Gifted education is getting a push back lately. There seems to be more of a focus on helping students who are less accomplished. And the Common Core Standards seems to imply that all students should be similarly taught and achieve at the same level. Is this the way we should go? My son’s grade school had an enrichment program that he attended. Now he is in middle school, and that advanced learning has gone away. I’m a little upset about it.
The problem with a one-size-fits all curriculum is that students are not the same. They are very different. The Common Core wants all students to learn and achieve in a similar way, but that has not been the way it’s been since the beginning of organized schooling. Some students move faster through their studies than others. That is a fact, and as much as we would like to wish it away, it won’t go away.
There is evidence that some younger students can truly be called gifted. They proceed through mostly all of their school work at an accelerated rate. They can benefit from being grouped together to proceed at a faster rate, and have some enrichment activities. But when students get to the high school level, it can get a little more complicated. Some students tend to stand out in one or two areas, while they may remain average in others. For example, they may show high ability, or aptitude, in Math or English. It’s the difference between what is called “fluid intelligence” — which is most pronounced in childhood, and is the ability to learn at a general level — and what is called “crystallized intelligence” (adult intelligence) — that begins to emerge at around the age 15/16, and involves more specialized and adaptive learning.
I mention age 15/16 as a critical time in most of my posts, and this is the time that individualized learning needs to begin. But how should we address these differences in student ability? I think there needs to be a new approach. Instead of denying that there are differences in student ability, we should embrace it. There are some Einsteins out there, and we need to ensure that they have the resources to truly challenge their abilities. However, would we want everyone to be like Einstein? Would the world function with everyone contemplating the General Theory of Relativity?
Technology in learning, beginning at the high school level, can help fill the need for gifted education, and it can truly challenge any student in any area of ability. However, instead of saying that only the gifted should get special attention, lets improve the image of ALL learning. Specifically, lets raise the status of vocational learning. Learning specific skills should not be put below learning general knowledge in its perception of value. Let some students take on-line courses and/or apprenticeships in high school (part of the day) to customize their learning to the real needs in the community. They may have special “gifts” in those areas, and go on to achieve great things in life. Let’s embrace diversity.