Would tailoring classrooms to different learning levels do more for kids in school?
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I have several students this year, and have always had a few, who possess I.Q.’s in the mid 140’s. This places them at the 99.9 percentile. Line up 1000 students and these children are at the front of the line. I have young ladies in my class who take 12, 13, or 14 dance classes a week. There are young writers among the eighth graders who can generally write better prose than many of the popular Young Adult authors plying their bestsellers across America. I have a girl who made a film regarding her theory on keeping food fresh longer and submitted it to the Google Science Fair in an effort to compete for prizes. These youngsters are on the edge of consuming learning and experience as deeply and richly as they can. They have no bounds.
In the last four decades America has embraced an explosion in the services offered to special education students. Whether handicapped by a specific disability, speech and language difficulties, found to be on the autism spectrum, or suffering from ADHD or other problems these students receive yearly Individualized Education Plans and may receive a multitude of accommodations. That’s exactly as it should be. These children and their families deserve the right to learn and the playing field needs to be “leveled” so they can do just that. If no child is truly to be left behind, these services are important and essential.
But that’s not who I’m talking about here. The students I’m referring to are the brightest, most literate, most gifted, artistic, musical, talented and intellectual. They have school by the tail and are only held back by the regimen, curriculum and terrible cadence of teaching to the “wide middle ground”. I think these students can and should move farther, faster, deeper and richer. They’re not getting what they truly deserve although teachers try every day to keep them engaged and interested.
Schools do a very good job of preparing these students for later education. They’re well-equipped and prepared for the higher levels of learning that will occur later on in advanced placement in high school and college and university study. But maybe they could handle more, right now. I’m not simply talking about more assignments, more work, longer writing and more problems. I’m considering divergent thinking, creative skills, problem solving, not just analyzing and synthesizing, but generalizing, limited only by their imaginations.
If the instructor notices a gap and needs to go back and teach algebraic formulas, or consider the nuances of a dependent clause or examine in more detail the contents of the nuclei, take two weeks off, impart the information and skills and get back on the horse. Some students complain about “being bored” which is usually just a weak excuse and a signpost that signals the child doesn’t want to work; as if the teacher needs to be an entertainer. But isn’t it just possible that a few students with superior intellect are just simply bored…to death. They must feel like they’re learning through quicksand. Teach it once, they get it. Read the book in a night or two. Then they can wait around for the remainder of the week for everyone else to get it as well.
Is this an elitist attitude? Of course it is. Face facts. There are taller people and shorter people. On average, basketball players tend to be tall. That’s the way it is. There are faster and slower people, good eyesight and poor, people with rhythm and those without. And some are gifted with intelligence. Don’t we owe it to them and to ourselves to make the world and their education exciting, vibrant, demanding, yet uplifting? When they can do higher level math, play exceptional violin and read advanced novels and poetry and handle it all competently, why should they be doing Algebra and reading “The Hunger Games”? Let’s have annual Individual Education Plans for the 2% or 3% who meet these criteria. Let’s show them and respect that we realize and understand that they may actually be more innately intelligent than we are, but that we possess the experience and commitment to encourage and help them grow.
There are exceptional teachers everywhere. They work hard every day. Could you imagine these teachers having just one class made up of 15 students like this? Teachers could set up the levels of inquiry, frame the curriculum, let them loose in the circus of the mind, then stand back, watch and say, “Oh my God!” Teachers would love it. And they would thrive along with the children.
These students are our best hope. It is they who will cure cancer and Alzheimer’s, write the great American novel, entertain us with symphonies and performances on stage and screen, and hopefully, lead nations. Perhaps we should do better by them. A gift for the gifted.
Photo credit: Flickr / Chicago 2016 Photos