Acceleration vs. Enrichment for Students with Academic Talents
There often seem to be two conflicting views when we think about academic planning for students with academic talents.
The acceleration view has advanced learners jumping ahead to content that is academically at their level. This is the group that would send an 8-year-old to college. It also appears in schools as having a student skip a grade in a certain subject. For example, a 4th-grade student would go to the 6th-grade math class because the 4th-grade math is too easy for them.
For some students, this is an ideal situation. For others, they are uncomfortable emotionally at the more advanced level. It’s not uncommon for advanced students to struggle with emotional issues such as anxiety and depression. Though a 3rd grader might be able to academically read the materials at a middle school level, they may not be emotionally ready to handle the materials.
The enrichment view has advanced learners working on materials at their academic level within the classroom, alongside their typically developing peers. This is the group that believes a teacher can provide materials/instruction to challenge and enhance the high-ability students’ learning. This method takes an instructor trained and able to provide materials at different levels for different learners.
Motivation is key to enrichment. Motivation is needed on the part of the instructor to create lessons and materials for all the learners in his or her classroom. It is also needed on the part of the student to work hard at materials that may be different than their peers.
A Combined View
There seems to be a way to combine the two views through online learning, which has shown to be a successful delivery for advanced learners. Students can remain with chronological age peers but have content delivered to their academic age. It’s also helpful for classroom teachers, as they do not need to prepare the learning material at the advanced student’s level.
Online Learning: How It Works
Some online learning content deliverers (such as All Belong) have developed materials for students with academic talents that fit the needs of both the gifted student and align with best practices in academically talented instruction.
These types of online courses employ teachers who are trained in teaching academically talented students by providing instruction and content at their intellectual and emotional levels. Because of the teacher’s training, they can focus on the unique strengths and difficulties of their gifted students and modify the curriculum, instruction methods, and course discussions to best suit their students. Because handling stress and working well with others is often difficult for advanced learners, teachers can weave training on these items into the course.
Including Everyone in the Classroom
In most situations, students are placed in online courses for 1-2 subjects and then in the general education class alongside their typically developing peers for the remainder of the school day. That seems to me to be the best fit for everyone… the student is happy because he or she is being challenged, their parents are happy because their student is being challenged, the classroom teacher is happy because he or she can now focus on the other needs within the classroom, and the principal is happy because the parents and the teacher are happy!