Author: Todd Stanly, The Gifted Guy
As anyone who has spent any time in education working with kids knows, there is no one strategy, one pedagogy, one tool that is going to reach all of your students. We are constantly having to adjust to our students and just when we think we have found something that works, we are proven wrong by the next fresh batch of students. Because of this, we as teachers need to develop a toolbox of strategies and then find the correct tool for the correct job. We don’t want to be using a hammer to screw in a nail or a saw to make sure our picture frame is level. In essence, teachers must become a handyman (I know this is not politically correct but handyperson just doesn’t have the same effect). We must size up the job, figure out what tool is going to work best, and then have the skill-set or confidence to use that tool.
This last bit of the equation is really important. We as handymen must also find a tool that we can competently use or be willing to learn. Even if I determined that a chainsaw would be the best tool for a job, I would need training so that I didn’t cut my own arm off. The best way to do this in the classroom is trying to match your strengths with strategies. For example, I love the tool of project-based learning in my classroom because it works with a couple of strengths of mine which is having one-on-one conversations with my students and being able to push them to the next level of thinking. At the same time, I had to get comfortable with giving up some of the control of my classroom. It took some trial and error and there were lots of errors, but I am now comfortable with handing over the reins of the class to my students. You also just shouldn’t choose strategies that are your strengths if it doesn’t got with the job you are setting out to do. I am fairly competent at lecturing to students, but I realized that in a classroom where I wanted students to be more active, this was not a good fit. You do have to step outside of your comfort zone from time to time but not so far out that you don’t know how to find your way back.
My advice, especially when working with gifted students, is to have a few tools for each situation. You need to challenge student thinking, you could use Bloom’s, Depth and Complexity, or DOK. You want students to learn more executive function skills, have them do independent projects, differentiated centers, or inquiry learning. The more tools you feel competent in using, the better chance you are going to have in challenging your students. It is never too late to take inventory on the tools you can use and be willing to try new things or improve ones you do. They often say you cannot teach an old dog new tricks, but the quickest way to become an old dog is to refuse to learn new tricks.