Up until this point, Carl had convinced himself that he was a relatively helpless, albeit ornery, old man – hard of hearing, consigned to shuffle painfully around with the help of his cane. One day, as he is leafing sadly through Ellie’s adventure scrapbook, he finds that she has added photos of their life together, along with one last message to him: “Thanks for the adventure. Now go have one of your own.”
With the love of his wife buoying him up again, Carl has a new opinion of himself. He is strong, clever, and energetic again. He hatches a plan to turn their house into an aircraft using thousands of helium balloons, and lo and behold, it works. He is a man with a purpose again, and suddenly his aches and pains are gone. He is confident and happy, and no longer even needs his cane.
Remember those bright students we keep talking about? When we treat them as though they are unnecessary appendages to our classrooms, their self-image will begin to reflect this. Whether they are consigned to the back of the room with a book while the teacher works with the rest of the class on a lesson they already know, or whether they are simply treated as though they don’t need any attention because they are “doing fine” in school, smart kids can start to feel invisible, powerless and unimportant.
And what happens when they are supported and sent the message that they are capable of high achievement? Just like Carl, they blossom. A recent study shows that bright students who are grouped with students of similar ability, but not given any special instruction, will learn an additional two months worth of information over the course of a school year, compared to bright students who are integrated into regular classrooms. In addition, bright students who are grouped with other bright students AND given ability-appropriate work will learn an additional YEAR’s worth of information over the course of a year (the equivalent of two school years). Now that’s progress.
There are many ways to help bright children take advantage of their ability to learn quickly and deeply, but one of the best is acceleration. It is also one of the most misunderstood. A friend recently grumbled to me about his daughter’s school and his displeasure with its focus on “finishing the book” as fast as possible. In his eyes, their emphasis on quantity rather than quality was inappropriate, and in some situations, it is. Acceleration, though, is much more than just speeding up the learning process.
One of the most common traits of a bright child is his ability to learn faster than the typical child of his age. Many schools are ill-equipped to deal with a classroom of diverse learners, and must ask their fastest learners to wait for the rest to catch up. It is this eerie, Twilight Zone waiting time that causes our bright learners to spiral down into boredom, loss of motivation, eroding study skills, discipline problems, and underachievement.
There are several types of acceleration that allow students to customize their learning to their specific abilities. Curriculum compacting is generally the first to be suggested. A child will take a pre-test before a unit is begun to assess his prior knowledge of the subject, then any lessons he already knows will be eliminated. Compacting a unit that might normally take three weeks into, let’s say, just one, allows the student two additional weeks to learn something else – to either explore the subject more deeply, or move ahead to a higher level.
Subject acceleration is another option, where a good first-grade reader, for example, would be allowed to join the third grade reading class. This is often seen as a good bridge, allowing the child to remain with his age peers for most of the day, while also giving him the opportunity to pursue his area of strength at his own pace. It can, however, become a logistical nightmare, and has been shown to cause the students some degree of embarrassment, as they are constantly balancing between two worlds.
Grade skipping is the method most people associate with acceleration. While popular opinion among parents and teachers paints grade skipping as a one-way ticket to social isolation, many, many studies have found that this is simply not true. When bright children are grouped with children of their same mental age, they are finally able to forge bonds of friendship that were impossible with the peers of their chronological age. Lewis Terman (1947) found that children who had been accelerated one or two years ahead were better adjusted than those who had not, and Brody & Benbow (1987) found that high school students who had skipped grades “did as well or better than the others [in their grade] in all areas of achievement, had higher career aspirations, and attended more select colleges.” (Education of the Gifted and Talented)
To make grade skipping successful, the research suggests that the child have an IQ of 130 or more, that skill gaps be diagnosed and closed before the skip, and only one grade should be skipped at a time.
In some school districts, where acceleration is frowned upon or even forbidden (how heartless!),early entrance to kindergarten can be an alternative approach to acceleration. Again, well-meaning administrators may cite concerns about social immaturity, but again, multiple studies have found that these worries are, for the most part, unfounded. Reynolds (1962) showed in his study of 4,500 students that those who entered kindergarten early “performed better academically than their older grade-mates.” Hobson (1979) went on to show that early entrants “participated in more extra-curricular activities [in high school], earned significantly more graduation awards, and were more likely to be admitted to college.”
As students get older, more acceleration options become available. Grade telescoping, or completing four years of classes in three, can work in high school with the cooperation of a guidance counselor who allows the elimination of “extras” including study hall and the like. Credit by examination is also possible, where a student takes the final exam for a course before it begins, and if he posts a high enough score, is exempted from taking that course, thus freeing up time for something else.
In high school, advanced placement (AP) and international baccalaureate (IB) courses may be offered, allowing students to complete college level work while still an undergraduate. Some community colleges will allow dual enrollment, where a high school student can take college courses while still enrolled in high school. Online college courses are also an option.
One last exciting acceleration option is the Talent Search program at Johns Hopkins University. This organization locates precocious mathematics students (usually in the seventh grade) by comparing their scores on the SAT math exam. Those who score at or above the 51st percentile are offered the chance to take accelerated math courses during the summer while staying on the Johns Hopkins campus. In three weeks of intensive study, these students can master one to two years of high school algebra and geometry, making them ready to begin calculus in eighth grade. (see for more information).
Stanley and Benbow (1983) listed a huge number of benefits of acceleration: increased zest for learning, reduced boredom in school, better school attitudes, enhanced feelings of self-worth, reduced egotism, and far better intellectual preparation and improved qualifications for the most selective colleges.
In 1997, Benbow and Lubinski added an additional observation: “Intellectually gifted students… do not achieve as highly if deprived of an education that corresponds to their level of competence.”
That’s as good a reason to support acceleration as I’ve ever heard.
If Carl Fredricksen can do it, so can your gifted child. Send him the message that he is bright, clever, and capable, then give him the tools to soar and he’ll be flying off to Paradise Falls in no time.
“Thanks for the adventure. Now go have one of your own.” – Ellie Fredricksen All about acceleration Carl Fredricksen thinks his life is over when his beloved wife Ellie dies. He is ready to settle into the typical widower’s role of cranky old guy, just waiting for the day when they can be together again, when his predictable world is turned upside down.
A series of run-ins with a local real estate developer escalate into a physical altercation that lands him in trouble with the law and in danger of being shipped off to the dreaded old-folks home. To escape this horrific fate, Carl impulsively decides to complete the journey he and Ellie had dreamed about all their lives; to travel to Paradise Falls in South America. Carl Frederikson off on his next adventure