Differentiating Technology for Gifted Learners

Classroom teachers have a wide range of ability levels in their classrooms. Differentiation is a strategy recommended to meet the learners where they are in the continuum of the curriculum. Technology is a recommended tool to differentiate curriculum and instruction. It is used to motivate and engage all students. It has been called the “great equalizer” (Farrell, 2016) as a means to provide advanced and elective courses to rural areas. Let’s face it, technology makes it easier to differentiate for the diverse abilities of students in a classroom.

Teachers use websites and software programs that provide adaptive learning in core subject areas. Students with advanced academic ability can work at an accelerated pace to move through content at a more appropriate level. They can also use technology to research information as consumers of knowledge and create products and presentations as producers of knowledge.

Frequently, we see teachers using technology to differentiate for gifted learners. Students can get on the computer to research more information on the current content being studied in class or to complete an independent study project. After the research these students must create a PowerPoint to share what was learned with the class or an authentic audience. Although they may have the same reaction, as many teachers do in a professional development session, “NOOOO, not another PowerPoint!”

One major challenge in today’s technological world is determining which apps and websites best meet learning objectives and students’ needs. These technology tools should help teachers to create authentic, relevant learning in and out of the classroom and prepare students for the business world.

Additionally, gifted students may have learned how to use various technology tools (PowerPoint, Google Slides, etc.), years before their age peers. When teachers assign students to use these tools, they may be using what they already know, which may not be motivating and engaging to them. They want to learn something new to use or what else is out there. The technology needs to be differentiated to create a continuum of technology learning for gifted students.

One way to differentiate technology is through presentation platforms. Teachers can differentiate the common use of PowerPoint with a cloud-based program, Google Slides. However, both of these presentation tools have the same functionality. An alternate step to differentiation could be eMaze, which provides unique visual platforms for students to tell their story visually with stunning special effects. Students must think more critically and creatively to create a presentation using eMaze. The next level of differentiation would be Prezi, which presents in slide-like fashion. However, to create those “slides” you must place your content on the screen and determine the order of the presentation. This is like putting a presentation on a blank wall and numbering the order of each item to be seen. You can zoom in and out and create interesting visual effects. Prezi has templates that make it easier to create your presentation. You can upload a PowerPoint slide show to Prezi and add visual effects to enhance the presentation. With all of these presentation platforms, text, graphics, videos, music, and audio can be added. All of these have multiple slides to display information.

Now let’s kick it up a notch for gifted learners and increase the level of complexity and sophistication by using the free website/app, Pictogon. A student must choose one photo that represents the theme or central idea to the presentation and embed photos, audio, music, videos and text to create the interactive story. Teachers can take students to the next level by assigning StorySpheres, which uses 3600 photos to immerse the viewer into the interactive presentation with music, text, videos, audio, music, and additional photos. StorySpheres is a free Google tool and that provides access to photos to use.

By providing the opportunity and encouragement for students to expand their presentation platform repertoire, teachers can challenge gifted students to think more critically and creatively using new technology. This is one simple way teachers can differentiate technology for gifted students and prepare them to be college and career ready for the 21stcentury.

Author: Shirley J Farrell is an assistant professor and program coordinator for gifted education at Troy University.