they are asked to orally retell the text to their teacher. (Level 28 and beyond requires students to write in response to a text read). If they do not give many details, they are prompted to “tell more” orally. I take this skill and push it a bit differently.  Here’s is the student “tutorial”: Note that the video was made before I started making “sketching” an option. Many of the children have preferred this! Bottom line, it is about listening for details!

Newsstand focuses on nonfiction texts through the use of periodicals. I have a collection of child-centered magazines as well as a large collection of National Geographic and NatGeo Traveler (for those that need a “vocabulary” challenge). Here is the student tutorial:  Through this station we are learning what a publication is and how it contains “articles”.

This brings me to some expectations I have. I taught 2nd grade for 10 years (and 1st three years) before moving to a year in 3rd grade ELA and then into gifted reading. I know that conventions of capitalization and punctuation have been taught; I was firm on holding my 2nd grade students ACCOUNTABLE for applying these skills in all written work and would return work until correct conventions were applied so that these skills became a HABIT.  There is no reason for a 3rd grader to use capital letters within words in sentences. There is no reason a 3rd grader should not capitalize the first word of sentences, the word “I”, or their own name! Yet I see happen with alarming frequency. When work is returned to children to correct these things, they are learning to make these conventions habitual. Therefore, my students are starting to learn that I will give them work back to “correct and return”. Here is a “checklist” of expectations that are in our ELA standards by grade levels:

ELA conventions checklists.JPG

Therefore I will hold students accountable for K-2 expectations and start guiding their use of conventions beyond. It is my goal to reinforce that self-editing means you take pride in your work before you turn it in!

As we learn more of our routines, the expectations will steadily increase. That bar will be raised. I will help children reach the high goals I set for them by giving them feedback and holding them accountable.