What Kind of Curriculum Should You Use?
Curriculum Choices for Gifted Students
By Beth Wright Bess
Respecting a Child’s Learning Process
Looking back at our first section about giftedness characteristics, we notice that many gifted children learn very differently from non-gifted children. This fact requires parents to meet their children’s academic needs through methods that accommodate that difference. Forcing your gifted child to learn through methods that are alien to him will not only frustrate him, but could turn him off to learning entirely.
Lateral thinking, global thinking, abstract thinking, visual-spatial thinking, and other terms have been used to describe the way that gifted people think. From the top down, or the opposite of sequentially, the gifted child’s learning process requires an overview before the details, the big picture before the first puzzle piece. What are the implications of such neural “hard-wiring”?
These kids are bored silly by repetition, A-Z fact accumulation, sequential skill mastery, and other popular public school pedagogy. They become frustrated with textbooks that break information down into bite-size pieces because they are starving for the whole story. This need for speed flies in the face of all conventional academic wisdom. Children have to be led to the facts, told what to believe, and then drilled until they memorize them. Right?
Wrong, if your child is gifted.
Gifted children are capable of understanding complex subjects intuitively. They grasp underlying patterns of logic. They see the theory, the concept, and the gestalt.
How then, is the homeschooling parent to teach such an unusual learner? Respect for the child’s learning process is a first step in the right direction. Believe in his ability to make intuitive leaps. Know that he wants to achieve. Then, present him with the tools to do so.
SO MANY HOMESCHOOLING METHODS!
Which method should parents choose for their gifted child? The answer to that question depends upon too many factors to allow for a one-size-fits-all answer. The child’s learning style, personality, birth order, and any attendant disabilities combine to form unique academic requirements. However, some generalities may be made about the three methods that represent the homeschooling method spectrum.
Parents love traditional textbook-based curricula because they are all-inclusive and help parents to avoid those dreaded “holes” in subject-skill mastery. However, traditional textbook-based curricula can become black holes for gifted kids in the homeschool when parents are afraid to allow the child to learn outside the tightly controlled circle of chapter readings, chapter tests, workbooks, and such. Many parents feel like failures when their gifted child wants to stop following the prescribed order for subject study and move on to more exciting subjects. When parents force the child to stick with the curriculum’s schedule, some gifted children develop behavior problems and parents may think that sending them to regular school is the answer.
The opposite extreme from textbook-based curricula, unschooling may provide the gifted child with the freedom to pursue any subject he wishes, to the depth he desires. Often, when combined with mentorships, apprenticeships, lots of museum and library study, unschooling is a fine educational method that meets the needs of the ever-changing gifted child. Most appropriate for the family that is less-structured, rigid, or schedule-oriented, unschooling suits parents with little investment in “acting like a school.”
However, not all gifted children thrive when unschooling. Some may need more structure in order to find their momentum. Some, due to disabilities, may need parents to establish order and rules for their learning. Some children with especially concrete sequential learning styles may need a more orderly presentation of academic materials.
This method seems to offer the best of both worlds. The eclectic method offers the parents control over core subjects. The 3 R’s become the cornerstone for the homeschool and parents insist on the child’s mastery of each. Parents tailor the type of materials and approach to the child’s learning style and keep the child on track with respect to work accomplished. Eclectic method is flexible enough to allow for the very visual-spatial child who learns math with manipulatives, the sequential child who prefers workbooks, and the highly intuitive global child who learns through radical acceleration with a mentor.
Beyond the 3 R’s, eclectic method allows the child to choose the subject focus for science and history, enjoying a collaborative process of choosing materials, venues, and enrichment with the parent. Eclectic method may be the perfect homeschooling method for gifted children as it keeps mom and dad in charge of the direction, focus, and scheduling of learning, while affording the child as much input as he desires.
HOW TO TEACH GIFTED CHILDREN?
Homeschooling affords parents the luxury that public school teachers never have. No gifted program can approximate the same wonderful circumstances you possess in your home. What is your advantage? You can spend time with your child; one-on-one, concentrated, focused time. Research indicates that tutorials are the most effective mode of information communication. Just one more reason why homeschooling is the best way to educate your child!
Because many gifted children, especially high-IQ children, hate to write, spell badly, and love to play with math, there are specific accommodations and strategies parents may use to facilitate their child’s academic success from an early age. Very abstract children may need special accommodations in other subjects, as well. The following list suggests some tips and strategies:
- Allow your child to dictate stories to you.
- Do not force him to write. It may be either painful or frustrating for him.
- Sloppy handwriting is not necessarily a sign of laziness.
- Some young gifted children enjoy practicing lovely handwriting as an art form, but develop bad handwriting once writing is used as a means of communication.
- Speak well! Many gifted children learn proper grammar through conversation.
- Horrible spelling is often the calling card of the highly gifted.
- Remediation exercises for bad spelling and poor handwriting may make your child feel stupid.
- Alpha Smart word processors are being used widely in school systems as an accommodation for handwriting difficulties.
- Buy a typing tutorial computer program for your gifted child.
- Typing is an acceptable substitute for handwriting.
- Very abstract children may need help gathering their thoughts aloud to parents or to a tape recorder before beginning an outline for a paper.
- Writing outlines may be VERY difficult for some abstract gifted children to accomplish (even verbally-fluent children).
- Allow your child to dictate math solutions to you.
- Allow your child to skip “showing his work” in math problems as long as he gets the answer right.
- Do not force your child to use the “school” method of functions and equations if he can utilize his own method for the same problem.
- Allow your child to do math work that is not in sequential order.
- Trust that the child who is flirting with algebra, trigonometry, or calculus “before he is ready,” is ready.
- “Drill and kill” usually is an inappropriate pedagogy for gifted children.
- Allow your child to read above grade level.
- Do not force your child to write summaries about every story or book he reads; he processes so many thoughts about the story that retrieving those thoughts after the fact may be maddening for him.
- Encourage your child to chat about what he reads, thereby providing you with an informal summary of his reading without frustrating him unduly.
- Provide him with reading material that is commensurate with his interests.
- Allow him to choose books from the adult section of the library, even if he only looks at the pictures.
- Encourage him to read adult-level magazines about his favorite subject; don’t provide only children’s magazines on the subject.
- Read to him, even after he can read for himself.
- Textbook reading material may be boring and superficial: read library books on key subjects instead.
- Don’t be afraid to let him read a book that is “too hard for him” if he picks it.
- If he drops a book after only a cursory pass at reading it, don’t panic, he is flexing his mental muscles and gearing up for the next pass. He may not re-approach that book for a year or more, let him take his time. [In fact, in his “cursory pass,” he may now know more about the book than most readers—or even the author! (For instance, that it is poorly written, inaccurate, or a waste of time for him.)]
For more information on teaching your gifted child, see the Virginia Homeschool Manual .