Acceleration Options for the Gifted Child

The education of a gifted child can be interesting because, like all children, gifted children develop in stages and in spurts.  They often are inconsistent in their abilities and may be extremely good in one subject and extremely poor in another.  Your brilliant young mathematician may not be able to spell his sister’s name!

They may develop sudden, intense curiosities for obscure (to us) subjects, like whales.  He reads everything on whales in the encyclopedia, and goes on to contact the Study the Whales Committee to apply for a grant to study the whales.  So, you get geared up for a great unit on whales when, poof, he is interested in airplanes.  And is this the same child that two months ago wanted to build his own computer (starting with the circuit boards)?

But, you say, the texts you bought don’t have anything in them about whales, or computers.  Besides, he doesn’t have time for independent studies because of his regular work that he says is boring.  In fact, even math can be a pain when she already knows how to do the problems in the fifth grade book.

You know that there are probably techniques she doesn’t know (meaning that they have not been explained to her yet), so you are leery of skipping ahead.

Is any of this familiar?

If so, read on for a few ideas about how you can manage when the curriculum doesn’t meet the needs of your child.

Actually, the first task is acknowledging that the curriculum doesn’t measure up.  The reality is that there are children who do not need a lot of practice and who catch on to concepts quickly.  Some children merely need to read the book to assimilate the material.  It is unfair to require that they go lock step through material they already understand.

What can you do?  What can you skip?  How do you know if he is missing something important?

These important questions may have an answer in acceleration, either moderate or radical, and in using such techniques as compacting and prescriptive teaching.

Acceleration has always been the mainstay of gifted education.

One form of acceleration is simply speeding up the pace of the lessons. Although this can be very fulfilling to a student who is a motivated, fast worker, the pace would just bog down many gifted children.  If some of the busy work were simply cut out by compacting and prescriptive teaching, this moderate acceleration is more workable.

Another form of acceleration is called radical acceleration.  Most gifted children can skip entire grade levels in a subject with no ill effect and some should skip entire grades in every subject.  Because most texts are written in the spiral method with concepts re-introduced every year, a child will probably not miss a thing.

Whatever the level of giftedness and acceleration, any child who does not need the practice and who can understand easily and quickly, does not need to go through curriculum at a normal pace.

Acceleration is a good option for gifted homeschoolers.

Compacting means using a regular curriculum but teaching it in less time by eliminating traditional methods.  The Johns Hopkins University at the Center for Talented Youth has pioneered courses in which a whole year of material is compacted into three weeks.  In the American History course (high school level) students do some field trips, a debate, a research paper, several tests, many essays, and a lot of reading as they cover all of American History.

You can do this at home by using the text as a reference book; by often using other ways than tests to evaluate your student’s understanding; and by incorporating a few good ideas like a research project, field trips, and essays.

Obviously, the student would do all this instead of more routine work, not on top of it.

Another way to compact is by using pretests.  Give him or her the chapter test and if your child scores well, then skip that chapter.  Also, in most texts, the first few chapters are reviews of last year’s work that you can certainly skip.  In a more radical move, use a placement test to determine the grade level at which your child should be working and believe it even if it shows that your child should be two grade levels higher.  You can always return to the skipped text(s) if there is a problem.

Prescriptive teaching is similar to the methods already mentioned in that the student skips material he or she already knows.  Find out what he knows by testing, mark the topics he misses and cover only that material. 

Mastering Mathematics sells a comprehensive test over arithmetic skills that can help in this way.

For grammar or language arts, use the final exam from the text to determine any missing concepts, and then teach only those.

If your child is profoundly gifted, even these options may not be enough.  A different type of text may be the best solution; one which is not written in a spiral, but which covers the entire topic once.  As well, you may decide to use a single advanced text instead of many elementary texts.

When homeschooling, you are not bound by a set of rules about how you cover material, but you must first recognize if the curriculum is not meeting the needs of your gifted child.

Then, apply a method of acceleration that is appropriate for your child whether moderate or radical, using compacting, prescriptive teaching, or some other type of acceleration.  In this way you can challenge your child and give him or her the time for wonderful projects and investigations.

What solutions have you found in teaching your advanced student?  What resources are you using?  Leave a comment and let us know about it!

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