Sunday, May 18, 2014

Reading between the lines: A principal on gifted children

I'm always happy to see gifted education covered in the press, especially when not under the headline "the myth of giftedness" (or some such). But reading how people write about giftedness is sometimes a reminder of all the narratives that are out there, and that may or may not be true.

That was my thought while reading the "Your gifted child" column from Lenore Hirsch in the Napa Valley Register. (Curiously, I was actually in Napa in California when the column ran, though I read it later, not at the time. I certainly would have clipped it if I'd seen it!)

Hirsch writes that gifted children often have difficulty if they're intellectually years older than they are, but sometimes behave like their real age. This can indeed be frustrating for parents and teachers (not to mention the kids themselves). But then that sage observation is followed with this: "I have known children who were so far beyond their age-mates academically that they were bored in school and their parents wanted them to skip a grade. But parents and staff must consider the social ramifications before making such a move."

Here we have someone who is profoundly sympathetic to the issues of gifted education writing in a way that implies that skipping a grade is a risky and drastic move -- as opposed to one of the best (and cheapest!) ways available to challenge gifted kids. The reason it's risky? The "social ramifications." Except that one of the best summaries of the research (the A Nation Deceived report) found that social worries were widely overblown. Most kids who've been accelerated turn out fine.

Hirsch's preferred solution is this: "Sometimes the best route for the gifted child is to stay in class with others his own age, but have the curriculum and teacher expectations tweaked to give him an academic challenge. He can read a harder book or write a longer report, while still exploring the same topic as his classmates."

I'm not sure that assigning a child a 7-page report instead of a 4-pager is all that's required to meet a child's needs. But unfortunately this mindset is quite prevalent. I don't know why acceleration gets such a bad reputation. But given how even people who support gifted education write about it, there's no doubt that it does.


nicoleandmaggie said...

I'm pretty sure I know why acceleration gets a bad report-- gifted kids who are socially awkward with their same age peers have to behave *perfectly* with their older peers otherwise every single social misstep gets blamed on acceleration. There's no control group. (Except in meta-analysis reports like a Nation Deceived, but that's not what principals see, they only see the anecdata.)

Btw, our son is SO much happier socially skipped two grades than either his father or I were stuck in our same age level. He plays nicely with the first graders in after-school but listening to them, they just don't talk on the same level at all, even when discussing Pokemon. He really does fit in well socially with the other third graders.

Anonymous said...

I do not understand why it's disturbing to suggest that the social ramifications be considered. Consideration should not mean singling them out.

I've followed the Robinson's center's data on radical acceleration in college (which is not the same thing as one or two grade skips in elementary school, so I'm not arguing that it's relevant to the elementary acceleration). But, in the case of Robinson's analysis of transition/early entrance students, I'd agree whole-heartedly that social ramifications should be considered, and, that for some students, they will be a negative for early entrance. Others are ready to start acting 3-4 years older than they are in years. Others may be equally misfit with either groups of age peers, and thus, need to decide based on academic/cognitive needs.

I think one of the issues principals/teachers face on considering acceleration is whether age-appropriate social/motor/organization/. . . behavior that is ate age level + cognitive needs that are above age level peers == acceleration, and, whether supports are required when accelerating. Acceleration might be a solution, but it's not inappropriate to suggest that it be considered carefully and that everyone who will be interacting with the child be comfortable with the decision.


nicoleandmaggie said...

I know professionally some of the people who were radically accelerated as kids. They are to a man (they're all men) happily married and well-loved in the profession as good people, on top of their tremendous professional success. They're probably more socially well-adjusted than most of the genius-level people in my area.

What's disturbing is not that social ramifications should be considered, it's that the people considering social ramifications are getting it ALL WRONG. On average, these kids are far better off socially when they're accelerated than when they're not. But we can only see that when there's a control group, because otherwise every little misstep is blamed on the acceleration even if things would have been far worse without the acceleration. Instead, we should be asking, what are the social ramifications of leaving an out-of-synch kid with same-age peers? But that's not the narrative.