Small things make a big difference…

Last weekend I had the opportunity to attend the opening session for the Tasmanian Association for the Gifted (TAG) conference Empower Me. The session was titled Small Things Make a Big Difference to the Gifted and was presented by Carmel M Diezmann. This session did not provide me with any major light bulb moments in relation to the gifted, I think this is due to the fact that I have been very fortunate in recent years to have worked with a dedicated team that focussed on the gifted and hence many of the concepts mentioned I had come across previously. This does not mean the time I spent at the session was a waste of time, more so it meant that I needed to dig a little deeper as I believe that there is something to be gained from all PL that one attends, it just takes time to work it out sometimes.

It is often the case that those who have gifted children want them to be challenged, and rightly so! Not to mention the fact that there is a concern that their children are regularly made to practice concepts that they already know and have known for some time, so justifiably question the reasons.

So what do I take away from this and what can be applied to all students, not just the gifted?

Much was said about personalising gifted students learning, taking an interest in them and their interests and from that providing alternatives in their learning program. These don’t have to be anything too inventive, rather something small that identifies their needs. For example when looking at history, allowing them the chance to pursue an in-depth look at a particular person of interest might prove to be rewarding as they will easily pick up the surrounding events, which you as the teacher might believe to be vital to the curriculum, with ease.

The underlying principle I am picking up from this is that there is importance to be placed on personalising learning and connecting with the students needs, is this not something we should be doing with all students?

In saying that, how do I do this for the 226 students that I teach each week across 9 classes?

Knowing that I am not the only teacher for each of the 226 students lightens the load somewhat, but does it? Should I not be personalising the learning for each student in the classes that I teach and what about the gifted student, the student with specific learning needs whether it is due to ESL (English as a Second Language) or a disability/impairment?

So what small things really make a big difference?

Off the top of my head I believe that being flexible in your approach is vital, what happens when you as the teacher are challenged beyond your perceived capabilities?

I am interested in hearing your thoughts, what do you do to make a difference? How do you manage it? What does it look like?

Below are some ideas that were presented at the conference session:

Stories of Discovery and Invention

  • Marvels of Science
  • Marvels of Maths (both can be found on Amazon)
Bloom’s Digital Taxonomy Pyramid
Periodic Table of Elements
Learning Objects

The Game of Sprouts

The Australian Literature Resource

The Noon Day Project

8 Comments

  1. Lyndon Riggall says:

    One of the things I’ve learnt since leaving school and becoming a University student, is the value of taking a personal interest. The teachers that have made the biggest impact on me have all been hugely concerned with my own interests and ambitions – they want me to succeed, and allow me to inject elements of what i’m interested in into what they are teaching.

    When a teacher gives up on you – leaves you to the fringes of the class, and sometimes doesn’t even know your name, the effect completely destroys your engagement. The greatest gift a teacher can give to their student – in my opinion – is simply to care.

  2. dbatty1 says:

    Lyndon you are so right! When we care it changes our whole approach towards education and what it means for each individual student.

  3. Kaitlin Roach says:

    Teachers are integral to the continuation in the education of young students. As a university student, I was supported throughout my high school education to aim to continue on to tertiary studies. I know this was not the case for many of my peers at uni and many of them have said that the encouragement and support of their teachers is what helped them make the decision to further their studies. The teacher’s interest in the student and their personal learning outcome as mentioned in the blog post above and Lyndon’s comment can help the student realise their full potential, and if such interest was only applied to the gifted, a student’s potential could go by the wayside.

    I believe the effect of a good teacher goes beyond just an interest in the student and certainly changes dependent on the grade of the student; from supporting a student’s education throughout highschool, showing them the myriad of future possibilities in years 11 and 12, and giving them first hand knowledge of their chosen career path.

    All students need ongoing support and encouragement in the here and now, as well as an insight into their futures. Painting students a picture of all the future possibilities can really make the difference.

  4. dbatty1 says:

    Thanks so much for offering your perspective Kaitlin, it is certainly adding to the concept of what is really important.

  5. Tomas Steele says:

    When I reflect back on my secondary studies I particularly remember the teachers that really made a difference were definitively the ones that not only took a personal interest, as mentioned in posts above, but also projected enthusiasm for the subject they taught. This has come through in many forms, with one maths teacher telling stories relevant to the topic at hand to help remember some equation or mathematical relation, to another maths teacher that loved her subject so much she knew so many little quirky facts about maths that related to future applications of what we were learning.
    Now that I’m in my tertiary studies I notice the lack of personal interest that the teachers have with the students, however I’m now mature enough and certain about my future career path that it is less of an issue. However in high school and college a teacher’s personal interest and willingness to spend time both inside and outside the classroom communicating with the students is what helps motivate the uncertain students and further adds conviction to the students more focused on their studies. This personal interest came across in many forms; from simply having chats one-on-one or in groups, encouraging certain extracurricular studies and recognizing the potential in students (even those not focused on their studies). I can think of many examples of such teachers that provided this personal interest not only to myself but examples of friends that have had similar experiences. In particular during big projects, that personal interest made a difference.
    However the major ‘small difference’ thing that I treasured in a teacher was when they realised that their subject wasn’t the most important in the world for every student, especially for students heavily involved in extra curricular activities. SOSE and PE were examples of classes in highschool that I had to take time from so as to do extra curricular activites. However in discussing it with my SOSE teacher they took it very personally rather than realise that I would put the extra effort in later should I get behind. My PE teacher realised this and it was one of the things that made a heavy difference in my highschool education since there wasn’t always enough time at school to get everything done!

  6. dbatty1 says:

    Thanks so much for adding to this conversation 🙂

  7. Madeleine Sindorff says:

    I agree that personalised learning is a concept that should be attempted with all students, whether they are identified as gifted or not. I found that tasks such as self-directed inquiry projects were probably the most valuable to me in my high school years. I felt that these projects pushed me to do my best, kept me enthusiastic about my learning while at the same time (hopefully) helped me to fufill the curriculum requirements.

    I’m sure from a teacher’s perspective, catering to a class full of students with a diverse range of interests isn’t easy, but I really do think that personalisation is a great way to get the best out of each student, regardless of their perceived ability level.

  8. dbatty1 says:

    Thanks for adding to this conversation. It is so important to understand learning from a student perspective and I am glad you found self directed inquiry projects valuable. What are your thoughts on having one whole year at high school where you can focus learning on a couple of inquiry projects that allow you to bring the basics together? That is be given your maths, SOSE, english and science lessons to focus on an inquiry project that brings them all together?

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