Category Archives: Differentiation

Facts (or Truths?) in Gifted Education

It would seem that using a scored test that demonstrates statistically significant results which can be reported within a range with a confidence level of up to 95% would give us a fairly reasonable “fact” to guide us in gifted education, but the truth is never quite so simple. Gifted education has been plagued by myths and a lack of agreement on not only what it means to be gifted but how those identified as giftedness should be supported, leaving us with a couple of interesting facts and some truths that might help the uninitiated navigate some of the confusion.

FACT: Gifted in one school district does not guarantee gifted in another.

The truth is that despite the general consensus that we need to have a variety of methods to identify students who are gifted, this can add to the confusion of what is meant by giftedness. This can be frustrating for parents and students as not all school districts use the same measures and means to identify giftedness. In some jurisdictions, only an individually administered WISC V or SB-5 gain access to programming, while in others, group administered tests like the CCAT 7 are acceptable, while in others multiple measures looking at creativity and motivation also play a part. That said, even when using tests as a means to identification, some districts will only look at composite scores, while others will consider outstanding scores on individual batteries. Add to this the need for some gifted programs keep their numbers constant and you can see how many factors can influence what it means to gifted, making it somewhat of a moving target. Lakin (2018) suggests that what matters most is that the gifted program design reflects the needs of the students identified, whatever that process might be leading us to another controversy in the gifted community.

FACT: Gifted programming here is not always the same as gifted programming there. 

The truth is that in as much as school districts differ in how students are identified, how they support students can be very different as well. Dai and Chen (2013) have identified three different paradigms that can have an impact how gifted programming is designed. The first paradigm which they refer to as the gifted child paradigm suggests that “gifted children and adults are qualitatively different from the rest of the population” (p. 155) in how they think, feel, learn and dream about the future. This paradigm suggests a need for challenges, opportunities to work in areas of passion, like-minded peers and an affective curriculum. The second paradigm is the talent development paradigm where “domain excellence is seen as the goal of gifted education” and requires programming that does not focus so much on IQ testing but offering opportunities for students to self select into particular activities that over time can involve into programming that “addresses unique advancing needs of talented students” (p. 157). The third paradigm they identified was the differentiation paradigm which is a more recent perspective emerging from the inclusive education movement. In this paradigm “the differences in learning curve demonstrated by gifted learners are believed to be subject-specific and open to change rather than domain-general and permanent” (p. 157) and focus on support within school settings on an as needed basis.

FACT, TRUTH OR SOMETHING ELSE?: Understanding the facts and truths around identification practices, paradigms and program designs could alleviate some of the frustration/confusion we feel when one paradigm comes into conflict with another or when identification processes differ.

Dai and Chen suggest that “the articulation of paradigms helps us determine when we are comparing different kinds of apples (under the same paradigm) and when in fact we are comparing apples and oranges (different paradigms)” (p. 164). I believe that an understanding of the various assessment processes and paradigms helps us to consider the many ways that we can support this very heterogeneous group of students. In our district we support opportunities for acceleration, differentiation and pull-out as we continue to refine our identification processes and options for programming.

Click here or on the icon below to explore more FACTS about giftedness and gifted education.



Dai, D. and Chen F. (2013). Three paradigms of gifted education: In search of conceptual clarity in research and practice. Gifted Child Quarterly. 57(3), 151-168.

Lakin, J. M. (2018). Making the cut in gifted selection: Score combination rules and their impact on program diversity. Gifted Child Quarterly, 62(2), 210-219. doi:10.1177/0016986217752099


Gifted 101 for Teachers New To Gifted Students

So you just got your new class list for the upcoming year and as you are looking through it you notice that there is a Code 80-Gifted and Talented student on it. What do you do?

1. Don’t assume they will do well on their own. There is a very good chance that this student is not your only coded student. Over the past number of years the practice of inclusion, access to more and more testing as well as a changing demographic in our communities has meant that we have more students coded with learning, cognitive, physiological and behaviour challenges. The expectation that we differentiate to meet the needs of all students can feel overwhelming and you might be inclined to think that the gifted student will be fine. They’re gifted right? Please remember that gifted students carry a code because they are a special needs student and educational practices that may work for a majority of your students may not meet their needs. If their needs are not met they may respond through withdrawal or acting out, or never finding the confidence to grow to their potential due to lack of challenge. The impact of this on their lives can be profound.

2. Get to know them and their interests. While all children need to know that they are liked by their teachers, gifted students can be especially sensitive to this. If they are precocious there is a good chance that they’ve experienced a variety of reactions to their unique interests, exuberant responses and abstract thinking and ergo may have learned to protect themselves in a variety of ways: withdrawing, underachieving or acting out. Focusing on developing a strong relationship with them will allow you to see many things starting with the true breadth and depth of their abilities and where they will need to be challenged. If they struggle with forming relationships with other students due to asynchronous development, connecting with you may make it easier to come to school each day and be open to instruction in both the academic and affective curriculum. It is also important to note that their giftedness may not be “visible” in ways that you might expect. Betts and Neihart have created a number of gifted profiles that you can explore here. There are also a number of recommendations for school support with each profile that you might find helpful.

3. Connect with their parents. All coded students are required to have an Individual Program Plan (IPP) and these documents need to be developed in collaboration with parents and students. Parents can provide you with great insight into developing a meaningful IPP. I have often heard teachers telling parents that their gifted child was doing very well in their classroom while at home the parents were struggling with tears and outbursts to get them to come to school. Gifted students can be very good at “holding it all together” at school and then releasing their frustrations in the safety of their homes. There have also been situations where IPP goals have focused on perceived weaknesses which were areas in which the child was of average abilities, in favour of supporting the area of giftedness where the student really required challenge. In my experience parents have been anxious to collaborate on these documents but can also be wary as they know their children have special needs but have not always received a positive response when advocating for their gifted child.

4. Ask for support. The gifted specialist, academic support teachers and instructional coaches all have supports that they can offer. The gifted specialist can help with insight into the unique needs of gifted students, goal setting for IPPs as well as support with parent meetings. If you are wondering if acceleration is a good intervention for a student, it is important to speak with your principal and the specialist prior to implementing an accelerated program. Academic support teachers are sometimes available to assist gifted students with individual projects as well as working one on one with students who may be twice exceptional and require support for a learning disability. Instructional coaches are able to provide broader classroom support through assistance with setting up differentiated instruction and small group instruction designed to individualize programming for all students.

5. Have a great year with all of your students. There is an expression that goes like this: All students have gifts but not all students are gifted. As a classroom teacher I often felt like a treasure hunter as I got to know each of my students and discover the qualities that made them unique and special. I believe unequivocally that all children have gifts that make them unique. However, the term gifted refers to a cognitive difference that identifies a special need, and this cognitive difference means that this student may struggle because their abilities do not match the abilities of their age mates in your classroom. In a curriculum designed to meet the needs of the average student at a particular age, this difference can become a detriment and requires understanding and support. The result of this effort? The discovery of yet another treasure among the many in your classroom.

For more Gifted 101 insights, follow the link below!


Are You “In” or “Out” of the Box?

This past week I was working with my Destination ImagiNation teams as they were at the beginning stages of planning their solutions for their team challenges. One of the activities we were doing called “Number Boxes” involved placing 12 numbers in 9 different boxes in a way that accumulated points  based on the number of “rules” that you could satisfy through the placement of your numbers. A highly engaging activity, it led into a discussion afterwards around divergent and convergent thinking, and how different kinds of thinking come into play when we are being creative and attempting to solve problems.

Inevitably the discussions with each team circled around to what it means to “think outside of the box” an expression that most of them know quite well. As we explored what may actually constitute “the box” one young man put up his hand and asked, “Don’t you think most people are outside the box trying to find a way in?” I smiled as I remembered the first time he was on one of my teams. He was a walking talking calculator in a story about bugs.

In the RSA version of Sir Ken Robinson’s viral TedTalk on How School’s Kill Creativity, there is this image of a graduating class coming out in a big box that resembles one you would use to ship wine in with a label that says “Class of 2010”. And as much as that image is provocative regarding the impact of standardization, there is always the reality of surviving in a world with sufficient “executive functions” that allow us to successfully co-exist and find a place where we can make our contribution. Was it a yearning I heard in this young man’s  question about being on the outside looking in? Is it any less of a yearning than I hear in voices of his team mates as they struggle with how to create something that has never existed before for their challenge?

The teamwork for this group isn’t always easy. In instant challenges, our young questioner throws things into the mix that can upset the plan and derail their solution causing frustration. And then later in the day when they are researching and planning how they could build a robotic creature and making a list of the supplies they need, he walks around the room and scavenges through my junk box and office supplies instead of getting to work. But wait. The next thing we know, he has put together a grappling hook gun that he then uses to take their attention off their task when he shoots it at them. Suddenly, the team is excited. Their robotic creature could have a grappling hook gun…and somehow he has lured them out of the box and they have brought him in. For now…

Finding our place in the world can be a challenge. Whether we are struggling with  a way to forge our own destiny or struggling with how to fit in the boundaries we encounter, “this” is what learning is about. And just when we think we have it all figured out, the boundaries will shift once again. But in this moment…

We ought to be like elephants in the noontime sun in summer, when they
are tormented by heat and thirst and catch sight of a cool lake. They throw
themselves into the water with the greatest pleasure and without a moment’s
hesitation. In just the same way, for the sake of ourselves and others, we should give ourselves joyfully to the practice.
Kunzang Pelden (b.1862, Tibet) The Nectar of Manjushri’s Speech (2007, p. 255) taken from The Descartes Lecture by David Jardine in the Journal of Applied Hermeneutics, July 16, 2012.

John Hattie and Gifted Education

If there are rock stars in the field of educational research, John Hattie is definitely one. His seminal work “Visible Learning” which was published in 2009 has been called “the Holy Grail” for teachers. If you want to know what will make an impact in the classroom, he’s gathered together the effect sizes from more than 800 meta analyses (more than 16 000 studies) into a list that is both affirming and at times surprising. You can view his list here. (Note where acceleration appears.) Make sure you read the preamble regarding what Hattie would consider a significant effect size.

I had the chance to attend a PD day with John Hattie at the beginning of this school year where he spoke to his work to give us some direction as we continue to meet our goals of engaging students to become ethical citizens with an entreprenuerial spirit…Alberta Learning’s triple E agenda. I think the message I found most surprising was his assertion that 90% of teaching was based on surface learning and as he looked through the research, most studies reflected this focus. I couldn’t help but wonder about how surface learning impacts our gifted students…from the ones who actively work to know all that is possible to be known to those whose need to question can create considerable psychological tension.  Given that I had just returned from the Dabrowski Congress as well as subsequent PD from Lynn Miller on anxiety where she indicated those with high IQ tending to suffer more from anxiety…I kept wondering if all of these things be linked somehow.

While I mused for some time over whether asking good questions and digging into curriculum could avert anxiety, I was cautioned against finding a “Dabrowskian curriculum” as going past a uni-level and perhaps even a surface understanding of the world, tends to be a personal journey. I began reading Visible Learning and the Science of How We Learn by John Hattie and Gregory Yates and this past week I got to the chapter where they address feedback, which Hattie has placed near the top of his list alongside formative assessment for having impact on student learning. The chapter not only addresses how we can support our students on this “personal journey” but differentiates clearly the type of feedback required for students of varying ability.

While teachers may have a different conception of what constitutes good feedback, Hattie and Yates tell us that students want feedback to focus on their goals and giving them what they need to get where they want to go: “how to close the gap between where they are and where they need to be.” (p.70) While novice learners require corrective feedback and proficient learners require process feedback, highly competent learners require sincere efforts to extend and apply knowledge even further. (p. 66)  In providing this kind of feedback, the teacher must have some understanding of where this child wants to go and a good understanding about what could come next and not succumb strictly to praise.  In citing Carol Dweck’s work on praise Hattie and Yates reiterate that praising students at this point for their ability can paradoxically raise self-doubt. (p. 69) But don’t imagine that all gifted students want to be rocket scientists either. In a final word in the chapter they write, “The feedback you offer your students provides the tools they need to be able to perceive the immediate path ahead, and so decide that it is really worth the effort. Since effort is a limited commodity, it cannot be squandered on things doomed to fail, or chasms too wide to bridge.” (p.70)

Teaching All Children Like They Are Gifted

I can’t believe I missed it. Twice. I twittered Rick Wormeli (keynote at our teachers’ convention) to make sure my friends weren’t pulling my leg. “Did you really say that when all the teachers in your district received gifted training, the instruction for all students improved?” He tweeted back a one word response. “Yes!”

I had the good fortune to do my practicum in a gifted program with one of the most brilliant teachers I have ever met. That early mentorship had a profound influence on how I teach, even when I wasn’t teaching in gifted programs. I guess it’s why sometimes as the gifted specialist I struggle with the question “how do I teach this gifted student?”  Differentiated instruction, flexible pacing, room for extension and choice as well as acceleration must be embedded in our practice. To try to accommodate in that way for a single student is daunting. To do it for an entire class, strangely enough, is far simpler. But teaching gifted students is not simply about strategies. It is the gifted students themselves who have taught me the most about what it means to be an effective teacher.

One of the hallmarks of gifted students is their sensitivity. I often think of them as the frogs who because of their permeable skins, give us early signals to the toxicity in the environment. What makes their environment toxic? A lack of authenticity, caring and understanding.

1. Gifted students need passionate teachers who are experts in their disciplines. You can’t fake passion. If you’re not excited about what you’re teaching, if you can’t see the importance of it or why it is meaningful- they will know. Telling them they have to suffer through it like generations before them is not a good enough reason. While some of them will be polite and still do their best, others will call you out or simply tune out.

2. Gifted students need relationships to take the risks necessary for authentic learning.  Being in the same room for 200 days a year does not constitute a relationship.  They need to know that you care and that you see them as an individual. Many of them have tempered down their thoughts and ideas because they fear being misunderstood or standing out. If you want to see what they are capable of, you must cultivate a relationship with them. But you can’t force it. Sometimes it is just a matter of letting them know that you are there and are willing to listen when they are ready to share. I have waited months to earn the trust of students but it has always been worth the wait.

3. Gifted students need teachers who are not intimidated by people who are smarter than they are. I will never forget the math prodigy I taught years ago when he was in grade eight. He struggled with humanities because it was not his thing. His book responses and written work were adequate but not stellar. Then I asked the students to bring in a favorite book to share with me and he brought in Douglas Hofstadter’s book, Godel, Escher and Bach. I worked through the first few chapters, but from our discussions it was obvious he understood it far better than I did. Eventually we connected through poetry as he explored math in a pattern of words that left me in awe. I still keep a copy of the book on my nightstand and every once in a while I try it again. (He was also formidable at Scrabble…I didn’t have a hope and I’ve always considered myself pretty good at Scrabble.)

4. Gifted students need you to understand that they may develop asynchronously. I’ve worked with gifted kids who were completing university level courses yet still cried over getting a low mark in a different discipline area. I’ve seen students who could read Egyptian heiroglyphs throw temper tantrums if they couldn’t make their structure hold weight. I’ve known students who played with adults in professional jazz bands on weekends yet goofed off and never get anything done in class. Yet I still hear over and over that we should not accelerate students to meet their academic needs until they are socially ready when the truth is, they may never fit well into a classroom or social setting…until they find their passion or intellectual counterparts.

Passionate expertise makes differentiation easier. It allows you to see the many paths to a similar destination. Relationships are key to differentiation. How can you help students get where they need to go if you don’t know their starting point and what ignites their passion? When you don’t have all the answers, you get to model what it means to be a lifelong leaner and you give even your brightest students permission to not need to know everything. And when you understand that intellectual and social development vary from child to child you can understand the need to be flexible in how you think about students and plan for them.

Why I Do DI (Destination ImagiNation)

I think it might be a record…I’ll have to ask when I get to Tennessee. In the past four years I have managed and co-managed (with a LOT of help) more than 50 teams. In the weeks leading up to the big tournament, I do my best to stay off  the emotional roller coaster that many of my teams feel compelled to ride. I bite my tongue when I have an idea that would make things much more straightforward and simple. I wrack my brain to keep from asking leading questions looking for ones that will help the team move forward. I talk to them about the unity, trust and trustworthiness virtues while they argue over details like who will do the paperwork or clean up the mess. I go home at the end of the day with sparkles all over my butt, duct tape stuck to my shoes, paint spots on my pants and a sheepish look at the custodian as I make my way out the door.  And I swear to anyone who is still talking to me that I WILL NOT DO THIS AGAIN!

And then I go to the tournament. If there is last minute drama, I don’t really notice it (mostly because I am rushing from room to room to get to all my teams).  I watch the presentations as some come together as never before, while others run into glitches and soldier on.  I listen to the genuine laughter of the audience as they watch the performance of original scripts.  I watch things quit working and then get to observe one or two of the members leap into the gap to lead the way out. I watch my engineers beam with pride as the appraisers ask them about their ideas. I watch my artists talk earnestly about their process. I watch the faces of the parents as they see their children present. I go home feeling so proud of every one of them, not because of the results of the tournament but because I have experienced the journey.

I know the degree to which the teams developed their perseverance, diligence, cooperation, trust, trustworthiness, forgiveness, humility, self-discipline, respect, unity and enthusiasm. I’ve seen the perfectionists take risks, and the introverts step out. I’ve watched the highly sensitive student learn to manage their emotions while they taught the rest of their team about empathy and flexibility. I’ve watched teams dream big dreams and then learn how to scale things down to make them work. I’ve watched teams start small and then keep adding bits and pieces until they surprise themselves with how it all comes together.  I have been to the messy, complicated, complex, tearstained, joyful heart of creativity and observed its power of transformation. And that is why I do DI.

Is Inclusion Working?

This past week I received an email from the Special Education Council of the ATA inviting me to participate in the Blue Ribbon Panel on Inclusive Education. They are asking for stories from teachers around the province about how inclusion is working in their schools and classrooms.

I have spent several days pondering how I could respond to that question. After all, is a pull-in program inclusive? Given the highly diverse population that I am working with, trying to find ways to support all of their needs even in a congregated setting has its challenges. Am I meeting their learning needs? The programming that I provide has been designed with the needs of gifted learners in mind, it offers considerable choice, challenges and opportunities to explore their strengths as well as addressing the social/emotional piece. Am I meeting their learning needs? I see them eight days a year and during that time I work to build relationships. I help them grow the virtues like flexibility, cooperation, self-discipline, tact, trust, trustworthiness, orderliness, courtesy, perseverance, unity and more as I guide them through creative problem solving exercises. I try to get to know them as unique individuals with something to offer. Am I meeting their learning needs? After all the work that I’ve done researching, planning and trying to get to know and respond to each learner, I have to trust that I am. But still, every year, a few students drop out of the program.

I have also had the opportunity to work with many teachers in the district in developing IPP (Individual Program Plan) goals and strategies for working with their gifted students in their classrooms. The tension between creating specific (SMART) goals and creating learning environments in which gifted students don’t feel singled out has been an interesting one to navigate for all of us. The challenge of accelerating and allowing for flexible pacing in a classroom where some students are struggling to keep up can feel daunting. The struggle to enrich in a meaningful way when students are feeling disenchanted or disengaged can feel futile. Are we meeting their learning needs? We put strategies and goals in place and trust that we are making a difference. Last week I got four high fives and two calls for help.

Beyond curricular outcomes, learning strategies and measuring outcomes, there is a much bigger question than “Is Inclusion Working?” I think it sounds something like this: “Is it possible to create an educational system that works for all students?” I could add up the numbers each year, like how many students dropped out of the pull-in program vs how many stayed in? Or how many IPP goals did we meet successfully? I could work out the percentages to prove my case one way or the other. But I sense that there are going to be a lot of variables that will change each year and cause us to re-evaluate how we are approaching inclusion, notwithstanding the number and variety of coded students who arrive on our doorstep each year.

So how do I answer the question, is inclusion working? I guess I have to look at how I have changed as a teacher. What I’ve learned from this diverse group of students who come to me with all their unique needs. What it’s made me learn about teaching, curriculum and learning. How it has changed my practice. If John Hattie is correct and that 30% of student success is based on who I am as a teacher, then that is definitely the place that I’m going to need to start.

John Hattie’s seminal work in the meta-analysis, Visible Learning, pulled together what we have learned about learning through educational research over the past few decades.  His article Teachers Make a Difference is a great read and provides some excellent food for thought as we move forward with inclusion. And the good news? We will have the opportunity to learn more from him when he visits our district this coming August.

The Gift of the Twice Exceptional

In the summer edition of Gifted Child Quarterly, there is an article by Megan Foley-Nicpon, Susan G. Assouline and Nicholas Colangelo that explores the awareness of the concept of twice-exceptionality within gifted educational community. The conclusions of the study indicate that there is definitely a need for educational professionals to learn more about how to respond to this group of learners. How many of our gifted students might be twice exceptional? Depending on definitions (this varies from state to state), gifted students constitute 2-20% of the student population and it is estimated that between 2-5% of these students would be considered twice-exceptional.

For the purpose of this study, the researchers focused on four disabilities: autism spectrum disorders (ASD), specific learning disabilities (SLD), attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and emotional disturbances (ED). They sent out surveys to teachers, psychologists, specialists, parents and administrators familiar with gifted education. What they discovered was that although most respondents were familiar with the notion of twice-exceptionality, we are still struggling to find the best way to meet the needs of this group of students due to the complexity of their needs.

In my role as coordinator of gifted programming I can attest to the “struggle to find the best way to meet the complex needs” of this group of students. Oftentimes we see behaviors before gifts and it is not easy to know whether to begin with behavior management or gifted programming or finding a way to do both.  Because the needs are so different from what we may have encountered before we are often breaking new ground. What has made all the difference in most cases has been the willingness of parents and teachers to meet together and explore possibilities. Some days the task seems enormous and the little incremental steps we take almost imperceptible. But every once in a while you get the chance to step back and you see that things are happening and we are making progress.

It’s not the kids who fit easily into the system who will help us make the changes needed to create a more responsive education system for all students. It’s our exceptional and twice-exceptional who make us stretch and go further than we ever thought we could. Who knows where they will be able to take us as long as we are willing to be flexible?


Creativity and Giftedness

 I have been given the wonderful gift (and challenge) of managing 13 Destination ImagiNation teams.  Why a gift?   Not only do I have to be more organized than I’ve ever been in my life which is no easy task in itself, but I also get to see creativity in all its various forms, which, if you read this article by Joyce van Tassell-Baska, is full of nuances. But possibly the biggest gift of all is the requirement that I harness some of my own creative problem solving so I can see where other paths lead and in that process, observe the limitations of my own creativity. So why is all this important?

I suppose it rests on my belief that creativity is our path out of so many things: tragedy, destruction, problems, despair… when we think the world has ended as we know it, creativity offers us the option to make something new. As I watch my 13 teams I can see how some students are lost when things go wrong, while others just bounce off in another direction. Finding the balance between rescuing and motivating as well as freedom and control has been hard, particularly when we are on a tight schedule. How long do we need to stay lost? How far should we bounce in another direction? Each team challenges me to see creativity and giftedness in a new way.

Should all gifted students be expected to be creative? I can think of two who would give me an emphatic “no!” Despite all the problems that some of us see as a shadow over our future, there are some things that are going well and require experts to keep them running and working effectively. Can being too creative interfere with this? And if so, do we squash creativity in order to keep things comfortable? You can see where the polarities are going to take us. Once again, the argument for inclusive education is made. We need different kinds of minds working together, struggling with the balance and embracing that struggle as part of the challenge of being human.

So I work with my 13 teams to embrace the struggle, whatever that individual struggle might be and see that struggle as a necessary part of life. Creative or not, each one of us plays a part in making things happen and keeping things going. If we can master respect, kindness, humility and a few of the other virtues as we go, this struggle might be peaceful…or at least fun!

Emergent Curriculum and Curriculum as Story

Every once in a while I dream about my ideal school or teaching situation, not that I don’t love where I am and what I am doing, but my mind can’t help traveling into the world of “What if?” Ricks Centre for Gifted Children located at the University of Denver met a lot of criteria I have set out in my “what if” world. Some of the perks of working there include the ability to get your masters and/or PhD from the university for free. The 1:8 student teacher ratio is also pretty incredible. The parent involvement is wonderful and the space, right on campus, is amazing. Yes I know, private school, university setting…not possible in the public system.

But what really caught my interest was the curriculum framework that they used for providing instruction. Emergent curriculum is a way of planning learning based on the students’ (and teachers) interests and passions. The teacher then has the responsibility of finding ways to study the topics in depth. This is very different from trying to find the “hook” that will draw students into a prescribed curriculum. In simplistic terms this changes the dynamic in the classroom from “You must learn this story.” (prescribed curriculum) to “Let’s explore what has captured your interest right now and then create a story together.” (emergent curriculum).

The reason I like using story as a way to describe curriculum is the complexity of storytelling and story hearing. None of us ever hears or tells the story in the same way. Our interpretations are embedded in our experiences and to measure an individual’s understanding and interpretation of a story against another by someone with yet another interpretation seems intrinsically unfair. Add in Temple Grandin’s thoughts on “different kinds of minds” and you see the impossibility of authentic assessment. Co-author a story together however, and then consider your ability to assess understanding when everyone has had the opportunity to contribute their part to the story.

A skillful teacher can weave the prescribed story into the emergent story which is one of the reasons Ricks employs many specialists in their school: the deeper understanding we have of a particular discipline the more likely we are to find connections. If you’re starting to wonder when students will learn the basics, they’ve also scheduled in time for the structure of disciplines based on Jerome Bruner’s work in The Process of Education. Bruner believed that each of the disciplines has a basic structure and education should be about understanding how that structure works. For example Bruner suggested that “in algebra, structure is related to the fundamental concepts of commutation, distribution, and association .Emphasis on these “three fundamentals” presumably will provide the basis for understanding a wide variety of algebraic operations.”  A math specialist is more likely to understand and connect the nuances of this discipline than a generalist.

If I link Bruner’s ideas back to the metaphor of story, I might call it the language of the story. Math, science, art, English each have their own language or means of communicating their story. Understand this language and its underlying structure and you have the tools to communicate through that discipline.  Ricks Center draws  the emergent curriculum and structures of disciplines together into integrated thematic units which allow students to explore the theme through a variety of languages (disciplines). If a student has a stronger fluency in one of the languages over another, s/he still has the opportunity to contribute to the creation of the story. This to me is inclusive education.

It might seem as though this emergent curriculum model is a far cry from our experiences as teachers and parents but if we are present in our conversations with our students and children, we can address the curriculum that emerges on a daily basis. In my classroom it happens when we are in the middle of a challenge and things aren’t working or the group isn’t getting along. What discipline could help us solve the problem that we are working on? In my home it happens while we are driving in the car, cooking in the kitchen or having dinner together. What is at the heart of the questions that are emerging? What passion can we explore this weekend? We all play a part in the story of life that our children are constructing…what is it that we can add today to make it a story about them and how they understand the world? What can we contribute that will make it a story in which they experience ownership and pride? How can we link their story to the broader story (context) that we share?