'Tool Kit' Builds Better Classrooms For Gifted Students

March 05, 1998

Lannie Kanevsky says classrooms can be more challenging places for bright kids to learn -- and she's developed the 'tools' to make that possible.

The Simon Fraser University education professor designed The Tool Kit for Curriculum Differentiation to help teachers, parents and students modify curriculum to better meet the needs of bright students -- often, without increasing costs.

The tool kit can identify students in need of more challenge, define more suitable learning strategies, and develop curriculum tailored to individual strengths, interests and preferences.

Kanevsky designed the user-friendly tool kit to meet the growing demands of bright students. "Funding for gifted students tends to ride a political roller coaster," says Kanevsky, a former Coquitlam school teacher, who began her research in the mid '80s, after the needs of gifted children began to attract mainstream attention.

"Intelligence and achievement test scores can tell you what the student knows," says Kanevsky, "but not how and what they can learn. These tools can help collect this information from observations and students' own ratings of their learning preferences."

A key feature is a 13-page survey, called Possibilities for Learning, which provides feedback on learning strategies. "It's not a test," says Kanevsky. "This provides a window on what kids want." Students respond to statements about settings for learning, ideas about learning, ways to learn and ways of showing what they've learned. ("I only like to work in groups" or "I like learning lots of small bits of information, ideas and facts" are examples.) Their favorite parts from each category can be used to compile learning activities.

The tool kit also features a 'brilliant behavior' checklist, as well as a description of curriculum options, a guide for selecting learning strategies for bright students and a reference for teaching materials.

Interest in the tool kit is growing, as teachers in several B.C. school districts, as well as in the U.S. and Australia, are using it. Designed for students from kindergarten to Grade 12, it can be used in regular classrooms, special programs and in home-school settings.

Dana Meronuk, resource teacher for gifted education in Coquitlam, says the tool kit is having a huge impact in her district. "We've had nothing but positive feedback in schools where teachers are using it," says Meronuk, a former faculty associate at SFU, whose job is part of a renewed effort to address the needs of gifted students.

"These are students who see, hear, feel and wonder more, and we've been saying, 'where in education can we help to support that?'" she adds. "The tool kit is providing us with an answer."

Kanevsky and graduate students Ian Powell and Leanne Shodin are currently using the survey in teacher Daniel Demers' class of gifted students at Glen elementary school in Port Coquitlam.

Results of a recent study by Kanevsky support a need for changes in the classroom. Her survey of 700 students from Coquitlam and New York found that gifted students felt it was more important to have opportunities to understand complicated ideas and how they are connected, find creative solutions to difficult problems, and learn by working on their own. They also wanted to choose how to show what they've learned and how teachers grade assignments.

A study by Coquitlam teacher Tacey Keighley, one of Kanevsky's graduate students, found that gifted students attribute their boredom to a lack of choice, challenge and control.

Kanevsky, who is seeking feedback from tool kit users, says it's clear students need a voice, and teachers need to know when and how to ask for their input. "The Possibilities for Learning survey provides a way to dig out the specifics," she says, "not only in terms of subject matter, but the ways in which material is presented, the types of projects and approaches that are used."

"The result is a better learning environment," she adds, "one that can be tailor-made to the needs of each student."

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CONTACT: Lannie Kanevsky, 604-291-5965/3395 Marianne Meadahl, media/pr, 291-4323
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Simon Fraser University

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