I recently had a commenter ask an interesting question in their comment:
"I really like this post, and I like your suggestions. I have trouble implementing it though. When a gifted child shows you mastery, how do they go on to the next topic if you the teacher are busy working with the lower kids who have NOT mastered it?"
First off, my class is structured from the beginning of the year to support student independence and free choice within specific parameters. My rotation activities are established with the students at the start of the year, so they are familiar with what they should be doing at all times. We practice these at the beginning of the school year so that students understand their role and responsibility in flexible grouping. We rehearse them periodically throughout the school year as reminders are needed. The students understand the need for these procedures and routines and so they help to perpetuate them.
This is a valid question that I have heard before. You have a couple different choices for situations like this. One option is to have alternate tasks for the students to do when they are finished with the assigned work and have demonstrated mastery. In reading, I have "extension" activities. Students have a series of different choices when they are done with their work that are more fun and enriching (making a PowerPoint of one of the topics, building a diorama, making watercolor portraits of characters, etc.). I have these prepared ahead of time for each literature unit that my flexible groups do. I do the same thing with math- they have a variety of different activities to choose from when they are finished.
Other times, though, students are allowed to have "free choice" time. Because they have demonstrated an understanding of the topic, there is no reason for them to do "more" work on that same topic. In these cases, students can choose from a variety of different free choice activities that are mentally enriching (tangrams, building activities, chess, educational games, etc.) during these times.
I also have literature and other documentation in support of these activities to provide principals and administrators and parents who are uncertain as to whether this is better than additional worksheets.
I hope that helps to answer the question in more detail. Feel free to leave a comment or email for even more specifics on a certain subject or time period.