“Giftedness is not what you do or how hard you work. It is who you are. You think differently. You experience life intensely. You care about injustice. You seek meaning. You appreciate and strive for the exquisite. You are painfully sensitive. You are extremely complex. You cherish integrity. Your truth-telling has gotten you in trouble. Should 98% of the population find you odd, seek the company of those who love you just the way you are. You are not broken. You do not need to be fixed. You are utterly fascinating. Trust yourself!”

Linda Silverman~Gifted Development Center Denver

Saturday, 27 October 2012

Differentiation using CHOICE Boards

It is a super busy time for me at school right now.  My fall progress reports are due on Monday and I have a student teacher candidate starting her four week block as well.  When we were discussing how she would plan for her block, and meet the needs of gifted students, I suggested she try using a CHOICE board I had created for a First Nations unit.  The topic in grade six Social Studies is "First Nations and European Explorers".  I felt that tackling both topics would be overwhelming for my teacher candidate during her first teaching block EVER, so I suggested she use the choice board for First Nations.

About 5 weeks ago I introduced CHOICE boards to my grade six gifted class.  I did this in anticipation of the upcoming unit in Social Studies.  I chose a low risk topic, Addition and Subtraction of Decimals.  I did this for two reasons, I wanted to see how much my students knew about decimals, and I wanted to see how they would respond to the CHOICE board format.
Math Choice Board
I originally was inspired to use CHOICE boards by a book by Laurie  Westphal called Differentiating with Menus in Social StudiesI loved how the book was formatted and allowed for multiple entry points.  In her books, Ms. Westphal includes the product criteria for her CHOICE BOARDS, as well as a FREE CHOICE proposal form.  There are other versions of the Menu books available, including Science and Language.  I highly recommend them all, even if just for inspiration in creating your own MENUS and CHOICE BOARDS. 
The math choice board I used is adapted from one of Laurie's and the First Nations board I created is inspired by one she created for European Explorers.

The experience with the math CHOICE BOARD was eye opening for me as a teacher.  I had used this format several times over the past few years with great success.  I was surprised at how difficult it was for my students this year to use this format.  Even though I had provided them with the product criteria from Laurie's book, and I had given them the assessment rubric I was intending to use, ultimately I realized that many of them did not fully understand what was being asked of them.  I tried to rectify the situation when I provided students who struggled with the tasks with descriptive feedback.  It was clear to me that although I had given the students several WEEKS to complete the tasks in class, and I checked in with them at several points, the creation of the final products was challenging for many of them.  When I assessed the final products, I realized, for example, that even though a student may have said they understood what a "mind map" was, and was able to show me what they thought it should look like, ultimately, they needed more guidance. 

I took this as a perfect "teachable moment" and gave each student specific feedback about not only their final products, but also about how they approached each learning task, from the planning, to the research and finally to the product creation.  I asked the students to reflect upon what they had learned, and put their reflections in writing.  I was pleasantly surprised to read that most students felt they had learned about how to approach a more "open ended" task and one even said "We clearly need another chance to demonstrate what we have learned". 

The students are going to get another chance.  This week my teacher candidate will be introducing the CHOICE BOARD I created.  I have explained to her the teaching learning cycle I went through with the students over the past few months.  I am hoping that the students will not only enjoy the "second chance" they are being offered, but will also enjoy the flexibility and differentiation being offered to them.  If you would like a copy of the CHOICE BOARD I created for social studies just click on the link below.  For more information about using Menus and CHOICE BOARDS, I highly suggest you check out Laurie Westphal's books.


  1. I am glad to hear your students enjoyed using menus - even if they needed more support at the beginning (which is not at all uncommon). Being able to approach open-ended activities is one of those life skills that children don't always realize they need until they are exposed to it. :) I bet they will appreciate the opportunity to "demonstrate what [they] have learned."

  2. Laurie,
    I am so honoured that you not only read my post but that you commented on it. I am so inspired by all your hard work creating interesting, differentiated tasks for students. I couldn't agree with you more that students need the life skills to approach open ended tasks. I will let you know how the First Nations and Explorers choice boards work!

    PS>If you are ever interested in creating something specific for the Canadian market, I would be more than happy to lend a hand! I have worked on many published series, including "Hands-On Science" from Portage and Main Press.

  3. I am just so passionate about menus and what they do for students (they really changed my classroom once I started using them). I am always on the look-out for people who are using them! Plus I can always use the feedback to share with other teachers. I did a training session on menus after school today and mentioned that you had posted about the time needed (more than expected) for the children to complete the products since they were not sure how to attack choice products. :)

    I know there is a need for differentiation/menus in Canada - I have had requests for the templates so they can modify their menus. I would be interested in looking into that! :)

  4. Wow I have never of choice boards. Can you recommend the best resources online as opposed the book you mentioned?

  5. One great site you could look at for inspiration is http://www.help4teachers.com/. This is Dr. Kathie Nunley's site. She does a lot of work in the area of differentiation using menus and similar ideas to CHOICE boards. There are many teaacher created and tested examples for you to peruse. Hope this helps!