Sunday, May 3, 2015

Reflections on reading habits, skipped grades, and gifted kids

I read very early as a kid, my parents say by the time I turned 3.  As a result, when I started kindergarten and everyone was just learning to write individual letters, I was bored.

My school in Tennessee started out by putting me in the first grade reading group every day, but eventually (I don't actually know how long it took) they moved me up into first grade entirely.  I stayed a grade ahead from then onward, even when we moved to Colorado the summer before second grade.

So I have a vested interest in articles like this one:

Skip A Grade? Start Kindergarten Early? It's Not So Easy

The article talks about how a lot of schools no longer allow kids to skip a grade, or even start school early if they're just barely younger than the cutoff date for birthdays -- and it's even harder to start kindergarten early.

That study notes that 20 states specifically prohibit children from entering kindergarten early. And, that while few states prevent whole grade-skipping, those that allow it often make it very difficult — usually with extensive testing requirements.

"The consequences of holding high-achieving children back are pretty serious," says Tracy Cross, the president of the National Association of Gifted Children (NAGC) and a contributor to the "A Nation Empowered" report.

Cross says that when high-achieving children aren't challenged, they get bored and run the risk of becoming disengaged.
I can definitely relate.  In fact, I think I was bored despite having skipped a grade.  I think it only temporarily resolved the problem, and that I need to continue to learn at an accelerated rate in order to remain engaged and challenged, and there just isn't (or at least wasn't when I was a kid) a program that would have provided that.

Instead, I read in class all the time.  It took years before the teachers started calling me on it.

The other thing that the article discusses is the myth that skipping a grade will put kids more at a disadvantage than it actually helps them.
A 2006 study found that the youngest students in a given class, at first, do indeed struggle to keep up. But as time goes on, differences in achievement fade away.

Another study, from 2012, found that the youngest students from a given cohort begin outperforming their classmates by the time they reach college. The researchers theorized that their youth turned from a disadvantage to an advantage. They believed these youngest students had developed grit, persistence and an ability to handle adversity at an early age, which paid off down the road.
I love the second paragraph here, because it shows that being at a disadvantage is not the end of the world for your gifted child.  Parents worry that if things don't come easily for their kids, that the kids will become discouraged and lose their self-esteem, but actually the opposite is true.  Working hard to achieve something is what builds self-esteems, not just having it happen for you easily.  Other studies have actually shown that parents who give their kids unlimited love with absolutely no expectations or challenges actually raise kids with lower self-esteem, not higher.

These findings could also be extrapolated to indicate that red-shirting kids -- holding them back so that they're bigger, more mature, and further ahead than their classmates -- could also backfire.  I know one kid who was red-shirted, and at 12 he is not really all that motivated.  He's never learned to work hard because he doesn't have to.

This post seems like it's off-topic, but I don't think it actually is.  Most gifted kids are also avid readers.  In fact, I think that's usually when people realize they are gifted, since it's the earliest indication that they're ahead of their classmates.  Personally, though, I think the best thing parents of a gifted child can do is to encourage reading.  Reading is where kids will find what they're missing in school (at least in my experience).  Reading teaches so much more than school can in that respect, especially when you're reading a new book every couple of days.

What about you?  Were you an avid reader as a kid?  Did you feel, as I did, that reading provided as much or more education as what you got in school?

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