Expansion vs Acceleration

iVillage Member
Registered: 02-17-2004
Expansion vs Acceleration
Thu, 01-03-2013 - 8:53pm

The board has been pretty slow lately as a pp mentioned.  I'd love some good discussion on the expansion versus acceleration topic.  I've noticed on the gifted boards acceleration seems to be popular with parents.  However, when talking to the schools and teachers who are friends (i.e. DS not in their class or school), the consensus seems to be that going wider and staying at grade level is better than advancing beyond a year.  Our particular school situation refuses to allow acceleration beyond 18 months.  Thoughts?

iVillage Member
Registered: 12-06-2010
Fri, 01-04-2013 - 4:45am

Acceleration is probably necessary to a certain extent, but the problem I see is that it can't provide more than a partial solution to the "problem".  If you have a third grade child reading on a tenth grade level, accelerating the child two or even three grades is not going to even things out. And then you'll have the age difference as an added issue.

I know a few gifted children with different stories and school experiences. One was forced to skip a grade - I believe second grade - and has continued to earn only straight A's straight through to high school. The other two are just as exceptional in school but have remained in the same class. I think they all face similar issues of boredom, feeling different and weird, not being challenged. The grade skip probably helped the one student to bridge a bit of time at an age when kids can't sit still for very long, though.

All three of them participate in challenging extracurricular activities like musicals, honors band, Odyssey of the Mind. They end up travelling and missing school to meet the requirements of these programs and end up having an added challenge through these activities. Also, they invariably complete their projects with a depth and focus that the other students lack. Subjects like reading, writing, history and science can have an endless depth with the right teaching and guidance.

I think these children get used to learning on their own from a very young age. I'm not sure this is a bad thing, really. It's probably something to focus on in the early years so  - both how to self-study and how to speak up when ready for a new challenge.

iVillage Member
Registered: 04-16-2001
Sat, 01-05-2013 - 9:52am

Wow, seems like maybe something is fixed here!  Did not have to sign in twice (in fact kept me signed in)!  Yay!

As pp states, there is no perfect solution.  The problem with acceleration is that the pace of learning may be no different, at least until the child gets to advanced high school classes.  The advantage to acceleration is that it may help for a while by presenting novel material and, of course, gets the child into advanced material more quickly.

Expansion, if done correctly, can also help.  But in many (most?) situations it is not done well.  The "expansion" is to do more of the same, not different harder work.  Our school instituted differentiated learning.  One area in which they tried this was in spelling.  The kids took a pre-test.  If they got all the words correct, they were given harder words to learn.  So what did the smarter kids do after a while?  Some would purposefully miss-spell some of the harder words so they did not have to study the harder words and could easily get 100 on their spelling test.  OTOH, in math, the teacher would substitue homework so that the advanced kids would not have to do more problems, but only the more challenging ones. 

The key is to substitute, not add, work.  In our elementary GT program kids were taken out for one day per week.  Most teachers did not require the students to make up the work missed in class which was how the program was supposed to work. There were some things that had to be done, like a project or writing, but not the everyday worksheets or math problem sets.   The kids had to do the homework which was usually minimal.  Every year at meetings, however, some parents complained that the teachers were sending home all the classwork.  Of course the kids felt like they were being punished for going to GT.  Eventually, this got resolved. 

Then there were the grading complaints from parents - why should my kid get a worse grade because they are doing harder work than the kids that have the "easy" stuff - which of course may not be easy for them. 

Sometimes the schools may think the easiest thing to do is to accelerate the students but not change the way the material is taught.

There are also issues with being the youngest by far in a classroom - especially in a large urban or suburban school.  Many 10yos in a high school class are going to feel quite lonely.  Some kids love this and are happy, but others, especially as puberty hits, may feel out of place.  Having the opportunity to stay with age-mates or be accelerated by only a year or two, AND receive alternative work seems like the best solution, IMHO!

iVillage Member
Registered: 02-17-2004
Sat, 01-05-2013 - 3:59pm

Hmmm - the arguement for substitution is very interesting.  In certain areas, I can see where you can substitute the work to create a challenge.  Some other subjects, less so.  Interesting.

I too find the schools around here (we are highly recommended private) tend to "enrich" and 1 grade acceleration.  In the higher grades (starting around 5th), they overload with tremendous amounts of work that only the really bright or very organized will manage to shine.  Not more challenging concepts, just that much busy work.

I had hoped Gwen's experience with a gifted school had a different approach.

Avatar for turtletime
iVillage Member
Registered: 05-13-1998
Sat, 01-05-2013 - 5:58pm

I think I need a more clear explanation of "expansion." It's not a term we've heard at school and I'm not coming up with much on a web search. How does this differ from having an open-ended curriculum, differentiation or enrichment? Perhaps it's not different... just a shinier term lol. If that's the case, I think every child on the planet benefits from it, gifted or not. The freedom to read more, write more, learn more in depth in any area a child takes interest is invaluable. However, for it to truly work, it needs to be a school philosophy and available to all. Our local district is pretty good at it but from what we've seen, heard and experienced in other districts, it's not something many schools do well. If expansion is what was defined in the other post... taking several different ways to learn a single piece on information, all I can see is a lot of repetition on a skill already mastered for the gifted child. 

Acceleration is a great tool but it's not something that can be used alone. We don't know any accelerated kids who haven't needed continued and varied accomodations over the years. I think it's popular with parents because it's a more tangible option that relies less on the quality of teacher from year to year.

iVillage Member
Registered: 07-23-2002
Sat, 01-05-2013 - 9:35pm

I'm assuming that by expansion you mean the stuff that's still subject-related but isn't a question of moving faster through the same curriculum? So some kinds of enrichment would count as expansion -- but not, say, doing robotics with GT kids instead of phonics with the Kindys which would wouldn't really constitute "expansion" on that basic literacy stuff. And most open-ended project oriented work would be expansion? And most differentiation would be considered expansion?

I'm coming at this as an unschooling parent, from outside the school paradigm. So I'm looking at what naturally happened in our home and trying to figure out whether it was mostly acceleration or mostly expansion. And really, it's hard to call most of it one or the other. In general we didn't do much curriculum, so the idea of "moving faster through a prescribed curriculum" was never really what we were shooting for. Our home-learning style is definitely an interest-led, open-ended, free-ranging one, and I never wanted to push my kids to learn quickly. I wanted them to learn well. So philosophically I think we were mostly shooting for expansion.

But the thing is, expansion almost always resulted in a side effect of acceleration. For instance, I'd point my child towards some sort of enrichment in, say, math. Learning about logic gates, the Japanese abacus, origami or tesselations. And I'd feel relief that this little tyke who had been asking about long division and algebra had now been distracted up a bunch of rabbit trails. And for six months they'd happily build in 3D with paper, tape and scissors and not touch any math curriculum. And then they'd pick up the formal math again and I'd discover that they had somehow magically mastered the upcoming year's worth of material. Surprised 

So looking at my kids in their K-8 years, when they were very much gifted "natural learners" I'd have to say that what was optimal for them was a mixture of both, and in fact it's probably rather artificial to draw a distinction between the two. The teaching can be acceleration-oriented, but the learning will probably be a mix of acceleration and expansion. The teaching can be exlusively expansion-oriented, but the learning will probably again be a mix of both. Gifted kids generally can't help it: regardless of teaching style they learn more quickly and with more depth. 

Problems will probably arise if one or the other approach is used in an attempt to exclude all need for the other. I mean, you can't just give a 5-year-old reading at a high school level an open-ended short-vowel-sound phonics assignment and expect that her literacy needs will be met. She will also want to be reading Harry Potter and Wind in the Willows. 

One other problem I noticed with radical acceleration is that the workload and maturity demands of available curricular resources can exceed what a young gifted learner is capable of coping with. My eldest had the language arts skills for college-level essays at age 9 or 10, but she didn't have the planning, self-assessment and editorial skills to actually pull them off -- nowhere close! My youngest was conceptually ready for quadratic equations at age 9, but there was no curriculum format that actually laid the learning out systematically at anything other than a very introductory level for child of that age: most textbooks and computer learning systems were intended for kids 11 or 12 at least. So radical acceleration does tend to meet up with some natural limits even if there are no policy constraints on it.

Anyway, I guess the gist of what I'm saying is that while "going wider and staying at grade level" sounds tidy on paper, the reality is that kids who go wider don't stay at grade level, and teachers are probably kidding themselves if they believe that gifted students' learning needs are being optimally met with just that adjustment.


in rural BC, Canada
mom to three great kids and one great grown-up
unschooler, violist, runner, doc 

iVillage Member
Registered: 04-16-2001
Tue, 01-22-2013 - 10:31am

Expansion may be enrichment that is more focused on the curriculum at hand.  No method is perfect and no child will respond appropriately to all methods.  We are a public school family and have seen the "gifted" program morpth from a purely enrichment to a hybrid of expansion and acceleration, with "differentiation".  Both have been somewhat successful and yet have flaws. 

In our schools, differentiation is often about choice - a student can choose the more advanced project or the easier one.  If left to their devices, my gifted boys would typically pick the project that advoided writing to the extent possible.  If given a choice of reading material, they may choose to do the book report on the easier book, even if they read the more challenging one for pleasure.  Why do more work if you don't have to?  For some kids, (and not to generalize but in my experience more often girls than boys), they want to do the more challenging assignment and be the best at everything.  Others don't. 

Miranda is spot on with the issue of ability to understand radically accelerated material, but not the skills to meet curricular demands.  

There are no easy answers - at least I have yet to see any education system (including homeschooling), that can completely meet every child's educational and social needs at all times.  But maybe that is OK.  Maybe we only need to meet most of their needs, and some of their wants, to have them grow up happy, healthy and reasonably successful.