Challenging Learners Who Already Understand Grade Level Material

Guest post by Gerald Aungst
Adjunct lecturer at the University of Iowa’s Belin-Blank Center, and Gifted Support Teacher at the Cheltenham School District in Pennsylvania

The Belin-Blank Center moderates a Gifted Teachers’ Listserv, where educators from all over Iowa, the United States, and the world share resources, information, and support related to gifted education. This post originated on our listserv by Gerald Aungst, who graciously agreed to share his thoughts on our blog, as well. All opinions belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the position of the Belin-Blank Center or University of Iowa. 

Anyone who has had to sit through a meeting or training session about a topic which you understand well knows the feeling. You want to get on with it and move into something new and different. You want something useful. You want something meaningful.

And yet the idea persists in schools that when a student masters a skill quickly or already understands a topic we are introducing to the rest of the class, the best thing we can give that advanced learner is more of the same. “Oh, you finished the math worksheet already? Here’s another one with more problems to do.” Or “You wrote that 5-paragraph essay already? Well, then I guess your next essay needs to be 10 paragraphs.”

There is a place for honing and maintaining a difficult skill. Professional basketball players keep practicing free throws. Professional musicians keep practicing scales. But we need to ask if “more of the same” is the best option for a student with the limited time we have them in school.

Do you have colleagues or administrators who don’t see the value of giving advanced learners new, different things so they can continue to learn and grow? Here are a few resources to help you make your case.

Start with the NAGC position statements, which include references to relevant studies:

The Acceleration Institute has abundant resources on different options for acceleration. This brief policy summary, for example, has some great talking points for administrators. For more comprehensive explanations and a thorough review of extensive research on the topic, share A Nation Empowered to show why acceleration works.

Differentiation is another way to help students who may know some of the material in advance or who pick it up quickly. For quick overviews check out 7 Reasons Why Differentiated Instruction Works and What Works for Differentiating Instruction in Elementary Schools (many of these ideas are adaptable to middle and high school learners as well).

And of course Susan Winebrenner’s book Teaching Gifted Kids in Today’s Classroom is full of strategies for differentiating and accelerating for advanced learners, backed up by decades of experience and research.

For more posts by Gerald Aungst, visit his website at geraldaungst.com.

If you are an educator looking for professional learning opportunities to help you better teach and understand gifted children, be sure to check out the Belin-Blank Center’s extensive list of courses and workshops on programming and curriculum. Each course corresponds to one of the educational strands necessary for the Iowa Talented and Gifted Endorsement and will help you develop your expertise in the new NAGC-CEC Teacher Preparation Standards in Gifted and Talented Education. For more information, visit belinblank.org/educators

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