Over the last several years, I have been interested in learning about the instructional and schooling needs of advanced learners. In my coursework in gifted education, the idea that most stood out for me is that learning should be based on a child’s or teen’s area of interest. As parents and educators must make an effort to identify a learner’s strengths and interests to determine the best instructional settings and enrichment opportunities for the child. There is no gifted curriculum, program or school that can meet all advanced students’ needs. As a group, advanced learners differ greatly in their academic needs and the topics they find appealing. Some talented students love the theatre others enjoy robotics or sports.
Many programs for advanced students include enrichment learning opportunities such as, STEAM classes or a creative problem-solving class or club that students can participate in outside their regular classroom. Enrichment is defined by the National Association for Gifted Children as, “activities that add or go beyond the existing curriculum. They may occur in the classroom or in a separate setting such as a pull-out program (NAGC, 2018). This is one instructional strategy that is used to address the needs of advanced learners who have interests in specific areas. Enrichment can also be provide at home or through after-school activities and clubs that relate the topics that appeal to a child.
In the home, parents can support their child’s interest with trips to the library, museums, concerts, and/or sporting events. Parents can provide the space and time for their child to pursue his hobbies by not over-scheduling the child and allowing him to have free time. Very young curious children benefit from time spent in imaginative play so they can process new ideas. When we observe our child’s play, we can identify the topics and themes they are interested in. It is ok, if that interest is Fortnite or unicorns and not physics or classic literature. We can fall into a trap in which we place a high value on specific academic topics and dismiss others. Eminent adults are found in all professions and pursuits such as, bakers, dancers, writers, mathematicians and scientists. We don’t know where our child’s current passion will lead. With enough research into gaming, they might decide computer programming and gaming is just for fun and not what they want to do for the rest of their lives. During childhood and the teen years we can give them the opportunity to try a variety of activities, sports, and clubs. Enrichment at home is about allowing our kids to learn more deeply about specific topics and providing them with new experiences.
For some advanced learners a differentiated and enriched curriculum may still not meet their instructional needs. Such students benefit from acceleration. The NAGC(2018), defines acceleration as “a strategy of progressing through education at rates faster or ages younger than the norm. This can occur through grade skipping or subject acceleration (e.g., a fifth-grade student taking sixth-grade math). View the report A Nation Deceived from the Institute for Research and Policy on Acceleration”. Acceleration mostly occurs with mathematics but students could also be accelerated in English and other topics when their is flexibility in the school or program structure.
Subject acceleration has worked best for one of my kids because it meets his instructional needs. He is accelerated in both mathematics and English coursework. He does not attend a gifted school or program. The teachers recognize his instructional needs and the school structure is flexible so acceleration has occurred very naturally. The grade-based system of most schools is what limits their ability to meet the instructional needs of students who fall outside the limited range of what is taught at each grade level. I would recommend acceleration for children who have both an interest and an instructional need in certain academic areas.
The following list includes organizations or that advocate for the needs of advanced students or programs that offer challenging coursework.
- National Association for Gifted Children~ “NAGC’s mission is to support those who enhance the growth and development of gifted and talented children through education, advocacy, community building, and research. We aim to help parents and families, K-12 education professionals including support service personnel, and members of the research and higher education community who work to help gifted and talented children as they strive to achieve their personal best and contribute to their communities.”
- Johns Hopkins Center for Talented Youth: Gifted and Talented Programs ~ “The world leader in gifted education since 1979, Johns Hopkins Center for Talented Youth is a nonprofit dedicated to identifying and developing the talents of academically advanced pre-college students around the world. We serve bright learners and their families through our research, advocacy, and counseling, as well as our signature gifted and talented summer, online, international, and family programs.”
- International Baccalaureate Program~ “The IB offers an education for students from age 3 to 19, comprising of four programmes that focus on teaching students to think critically and independently, and how to inquire with care and logic.”
- Advanced Placement Program ~ “The AP Program is a global academic program offered in secondary schools. Taking AP courses and exams provides you with a recognized academic credential, wherever your college plans lead you. Universities around the world recognize AP Exam scores for admission, credit and placement.” The program includes courses in: Art, English, World Languages, History, Science, Computer Science and Mathematics. On-line courses are available through approved providers.