Jun 17, 2008

contradicting traditional thinking about gifted students

In Losing Our Minds, the author presented several ideas which have always been foreign to me. I'd like to put them out here right now to kind of mull them over.

She suggested that highly gifted students (level 3 and above) can in fact not only easily grade skip, but can quickly fill in any information gaps on their own as soon as they discover the need.

Now, we have done a bit not only of grade skipping, but also of level skipping, especially in math at my school. And we have discovered at the end that students often have holes the size of semi-trucks in their knowledge. I am wondering if the author's premise is incorrect, if our application of the premise was incorrect, if the students we advanced were not at a high enough level to advance so quickly, or if the way we presented the material in some way negated the students' ability to see the gaps at all.

She also stipulated that having students demonstrate mastery of current knowledge is counter-productive, because truly gifted and bored students will not be able to show the knowledge on a traditional test. But, I am thinking, the premise here is faulty. It isn't that we should not ask for a demonstration of knowledge, but that we have to find a way to let the gifted students show they understand the material. I will not argue at all that when the material is perceived to be too easy, gifted students often shut down or even when they try they do not see the mistakes they are making. I see this in my own son. He can accurately tell me which number is bigger or smaller at least with numbers through 39 (I haven't tried any further), but he will sometimes get the order of numbers wrong when he is counting. Since I know he grasps the concepts of the numbers, at least at a basic level, I wonder where the counting errors come in. Does he get bored or lose concentration? Whatever the reason for it, the fact remains that his comprehension of numbers is larger than he accurately demonstrates on a simple "test"

The last point I want to address in this post is the idea that highly gifted students can complete the elementary curriculum in 2 - 3 years as opposed to the traditional 5 -6. There are a lot of issues involved with younger students in upper grade levels. Not the least of which being what they may be exposed to, or what older students are unable to express in their presence. My school attempts to get around this by compacting the curriculum, and by adding depth to the information provided. But again, that hits the average student at my school. What happens to those students who are so profoundly gifted that they are above the curve in my school too? I still see them shutting down and tuning out. It galls me that 12 year-olds have shut down so completely to the idea of school. How do we get them back???

1 comment:

  1. My son is 7. In K, he started formal mathematics and completed 1st, 2nd, 3rd, and part of 4th grade in two different curricula. In 1st, we had a long period of stagnation because he wanted to do algebra and I wasn't happy with his fluency with his basic facts, so he did essentially no math most of the fall semester until I found a compromise. He then completed 4th, 5th, 6th, and pre-algebra in 1st.

    This curriculum is MUCH harder than any American curriculum in general adoption. The collapsing of curriculum is fairly trivial. In fact, I would not be overly concerned by skipping materials, either, because truly gifted kids are typically skipped far less than their actual needs and so even if they start out struggling, they end up at the top of the class in short order.

    An example: In late K through most of 1st grade, he did 2nd grade grammar. In late 1st grade, he began a 6th grade grammar. At first, it was very difficult for him, and he got poor grades, but within a week, it became much easier. By the time he is halfway through, he will be getting perfect scores almost every time. By the time he is finished, it will be too easy.

    Some concessions to chronological age must be made. For example, though the hardest book he has fully understood is 11th grade level, the actual subject matter was much less sophisticated. He lacks the experience to understand highly nuanced interactions or adult situations. Additionally, he is "only" spelling a few grade levels ahead, and the length of writing assignments are appropriate to his age and physical ability.

    He's at the end of 1st grade and is receiving high school credit in mathematics and two languages (one of them being Spanish; hence my finding your blog). He's perfectly capable of high school science, as well. We homeschool. There are many schools around here that would SAY they could educated him appropriately, but few would even try.

    My son could not show his knowledge of 6th grade mathematics on a test designed for 6th graders because he is a wiggly, distractable 7-year-old who would forget what he was doing ten minutes in. But he could solve sophisticated problems better and more logically than the average 6th grade student. (I know--I tried to teach a math club.)

    Students who are very gifted do best with their ability levels for academic subjects. Period. It doesn't matter that they will be shorter or won't go through puberty at the same time. These kids already know they are different, and when their differences become a punishment, they believe that their differences are wrong--that they are wrong. They learn contempt for other students and deep impatience with school. On-level differentiated outcomes are fine for a class ability-spread of 2-3 deviations, but it's just not going to work for an actually, honestly gifted student. Giftedness is a risk factor for dropping out of high school--that's how backwards we've become! What gifted students need is harder material with no more output required than is appropriate to their chronological age.

    If the students have gaps--so what? Teach them. If they are gifted, it won't take much. You can't expect a child to learn from nothing at all.

    It is VERY, VERY possible for a child to complete the whole of the K-6 curriculum in 1-2 years or less with every lick of "enrichment" that could possibly been seen as beneficial in any way (rather than just a cheap delaying tactic). There's only so much "enrichment" that can be done. The ideal would be dedicated multi-age classes for the highly gifted and above students. Unfortunately, I don't know of a single school district that doesn't just pretend that "giftedness" is a binary state.

    No, in 99% of schools, my son would be allowed, at most, a single grade skip and then an anemic pull-out program.

    Oh, and he's my slower learner.


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