In gifted education, there are two major approaches – acceleration or enrichment. Acceleration just means moving more quickly through the stages of the curriculum. So, if during a typical year, a typical student would do levels one through three of a subject, gifted kids would get through four levels, and end the year ahead of their age peers. Enrichment, or the horizontal approach, adds breadth and depth to each level, either through additional content or with project-based learning which enhances understanding. Children stay at the same overall level as their age peers (which can help with social interaction or ability in sports) but have learned about each topic more deeply.
Acceleration can be done by just skipping ahead and starting at a higher level, or by “compacting” the curriculum by teaching the same content more quickly. (Gifted kids may understand something in the first pass that takes more repetition and drilling down for other kids.)
This can be very helpful for gifted kids.
When you understand the new information at first glance, and you then have to sit through the teacher explaining it and re-explaining it to other children, it can be supremely frustrating and exhausting! A lot of gifted kids actually end up dropping out of school due to this boredom / waste of time factor. So, moving faster can help to keep them more engaged. But, in the end, the kids are pretty much learning nothing beyond what the other kids learned. They just learned it faster. So, maybe they graduate from high school at age 16 instead of age 18. But not much else is changed.
Enrichment …. ‘refers to richer and more varied educational experiences, a curriculum that is modified to provide greater depth and breadth than is generally provided’ (Davis & Rimm, 2004, p.120). … It has often been said of the American school system that with the content standard movement we take a mile wide and an inch-deep approach. We have so many content standards to get through that we just skim the surface and have difficulty getting students to a place where they have an enduring understanding about the content. With enrichment, even though the content standards are all covered, because gifted students usually get the basic understanding fairly quickly, the teacher can go more into depth regarding the topic, digging deeper than your typical classroom. What this might look like is the teacher has a brief explanation on how vibrations cause sound and then allows the students to conduct experiments and put this idea to the test. Or a math teacher who after the class gets the gist of what she wants them to know, might do a project exploring the standard further or ask them to find a way to apply this to real life.(Source)
I will be the first to admit that acceleration is easier to accomplish. Most teachers can do it successfully. Enrichment takes more effort and skill on the part of the teacher, more advocacy by the parent, and more engagement by the child. It can easily fail.
“Enrichment” is often just provided by handing kids some logic puzzles to work on, or by a teacher-led extra project to work on. These can feel like busywork and not really enhance learning all that much. Not all teachers are able or willing to provide effective enrichment. I found with my kids that in some years, I had to acknowledge that school was boring and slow but they just had to make it through, and we focused on lots of fun and challenging extra-curriculars.
Enrichment is better when a teacher is thinking really intentionally about broadening and deepening the learning. Whatever the main curriculum is for the class, the teacher finds a way to challenge the kids who are up to it – perhaps by assigning hands-on projects that use the skills they’re learning, or challenging them to take a written assignment to a higher level, or encouraging them to read additional materials related to the primary topic.
The most effective enrichment is child-led… when the child has a passion and the teacher gives them the opportunity to explore it and push their learning in that area.
Here are just a few examples of how enrichment has worked well for children that I know:
- A child had basically taught himself to read and to do math at age 3, so academics were advanced. Instead of pushing him further ahead in those areas, his parents had him spend his preschool years in programs that built social skills, emotional intelligence, and physical agility and strength.
- A four year old had a passion for learning about space. So, he was in a part-time preschool to build his general skills, but his parents also took him to the library for space books, watched shows about space, and built solar system models together.
- A kindergartener who was a solid reader was asked by the teacher to read to the other children – it developed her mastery, and was a great model for the other kids. She also read books about their shared interests which helped her build friendships.
- A first grade teacher knew her students all had different skills and challenges, so several times each year, she gave hands-on projects that she could help them adapt to best engage them and help them grow where they most needed to grow.
- A second grader who was able to finish her work quickly asked for, and got, her teacher’s permission to always keep a book and some art supplies nearby so she had things to keep her busy and engaged while her classmates finished their work.
- A school district offered a pull out gifted program where one day a week, children from several neighborhood schools were all gathered together for an enrichment program that had project-based learning – while working as teams toward a common goal, the kids deepened their knowledge of the topics they were learning in their neighborhood school.
- A middle schooler found that school didn’t fully challenge him, but then he had a woodshop teacher who gave him the freedom to choose projects. During 8th grade, he built a bed, a dresser, and lots more. In the process, he built on his knowledge of math, design, planning and budgeting and more. He ended up as a pediatrician, but still does woodworking on the side.
- Another middle schooler spent hours working on projects for her robotics team.
- A high schooler started a small business selling their crafts on Etsy.
- A high schooler enrolled in the fullest load of the most advanced classes her school offered, but was still able to complete all the work in a short amount of time. So, on the side, she volunteered for 20 hours a week in health care.
When I’m thinking about enrichment for kids who need an extra challenge, I have a few approaches that guide me. First, I think about hands-on options – what could they build, sew, bake, draw… that would deepen their learning? I think about following their passions – how can we take that interest and turn it into a project that will challenge them to learn and grow? I also think about all the areas of development – where do they most need to grow and about the multiple intelligences – where could they be stronger?
Acceleration just helps kids learn the same things as other kids learn – just more quickly. But enrichment can lead to really interesting experiences that make for a more interesting human being, in my opinion.