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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Different Faces Of Gifted People

When I was in secondary school, I made a friend who was acting as Inspector Goole in An Inspector Calls. The delivery was great. She was excellent in literature and drama. I did not know her mathematics and ability to crunch numbers was even better until decades later, since we lost contact. She was from the gifted stream, and excelled in her studies.

My classmate had introduced me to her friends and a couple of them were from the gifted stream as well. They spoke a third language. Far from the introverted geeks that many people think gifted people are, they are very balanced individuals and seem to excel in many areas such as law, medicine, and finance.

Perhaps these are the ones who have managed to excel in the education system in Singapore. When we reach 9 years of age, we sit through a screening test to test for giftedness. Many of my Primary 3 classmates got through the first round. I managed to get in, but when I went for a second round, the questions were just way too challenging and bizarre for me and I did not understand most of them. Apparently the test focuses on English, maths and general reasoning. Of course I did not get through the test.

However, there are many more people who are gifted, and some who never knew they are gifted, just because they did not fit the narrow definition provided by the Ministry of Education in Singapore. Some may not have gone to top schools and top classes, but you cannot deny they are different.

I have met artistes, who can play the piano and sing at the same time, have astute sense of comic timing, and are great at improvising and memorising lyrics and lines.

I have met people who could unscramble letters in seconds.

I have met people who remember vivid details of movies and can bring the movie alive through verbal descriptions.

I have met people who could analyse political situations and explain them in an easy manner.

I have met people who could easily play the devil’s advocate and let me see issues from another viewpoint.

I have met people who are so passionate about their causes that I want to find out more about.

I have met people who have great people skills and can make anyone feel at ease.

I have met people who write with great introspection, that I could really get under their skin and feel their turbulent emotions.

I have met quiet people who surprise others with their vast knowledge and creativity.

I have met people who take such great photos.

I have met people who can classify things easily and identify the exact breed or species of flora and fauna.

I have seen people who can create such beautiful drawings and art work.

I have seen pre-schoolers who read thick books.

I have seen a pre-schooler with culinary talent.

I have met an autistic boy who excels at scrabble.

I have met people who are very serious in whatever they do.

I have met young children who are so at ease on television and have managed to act and charm people.

I have met people who are extremely witty.

I have met people who create extremely lifelike costumes from Lord of the Rings by doing reverse engineering.

I have met people who can pick up exotic instruments in a short period of time.

I have met hawkers who remember the long list of complicated orders without writing them down.

I have met people who could speak multiple Chinese dialects on top of other languages.

I have met people who have already mentally played many steps ahead of you in a game, with multiple possible scenarios.

You cannot identify these gifted people just by looking at them, learning which school they have gone to or finding out where they are working at. You have to get to know them.

There are so many people whose minds work differently from me. They are able to process information much faster, make more connections than others, and they really want to know everything they want to know about their pet topics. The insatiable thirst for learning and tinkering on their favourite things is something to emulate, as we promote self-directed learners as part of the 21st century competencies.

This is part of Hoagie’s Gifted Blog Hop for September on Gifted: How? Click on the link to see more posts on the different faces of gifted people.
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