SKIPPING A GRADE (ACCELERATION)
Acceleration (“skipping”) could be a good solution, but it bears some risks:
- The gifted student is separated from her age group
- Pressure to adapt/ increasing risk of being an outsider or stigmatized
- Critical moments during puberty
- Depending on the IQ value, the gifted student may catch up very fast and feel underexerted or bored again.
Chances and risks need to be estimated for the individual student. If skipping a grade seems like an adequate solution, you need to consider the following aspects:
- Do not put pressure on the student to decide whether or not to make the move
- Attitude of the teacher in the future class (best predictor of a successful acceleration)
- Social climate in the future class
- Do students, teachers and parents have a positive attitude towards acceleration? Are they willing to provide active support?
- Creating a four-week trial period
I recommend developing an individual integration concept that addresses the following topics:
- Creating realistic expectations
- Regular exchange/ counselling with the school during the integration process
- Who will be informed about the student’s giftedness and how? How will the student be introduced?
- Is there a contact person in the new class?
- How do we arrange study sessions for catching up with last year’s material?
- How do we soothe potential frustration in the beginning?
- How will the expected group dynamics be handled? You need to estimate:
- How relevant is academic performance for status in the new class?
- Will giftedness be perceived as a threat or means to dominate?
- How is the physical appearance of the new student?
- Whose role will change through the gifted student and how (e.g. the best student’s)? Especially when it is to be expected that the affected student will need to give up an attractive role or status, you need to consider how to monitor and guide group dynamics wisely.
Jumping a grade once is beneficial in the vast majority of the cases.
Jumping a grade twice usually comes with particular challenges: It can be quite difficult for the gifted student to fit in with the new learning group due to them being in a different stage of puberty than their new peers. Depending on their age, the students in the new learning group might also have more legal rights, which can complicate things further. If the child adapts to the older students, conflicts within the family, e.g. about age-appropriate privileges, might occur. Another problem might be the fact that, after jumping a grade twice, the student will sit their final examinations during the peak of puberty. These challenges occur often, but not always, when students jump twice. However, even if those challenges occur, jumping twice can still be the best solution for a child. There is no universal recommendation here. Rather, the decision will always have to be made individually for each child.
When jumping a grade (once or twice) there is always a risk that students in the new learning group, who might realise that the gifted child exceeds them in their intellectual abilities, react with envy and/or rejection (see also ambivalence dilemma and social skills). Managing the group dynamics in the new learning group is of great importance in these cases.
When children jump several grades at once, this risk is often reduced as the gifted child obviously has such a special role that a comparison seems futile. Many older students tend to treat a significantly younger child with care while still valuing it as an intellectually interesting partner. Especially among highly gifted children jumping several grades at once or repeated jumping as soon as the child is unchallenged can be a good solution. In these cases, it is important to keep in mind that the child should be given the opportunity to come/stay in contact with children of the same age. The child might not show much interest in such an exchange for a long time, but might change its mind, e.g. at the beginning of puberty when certain interests shift and arise. Highly gifted students missing certain topics/topic areas when jumping a grade mostly doesn’t pose a problem. They are usually able to catch up quite quickly and can also compensate sufficiently for what they have missed.
If you decide against skipping, these are some possible alternatives:
- Partial Acceleration: the student will only take specific classes from higher grades
- Attending a class of gifted students
- Bilingual schools/ classes
- Private or home schooling: Here, you need to consider that there are almost no appropriate teachers and that the student will be taken away from society/ peers.
- Extracurricular activities (competitions, clubs, seminars, studying or taking university classes before graduation)
- Doing an exchange year abroad
© Frauke Niehues