Speed Bumps To Gifted Acceleration

Imagine you are travelling on a straight road, but the speed limit is low. You wish to go faster, but there are several speed cameras that do not allow you to go above that speed. You may slow down, but you cannot go any faster.

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If that makes you frustrated out of your mind, imagine being in that situation for weeks, months and years in school. If your child has already learnt how to read paragraphs, yet his teacher is still teaching high frequency words such as ‘a’, ‘the’, ‘one’, ‘we’ and ‘come’, he is going to be bored out of his mind. That is only in kindergarten.

I would always ask my son what he had learnt in school. Nothing. That was what he said. I would press on, and he would say he had forgotten what they did in school. It was only when I looked at his work then I realised that he did not learn much.

I thought I would just let him learn his things from iPad and from library books, and supplement his education with enrichment activities. However, recently he kept saying he was bored, and he was so bored that his head hurt. With his recent Stanford Binet 5 assessment results, I realised that I really needed to challenge him. There must be something I could do for him.

Previously, I had not considered acceleration. I thought he could just ace through the first three grades, and then sit for a national screening examination, have the chance to get into the gifted programme (GEP) in Singapore, and then finally get challenged. Only about 500 children are selected each year. He would be 10 years old then.

Yet, when I thought about how mind-numbling it could be for the next three to five years, I decided I needed to do something about it. There must be a way to do some sort of acceleration. I had only heard of a friend going to primary one year ahead of others despite not being identified as gifted. That was more than two decades ago, although I must add he is definitely extremely intelligent.

In a parliamentary speech, it was mentioned that there were fewer than 20 students who managed to have some form of acceleration since 2000. These students had been identified as exceptionally gifted, and lots of checks had been done to check the socio-emotional aspects that they would be able to fit in.

I wonder why Singapore is so restrictive on this. They want the students to go to mainstream schools so that they could build the Singapore identity, but a very small but increasing number of parents are opting to homeschool their parents and hence bypassing that. Apparently, based on what my homeschooling parent-friend had told me, there is a group of parents who are homeschooling their gifted children.

There is also a local example of how a twice exceptional 11-year-old was kicked out of his school and the mother spent one year homeschooling him. He managed to complete 8 levels of work in one year and he qualified for university at 12. That would never happen if he continued to stay on.

Just in case you think that acceleration is done for the sole purpose of completing an education quickly, it is not. Acceleration is done, so that students who are way ahead of their peers need not be held back by years. It is a form of mental torture to repeat the same material that one has completed long ago.

To meet my son’s education needs, I started with Kumon workbooks. He could add and subtract double digits, but he made careless mistakes some times. I realised that it could be really boring when he keeps doing the same type of questions. I let him skip when I saw that he understood the concept, and move on to the next chapter. When he stumbled, then I would get him to practise more.

It was then suggested to me to let my son try online lessons from Stanford at Giftedandtalented.com. It is still early days, so I am not sure how it will turn out. I had put him at Grade 1, but it turned out to be too simple. They were adding 5 + 4. He enjoyed the first session, where he could play with the online manipulatives, but he made one mistake by typing space before his answer, and the system brought him to 2 + 2. He was stuck there for quite long.

Finally, I decided to spare him the torture, and asked the support to change his level. When I described what level he was at, the support staff suggested Grade 3 for him. I would see whether this is the right level. This is what I would call acceleration. If just sitting through the course for a few days was torture, imagine how he would feel when he goes to primary school as he has to sit through what he knows for the next couple of years?

I had signed him up for an English module too, and they started at level 2. I find it tough! We are teaching our secondary school students (Grade 7 to 10) topic sentences and main points, but they had introduced to students at Grade 2! They also introduced nouns.

There were a lot of technical issues in the beginning. When I used my laptop, somehow there was a problem with the cache, so it was not loading very well. I had seen students using the iPad to do their work, but I had problems too. I finally found the ways to solve them, and I went through the lessons with my son.

Some may tell me to stop doing this because I would be setting him up for boredom when he finally goes to school. They would also think I am hothousing him. Such lessons only take place for 15 minutes and just a few times a week. The rest of the time, he is playing with his toys, playing games and reading whatever he likes.

Would you make your baking students bake the same type of cookies over and over again even if they show that they have the talent to create extremely beautiful fondant cakes? A firm foundation is important, but not if the sole purpose is to stick to the syllabus.

Perhaps those in the music world would be more than willing to accelerate. I had to spend one year per grade in the early years. Even though I had scored a distinction at grade one, I did not skip any grades. I could not fathom how my friend in primary school had a grade eight certificate at a very young age. I had no idea that acceleration was possible.

That brings me to another point about acceleration. I was coasting through the lower levels. I did not need to practise that much, and the pieces were quite easy, so I never required the discipline to practise properly and overcome difficulties. When I finally reached a level where it was more difficult, I stumbled big time. I failed grade six. I had not learnt time management. Grade six was more demanding than grade five.

If my son manages to coast through the early levels, without acquiring relevant study skills and discipline, he will eventually face problems when he reaches the higher levels. That would be a major problem. That is why I believe that he should be working at the right level on a regular basis.

He is asynchronous in his learning. While he is ahead in English and mathematics, he is unfortunately way behind in Mandarin. This would make acceleration challenging, so perhaps subject-acceleration might be more suited for him.

However, all this is dependent on when the gifted branch would get back to me, and whether he would be one of the ‘fewer than 20 students’ who manage to get acceleration. I am not really banking on this. In the meantime, he is having a three weeks break from school, as the school is shifting its premises. Would this full time working mother be able to give homeschooling a shot? It would be a great opportunity to find out whether we could overcome some of the speed bumps to acceleration.

This post is part of Hoagies’ Gifted Blog Hop on Acceleration. Do check out other blog posts on acceleration.

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7 thoughts on “Speed Bumps To Gifted Acceleration

  1. Thanks for writing. I was hoping Singapore would be more enlightened about acceleration, but it seems not. I wish you the best with your son.

    • We are enlightened about streaming for the majority. The top 50% will work at a faster pace, the next 30% will work at a slower pace, and the bottom 20% will take a more technical curriculum. The top 10% will get to study more subjects, and they are able to have some form of differentiated learning, but for acceleration, you are right. It is almost non-existent.

  2. Fewer than 20! Wow. I’m sending you good thoughts. Great job advocating for your son!

  3. Sounds like you’re dealing with the hurdles and advocating as best you can. It’s always interesting to hear how others are coping with this journey.

    I’m curious to read about your experiences with the Stanford program. We used it back when it was still EPGY. It helped.

  4. Sarah looks like we were both looking at the giftedandtalented.com at the same time. @TheCommonMom I am also from Singapore and have been working with the giftedandtalented.com team to introduce their programme to Singapore with very limited success. And it was after quite a lot of effort, giving out trials to parents who were from the Ministry of Education, or teachers and principals themselves, across a range of age groups, getting the largest enrichment centre in Singapore to evaluate the programme, plus doing my own research that I realised Singapore’s math is 2 academic years ahead of the US. We start algebra at Grade 5, vs US at Grade 7. So most kids found it too easy.

    Pitching it at the right level was also a challenge because of time difference and ease of switching grades. Comparing syllabus was also challenging even though many say Common Core is similar to SIngapore Math because the terminology used is different. So parents and educators found it difficult to match level to level.

    The other thing is that Singaporean kids are hyper exposed to iPads and are very comfortable with technology. Some EPGY modules are still on CD-ROM so they don’t have much patience if the technology is slow or if the questions are too gated and they cannot accelerate fast enough.

    After about 6-9 months of trials, research, feedback, we figured that pre-school was the most appropriate age group to benefit from the giftedandtalented.com programme. However, knowing how intense the local education system can be, not many parents within my circle with preschool kids were keen to subject their kids to academic enrichment for purposes of acceleration at that age.

    • One of the issues I have encountered is they use inches and feet. It’s so hard to calculate. I forgot to cancel the subscription and have been paying since.

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