by Elizabeth Clarke, Poplin Elementary
The Differentiated Classroom
A differentiated classroom is a remarkably busy place. Children can be seen working several different objectives and doing any number of activities: games, small groups, online activities; it runs the gamut. Somehow, a teacher keeps her thumb on all of it, keeping the work at a steady hum.
In addition to being a differentiated classroom, mine is also the gifted education room. I teach compacted math and above-grade level reading to identified-gifted fourth and fifth graders. All of my students have aptitude scores at or above the 90th percentile and achievement scores (generally on state tests) at or above the 93rd percentile in their area(s) of service.
So, yeah, in some ways my job is easier. My kids pick up concepts pretty quickly. Most of them like school because they’ve been successful with it. On the other hand, I’ve got a challenge because my standards reach across three grade levels and, like any other teacher’s class, I still have a range of learning speeds with a variety of kids’ issues. I differentiate because, my kids, despite being gifted, are still different from one another (… and what’s the point of having pull-out instruction if some are still sitting in class, bored because they’re waiting on others to get it?).
Teaching my math standards in a way that allows my sharpest kids to continue moving forward while not rushing my thoughtful-and-methodical (and quick to stress themselves out, because AIG kids have a real knack for that) students has been my biggest obstacle. I also need to know that the practice is appropriate for each child and whether he or she is actually succeeding with it. My highest fliers often feel pressure to keep up the appearance of knowing everything, and would rather do just about anything than ask for help, including being less than honest about their progress, looking for a way to cheat, or avoiding the work altogether.
Enter Boom Cards
As a 1:1 district, my students come to class equipped with Chromebooks. When my students finish a ‘level’ or grouped set of objectives, they complete a sheet that asks them to consider which of the activities they did during the level helped them best learn the content. Boom Cards regularly appears on those lists. I think they’re a game-changer.
They can be assigned individually.
The obvious plus here is that I can assign different decks to different groups, but this feature also allows me to set practice for an individual who is missing a requisite skill or re-assign one that isn’t yet grasped on the down-low. A chunk of my kids, despite lots of talk about growth mindset and ‘my size fits me’ education, fear the perception of failure. I can set up a video lesson and a Boom Cards session for a kid and allow him or her to get caught up without drawing unwanted attention. Paper task cards mean I have to sit just with that child at my table and everyone can hear the conversation. Not cool.
They give my students – and me – instant feedback.
Self-grading Boom Cards let the kids know right away if they’re right or wrong. I can access a report showing progress, accuracy, and fluency with each skill for each child. Mine is a data-driven district, so this is a must for me.
Boom Cards are inexpensive.
Again, I teach across grade levels, so I’ve got a lot of standards. I can typically buy a set of Boom Cards for half of what a similar set of paper cards would cost, and that’s before I print and laminate. The wide variety of sellers offering Boom Cards means I can find quality resources whether I’m working with an elementary or a middle school objective.
I can make my own.
My district uses Singapore Math as its base curricula for AIG students. Singapore works with numbers and asks questions in a unique way, and it’s not easy to find supplemental work for that. Boom Cards’ studio lets me create decks that better prepare the kids for Singapore assessments. The process for building a deck is reasonably intuitive and well-explained through video tutorials.
The kids think they’re fun.
Okay, this one I don’t get, since they really are task cards, which aren’t my students’ favorite activity. Somehow, though, the little ‘you got it right’ bell and watching their progress through the set turns it into something else.
They can be done from home.
Yes, ‘the gifted kid is an allergic wreck’ idea is a stereotype, but it may be a true one.* Fall and spring allergy seasons seem to hit my class harder than others’, and my parents are pleased that this is one way they can keep their children on track.
Adding Boom Cards to my classroom routine has allowed easier, more effective differentiation for my students. Better yet, they have made it simple to meet the quirky nature of my students without sending me to the poor(er) house. My classroom hums along nicely, which means I can too.
*Karpinski, Ruth I., et al. “High Intelligence: A Risk Factor for Psychological and Physiological Overexcitabilities.” Intelligence, 2017, doi:http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0160289616303324.
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