Wednesday, April 15, 2020
Friday, January 24, 2020
Differentiated instruction – teaching tailored to students’ different learning styles and levels – is an educational concept that has been around for decades. It is a concept that’s embraced by most schools in theory – and varying degrees of practice.
Because it is essential for gifted children to have a program designed to address their individual characteristics, needs, abilities, and interests, differentiating curriculum so that each child is appropriately challenged is at the core of Seabury School’s mission.
Learn more about differentiated instruction at Seabury in this Q&A with Head of School Sandi Wollum.
How do you define differentiated instruction?
It goes back to the fundamental philosophy that every child gets to learn something new at school every day. Giving every child equal access to education means you need to do different things for different children.
Not always. Some systems in schools are set up to say that every kid should hit the same academic milestones in same way at the same time. We don’t expect children to hit growth charts like that. We don’t expect their T-ball skills to develop like that. Why do we expect their reading or math or other academic skills to develop like that?
How do we ensure differentiation happens at Seabury?
At Seabury, we have small classes and highly trained teachers in order to be able to appropriately challenge every single child, every single day. Most gifted kids are not equally gifted in every area. They have strengths and weaknesses like everyone else. Although our classes are small, the range of needs is extremely wide.
What might that look like in one of our classes?
In a first grade class, we might find students whose reading hasn’t really clicked yet, where they’re still struggling to sound out words, but who also have highly advanced comprehension skills when they hear a story read. Other children might be reading chapter books meant for fifth or sixth graders, and yet only have five or six years of life experience so while they “understand” what they are reading, they don’t comprehend like an older student would. It makes the range of abilities in any class wide. And they’re all still gifted.
How does a teacher address this?
What it means in a first-grade reading class is that kids who are not decoding well need to be stretched in decoding, while still being offered materials that allow them continue to stretch their already high level of comprehension.
With the early readers, Seabury teachers know that they usually start reading spontaneously without relying on phonics, so the teachers work with them to notice things like patterns that they haven’t been exposed to. They don’t need phonics to be able to sound out words, but understanding word patterns will help with spelling and vocabulary development.
You might have kids who are gifted in one facet of math because they have had some previous exposure to it and learned it quickly. But in other areas, they may have had little or no exposure and be totally new to the concept being taught. Teachers need to be able to assess what kids have mastered already and skip that material in order to spend time on concepts they haven’t yet mastered. They need to sort out whether kids really understand concepts, or have just memorized a series of steps for solving a problem. And they need to adjust the pace of instruction to match the child’s learning. Gifted kids need fewer repetitions to master new material, so teachers need to be keen observers and able to adjust the pace of instruction as needed.
How do our teachers find out what children know?
We do a lot of pre-testing and post-testing, and assessments all year long. Our teachers have to know our students really well. They are keen observers every day, constantly monitoring the pace and depth and amount of practice that kids need.
It sounds complicated.
It means really complex scheduling. Students are loosely grouped. But teachers are constantly observing and readjusting. Who’s ready to go faster? Who needs more practice? Who’s ready to move on? It might mean giving out three different homework assignments for five kids. Or at the middle school, a math teacher with a dozen students might need to create five different finals. Recently a college professor looked at some papers done by our middle school students and commented that the writing was better than much of the work turned in by his students. Every one of our middle school students gets one-on-one time with a teacher on those papers. Our teachers are good at asking things like, “I wonder what would happen if you do this?”
Could we do what we do if we had 25 kids in a class?
Not to the extent that we do. Not with the day-to-day adjustments we do. No human teacher I’ve met could do it. There’s another layer on top of the academic – the social-emotional stuff. Our teachers also know that this kid really loves this; or this kid is having a rough time in his family; or this kid is a perfectionist. If you’d asked me when I was a public school teacher, I would have told you I knew all the kids in my class, but it wasn’t the same. When I came here, I thought with 15 kids this is going to be so easy. I spent so much more time with each kid. I knew them so much better. At the same time I was working so much harder because the adjustments were so much more nuanced.
Differentiation was originally devised so teachers could move away from tracking groups of kids. How do we at Seabury avoid having children making comparisons or feeling labeled if they know they’re in a less advanced, math group, for example?
Our overall focus is always on everyone getting what they need. We focus on kids’ strengths. After they’ve been here for a little while, they should be very aware of their strengths. This is also one of the reasons it’s important to have gifted kids with other gifted kids. In a class of more typically developing kids, if they find that they’re always picking up on things before everyone else, they don’t get a sense of their strengths – or weaknesses. They either get a sense that everything should be easy and shy away from challenge, or they develop a fear that the first time they don’t know something, there’s something really wrong. We want them to understand that they don’t have to be good at everything, and at the same time help them develop the work ethic and grit that comes from taking on challenges and being confident that the effort is worth it.
What else is important to know about differentiating for gifted kids?
The vast majority of teachers have zero training in gifted kids. That means that despite their good intentions for our kids, they’re often operating on myths that are just not true. For example, more work is not better work. Rigor is not measured in hours of homework per night and, in fact, more work for the sake of adding work can be detrimental to the growth of gifted kids. Research shows that gifted kids’ achievement goes down with excessive practice beyond what is needed to master the skill they are learning. Gifted kids learn quickly in their areas of giftedness, so need less time practice time to master a skill and more time to apply it in new and more complex ways.
Seabury’s teachers understand gifted kids – how they learn, what the research says about their intellectual, social and emotional development, and how to both support and challenge them. Our approach really goes back to that basic philosophy that EVERY child deserves to learn something new EVERY day. Including gifted kids.
Further reading on myths about giftedkids
Thursday, November 14, 2019
It’s hard to see your child struggle. As a parent, one of the biggest challenges we face is how to handle those moments when our children are unhappy, uncomfortable, frustrated, angry, hurt or overwhelmed. From the time they are born, we worry about them, try to make the right decisions about what they will eat and where they will go to school, and do all we can to help ensure that they can grow up to have the life we dream of for them.
Now that he is in college, I have found myself reflecting on my son’s growing up – especially on those experiences that seem to have had the biggest impact on his development. I’m grateful he was able to spend his elementary and middle school years at Seabury School, the school I head, a school designed for bright, sensitive, inquisitive gifted kids like him. Seabury was a place where he developed strong relationships with amazing children who are already proving to be lifelong friends. Kids who were, and continue to be, kind and supportive and a joy to be around.
But if I am really honest about it, the experiences that have had the biggest impact on making him the responsible, well-rounded, incredible young man he has become were those that were the hardest. When he was young it was dealing with the kid who was constantly provoking fights on the playground, the group projects with kids who didn’t pull their weight and left it all to him, having to room with the most annoying kid on a school trip. As he got older, it was the difficult roommates and the challenging bosses and the frustrating teachers. These challenging experiences, these times of struggle, are the moments that taught him the most about getting along with others and about how to be a friend. They taught him to be resilient, to speak his truth, to choose friends wisely, and especially that he had the resources to solve problems.
As a parent, those times were, and are, hard. It was, and is),heartbreaking to see him struggle. My impulse is to rescue him. To make it easier. To fix what’s wrong. To take the hurt away and make it all better.
I’m glad that I resisted (most of the time). It isn’t easy. Even now that he is an adult, I struggle to listen and support without swooping in to fix it for him. But I know that is what I must do. I realize that many of the traits that serve him best now – independence, leadership, responsibility, confidence, compassion – were developed as he found his way through those difficult times. Of course it was important that he had good times and experienced tremendous support from his friends But if I’m really honest about it, his incredible social skills were honed by navigating situations with the challenging kids.
Rescuing him would have not only deprived him of opportunities for growth, but would have sent the message that I wasn’t confident he could handle whatever challenges faced him. Of course, there were situations that required me to step in because they were too dangerous or too far beyond what he was ready for, but those were few and far between compared to those that required me to step back or come alongside while he worked through the challenge and made mistakes along the way.
As parents, we need to hold each other up, because parenting is hard. We need to help each other find the courage as we watch our kids struggle.
We need to walk through difficult situations with our kids rather than rescuing them from every bump in the road. To let our kids know we have confidence that they can solve problems for themselves rather than sheltering them from adversity. To give them the gift of experiencing the natural consequences of their choices – even when those consequences are hard to take. Because it’s in the times of struggle that they grow most profoundly.
Posted by Rebecca Young at 2:25 PM
Tuesday, April 16, 2019
It’s “a greater awareness, a greater sensitivity, and a greater ability to understand and transform perceptions into intellectual and emotional experiences."
If you have a child described in the above quote, you probably realized early on that you’ve had to be on your toes, ready to provide deeper experiences and more complex answers to questions than you ever thought you would.
It follows that when it comes to schooling, gifted students think and learn differently than typically developing peers. We often get the question, “Why Seabury?” It’s phrased in different ways, but people wonder why choose this small, independent school over the other options for youngsters in the South Puget Sound area – public schools, parochial schools, private schools – even the new charter schools?
Seabury School, which serves students in prekindergarten through eighth grade, is unique among schools in the south Puget Sound because its program is specifically designed for gifted learners. Seabury's program is designed around research based on best practices in gifted education.
Here are a few things that research has taught us about how gifted children learn and grow, paired with how we address these needs at Seabury.
Gifted children are often intense and are best served when parents and teachers understand this. Their intensity – or sensitivity – can cause them to be misunderstood or even misdiagnosed. Teachers in public and private schools typically have not had training in recognizing or providing support for the unique learning needs of gifted children. At Seabury, gifted youngsters are supported by teachers who understand them.
Gifted students are typically not equally gifted in all areas. Seabury tailors instruction and expectations to the needs of each individual student. The goal is to provide appropriate challenge in areas of giftedness and support in areas of growth. By individualizing instruction and expectations, teachers can appropriately challenge each child every single day.
Gifted children learn quickly and retain information easily, especially in their areas of giftedness. Too much rote repetition of material they have mastered will decrease achievement levels. Seabury teachers work closely with individual students and adjust the amount of practice with new information according to the needs of the individual student, with the goal of providing enough practice to master the skill but not repetition that is meaningless or unnecessary.
Gifted students understand abstractions at an earlier age than typically developing students, and seek complexity in work and play. They tend to be "whole to part" learners, preferring to start with the big picture or a big idea, and then deconstructing it into its component parts. Seabury's curriculum is developed around integrated, project-based units of study. Because students learn factual information easily, the bulk of our time is spent on higher level thinking and problem-solving.
Gifted students show greater academic and social-emotional growth when grouped with other gifted students. Gifted children, like all children, need peers they can connect with to learn how to make friends, collaborate, and develop self-confidence. Grouping students with intellectual peers provides a rich learning environment, but also an environment where gifted students feel like they fit, can learn the give and take of working with others, and feel safe trying new things.
Research into the success of gifted adults, shows that intellectual intelligence is most likely to lead to success in life and career if it is coupled with emotional intelligence the ability to communicate clearly and navigate socially. Understanding and supporting the social-emotional development of gifted children is as vital at Seabury as academic challenge.
Learn more about giftedness on our website – www.seabury.org.
– Sandi Wollum
Head of School
– Sandi Wollum
Head of School
Posted by Rebecca Young at 2:35 PM