“Mom, I swear, they must have put me in remedial math. I am the only one who knows what is going on—I know everything!”
This was my youngest gifted son after three weeks in 6th grade at his new school. When we registered him at this school, I had provided them with all of his testing and scores from a recent, thorough educational evaluation done privately by a child psychologist who was well-known in our area. The psychologist had written a note to the school strongly recommending our son be placed in the school’s honors math class based on his math test scores, and I firmly requested that my son be placed in honors math, also. I trusted the school would not have an issue with this—they had all the test scores, documentation and a child psychologist’s recommendation.
It should have been a no-brainer
In the first weeks of school, my son had been complaining to me about how boring math was and how he was the only one in the class who knew what was going on. I assured him that the first few weeks were likely review and that it would get more challenging as the year went on. It didn’t. He kept complaining. Then he took matters into his own hands and in front of his classmates, he insisted to his math teacher that he could help his teacher explain math in better ways so that his classmates could understand it all as he himself did.
He told his teacher he knew better mathematical strategies than what the teacher was teaching in class. He was trying to help his teacher and his classmates by solving a problem he felt needed to be rectified. I was proud he wanted to help, but we had a talk about the inappropriateness of what he had said.
Problems and unacceptable behaviors arise when gifted students are left bored and unchallenged.
He was bored and I knew it. So, I called the school only to find out that new students are rarely placed in the honors math class despite test scores because the honors math teacher only took students she herself had chosen. I spent the entire school year fighting the school on this while my son ended each grading period with a 100% in math on his report card. His boredom was apparent and his regular math teacher also grew tired of the resultant behavior from my son. On one particular day after my son had spent the entire class period drawing caricatures in his math notebook, his regular math teacher, frustrated, pulled him out in the hall and angrily said to him, “I’m tired of this crap! You need to start paying attention!”
What are we doing by not accelerating?
How can we expect students who have already mastered the information being taught to pay attention in class? How can a student who is left unchallenged in the classroom learn how to study, work hard and manage his time when school is a breeze, or boring? How will our gifted children grow up learning to strive for what they want when, held back, everything is so easy for them? And when we hold them back and fail to accelerate them, why then should we be surprised when they grow to realize they know more than every child in their class?
With current trends in educational pedagogy stressing grit, a growth mindset and a rigorous curriculum, it seems this is all lost on gifted, high-ability students who are being held back.1 Our gifted children can never learn grit when their education is unchallenging. A growth mindset will not be adopted when high-ability students are not presented new and more difficult information to grow their minds. And when gifted children are being left to relearn subject matter grade levels below their ability, there is no rigor in a gifted child’s education.
No one likes a know-it-all, but we may be producing know-it-alls in our schools.
When we hold gifted students back and fail to accelerate them to a level which best meets their educational needs, should we be surprised when our gifted children seem like know-it-alls? If truth be told, these high-ability children when held back in the classroom and are just trying to endure endless lessons on information they already know or have grasped too easily, probably do know it all within their current grade-level placement.
My youngest gifted son, of course, was a know-it-all in his 6th grade regular math class. He did know it all as evidenced by his consistently perfect scores in math, and he should have been accelerated, placed into the honors math class to learn how to work hard by tackling rigorous, challenging subject matter.
When a gifted child is consistently ahead of his classmates and is never allowed to accelerate, be challenged and sometimes fail, he will grow to falsely believe he just may know everything—and this is a dangerous attitude for any student to develop. A gifted child’s entire K-12 school career, if not accelerated as needed, may be spent knowing more than everyone else. A child’s life is shaped by his environment and his life experiences which can nurture his strengths, break his spirit or give a false sense of himself. When we allow gifted students to go unchallenged in their education, their self-awareness that they likely know more than most also goes unchallenged.
Acceleration is the answer.
The findings in the recent release of the extensive research on acceleration for high-ability students, A Nation Empowered: Evidence Trumps the Excuses Holding Back America’s Brightest Students, conducted by the Acceleration Institute, part of the University of Iowa’s Belin-Blank Center, prove that acceleration is effective, feasible and has negligible draw-backs. 2
According to the study, acceleration is inexpensive, can be implemented in various ways, supports the social and emotional development of the students, and has proven to be a very successful method of providing gifted and high-ability students the challenging education they need.
So, what is holding us back from accelerating our gifted and high-ability students?
1. “The perils of “Growth Mindset” education: Why we’re trying to fix our kids when we should be fixing the system”, Alfie Kohn, Salon, August 16, 2015
2. “A Nation Empowered: Evidence Trumps the Excuses Holding Back America’s Brightest Students”, Susan G. Assouline, Nicholas Colangelo, Joyce VanTassel-Baska, and Ann Lupkowski-Shoplik, Acceleration Institute, 2015
“An Acceleration Journey”, Lisa Conrad, Gifted Parenting Support, August 27, 2015
Acceleration Institute, Belin-Blank International Center for Gifted Education and Talent Development, University of Iowa
Academic Acceleration, Hoagies’ Gifted Education Page
Acceleration, National Association for Gifted Children (NAGC)