My one grade 8 class is challenging in a couple of ways – very chatty, various social dynamics at play and perhaps most importantly, a disparaging degree of ability and motivation. Up to now, I have always ended up spending most of my energy on those students needing the most help and attention. As I’ve discussed several times in my blogs, I have used this approach ultimately as a means of classroom management. This may not sound politically correct, but for some time now, I have always felt guilty that my higher achieving students tend to come second place in terms of my priorities. That is not to say that they are totally ignored but I do tend to pay closer attention to them once the others are settled. In this particular class, there are four students who consistently achieve the higher end of the level 4 spectrum (one who has always attended a francophone school, and 3 others who are gifted for all intensive purposes).
I finally decided that as they are high functioning, it didn’t seem necessary to have them wait patiently for the others to settle and sit through oft repeated explanations/instructions. I thought of giving them the opportunity to embark on an ISU (Independent Study Unit) like the higher grades do in high school. That being said, we were at point in the unit where this was feasible – basic vocab and grammar had been covered in depth and several diagnostic and formative assessments had also been completed. I explained what the rest of the class would be working on (CD cover design with reviews on the back) and gave them a couple of ideas (press release package for a new band, newspaper article comparing the music of the 80’s with the music of today) and welcomed their own suggestions. Once they had decided on a format, I basically release them each period to work in the library or at the back of the classroom. We have set up goals and deadlines for different phases of the project and at the beginning and at the end of each class, we meet to review expectations and to check on the work they managed to complete.
At this point it seems to be a win-win situation. For me, I no longer feel guilty or as stretched. It allows me that much more time to work with the others who I have since subdivided into their own ability groupings (those who can work independently after explanations have been given and those who work with me in another group for additional support or “task management” assistance). For my higher level students, they are thrilled with the sense of responsibility and independence. I think they also appreciated how I acknowledged their patience and their need to work unencumbered so to speak. Perhaps the best bonus of all? That kind of earned independence is now sought after by lots of other students as well.