Pedagogy of Plenty- Depth and Complexity


Envision Gifted Blog. Pedagogy of Plenty. Screwdriver vs drillI was fortunate enough to hear Carol Ann Tomlinson speak at the OCC GATE Conference last weekend and one of the points she drove home was the idea of equity.  She referenced the idea of “Pedagogy of Poverty vs Pedagogy of Plenty.  This resonates with my belief that all students should have access to the very best lessons, tools, and teachers.

The icons of Depth and Complexity are powerful thinking tools that facilitate critical thinking and analysis.  Without doubt, they are vital to meeting the unique learning needs of gifted students.  These are good tools.  Period.  Just like SDAIE strategies are good strategies- not just for students learning English.  Please, don’t limit these thinking tools to our identified gifted students.  I equate this with giving  our brightest students the power tools and our other students, less useful and diverse tools.



Broken Patterns

Paying Attention to Broken Patterns

Envision Gifted. Broken PatternsIn using the Depth and Complexity and Content Imperative tools, we teach students to identify, pay attention to, and analyze patterns.  Taking it one step further, I propose that you encourage students to also look for and analyze broken patterns.

  • What caused the pattern to break or fall apart?
  • What replaces the pattern (what happens now that the pattern has been broken)?
  • What does this break reveal about the topic being analyzed?


Why Gifted Students Need Intervention

Gifted Students- Intervention

Why Would Gifted Students Need Specialized Instruction?

The simple answer is that gifted students have special learning needs that are difficult to meet without some sort of intervention.  Sadly, there are still people who have the misconception that gifted students “will be fine” and don’t need specialized instruction.   “After all, they are smart!”  “They don’t really need anything from me.”  “The kids that really need me are those who can’t (read at grade level, are below mastery in ____ standard, etc)”.

Nothing could be further from the truth and yet, we’ve all heard this reasoning before.   This line of thought  isn’t surprising given the focus on ensuring all students make growth toward/meet the standards.  In fact, many of us educators went into this profession to help those struggling students.  It’s not that people who believe this line of thought are bad, it just means they don’t understand.  These teachers often give their students busy work, allow them to be their personal assistant, act as a aide to students to don’t understand, read a novel when they finish classwork and the like.

Invisible Struggle

The truth is, gifted students do struggle.  The problem is, they are really good at hiding it, and their struggle is often invisible until it reaches a critical point.  Gifted students need intervention.  As teachers of gifted you are in a prime position to help those who don’t understand.

Gifted Intervention

Gifted students require specialized instruction and differentiation.  This graphic shows how most students land right in the middle of the bell curve.  These students are quite appropriately challenged through the core curriculum.  This also shows quite clearly that students on the outer reaches of the bell curve are those who need, and are entitled to, intense intervention.  The dark green (far right of bell curve ) represents gifted students.   The red (far left) represents those students who are often served through an IEP or with special education services.  Either way, students at the extremes must be served by specially trained teachers.

Classes must be created strategically to best meet the needs of the students.  Teachers cannot appropriately meet the unique needs of students on both ends of the spectrum.  This should be taken into account when creating classes.  To be clear, there are twice exceptional students.  Gifted students who also have a learning disability should be placed appropriately and not be denied access to a gifted program.   Susan Winebrenner has written extensively on cluster grouping and ways to meet the needs of gifted students.  Be sure to check out her website for more information.

Frames of Knowledge

Frames Come in all Shapes and Sizes!

Using Frames of Knowledge

Frames of Knowledge are simply a structure to allow students to demonstrate their understanding of a topic.  They easily allow the teacher (and sometimes the students) to differentiate for the varying needs of their students.  Just like other tools and strategies presented on this website, frames should not be reserved for your gifted students.  Differentiate what is inside the frame.

It’s not uncommon for people to be surprised to learn that frames of knowledge don’t have to have 4 sides.  The number of sides, prompts used and topic explored are all determined by student needs. Frames  can be used in a variety of groupings: individual students, small group, whole group.  Determine the number of sides based on student needs and abilities.

Frames of Knowledge- Different Sizes
Frames of Knowledge

However you decide to use them, student accountability is important.  See below for suggestions on accountability and management.  These practices can provide you with checks for understanding and student demonstration of mastery, etc.

Color- Coding

Color Code Frame of KnowledgeStudents Working in Groups-  We’ve all had students who just like to sit back and are reluctant (for a variety of reasons) to contribute.  They are often content to let the others take the risk and put their thinking out there.  Without some sort of accountability it can be very difficult to know who is contributing what.  One way to counter this is to give each student a different color pen or pencil to use.  Can’t color code?  Have them write their name after their contribution.


Break Apart Method

Break Apart Frame of Knowledge


This method is great for kids working in groups.  Simply make two copies of the frame.  Have students cut the frame into the four (or whichever is on your frame).  Have students keep 1 as the base and then cut apart the other and distribute sides to a team mate.  When students are done, they simple glue their sections of the frame onto the original.



Frames of Knowledge Group Work Example
Frames of Knowledge Group Work Example

If students require more than one side to complete their writing, simply give that student additional sheets.  Glue the last sheet onto the frame, or as in the case of the example here, onto a piece of construction paper and staple or glue down only the outer edge of the additional pages .  The pages on top will fold back to reveal the next page.



Post-It Notes

Frame of Knowledge with Post-it notesI always had students either meet in small groups or with me to discuss before they took on a group assignment.  This allowed for structured support and scaffold.  During the discussion, students wrote down notes and ideas they thought were relevant on their post it.  Really very much like brain-storming.  After leaving the discussion, students were then able to use their post-it to remind them of what was discussed and ideas they wanted to integrate into their writing.  Once I began using this approach, student learning and understanding increased and the end product was of much higher quality.  Using post-it notes, students ponder a bit longer about what they are going to write.


Using Double Frames

Frames of Knowledge Double Frame with Depth and ComplexityFor a more complex examination of a topic, consider having students use a double frame.  Prompts of Depth and Complexity can be used in both the inner and outer frames.  Inner and outer frames can be increase in rigor- basic information on inner frame moving to a more complex information.  Again, this would be up to you and the needs of your students.  Also consider bringing in Content Imperatives, Keys, and Universal Themes.






Other Uses for Frames

Introduce Yourself with Depth and Complexity
Beginning of the Year- Introduce w/ Depth and Complexity
TLAD Math Frame Depth and Complexity
Frame of Knowledge Math: TLAD









Frame Gold-Rush-Multiple-Theme
Frame Depth and Complexity and Universal Themes