Wednesday, January 18, 2012


I have a niece that is in kindergarten, who is gifted.  She is ahead in reading and in math.  The school has done a fair job of meeting her needs, by letting her work independently in math, BUT....the district has a new math program which uses new vocabulary and a new format.  The teachers are concerned that she is not learning these. Should my niece attend the regular math class with the rest of the kindergarteners so that she can learn the skills, format and vocabulary? The teachers seem to think so.  My sister called me with this question and both of us agreed that the solution was to grade level accelerate her into a first grade classroom where she could receive daily instruction on her level, AND learn the vocabulary and format.  This is not an option, however, so what to do?

Teachers are often bothered or worried about these issues;"holes" in a student's learning, if they are allowed to work ahead.  I hear this every time I want to accelerate a student to a higher level.  Personally, I think that when gifted kids run into a "hole," all the teacher has to do is explain the vocabulary term or the concept once, and the student has it.  Gifted students have a great ability to quickly learn information, especially in areas they are interested in.

Karen Rogers is Professor of Gifted Studies in the department of Special Education and Gifted Education in the college of Applied Professional Studies, at the University of St. Thomas, in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Dr. Rogers is a frequent keynote speaker for state, national, and international conferences on gifted education. She is the author of more than 150 articles, 18 book chapters and 4 books. More than 500,000 people worldwide have read her paper on ability grouping, written for the National Research Center on Gifted and Talented. She was the co-developer of a one-week television series on the nature of giftedness, called, "One Step Ahead," which is housed in the PBS Network Library, in Nebraska.
" Karen B. Rogers introduces five "lessons" about the needs of gifted students...
First, she explains that in order for gifted students' talents to flourish and grow, they need to be presented with a daily challenge that will enhance their particular strength. With progressively more difficult challenges, the students will grow intellectually in their areas of strength and will learn to connect old and new ideas.
Second, gifted students need opportunities for independent work pursuing their specific areas of interest.
Third, they need the opportunity to learn at their own levels; how can a fifth grader who is reading on an eleventh grade level be appropriately challenged in her fifth grade class?
Fourth, in addition to academic needs, Rogers explains that gifted students need opportunities to spend time with other students with abilities similar to theirs. This gives the students an opportunity to work with their peers and spend time with students who think how they do.
Lastly, gifted students need to learn at their own pace. Just like any other students, in order to be academically challenged, they need to work at a pace that matches their learning styles and abilities. Gifted children tend to learn and retain information at a much quicker rate. If they experience too much down time while the rest of the class is reviewing, they will become bored and lose focus. They too need to learn at their own rate in order to maximize their learning abilities.

All of these lessons teach us that students need challenge and appropriate curriculum in order to thrive.  I don't believe that having a student placed in a math class that is well below her level, follows these five lessons.

Another article that addresses this issue, was written by Carol Bainbridge. Carol has been providing advice to parents of gifted children for nearly fifteen years, including work as a gifted children expert on
Carol talks about academic problems for gifted children on the website:
She says, "Ideally, all children will be challenged appropriately. The work they get will be neither too hard nor too easy. If it is too hard, children will give up. If it is too easy, children will give up. In the first case, they will give up because of the stress; in the second, because of boredom." She goes on to say, "For most gifted kids, getting work that is too hard is not usually the problem, at least not initially in school. They may sail through school getting straight A's, but at some point either in high school, college, or life, they may encounter work that does not come easily to them and they may not be able to meet the challenge that work presents. It's not that the work is too difficult for them, but it may feel that way to them simply because they've never been challenged before and don't know how to approach the challenge.

Getting work that is too easy makes it very difficult for kids to concentrate on it. Younger children, who don't have the words to explain the problem, may say that the work is too hard. What they might mean, however, is that it is too hard to concentrate on the work and get it done. They don't mean that they are incapable of doing the work. Gifted children who are not given challenging work in school may end up being underachievers. It is simply easier to give up than to deal with the excruciating boredom day in and day out. These children, too, may find it difficult to meet the challenges later in life that lead to success." 

Next, Carol discusses the social aspects of challenging gifted students,"...gifted kids may be as advanced socially as they are academically. That is not always the case, but is possible. Even if they aren't much more advanced socially than their age mates, an inappropriate academic setting can make them appear to have social and behavioral problems.

Those problems can be caused by boredom, but they can also be caused by the lack of intellectual and social peers. Imagine how frustrating it would be to spend about six hours every day performing tasks to teach you what you already know and to have no one who shared your interests or could understand what you were talking about. Giving children appropriately challenging work and allowing him to interact with social and intellectual peers can prevent or solve many social problems."

Finally, Carol talks about emotional problems that mismatched curriculum can cause gifted students. "An inappropriate academic setting can also lead to emotional problems. When gifted children are not academically challenged and are not able to spend time with other children like them, they may begin to feel as though there is something wrong with them. Why is everyone else struggling with the those math problems? Why can't the other children read already? Why don't the other kids want to spend all day learning about planets and black holes? Why do those kids say such mean things? The answers to all those questions are quite obvious to adults, but not to the young gifted child.

It is even possible for a frustrated gifted child to become depressed, so if your child is not being challenged in school, you want to be on the lookout for signs of depression. Children can appear to be angry, but anger can be a sign of depression in young children."

I do not believe, given the situation, that keeping my niece in a grade-level math class is the best option. What do you think?



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