Differentiating for an "Out of This World" Student

Artist’s rendition of Sirius A and B

I have one student whose knowledge of Earth and space exceeds the other students in class. I feel like I just keep giving him more work, more extension activities, and I think he is getting frustrated. Do you have any suggestions for how to deal with this? How do I grade this kind of assignment?
—S., Virginia


Assigning more work to an extremely bright student is not the answer, so kudos for looking for something else! Run this by your principal for approval: Ask the student to propose a project— either long- or short-term —related to the class. The possibilities are almost limitless: videos, a lesson, models, public displays, reviews, and more. Can you find a geologist, astronomer, or other professional that could act as a mentor or be interviewed? Negotiate a grading scheme with benchmarks and expectations for the final “product” or assessment.

Options to reach a fair grade:

  • Have the child complete all the work the rest of the class is handing in and use the project as extra credit.
  • Replace the regular work with this project—this puts the onus on the student to follow through. Align the project with your curriculum and create a rubric to share with the student and his family. If a mentor is involved, you should have a direct communication with him or her about expectations and share the assessment piece. Set the bar high, but make sure he isn’t penalized for pushing himself. If the project doesn’t meet all your expectations, ask yourself, “What grade would I record if any other student handed me this work?”

Hope this helps!

Photo Credit: By NASA, ESA and G. Bacon (STScI) 

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1 Response to Differentiating for an "Out of This World" Student

  1. Dr. Carl Heltzel says:

    First, I should mention that I am not a high school teacher. However, I do have over 15 years of experience teaching college-level chemistry courses and was a writing team leader for the NSF-funded high school chemistry curriculum and textbook “Active Chemistry.” Additionally, I have six children of my own, ranging in ages from 3 to 25. Some of these children were exceptionally gifted (I know, all parents think their kids are “special”), and were placed in special programs. Those programs that simply piled on additional work were not successful at all. Gifted children need creative experiences to keep them engaged and not bored or frustrated. As I learned more about inquiry-based instruction, I came to understand that to get kids engaged in higher level learning involved ownership, that is, they learn best by taking on a challenge that is of their own design and the outcome of which is not pre-determined. Perhaps the student could design a magazine, using Microsoft Publishing, that covers the course material. Let the student’s imagination run wild. An assessment could be determined by a rubric, with the input of the student and your supervisor. For example, 20% for creativity, 60% for the correct content and its accuracy, 10% for engagement by other students (whether or not they found the magazine interesting and inspiring), and 10% for completion by the deadline. The assessment can be designed in many other ways. Your state’s core content may have to be considered. I think that such a project should be offered in addition to completing the work assigned to the rest of the class. I know that not all children will respond to this specific idea, but it may work. Try it and see!

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