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Using Differentiated Instruction for Gifted Learners

Janelle Cox

Differentiated instruction strategies can be used to help aid and challenge gifted learners. Oftentimes, classroom teachers feel that when they give the same assignment to all of their students, and receive the same answers, then they don’t know what each student really knows about that concept. When using differentiated instruction-based assignments, you can challenge students by meeting their individual needs. This, in turn, will help assess how each student learns and what they really know about the concept. To help meet the needs of gifted learners, you can employ a few strategies. Consider using the following strategies when providing differentiated instruction learning opportunities.

What to Consider When Using Differentiated Instruction

Consider the following strategies when using differentiation in your gifted and talented classroom.

Consider the Product

To help enable each gifted learner to demonstrate mastery of a concept, change the product, give students choice boards, Tic Tac Toe menus, technology-based projects, a game show menu, or use RAFT (role, audience, format, topic). By differentiating the learning product, you are allowing students to choose how to best demonstrate mastery of the concept and learning objective.

Consider the Content

When you follow one specific curriculum plan, it may not be best-suited for all learners. Instead, consider changing the delivery of the content and use curriculum compacting. This differentiation strategy is highly beneficial to gifted students because it pre-assesses them to determine which parts of the curriculum they have already mastered. You can also try mini-lessons, independent study, previewing resources, teacher conferences, or using open-ended questions as well.

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Consider the Process

Consider the process in which information is delivered. Some students may learn best kinesthetically, whereas others may learn better through practical applications. When you know how a gifted student learns best, it can help you determine how to teach the student. Once you have this information, you can use tiered activities, curriculum ladders, higher-level questioning, and open-ended activities.

Consider the Assessment

Gifted and talented learners require a more-individualized approach to assessment. One of the best ways to assess these types of students is to give them the opportunity to be a part of the process. Try having them design their own rubrics and set their own goals to achieve. It’s also wise to assess readiness by pretesting or using exit tickets.

Consider the Pace

Many gifted students already know the concepts that are going to be taught or they are able to learn them quite quickly. By considering the pace, you are able to determine if a student can show mastery of the concept so their time will be better spent extending the knowledge of what they already know. Try using pre-testing, curriculum compacting, learning contracts, or alternate assignments.

Consider the Depth

Oftentimes, gifted students learn information fast, therefore these students should be encouraged to dive deeper into concepts. Encourage students to become an expert on a topic rather than just learning the basic facts. Use Bloom’s Taxonomy, higher-order thinking skills, open-ended questioning, and tiered activities.

How to Implement Differentiated Instruction

After considering the strategies listed above, think about how you will make it all work in the classroom. Here are a few tips to help guide you.

  • Use differentiation in small blocks throughout your time with the children. Try using anchor activities to deepen students’ understanding of a concept and enrich the skills you want them to acquire.
  • Slowly increase the amount of differentiation that you use with the students. Try creating one lesson per unit and increase from there.
  • Offer students a choice more often. Try using choice boards or activity menus.
  • Reflect on how it’s going. Ask your students what they think is going well and what is not, then use that information to tweak or change your lessons.
  • Keep parents in the loop about what you are doing in the classroom. The more they know, the better.

If you want to ensure that every student is learning to the best of her ability, then be sure to follow these tips and consider these strategies when implementing differentiated instruction in your gifted and talented classroom.

How do you use differentiated instruction for gifted learners? Is there anything different that you do in your classroom? Please share your thoughts in the comment section below.


Janelle Cox is an education writer who uses her experience and knowledge to provide creative and original writing in the field of education. Janelle holds Masters of Science in Education from the State University of New York College at Buffalo. She is a contributing writer to TeachHUB.com, TeachHUB Magazine, and Hey Teach. She was also the Elementary Education Expert for About.com for five years. You can follow her on Twitter @Empoweringk6ed, on Facebook at Empowering K6 Educators, or contact her at Janellecox78@yahoo.com.