Friday, December 16, 2016

Seabury is research driven education

One of the hallmarks of appropriate education for gifted students is acceleration and compacting curriculum.
The concerns I sometime hear are:
"If my child moves quickly through this or skips it, then do they really know it?"
"Would they do better in a prep program where emphasis is on drilling certain skills?"
These concerns are especially prevalent in mathematics, but research on gifted students shows these concerns are unfounded. A 2013 longitudinal study found gifted students who were accelerated one grade were more likely to obtain high-level degrees, publish work, and receive patents in STEM areas.

2. You might think working with older students might cause difficulties with friendship making, but again research shows overall self-concept and friendships for accelerated students are improved by the process. In addition, compacting curriculum, meaning not repeatedly practicing things students already know, does not cause any dips in test scores on SATs and other standardized tests, but instead reduces frustration and boredom which lead to underachievement.

Students across grade-level doing the same work.
2. How does this play out in Seabury middle school? As a teacher I've learned, meeting students where they're at is best for all learners. This is exactly the program we run at Seabury. We have highly talented mathematicians at the middle school. Grade-level does not come into play when determining our groupings. We have sixth graders who test into geometry and algebra I, and that is where we group them. We also have students who test into lower levels, and they a grouped there. Our goal is finding ways to help each student grow, by providing them with the most challenging experience they are ready for. The caveat for this is that we are not just trying to challenge them with more work. Many programs operate under the bad idea that gifted children should do more work. "Sally does one sheet of math, but Billy is gifted so he should do two." Nothing frustrates a child more than the unfairness of that situation. No one likes more work. We do not to push kids into this unfair situation, but to create work that does not insult their intelligence.

Students working on High School Geometry
The level of differentiation at Seabury is intense. Differentiation, a catch word in the education biz, is often paid lip service, but seldom lived up to, especially in the direction of acceleration. I know as the parent of a twice-exceptional child, that getting more challenging work at a public school is a battle. My son at age 4 could read a newspaper to you and explain the article, yet he needed to show his teacher five times he could identify "A" says "ah, ah, ah," before he could more on. Eventually, he got so bored, he started writing his own little assignments in the margins of the paper. Truly differentiating for each individual student is challenging for teachers. It requires a gifted and knowledgeable staff, and it requires you to be flexible and thoughtful.

For me, Seabury keeps me on my toes more than any other teaching job. Staying a few steps ahead of students who have minds that make the quantum leaps that Seabury kids do is a constant exercise in critical thinking. But, as a once gifted child myself, I love it.

 Jared MacKenzie, Seabury math science teacher

(1) Park, G., Lubinski, D., & Benbow, C. P. (2013). When less is more: Effects of grade skipping on adult STEM productivity among mathematically precocious adolescents. Journal of Educational Psychology, 105, 176–198.

(2) Lee, S. Y., Olszewski-Kubilius, P., & Thomson, D. T. (2012). Academically gifted students perceived interpersonal competence and peer relationships. Gifted Child Quarterly, 56, 90–104