When students are ready for next year’s content and thinking, we should move them ahead. This is called acceleration and is a best-practice in differentiation.
How Most Folks Implement Acceleration
Acceleration can mean skipping a whole grade, but most folks implement acceleration on a subject-specific level.
- Judy is in 4th grade, but her pre-assessments show that she’s ready for next year’s math. She goes to Mr. Ramirez’s 5th-grade class for math then returns to her regular class for the rest of the day.
- Midge and Juan are ready for a novel study, but the rest of the 2nd-grade class is not. Midge and Juan travel to Mrs. Chan’s 4th-grade class during this part of the day. Then they return.
Simple. Cheap. Minimal extra work for teachers. They didn’t have to buy a new program. They didn’t have to send teachers to a special training camp. They didn’t have to create a bunch of lessons and projects. All you need are teachers who are willing to line their schedules up and accept a few extra kids for an hour.
I once visited a new school. They had students who would skip to the next grade during math. After a year of doing this, they realized some kids could skip two grades. So they did. Eventually, as the new school got older, they hit the upper limit of grade-levels. 4th graders were ready for 6th-grade math, but there was no 6th-grade at the school. SO! They walked across the street to the middle school where a lovely teacher graciously accepted these 4th graders for one period.
Did the kids get beat up? Of course not. This was well planned out. The two principals agreed on it. The teachers involved agreed on it. The parents involved agreed on it. The middle school teacher prepared her own students for the 4th graders. The regular teacher prepared his students for being on a middle school campus.
Flexible folks can make all kinds of acceleration work.
But Also, Yes, Kids Can Skip A Whole Grade
So yes, single-subject acceleration is easy, simple, and cheap (as long as the adults are willing to make it work). But, whole-grade-skipping is also a possibility!
I skipped a bunch of my year-one college courses because I took so many AP classes. We celebrate those high school graduates who enter college as sophomores. They proved they could do it by passing their AP exams. And we can do the same for much younger students.
I taught 6th grade and once had a student skip 5th grade and enter my classroom. She was incredible. A joy to teach. Aced everything I threw at her.
The big problem? No one at our school received any training on how to deal with acceleration.
Teachers, Parents, and Administrators Need A Plan
The principal ok’d this student’s whole-grade acceleration and then… disappeared. So, I had no administrative support. I had never dealt with this before. The other teachers gossiped about my student (no joke). Her old friends didn’t hang out with her. I struggled to introduce her to her new classmates. Her mom was worried.
Now, the kid was fine (I swear she could have skipped on to 7th grade and been fine), but our program was terrible!
By the end of the year it was all under control, but just a simple “all the stakeholders should read this (free!) book” would have solved our problems.
Everyone involved needs a plan when accelerating, whether it’s one subject or an entire grade.
Some people have a weirdly strong negative reaction to the idea of students moving at an appropriate pace for them. I was once one of them!
Why? Well… it’s embarrassing, but these were my actual reasons for disapproving of acceleration:
- my uncle skipped a grade and then was small and also couldn’t drive to prom because he was too young
- on TV shows, grade-skippers are always small and nerdy and get picked on.
Seriously. Upon reflection, those were my real reasons. But those are also the most common arguments I’ve heard against acceleration from other people!
Everyone knows someone who knows someone who once heard of someone who skipped a grade and it was terrible!
Luckily, we don’t make educational decisions based on random anecdotes. See, mu uncle’s acceleration was done very poorly. No one was really on board, he had a very unusual home life, and it was back in the 1960s! Using him as a reason not to accelerate is like saying you won’t eat pizza because the one pizza you tried twenty years ago (which was undercooked in a microwave) was gross. But that wasn’t really pizza – just as my uncle’s experience wasn’t really acceleration.
But Grade-Skippers Are Doomed To Be Tiny Nerds!
TV shows and movies like to show us that kids who skip a grade are tiny and nerdy and get beat up every day. They have no friends and only their calculator understands them.
Luckily, we also don’t make educational decisions based on pop-culture portrayals. Kids who are ready for next year’s thinking are also ready to hang out with kids a year older than them. My own student who skipped a grade had no problem talking with kids a year older than her. This was a 10-year-old who could engage me in a delightful conversation. She probably had way more trouble socializing with her age-level peers. That’s why acceleration was good for her. We moved her to a more appropriate group.
Lots of Evidence
Want to know why acceleration is a best-practice? There’s been tons of research into whether it works or not. Yes, beyond those random anecdotes everyone has.
The document A Nation Empowered reports on research into acceleration. It’s free to download as a PDF or you can order hard-copies.
The National Association for Gifted Children has these acceleration policy guidelines.
Here’s a summary from Johns-Hopkins’ findings:
These articles are a small sample of the research that has been done at Hopkins, and the results have answered the question “Is acceleration harmful?” with a resounding “no.” Studies of groups of students who were accelerated in subject matter and/or grade placement strongly support acceleration as an effective and important vehicle for advancing the academic knowledge and motivation of talented students. Academic achievement among accelerants is high without concomitant social and emotional problems.
Want To Try It?
Want to try acceleration? Start small. Find teachers who are willing to help students. Accelerate for one subject with just a few kids. Call it a pilot program. Keep it short (one unit, one novel, one month, etc). Make sure to get everyone on board first, including all teachers, parents, administrators, and (yes) the students themselves.
Differentiation information in your inbox.
I'll send you one or two emails a month to help you better understand and differentiate for gifted students.Get free resources now!