Friday, May 23, 2008

Homeschooling the Gifted

No other educational option accommodates the wide range of abilities of gifted children as well as homeschooling. Gifted homeschoolers can move ahead without skipping a grade. They can learn math at high school level while enjoying sixth-grade books. Or they can take their time through high school and study topics of interest in depth rather than going to college early. A few profoundly gifted children homeschool because they are ready for college-level work before they reach middle school. In all cases, these children fit perfectly in no single grade, and homeschooling doesn't force them to try.
Many people assume that gifted children are advanced evenly in all areas, so there should be no problem with simply letting them skip a grade, but this is not the case. They might be years ahead of other children in one or two subjects, but at grade level or even below grade level in others. Some are advanced in almost every subject academically yet their sensitivities prevent them from socializing with older children. They have a hard time fitting into any one group comfortably.

-Lisa Rivero, "The Homeschooling Option"

Rivero makes some very good points about homeschooling the gifted as well as homeschooling in general. I would add, however, that this is even more critical for the gifted/LD child.

In my experience, there are things done in homeschooling that simply cannot be done in a more structured setting. The primary example is changing curriculum. Most public schools cater to the auditory-sequential learner both in lecture and even in the format of the textbooks. Some teachers, probably those who themselves are visual-spatial, may be able to fill in the gaps for those learners who are at a disadvantage in this environment. Most likely, these types of teachers are going to be a minority.

My son is visual-spatial and has either a very strong preference to learn this way or an actual learning disability that prevents him from learning using auditory-sequential methods. The gist of this is that he learns at slightly above grade-level in a classroom. There used to be a significant difference between his IQ scores and aptitude testing. However, when the material is presented in a different manner, he suddenly started getting ahead. In fact, the gap between what he's learning and what the average child in our school district has learned increases every year. In one area this past year, his rate of growth was five times that of the average child in our district.

The change happened, however, when we were homeschooling and switched to a different curriculum. Suddenly things clicked. Unfortunately, that is not a modification that can be made in normal classroom. When a child doesn't understand something, the assumption is that he or she isn't trying or has difficulty learning. Both can be true, but the teacher doesn't have the option of trying different curriculum. Unless the teacher understands the way the child learns and has a good grasp on how to present it, any attempt to modify the presentation may not benefit the child, either.

The standing assumption seems to be that if they aren't learning in the current environment, they aren't capable of learning any better in a different environment. I imagine this stifles the intellectual growth of hordes of students, not just the gifted.

This is not the fault of the teachers. I've seen teachers very frustrated because they know what a child needs but cannot provide it based on the requirements that are dictated by school boards or other entities. The ever present standards and requirements are like the little devil on the shoulder saying, "You can't go out of your way for this child. You'll get in trouble." I feel very sorry for most teachers in this position.

On the other hand, John Taylor Gatto was in the same position. His philosophy, however, seemed to be that the child's individual needs were more important than the mandates of the school boards. Because of his approach to teaching, he won some very notable awards. It's unfortunate there aren't more teachers like him. However, schools are not likely to attract risk-takers. The risk-takers are the ones more likely to pull their children out of school.

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