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Differentiating for the Young Child: Teaching Strategies Across the Content Areas (K-3) (2004) by Joan Franklin Smutny and S. E. von Fremd. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press, Inc. This book is a comprehensive guide for differentiating all aspects of the primary level curriculum. It includes many practical examples concerning how teachers should manage the differentiated classroom. These examples are supported by solid educational practice and the authors' extensive professional backgrounds as teachers and administrators. The book is organized according to core instructional steps as presented in the Introduction (pp. xiii-xiv) and Chapter 5 - Differentiated Instruction Applied to Language Arts (pp. 107-108). The rationale for the five step plan is as follows: "As described in the introduction, the word curriculum means 'to run' in Latin - hence the reason this book uses the idea of a journey as a metaphor and structure for differentiating. The sequence begins with what the students themselves bring to a subject or planned lesson (abilities, difficulties, culture, learning styles, etc.), then focuses on the destination - where they should be in terms of understanding and skill by the end of a lesson or unit - and on evidence of student understanding (e.g., behaviors, comments, assignments)." (p. 106)

Step 1 - Know the travelers (children) - The first chapter (Preparing for the Journey of a Differentiated Classroom) emphasizes the importance of learning about the family and cultural backgrounds of each child in order to design a successful differentiated classroom. As discussed in this chapter, it is necessary for teachers to first identify the essential elements of the curriculum and to design the proper learning environment before beginning this journey. Chapter 1 includes many helpful examples of learning centers keyed to Gardner's Multiple Intelligences. Chapter 2 (Assessing Primary Learners) contains detailed information on how to determine children's current levels of knowledge and performance. This is an exemplary chapter that provides teachers with a wide range of options for understanding where the child is currently performing in different academic areas, and for assessing how much progress has occurred following differentiated instruction. The chapter has excellent examples of how to use informal interviews, direct observations, portfolios, and rubrics to effectively evaluate young children's progress.

Step 2 - Determine the destination (learning goal) - Smutny and von Fremd recommend (pp. 108-110) that goals encompass important ideas, topics or processes about learning and the content of the curriculum. Goals should take into account the types of assistance young children will need to discover concepts and basic principles, and whether ideas, topics or processes will motivate them to learn.

Step 3 - Identify proof or evidence that they have reached the destination (i.e., understand what has been taught) - Here, the teacher must focus on "specific behaviors and /or products that will demonstrate understanding." (p. 110) They must be written down in a detailed manner prior to instruction. Several examples are presented in each subject area chapter.

Step 4 - Plan the journey - The authors emphasize that preassessment must be used to determine how children will react to a particular instructional unit. They show how specifying teaching strategies and learning activities are important for successful differentiation. All of the chapters on teaching subject areas (language arts, social studies, science, and mathematics) have numerous detailed examples of teaching strategies and learning activities that include goals, learning standards, evidence of understanding, resources, grouping and adjustments. These examples demonstrate the overall structure for designing a differentiated curriculum, and they unify the book's major concepts. Every idea and principle espoused by Smutny and von Fremd is tied to these teaching frameworks. They give the reader a gestalt of differentiated teaching and learning. Chapter 3 (Strategies for Differentiating the Primary Curriculum) is an integral part of planning the educational journey because it includes an informative discussion of various methods related to content, process, and products. Teachers will learn about the fundamentals of differentiation in this chapter such as compacting, learning styles, creative processes, cluster groups, and independent study. New teachers will find this chapter to be an excellent resource for learning about the differentiation concept.

Step 5 - Reassess and adjust according to new needs and changes - Teachers must select criteria for determining whether students have achieved the educational goals and behaviors indicative of learning. Second, proper rubrics should be designed to give them information about students' progress and needs for additional instruction. Each subject area chapter again contains detailed information and procedures related to Step 5 for designing rubrics, plans for further adjustments/teaching, and examples of state goals and standards. The authors emphasize that students should be actively involved in accessing their progress. In this regard, they include excellent suggestions (p. 148) for giving constructive feedback to students.

In addition to the four excellent subject area chapters, the book includes one entitled, Using the Visual and Performing Arts to Differentiate the Primary Curriculum (Chapter 4). This is essentially a Multiple Intelligences approach to integrating the visual and performing arts into specific subject areas, and for nurturing artistic talent. It is an excellent resource for early childhood educators who want to encourage the artistic sensibility of young gifted children while simultaneously developing their knowledge of subjects areas.

In a period when the basic principles of pedagogy and educational psychology have been lost to the purveyors of high stakes testing, Smutny and von Fremd have furnished early childhood educators with a welcome anecdote. Their instructional method is both rigorous and humane. Teachers of the gifted and parents will find it to be helpful in differentiating instruction in the regular classroom and gifted centers. We highly recommend Differentiating for the Young Child to every educator who wants to return to the true meaning of "educate" - "To bring an understanding. [<Latin. ducre.]" (The American Heritage Dictionary, 4th Edition, 2001).

Eats, Shoots & Leaves: The Zero Tolerance Approach to Punctuation (2003) by Lynne Truss. New York: Gotham Books. There are many classical works of grammar and punctuation that students have struggled with in high school, college and beyond, e.g., The Elements of Style (1935, 2000) by William Strunk Jr. and E.B. White, and A Dictionary of Modern English Usage Dictionary (1926, 2002) by H.W. Fowler. But Truss's book is different because of her delightful commentary on English usage in modern society, and her extended battle against assorted illiterates who construct signs and write articles or books containing gross violations of English punctuation. It was a surprising best seller in Great Britain and presently has the same status in the United States as being at the top of the Nonfiction List of The New York Times. Some real life punctuation errors discussed in the book are: the title - "Eats, Shoots & Leaves," "Egg's, $1.29 a doz.," "childrens home," "readers outlet," and "Come inside for CD's, VIDEO's, and BOOK's." Her purpose is as follows: "So if this book doesn't instruct about punctuation, what does it do? Well, you know those self-help books that give you permission to love yourself? This one gives you permission to love punctuation. It's about how we got the punctuation we have today; how such a tiny but adaptable system of marks allows us to notice most (but not all) types of verbal expression; and how (according to Beachcomber) a greengrocer in days of yore inspired Good Queen Bess to create the post of Apostropher Royal. . . ." (pp. 33-34) Her discussions of the history of punctuation and the impact of email upon English composition are both humorous and informative. Truss, a British writer and journalist, concentrates upon the uses and misuses of apostrophes and commas in separate chapters. Other chapters address the colon and semi-colon, the dash, and the hyphen. Although she is primarily concerned with punctuation use in Great Britain, most of her recommendations can be applied to American writing. There are a few exceptions such as differences in the placement of the quotation mark either before (British usage) or after (America usage) a comma or period. Gifted students and their teachers should read this pleasurable book to learn that the proper use of punctuation is still important in our electronic age. One of the most cogent statements made by Truss regarding present day communication is the following: "What to call the language generated by this new form of communication? Netspeak? Weblish? Whatever you call it, linguists are generally excited by it. Naomi Baron has called Netspeak an 'emerging language centaur - part speech, part writing' and David Crystal says computer-mediated language is a genuine 'third medium'. But I don't know. Remember that thing Truman Capote said years ago about Jack Kerouac: 'That's not writing, it's typing'? I keep thinking that what we do now, with this medium of instant delivery, isn't writing, and doesn't even qualify as typing either: It's just sending. What did you do today? Sent a lot of stuff...." (pp. 191-192).

Constantin Brancusi: Sculptor of Giftedness

By Michael E. Walters Center for the Study of the Humanities in the Schools

"Brancusi based his art more on synthesis, assemblage, and juxtaposition than on a single reductive act of abstraction." p. 6, Brancusi Photographs by Elizabeth A. Brown. New York: Assouline Publishing, 1996.

"The dreams of undreaming stone." Octavio Paz, Mexican Nobel Prize Poet (quotation from Robert Hughes, Funk and Chic, Time Magazine, Dec. 18, 1995).

The Guggenheim Museum of Art in New York City is presently exhibiting the sculpture of the Romanian artist, Constantin Brancusi (1876-1957). His works were first displayed in New York City at the 1913 Armory Show, and by Edward Stieglitz in 1914 at his famous 291 Gallery. I recently viewed the exhibit in July 2004, and it stimulated my thoughts concerning the impact of Brancusi's creative sensibility upon the concept of giftedness as follows:

This sculptor is a role model for gifted individuals. He came from rural Romania where his parents were peasants and his father was a wood carver. The influence of Romanian folklore and the Orthodox Christian Church were lifelong. He was also attracted to the imagery of his childhood which included cemetery markers, furniture, gates, olive oil presses and pre-Christian primitive artifacts. As a teenager noted for artistic giftedness, he was sent to study at both regional and national art schools. When he was 28 years old (1904) he walked a distance of approximately a thousand miles from Bucharest to Paris, the center of the European art world, where he became an assistant to the great French Sculptor, Auguste Rodin. Brancusi was trained to become Rodin's heir apparent but he refused this honor because he wanted to establish his own unique style.

Artists need to work in a community of artistic people to reinforce their own productivity and giftedness. Although a solitary person and worker, Brancusi was an important member of the Parisian artistic community from the early 1900s to the 1950s. Besides his fellow artists Pablo Picasso, Ferdinand Léger, Amedeo Modigliani, and Marcel Duchamp, he was also associated with the writers James Joyce, Ezra Pound and Ernest Hemingway. In addition, he interacted with the composers Erik Satie and Igor Stravinsky.

A book in the Guggenheim Museum Store influenced my further thinking about this artist. It presented a series of photographs (Brancusi Photographs, 1996) that he took while working in his studio. One can see the merger of craft, vision and style in these photos. He was a master craftsman who engaged in extremely exhausting physical work to shape his sculptures with limestone, marble and wood.

The Guggenheim Museum was among the last architectural designs by Frank Lloyd Wright. Brancusi once remarked that ". . . .architecture is inhabited sculpture." The craftsmanship and vision of both Brancusi and Wright are an enduring inspiration to gifted students.

Maurice D. Fisher, Publisher, Copyright © by Gifted Education Press, August-September 2004