Tuesday, November 22, 2011

No Gifted Child Left Behind

The debate continues on how best to serve gifted students. These kids are more trouble than you think (see common gifted myths here. Read carefully. Unless you have a gifted kid, I would be willing to bet that you believe the majority of the myths. I'm just sayin'.).

To re-cap, in most schools, gifted kids are offered one of the following choices:

1. Once-weekly pull out classes. Rest of the week is spent in a regular classroom which may or may not differentiate for giftedness (but is federally required to differentiate for lower ability students).

2. Subject-specific gifted instruction based on scores and student need; generally for older students.

3. Subject acceleration where a student will go to a different grade for a specific subject.

4. Grade acceleration - not common. This is when a child skips a grade. Schools remain allergic to this option.

5. In class options: cluster groups, tiered assignments, etc. Success in this depends on the skill level and classroom management of the teacher.

6. Enrichment programs which can be offered whole-school (schoolwide enrichment model, SEM) or to specific kids.

Or schools like HoneyFern which offer individula curriculum wherever the kid happens to be irregardless of biological age. But I digress.

This article discusses a program in Montana specifically for gifted kids; it focuses on enrichment and doing things instead of academic projects, and for that reason it is being questioned by parents in and out of the program. Arguments against highlight the program's lack of rigor, and arguments for stress non-academic skill development (cooperation, creativity, dealing with perfectionism - see above myths - etc).

While I believe that gifted programs should be rigorous, I disagree that "rigor" automatically means "traditional academics." As stated in the article, gifted does not mean "more"; gifted kids do not need an extra worksheet of the same work they finished in five minutes. They need more complex tasks that force them to examine their thinking and revise their work; they need work and activity that engages all parts of their brain. The program in Montana does that, but perhaps not in a manner that people are used to - part of the problem.

Gifted kids, more often than not, get the short end of the stick. The predominate myth - that they will learn regardless of what happens, that they don't need special resources or teacher - is patently false and results in high school dropouts (25% of high school dropouts are gifted - myself and my husband are anecdotal evidence). Fair doesn't always mean "equal." Sometimes gifted kids need more. Would you deny a severely handicapped student in a wheelchair the ramp s/he needs to access the school? In the same way, we need to stop denying our gifted kids access to a wider body of experiences and knowledge that helps them grow and develop at their pace.

Reflecting on what works is important, but keep moving forward and let gifted kids have access to programs that work for them!

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