This isn’t my first run at the difficult topic of acceleration. In February 2015, I addressed how acceleration was a (Not So) Simple Fix, and more recently in a post about Math and the Gifted Learner, I reflected on acceleration as one of the options available to students who were gifted in math. Having been involved in many accelerations and conversations about acceleration over the past few years, it is rare that I have a straightforward, rubber stamped, “this child is perfect” for acceleration meeting. Here are some of my observations from full grade accelerations.
- Sometimes the testing does not look like we would expect. I have had situations where the cognitive testing has not matched up with the off-level or achievement testing. While the IAS (Iowa Acceleration Scale) allows for some flexibility on this, it is important that the team discussion take a careful look at demonstrated levels of achievement and what might be contributing to a lower cognitive score, particularly if there are gaps in subtests so appropriate supports can be put in place if necessary.
- The interpretations of the testing results may vary. As the gifted specialist, I get to work with different psychologists as we review applications for acceleration. I have worked with psychologists who have recommended acceleration to parents based on testing results that fall below the IAS recommendations. I have had psychologists recommend against acceleration when the testing supported what was outlined by the IAS but they felt that the cognitive flexibility results were lower than they would like to see. While testing is only one part of the process, it is important to weigh everything out carefully during sometimes difficult conversations.
- The other interests of the student. Students who are actively involved in competitive sports may find that they are disadvantaged at certain points in their development. One student recently pointed out that the only drawback to acceleration has been the fact that being one of the smaller players on the team has felt like a disadvantage. While they are likely to grow out of it, it may have a longterm impact if this sport is part of a career goal.
- The receiving school and teacher. Never accelerate a child into a situation where the receiving school and teacher are not supportive. Even when they are supportive, monitoring expectations is important. It may take time for a child to adjust academically and socially to the grade skip. Teachers sometimes have expectations of how a gifted child “should be” that differ from the child who is being accelerated behaves. Sometimes students are comfortable with other students knowing they’ve been accelerated while others want it kept very low key. Other students have experienced frustration that the fact they’ve been accelerated isn’t acknowledged as an accomplishment. As students get into the higher grades, a single grade acceleration usually goes unnoticed, students who have been accelerated more than a single grade will continue to need advocacy and support as they are in a sense a “visible minority” and will need to continue to manage perceptions.
These observations around acceleration get complicated when they become part of the news like the recent article in the Business Insider that is interested in defining a certain measure of success for a particular group of gifted students. The article draws on research that supports acceleration and creates a sense of urgency around the necessity of challenging our youth while focusing our perceptions of “genius” on a particular set of variables. While it tracks the success of 5000 students at or above the 99th percentile, the actual number of individuals who constitute 1% of the total population of the US is well over 3 million people who, I imagine, are as diverse as any group of 3 million people. Those of us who work with an even larger group of students (the top 2.2%) get caught up in the urgency in unexpected ways while working to act in the best interest of the gifted.
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In my heart, I am still a farm kid. As a result, science in the summer is as much about family traditions as it is about learning and knowing the important science behind feeding your family. Much of my early scientific learning didn’t feel like science at all, it was about daily life-like eating and getting your chores done. There was a lot of “science” that happened in the summer without conscious intention that has become part of my family’s summer learning (fun).
- Gardening: from preparing the ground, seeding to weeding and then finally eating, there is no end to the learning in even the smallest of gardens. My garden teaches me new things every year from knowing when to plant even though spring came very early, to which plants require more “food” if you want them to produce. My family has developed a very sophisticated palate with respect to fresh food!
- Berry Picking: while we love having food right in our garden, finding a berry patch out in the forest is the ultimate treasure hunt. We have foraged for wild strawberries, blueberries, saskatoons, cranberries and rosehips. For some reason, these treasures taste far better than anything we can find in our garden. Recognizing leaf patterns and ideal growing conditions has made this search a little easier over the years. It doesn’t hurt to know a few “old timers”!
- Food Preservation: even in the city, our yard produces an amazing amount of food: raspberries, apples, saskatoons, chokecherries, tomatoes, basil, rhubarb and numerous other crops. From jamming, canning, juicing to freezing, there is so much to learn about keeping food safe and fresh tasting as you process it for future use.
- Farm visits: if you’re lucky like we are, grandma still lives on the farm. If not, there are many farms that you can visit. One of our favorite things to do in the summer to find and visit farm friends…especially gardeners. Each summer we find out who is growing and selling food in our region and we make a point of visiting at key times to add to the treasure chest of food in our freezer and storage room. These excursions have become family traditions!
- Fishing: from figuring out where to go, what kind of fish to catch, to the best time of day to fish, to what kind of lure to use, to how to cast your rod and if you’re really lucky, filleting and cooking your fish, this activity is full of all kinds of science learning. It is also a sobering look at the impact of industrialization on our lake and river ecosystems when you discover how many fish you could/should eat. If you thought the fish game at the carnival was fun, catching a fish is so much better.
- Canoeing: everyone needs to schedule some time to just play! Whether you are in the back or the front of the canoe, on a lake or a river, trying to get the canoe going where you want it to is a great lesson in Newton’s third law of motion.
In some ways these explorations are as much about history as it is about science: food security is and continues to be the single most influential factor in how our civilization has and will continue to evolve over time. Having parents and grandparents who experienced the war and depression and lack of access to food, knowing how to “procure” food, was impressed upon me from an early age and it is something that I continue to share with my children despite the abundance of food that is available. It has become the perfect mix of learning, fun, tradition and preparing them for the future!
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How do I know it is springtime? I am in the middle of the gifted screening process where we look for the students who will benefit from being included in gifted programming as they enter into the fourth grade. As a team, we meet and review the information that has been gathered and from that make our determinations. Our information package includes report cards, checklists and relevant work submitted by teachers. Parents have also completed checklists and included their observations. At the top of the pile are the off-level cognitive testing results. All that is left is to sift through the information gathered, then based on the needs identified and the resources available, make our recommendations. At first blush it feels overwhelming, and with good reason.
“It is inevitable that different values and priorities influence the ways we conceptualize giftedness and define the mission of gifted education.” David Yun Dai and Fei Chen in Three Paradigms of Gifted Education: In Search of Conceptual Clarity in Research and Practice, Gifted Child Quarterly, Summer 2013
It is no secret that within the gifted community there is a lack of agreement on what it means to be gifted. From a cognitive psychology perspective there are gifted individuals with FSIQ scores ranging from superior to profound alongside prodigies who may only be gifted in a specific domain. The talent driven perspective contends that giftedness not necessarily identified by a test, but should include “other talents” that when paired with motivation and/or the ability to be “school smart” demonstrate excellence and achievement that may not indicative of a particular IQ score. There are our creatives, whose unique perspectives and uncanny ability to make connections take us by surprise, but who may not fit well in a typical classroom setting. But let us not forget our twice exceptional students who may have extraordinary strengths that may not be visible due to a learning disability, ADHD, ASD or physical impairment and whose strengths may be additionally masked by their ability to compensate for weaknesses or invoke behaviors to hide their weaknesses. And for the most part we don’t even consider how giftedness might be defined (or not) in different cultures. It is no surprise that many might find the process behind who is determined to be gifted in different jurisdictions mysterious.
Despite the lack of agreement within the gifted community, each year individuals around the world get a new way of understanding what makes them unique: in some cases a code for their cumulative file- gifted. The responsibility our assessment team is given is tremendous but before we begin, we always go back to the research and review our understanding of giftedness in light of the programming we are able to offer and the needs of the students who have been referred to us. Each year we “tweak” the program to adjust for emerging needs that may not be currently met or research we have gathered to support how we look at the information being provided. There are some referrals that don’t get decided on until we gather more information, some that are very straight forward and still others that involve a lot of rich discussion. While a part of me wishes that I had a Hogwart’s Sorting Hat, I learn so much from these conversations that by the time we are done, I am feeling confident about our decisions and looking forward to having meaningful conversations with parents and colleagues.
So does this mean there is no real mystery? Absolutely not. We do the best we can with the tools and information that we are given but truth be told, tests and portfolios only tell us so much. We know that every year some students get missed for many reasons: not identified at all or identified for referral but poor results on assessments and it is this knowledge that keeps us vigilant…is there something we missed? Something we should do differently? And so we do our best to remain open to feedback from teachers and parents once the process is complete. But the fact that our tools and methods are imprecise is as much a blessing as a problem. Children should be mysterious. They should be unpredictable. They should be full of possibilities and potentials that we cannot even begin to imagine because the secret to the universe is that within each of us is something that could never have been anticipated that will emerge when the time is right. Being able to measure or predict something like that would not only be a bad thing, but would rob us of possibilities that we cannot even begin to imagine.
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One of my favorite tools in helping parents and teachers understand giftedness are the six profiles outlined by Betts and Neihart as they go a long way in describing how differently giftedness can manifest itself in individuals. While there are times that reading through the profiles and discussing our observations can result in an “aha” moment there are just as many where we will note how the child we are speaking of doesn’t fit neatly into any of the categories. Despite the moniker, “giftedness” does not show up in a neatly wrapped package that is easily identifiable or predictable, but having the profiles is a great starting point for conversations about behaviors, needs and supports both at home and at school. Interestingly enough, characters and individuals from popular culture often become part of our conversations as well, but to what extent to they help or hinder in educating us about giftedness?
From Sheldon to Rachel, Matilda to Ender, we are enthralled with gifted characters. We are fascinated by the complexity of their thoughts, their unique and amazing abilities, their unusual reactions to situations, their character flaws and how they overcome difficulties. Do they serve us well as we seek to understand more and educate about giftedness? As with any caricature as characters often tend to be, storylines can highlight some qualities of the gifted experience but ultimately fail in capturing the unique qualities of many of the gifted students that I work with everyday. Thinking Sheldon (who is by far and away the gifted “character” who is referenced most often when people are looking for examples of gifted behavior), as representative of giftedness would leave one with a very limited understanding.
We are no less fascinated by gifted individuals whose lives in the spotlight have given us yet another glimpse into giftedness. From Elon Musk to Oprah Winfrey, Joni Mitchell to Michael Jackson we are not without our iconic examples of giftedness. That their giftedness is tied to astronomical levels achievement carries no small burden for many gifted students whose talents and abilities can sometimes become the focus of who they are. But having said that, there is a benefit to reading biographies of gifted individuals and gaining some insight into their journey. As a songwriter myself, Joni Mitchell’s biography In Her Own Words by Malka Marom is a favorite. I have learned so much from her struggles, not only with how she saw herself as an artist in contrast to the expectations of the musical community, but also to what she was trying to achieve with her lyrics and music. All this on a landscape of considerable social change helped me to understand the inner world contributing to the music that I love.
But despite some of the drawbacks to how gifted individuals are represented and/or celebrated in popular culture, I will admit to being very drawn in by how one of my favorite literary characters is being served up in a very modern rendition of a popular mystery series. Benedict Cumberbatch as the enigmatic Sherlock Holmes rates as my favorite series with the major drawback of not airing often enough. If you haven’t seen in yet, watch this short clip Sherlock and John’s First Meeting. A very different portrayal of the gifted detective, I really enjoy the pace with all the twists and turns in the plot. Cumberbatch is a no slouch either!
For more perspectives on giftedness is popular culture, follow the link below:
Dear Gifted Parent:
Today I want to dedicate my post to you. I can’t tell you what a privilege it has been to work with you and your child for the majority of my teaching career. The uniqueness of your child has often meant that we have had to learn together about the many facets of giftedness and through that process we’ve made a difference for the gifted students I have yet to meet. It hasn’t always been an easy journey, but there are many things that I’ve appreciated as we’ve traveled together and I feel it is time to honour you for those things.
First I want to acknowledge your commitment. I see the schedules that you keep and the opportunities that you provide for your child to explore their areas of passion. You make sure that they get to all the programming options that I provide for them, often practicing tremendous flexibility to make things work. When I need help, you are generous with your time and support. I recognize your commitment.
Next I want to acknowledge your honesty. When things aren’t going well for your child you tell me and give me the opportunity to try to figure out how to make things better. When things don’t make sense, you ask excellent questions that force me to take another look and see how things could be improved. Though there have been times when you have been incredibly frustrated, you have been kind in sharing those frustrations and patient as we explore solutions. I appreciate your honesty.
I appreciate your idealism as in it I recognize your desire to make the world (schools in particular) a better place. As you “re-enter” school through the experience and eyes of your child and the struggles they have, you dream about the way schools “could be” and share your thoughts with me. I know that idealism is what pushes us to ask the question “could it be otherwise?” and keeps us from getting stuck. I am grateful for you idealism.
In closing, I am most grateful for your trust. The programming that I plan involves helping your child learn flexibility, resilience, perseverance and collaboration. These lessons don’t always come easy and I know there must be days when your child comes home frustrated. Thank-you for trusting the process and giving me the opportunity to work though this with them.
This month’s blog hop is around forming parent groups and I felt it was important to share how the parents of my students have supported gifted programming in my district. For more insights from other bloggers, click on the link below:
It might be the nature of the discipline or the way it is taught, but math is one of those subjects where if a student is really good at it, it generally gets noticed. So now what? In my years of coordinating gifted programming, this is the area that has called for the most intervention and while the answer can appear simplistic, that is not always the case. There are several questions that we ask in our program to guide us through the process.
Is math actually an area of strength? On more than one occasion I have had requests to accelerate students who in fact were not good candidates. (A gifted code does not guarantee giftedness in all disciplines.) How do we determine this? In our district we use math specific achievement tests. It is important to complete this before any accelerated programming takes place. In several cases where a student had been informally accelerated by their teacher, we found that while the achievement test showed us excellence at the current grade level, they were not working above their grade level and the acceleration was not successful. When accelerating a student into a higher level of math they must continue to achieve excellence at the higher level. To move them from a level of high achievement into one where they perform poorly is not recommended.
Is this an area of passion? There are many students who excel at math but it is not an area of passion. They are able to grasp concepts easily and finish work quickly, but the last thing they want is more math. In cases such as these, the approach has been to compact the curriculum to free up time to work in an area of passion. For some this has meant in depth research while others have gravitated towards science projects or even learning another language.
What is the nature of the passion? Even when math is the area of passion acceleration is not always the route favored by students. Some like to “play” with the concepts in larger math projects in some broader contexts. Numeracy tasks, like the ones available at Peter Liljedahl’s website have provided enrichment for many students in our district. There are also some fantastic math competitions that students enjoy preparing for which include: Kangaroo Math (available internationally), CEMC Competitions, Virtual Mathematical Marathon as well as the International Mathematical Olympiad. These are just a few.
Should we accelerate? What do we do when all of our questions and assessments point to math as a strength as well as a passion area? There are a number of things to consider. Is the student going to be working alone or is it possible for them to attend math with another grade? While it is possible to work alone and be successful, many students need the conversations that push their thinking ahead as well as the companionship and motivation to challenge difficult tasks that comes from working with others. Sitting in with another grade has worked very well in our district, but it means a yearly juggle with scheduling to make sure that the student can continue in this way and there will be years where there is no higher grade to go to if you are in the highest grade offered at your school. Driving between schools demands another level of commitment from everyone, not to mention the additional juggling that takes place. While it is possible and can be worth the effort, it is important to consider these factors before you begin!
The beauty of math is that there are so many resources available online to support math learning and math passions…it’s just a matter to taking the time to explore. For more perspectives on gifted math learning click on the link below!