How Do We Prepare a Student for Academic Acceleration?

Josie is a 3rd grade student who gets high grades, has several good friends, and is in the school’s gifted program. It’s obvious to her parents and teachers that she is not challenged by the 3rd grade curriculum. The team of parents, teachers, and administrators met several times to talk about acceleration for Josie. They decided to move Josie up to 4th grade. BUT WAIT. Nobody has talked with Josie about this.

Let’s do a rewind and set this transition up for success.

At the beginning of the school year, Josie’s parents met with the gifted coordinator, Mrs. Fernandez, and talked about the possibility of acceleration for Josie. Mrs. Fernandez talked with Josie’s parents about discussing acceleration with Josie, and she made a plan to talk with Josie as well.

How might Mrs. Fernandez approach Josie with the idea of a possible grade skip?

  1. It’s helpful for both the parents/guardians and a teacher to have one or more conversations with the student before a formal meeting discussing acceleration.
  2. Change can be hard, even when we really want that change. The student might need some extra time to think about and discuss the change, even if she’s been complaining bitterly about not being challenged in school.
  3. How do educators talk with the student about acceleration? If you ask a student, “Do you want to leave your class and go to another one?” the tendency is to say no. It’s more helpful to ask broad questions, such as “What do you like about school?” and “What parts could be better?” or “If you were in charge of the school, what would you change for yourself?”
  4. Think about how much we should tell students before any changes are made, so they understand they are being considered for acceleration. Younger students need less information. Older students need more. Ask the student what he or she thinks about the possibility of subject acceleration or moving up into a higher grade.
  5. In conversation, you might ask the student if he or she knows older kids inside or outside of school (maybe older cousins or older kids in the neighborhood). Help them to realize they already know some older students and can build relationships with them.
  6. It’s helpful to let the student know that there are many ways to think about offering additional challenge, and academic acceleration is one of them. Let them know that you are having a meeting to talk about this possibility and to gather more information. 
  7. Answer the student’s questions. Let them know, “We want to make sure this is the right decision for you, and we are finding the right place for you.”
  8. If you ask, “What worries you?” the answer might be going into a room with a new teacher or being uncertain if they will know any of the other students in the new class. The student might be concerned that “The older kids will laugh at me.” What is a big issue to a 6-year-old isn’t necessarily a big issue to adults. But to this student, it is a big deal, so it should be addressed as a legitimate question or concern.
  9. Before the team meeting occurs, it’s helpful to prepare the student for different possibilities. If the decision is made not to skip a grade or move ahead in a certain subject, it doesn’t mean the student failed. It’s all about finding the right match for the student.
  10. No matter what the outcome, someone needs to talk to the student after the meeting to let him or her know (in age-appropriate terms) about any decisions made.
  11. If the student is accelerated, an educator should be assigned to the student to help with the transition for acceleration. This special teacher has the opportunity to develop a relationship with the student and be viewed as a trusted person who can help out on a hard day. Additionally, it’s important to consider what specific skills the student will need in order to make a successful transition to acceleration. These skills might be learning how to work a locker, figuring out lunchroom routines, or doing three-digit addition. A thoughtful transition period plan is key to success.
  12. Students will be reassured if they learn that other students have already done this successfully. It might even be helpful for the student to have a phone conversation with an older student who accelerated previously.
  13. Parents will also appreciate the opportunity to talk with other parents who have experienced acceleration with their children. If it isn’t easy to make these parent-to-parent connections,  they might enjoy reading some of the stories of acceleration included in Volume 1 of A Nation Empowered.
  14.  Acceleration decisions must be the result of a team approach. The adult members of the team need to remain student-focused during the process. This is best employed through open communication with the student, including during the transition period.

Integrated Acceleration System

Experts at the Belin-Blank Center have developed a tool to help you through the acceleration decision-making process. The Integrated Acceleration System is an interactive online tool that brings together all the relevant information to help you decide if acceleration is a good fit for your student. It generates a multi-page report that offers evidence-based recommendations, provides resources, and helps the student, parents, and educators better understand the student’s academic needs.

Sign up here to receive updates about this new online system and more information about academic acceleration. We post a blog about acceleration approximately twice a month. If you have questions, contact us at acceleration@belinblank.org.

We’re planning an online professional development session about the Integrated Acceleration System in Spring 2022. Send an email to acceleration@belinblank.org if you would like to be notified about the date of that session.

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