By Charlotte A. Akin, M.Ed.
In 2009 Washington State included highly capable students as part of basic educations, saying that for these students “access to an accelerated pace and enhanced learning” was, in fact, basic education for these students. Programs for these students thus became part of basic education in Washington. I literally threw a party to celebrate! But twelve years later, we still have too many districts who fall woefully short of making this a reality. A very few districts have a range of services and programs for these students. What is the “enhanced learning” that these students really need? And what are the kinds of services and programs that districts might use?
The simple answer is that these children need what all other children are getting in school.
1. They Need Instruction at an Appropriate Level of Difficulty: If a six-year-old reading at a fifth-grade level walks into a classroom where “how to read” is what it is all about, what is there for this child? Likewise, a six-year-old learning to read would be lost in a classroom where instruction was at a fifth-grade level.
Another part of “level of difficulty” is the addition of depth and complexity for gifted learners. For example, while studying State History in fourth grade, going beyond the text book to something like a simulation of the Oregon Trail for West Coast learners would add depth and complexity if students were in roles in family groups, deciding what to pack in the covered wagon (figuring out what would actually fit), and meeting obstacles from weather to indigenous people. This idea of an appropriate level of difficulty is what special education is all about, where learning is simplified. But does the opposite exist for our gifted students?
2. They need An Accelerated Pace: Children – all of them – need instruction at a pace that is appropriate. Too fast, and the child is quickly lost. Too slow, and the child is quickly inattentive at best. Gifted children need a setting where they have an accelerated pace of instruction.
3. They need Intellectual peers: Children need others to learn with. The absence of classrooms during Covid is testimony to that! Children need like-minded friends and learning mates. All of them need this, but gifted children rarely experience this.
These three simple things underlie what all children need. “Gen ed” kids get it. Special ed kids get it. Gifted kids? Not so much. The first time I went to a training in my district, these three needs were taught. Over the years, consulting and working with districts of all shapes and sizes in two states, this is what I taught. It is bedrock. From this bedrock, all programs and accommodations for gifted children spring. My blog on Programs for Gifted Kids offers thirteen different program models for all sizes of districts. Each program model is evaluated on just this:
• Appropriate level of difficulty
• Appropriate Pace
• Interaction with intellectual peers.
I would challenge anyone reading this – parents, educators, advocates – to share this with schools, teaches, school boards, and other advocates. I will again be working with my legislators, encouraging them to add these “teeth” to the mandate that all districts have appropriate programs for their gifted students.
By Charlotte A. Akin, M.Ed.