It's a question that's troubled me most of my career... I remember with discomfort the conversation I had with an anxious parent my first or second year of teaching, assuring her that her Gifted son was being challenged in my class, as I had prepared extra work for when he was finished his regular work early, and also encouraged him to help others in the class.
I found out a few summers later in my Spec Ed AQ course that those are exactly the things one is NOT supposed to do for Gifted learners. (Mrs. Robbins, I know your boy is all grown up now, but if it makes you feel any better, my own two were identified Gifted in Grade 3, and until we got them into a contained class, one of my sons spent his school days "helping others because he's so smart and capable". I now feel your pain as a parent, and I have been duly punished for my early transgressions as a new teacher, lol!)
Recently, I had my Grade 8s complete a "culminating task" where they had to share digitally one or more success criteria which they hadn't yet demonstrated during the preceding math unit. Several apps were suggested.
A student came to me and asked if she could do a Prezi instead. She was comfortable with Prezi, as she had used it many times before.
She'd also already demonstrated all the success criteria for the unit, and had already achieved a Level 4, or an A, for her work in the unit.
It was clear that this student needed my help to move outside of her comfort zone, move her thinking outside the box, learn something new...
"I'm worried I won't be able to get my assignment done on time", was this student's response.
She was so anxious with getting her work done, that she was not open to learning something new.
I invited her to look at the criteria. "Have you demonstrated all of these to me so far in your class work and in your quizzes?" I asked. Her response was affirmative.
"So do you need to show them to me again if I have already seen them, and you are already getting an A"? I pressed.
Now she seemed confounded.
"But what about the assignment?" She queried.
I gently but firmly assured her that I would far rather have her hand in nothing, but learn a new tool that she could use later on in math or in other subjects to enhance her presentation style, than waste precious learning time using a tool she already knew how to use to create a presentation about things that we both knew she already knew how to do!
One of the students in that class clearly had gotten the concept, and I could think of nothing worse for him than having to sit through a step-by-step teacher-directed lesson on how to calculate the surface area and volume of a prism. So I gave him a math challenge package to work on, with problems from the Waterloo math department. I had printed it from the Grade 8 section of their website, and the "Grade 8" title was still at the top of the package.
My little friend seemed befuddled: "But, Ms. Teschow?", he queried, "It says 'Grade 8'!"
"And so it does," I told him, and also assured him of my confidence in his abilities to understand and gain something out of it.
Off he went and worked on that, far more engaged than he would have been, had I made him sit through my calculation demonstration with the rest of the class!!
So often as teachers we are consumed with helping to "close the gap" by pulling up the weaker students and spending most/all of our time supporting their learning and social needs.
But with a little creativity and intentional focus, we can differentiate for those working through Level 4 in our classrooms, too!