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Radical Acceleration

Gifted Education and Support

This article is from a Young Scholar seminar hosted by Professor Miraca Gross, who delivers some informational tips on radical acceleration.

Author: Gross, M.
Organization: Davidson Institute for Talent Development
Year: 2002

Radical acceleration is defined as a process of academic acceleration through which a young person graduates from college three or more years earlier than is customary. Young people undertaking such a process should be very highly able both intellectually and academically, and should have high levels of social and emotional maturity. Research suggests that radical acceleration is very much more effective with exceptionally and profoundly gifted young people (IQ 160+) than with the moderately gifted.

Because children of IQ 160+ appear so rarely in the population, and because they differ from each other almost as much as they differ from their age-peers of average ability, there are no “fixed rules” regarding their education and upbringing, and the following comments should be taken as guidelines only. They are, however, guidelines influenced by educational and psychological research on gifted young people who have been radically accelerated.

  • There is no “one right path” of radical acceleration. Each child is unique, with different learning patterns and different emotional needs. However in general a series of single or double accelerative steps with a period of consolidation after each may be preferable to a large grade skip or subject acceleration of several years.
  • With any form of acceleration, there should be a trial period of several weeks during which teachers, parents and the child himself/herself should meet at least twice to review the situation and evaluate which aspects of the acceleration are working well, which could work better and which are not yet working. Most well-planned programs of radical acceleration are highly successful. However, where problems do exist, these should be discussed frankly and ways sought to work around them. If problems are insurmountable and the acceleration must be discontinued it must be made clear to all concerned that the child has not “failed”; rather that the planned program has not been appropriate for this particular child at this particular time. It is also important that some other intervention be set in place to meet the child’s academic and social needs, which still exist just as they did before the acceleration.
  • It can be useful, before gifted children are accelerated, for them to have “visiting rights” for a few weeks in the grade into which they will be advanced. The child may spend a day or two, or an afternoon or two, per week with the prospective class and teacher, to ensure that they feel comfortable with the level of work which will be offered and to give them a chance to meet and socialise with prospective new classmates.
  • This also gives the child a good answer to the inevitable “Why are you here?” questions from the other kids – “Well, I’ve been doing sixth-grade (or whatever) work in my present class and I wanted to see what it’s like doing it with other sixth-graders.” Then, when she actually enrolls in the class she can say, “Well I really like being here and it’s more fun doing the work with you guys than by myself so (the teacher) and (the principal) agreed I could be with you full time.”
  • “Visiting rights” can be particularly helpful where a child who has been home-schooled for several years is considering re-entering the school system and the parents are unsure as to how s/he will react to being with large groups of other young people. Parents of longterm home-schoolers may want to investigate the possibility of part-time schooling or even enrollment in school full time for a year or more, to give the student the opportunity to learn the large-group social skills which will certainly be necessary when s/he goes to high school or college.
  • Each of us – adult or child – develops a repertoire of social behaviors on which we draw in different social situations. We learn to behave differently according to where we are, who we are with, and what we are doing. Young people who are radically accelerated have to develop an even wider repertoire of social behaviors than do their age-peers of average ability. For example, a 10-year-old who is undertaking a high school or college course will find that behaviors which are accepted by age-peers may not be accepted by his/her older classmates. Older students – and teachers or professors – who disapprove of acceleration will be on the lookout for “immature behavior” which might seem to support their concerns. A useful maxim is, “Act your educational age.” If you still enjoy some toys, books, games or jokes that are more appropriate to your chronological age, that’s great but keep them for when you are with chronological peers. If you bring them to high school or college, your new classmates will find it difficult to take you seriously.
  • Like all children, students who have been accelerated may have moments (or longer periods!) of boredom, doubt or even disenchantment. Many gifted children have a passionate love of learning – Dante called it “The mind in love” – and the first few weeks of experiencing work at a level and pace that allows one’s mind to soar can be so exhilarating that minor irritations are blocked out. Once the child has become accustomed to the level and pace of the new work, the minor irritations may intrude and the glow may diminish a little. That is when work tasks which are less than stimulating, personality clashes with teachers or peer pressure from classmates (which didn’t seem so intrusive in the first few glorious weeks) start to loom larger in the child’s mind. They may even attribute the diminuation of the “achievement glow” to a lessening of their ability, and they may even start to doubt their ability or even their capacity to succeed in the course they are enrolled in. Parents need to discuss these issues sensitively but frankly.
  • A friend whose profoundly gifted 15-year-old son recently entered college described three types of response she receives from people who hear the news. The first type is truly kind: genuinely happy, understanding and hopeful. My friend describes it as “The kind of response that comes from a person who is solid enough in his or her own view of the world and self that he or she can be outwardly glad that another has succeeded somehow.” The second kind is totally confused – trying to be happy and feeling obligated to offer some congratulations, but genuinely puzzled as to why good, loving parents would allow such an oddball plan to evolve? The third kind focuses very briefly on Rick’s success and then swiftly passes to the success of another kid – usually another teen – who outdid Rick in some way. My friend calls it “C squared,” standing for “Competitive Congratulations.” It’s ugly, it’s snide, and it’s meant to dull your pleasure in your own child’s success. Don’t allow it to do that. If something great happens for your child and you experience the C Squared form of congratulation, try not to “bite.” Rather, do as my friend does – say to the speaker, “Hey, isn’t that great!” And mean it. Your child, after all, has succeeded. And at the very least your reaction may make the speaker think again.



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