Friday, April 25, 2014

Teaching and reteaching

One of the big criticisms of American education is that the curriculum covers topics, and then goes back and covers them again the next year. I assume the philosophy is that constant revisiting of topics cements them in people’s minds, and shores up any holes people might have. But it can also be mind-numbingly boring. One study I recently came across found that this revisitation might be almost ridiculously widespread.

Some 95 percent of children entering kindergarten can do basic counting and can recognize basic geometric shapes. This is a good thing -- early childhood programs and parents are doing their jobs. Yet kindergarten teachers reported spending nearly 13 days per month working on basic counting and shapes. They spent very few days per month on the topics that children were less proficient in (addition and subtraction, for instance). The more time teachers spent on the basic topics that kids already knew, the more negative were the outcomes on end-of-year kindergarten assessments.

Boredom isn’t good. Being bored is part of life to be sure (I wrote this in a hotel room during a conference, taking a break because I was bored with the panels). But constant repetition on things you already know doesn’t make you more confident in a subject. It makes you dislike the subject. This is a shame -- and not just for gifted kids. When 95 percent of kids know something, it’s time to move on.

What do you remember from school being revisited too many times?

Saturday, April 12, 2014

What to do this summer?

There's a certain story that schools are so academically-focused these days that it's necessary to preserve summer as open, non-academic time. I think there are a few problems with this story -- first, that most schools still aren't that challenging, and second, this is not an either/or prospect. Summer is a long time, and you can do some academic oriented camps and some s'mores type camps too, and still have space for hanging out in the backyard.

We're doing 2 weeks of YMCA-type camp, and 2 weeks of an outdoor program. Then we have some relaxed time at the beach and at home. But I imagine as my kids get older, we'll start looking at academic programs too. Gifted kids really like to learn, and often summer presents an opportunity to learn a new subject, perhaps in an environment with your intellectual peers. If a kid isn't challenged enough at school, then summer programs can be a lifesaver. I have very fond memories of the 3 weeks I spent during 3 summers at Northwestern University's CTD program. I learned a lot about geometry, computer science, and modern world literature, and I was around people who really liked to learn too. It's a fun combination.

There are all kinds of programs if you know where to look. The Davidson Institute has pulled together a list of resources and links for me to share with you. The NAGC, for instance, has an article on How to Choose a Summer Program. The Davidson Institute produced its own article on Tips for Parents: Finding a Summer Program. You can find a list of links to summer programs sorted by topic, and residential vs. day camp by following this link. And finally, the Davidson Institute hosts its own summer THINK Summer Institute for highly gifted kids ages 13-16. They can earn college credits in programs during this time. Here's the THINK home page, and the deadline for applications is now April 30.

What are you doing with your children this summer? I'd love to hear about people's experiences with various summer programs too.

Friday, April 04, 2014

Ready for kindergarten?

Different districts have extremely different cut-offs for kindergarten. If we still lived in New York City, my 4-year-old would be starting kindergarten next fall, and he wouldn’t even be among the youngest in his class. He’s got a late September birthday, and the NYC cut-off is December 31. But out here in my suburban PA district, the cut-off is September 1.

Of course, kindergarten here isn’t exactly a huge step from nursery school. It’s only a half-day program. Because of that, most of the preschools in the area also offer kindergarten options. The school he’s been attending has a full-day kindergarten program that accepts slightly younger students. So he’ll be doing that this coming year, and then we’ll see what we do.

It’s hard to know how children will develop. But I’m not sure that repeating kindergarten will seem like a particularly great idea in another year. Which means I may have to find a private 1st grade that will accept him, or create a case that he is ready for 1st grade work in the public school. I have some hope -- one of the children in my older son’s first grade class turns out to have a September birthday. But it probably won’t be easy.

What makes this all interesting for me is that many parents have told me how fortunate we are that his birthday is in September -- because he’ll always be one of the oldest kids in the class. I guess for sports that might be good but for gifted kids being the oldest can just make you feel even more bored. It’s also interesting to me that if he’d been born a few weeks earlier (before September 1st which, given how much past his due date he arrived, totally could have happened), and I elected to keep him back, that would have been OK. Parents are given much latitude to hold their children back. They aren’t given as much latitude to accelerate their children.

What age were your children when they started kindergarten? Does your district allow early enrollment? What has convinced your school that it would be OK?