Acceleration and the Gifted Child:
One Student's Experience
Submitted by Kathy Green, IAGC Member
In late October, 2017 I interviewed one of my students, H., about her experiences with acceleration during her years in public school. She has studied oboe privately with me for the past 3 years and, as a result of this ongoing relationship, is quite comfortable and honest when talking about her life and experiences.
H. is a well adjusted 15 year old, junior at a large suburban high school. H. is very involved with music in her school. She plays oboe in her school’s top band, sings in choir, and plays various instruments in both marching and jazz bands. She gives oboe lessons to elementary and middle school oboe students, and is an intern with a local college artist series. She is multipotientialed (musically and across disciplines) with many options ahead of her as she begins her college search. Currently, H. sees herself majoring in music education with her sights set on being a band director. She can also see the possibility of double majoring in music education and something math or science related.
H. is a 1st generation American who is fluent in her family language as well as English. I consider her to be an ambivert (a person who has a balance of introvert and extrovert features) as she functions easily in, and enjoys social situations, but needs to have time to recharge and is comfortable with alone time. Her parents have been very careful about putting limits on her activities and social interactions. For example, she attended her 1st (date) dance and started dating this fall. She will turn 16 this December.
1. What kinds of schools have you attended?
I attended a local Montessori school for preK and kindergarten, then I went to public school beginning in 1st grade.
2. When were you aware that a change needed to happen with your schooling?
I loved being able to work with all of the math pieces at Montessori and really missed being able to work as fast as I wanted in 1st grade, but going to a new school was fun. I distinctly remember sitting in class in 2nd grade and the teacher was teaching subtraction and all I could think about was ‘when are we going to do something more interesting than subtraction?’
3. How many times and in how many ways have you been accelerated?
I guess 3 different times.
a. How and when were you 1st accelerated?
I took a test to be a part of the replacement math and reading classes. The test was in 2nd grade and the classes started in 3rd grade. Then I stayed in advanced (gifted) math and language arts classes in middle school, plus I got to be in the advanced science class in middle school.
b. How and when were you next accelerated?
When I entered middle school I was put into the advanced 7th grade math (algebra) and science classes rather than the advanced 6th grade ones. I was still considered a 6th grader but this meant I was in the same advanced (gifted) classes as the gifted 7th graders. I was with 6th graders for PE, social studies, advanced 6th grade language arts, and lunch. As a result of that schedule, I couldn’t be in 6th grade band, and had to go into 7th grade band. This was the hardest for me because I felt really behind everyone else. I had only been playing 1 year and everyone else had played for 2 years. I wanted to quit, but after a few weeks I got the hang of it and it was great. By the end of that year I decided to switch instruments, for a new challenge, and began playing oboe.
c. How and when were you next accelerated?
At the end of 6th grade, I was given an eighth grade registration and class selection form. That wasn’t a big deal for math, science, and band, because that was the group I was already in class with, but it meant I didn’t see any of my friends the rest of the day, like I did the previous year. I didn’t really think about being in another grade until I got my schedule at the beginning of the year, that’s when I started to worry about things outside off class, like lunch. Being in the classes was fine, I just didn’t know what I would do during lunch and anything that wasn’t class related.
4. What were your concerns/fears?
When I went into advanced classes in grade school it was no big deal. When I started middle school and skipped 6th grade advanced classes it was easy because everything and almost everyone was new anyway, and I still got to see my friends for part of the school day. The next year I was really concerned about lunch, I didn’t know who I was going to sit with when I skipped into 8th grade, none of my friends were there.
5. Did any of those concerns/fears materialize?
Yes! The 1st day I was really nervous when I went to the lunchroom. I looked around and saw a neighbor and sat with her. Over those 1st weeks she started to make fun of me, so I switched tables and sat with students who were in my fast paced classes and eventually became friends with them.
6. How did your friend group and age-peers react to your new situation?
Generally everyone has been very supportive. My friend circle got smaller, and changed, but that happens anyway when you move to a new level and school. My best friend today is someone I was in class with in 1st grade.
7. How did your brother react to having you in the same grade?
My parents and teachers didn’t tell us anything about my changes until the beginning of the school year, so we didn’t really have any time to think about anything. Our relationship didn’t change in any way, he had his friends and I had mine.
8. Looking back, what have been the benefits and disadvantages?
School became interesting, and usually not boring, in my replacement classes in elementary school and being ahead in MS. But now in HS it’s again boring and I wish I could accelerate again. I want to take some challenging classes outside of school. My parents also see that school isn’t a challenge for me and we are trying to figure out what to do for next year. Just because it’s AP or considered advanced in HS doesn’t mean it’s really challenging. I don’t have any more math classes that I can take next year, all that’s left is stats.
Probably the one thing that bugs me a little is when other students introduce me as the one who should really be a grade younger. I have never thought this kind of teasing was mean-spirited in any way, but it can get annoying when they say it too often. It can be frustrating at times that I can’t drive yet.
9. What kind of transition support did you receive from the school?
None, I was just told I was going to be in a different grade. “Some support at school would have been really nice!”
“It would have been really helpful if I had had a mentor student, you know, someone to sit with you at lunch. They do that when a new student transfers from another district, right? This is what they do when you begin marching band as a freshman, you get an upper class student as like a mentor, then you don’t feel so lost or insecure and you have a friend to sit with and talk to right away.”
10. In summary, what would you like the people reading this article to remember and learn from your experience with acceleration?
• I am very glad I was accelerated and believe it was academically and socially the right thing for me.
• I never felt behind in anything for more than a few weeks.
• I have friends of multiple ages.
• I have learned to adjust to new situations.
• I do wish my classmates would have better understood why I was being accelerated.
• Acceleration is what I needed academically not because I was given special privileges or I was getting out of work, but because I already knew what was being taught in class.
• I shouldn’t be treated any differently by students and teachers just because I’m in a new grade.
• Looking back, I really wish there had been some support from the school for my transition to a new grade.
Follow the link to learn more about Acceleration in Illinois
• Looking forward, I wish there were yet more advanced classes available within the school district.