Marcus entered kindergarten being able to read almost anything. Because he could read so well and he was so articulate, it was hard to imagine that he was only five. His peers viewed him as an oddity, and Marcus had little in common with them; therefore, he had no friends. Marcus also seemed to have a photographic memory. He was a walking encyclopedia on a wide variety of science subjects. Marcus was not interested in the activities provided for the kindergarten class, so he spent his time being “naughty.” In her 25 years working in the schools, his teacher had never encountered a challenge quite like Marcus.
Taylor was a second grader who was an average student in all areas except math. She loved math! From the time she was a preschooler she saw number patterns everywhere. She then used those patterns to come to logical conclusions solving number problems. Taylor spent some part of every afternoon after school working with numbers. She would play math games, complete problems in a workbook her mother had bought her, or help her mother in the kitchen measuring ingredients for dinner. In school Taylor was frustrated with the simple math tasks. She wanted to move on to harder material.
Definition of Acceleration
To accelerate means to go faster. School curriculum is designed to provide age-appropriate learning and activities for students. It is designed to offer a guideline of what is “normal” for that grade level. In reality, we know that having all children learn the same material at the same time is not appropriate. Some students are not yet ready for the material, and some are way beyond it. When we acknowledge the fact that one or more students are substantially advanced and we accelerate the curriculum, we’re allowing children to be accelerated.
Research supports academic acceleration of high-ability learners. Acceleration improves the motivation, confidence, and scholarship of these students. It also helps prevent mental laziness. There are different types of acceleration, some more radical than others. All should be approached with both an open mind and with caution. Students are likely to differ in the amount or type of acceleration they need.
Types of Acceleration
Early Admission to Kindergarten
It may be obvious to parents and other adults that a child is ready for school before his age-mates. For highly gifted children, early admission to kindergarten may be desirable. The request for early admission may come from parents or a preschool teacher. After the initial request, there should be an in-depth evaluation of the child’s readiness for and potential to profit from the early admission. The final decision should be made by a committee consisting of the school psychologist, the principal, and two or three K-1 teachers.
If a child’s strengths are in one or two subjects, as opposed to having high academic ability in all areas, it may be appropriate to accelerate the child in those subjects only. This can be accomplished within the regular classroom, by exchanging children with other teachers for the purpose of ability grouping, or by having the child spend part of the day with students of a higher grade.
Subject acceleration is the least radical type of acceleration. It can even be used on a unit-by-unit basis, assessing which students in the classroom already have a good understanding of what is about to be taught and allowing those students to move on to something more difficult on a temporary basis.
Though this strategy can be implemented while a student is in a traditional, self-contained classroom, it is easiest to implement in a multi-grade classroom. Using this strategy of acceleration, a child begins the year at the lower grade level and ends the year at the higher grade level. (i.e. In a 2-3 classroom, a child begins as a second grader and ends the year as a third grader, having covered the most important parts of both years of curriculum in a single year.)
After a child is in school for a year or two, it occasionally becomes clear that the child is languishing, bored, coasting, or becoming a behavior problem because school is too easy or too slow. It may be in the child’s best interest to move on to the next grade level. Mid-year and year-end grade advancements may be easiest, but if a child is really needy, advancing to the next grade level may occur at any time of the year.
Guidelines for Acceleration
It is important to screen students carefully for acceleration. Carefully selected students are more likely to succeed than students who enter an accelerated program merely by student or parent choice. The following guidelines are suggested when considering early admission to kindergarten, telescoping, or grade skipping (subject acceleration, being a less radical form of acceleration does not require the same in-depth investigation):
1. There should be a comprehensive psychological evaluation of the child’s intellectual functioning, academic readiness, and social-emotional maturity by a psychologist. Some consideration should also be given to the child’s motor development.
2. Socially and emotionally, the child should be free of any serious adjustment problems and demonstrate a desire to learn. Strong candidates for early admission to kindergarten would be those who readily adapted to preschool experiences, adapted to other group activities, or already have friends in kindergarten.
3. The child should not feel pressured by the parents to be accelerated. The parents must be in favor of acceleration, but the child should also express the desire.
4. The receiving teacher should have positive attitudes toward acceleration and be willing to help the child adjust to the new situation.
5. All cases of acceleration should be on a trial basis of approximately six weeks.
6. Care should be exercised not to build up excessive expectations for the child.
Tips for Parents
Educate yourself about the normal cognitive development of children. If your child seems beyond his years, bring it to the attention of the teacher. Offer evidence of your child’s advanced development, then ask the teacher about her observations. Find out if your child exhibiting the same advanced characteristics in the classroom. You may want to ask the advice of the gifted and talented resource teacher or principal. After bringing your observations to the attention of those working with your child, you need to listen intently to their opinions. These professionals work with many children of the same age each day and may offer an entirely different perspective of what you see. It is important that your child be advanced with caution so that there are not “holes” in either his academic education or emotional development.