The Dos and Don'ts of Acceleration: Challenging Advanced Students

Monday, February 2, 2015 -- Scott Sterling

Problem: You have a room full of smart students. Yes, there are worse problems to have in education, but advanced students come with their own challenges. It takes talent and creativity to make sure they reach their full potential, especially if you’re teaching regular ed classes and have to differentiate.

Solutions: Like most problems, there are some things that can be done that will really help, and there are others that will actually widen the gulf between the advanced students and their classmates or create issues you didn’t have before.

  • Do: Make assessment a priority
  • Do: Collaborate with parents
  • Do: Be flexible with assignments
  • Don’t: Just give them more work
  • Don’t: Use advanced students as tutors

Do: Make assessment a priority

Differentiation requires a solid commitment to formative assessment. Trying just to hit the students in the middle won’t work for a variety of reasons—the major one being that average students don’t exist. You should know the strengths and abilities of every student in the classroom at any one time, especially regarding the material you are currently presenting.

Remember, assessment doesn’t always have to be formal. Make informal strategies your best friend. Also, enlist some technology to ease the burden.

Do: Collaborate with parents

Parents with advanced or gifted students are often some of the best advocates in the school. That can be a blessing or a curse, but approach these parents as collaborators.

In particular, they know what their children are interested in better than you do. They can help gather materials that will enrich the student’s learning and challenge them more than some of the materials you might have in your classroom.

Do: Be flexible with assignments

When these kinds of supplementary materials come in, you might have to modify your plans. Get used to it. If advanced students are engaged in their learning, they will focus intently until it is mastered. That takes a lot of feeding their hunger. Also, start working more toward open-ended assignments. Projects and due dates are fine, but they also give advanced students targets to meet and exceed (and then potentially get bored). If you’re having trouble filling their time, look into some supplemental technology that can adapt to their needs.

Don’t: Just give them more work

Giving advanced students more work just to fill the time until the other students are done is counterproductive. You’re basically punishing smart students for being smart. Rigor doesn’t mean more work; it means work that is more challenging and that will force students to be more creative. If you assign tasks like that, they shouldn’t need more work.

Don’t: Use advanced students as tutors

When students finish tasks early, many teachers ask them to help the other students who are struggling. If they like to do this on their own, that’s one thing. However, facilitating this kind of tutoring can give the advanced students the idea that they are something more than regular students, which can have behavioral side effects (“teachers” don’t have to follow the rules, etc.). Advanced students’ biggest struggle will be trying to fit in. You’re just making them stand out more with this kind of strategy.

Interested in learning more about Edmentum’s solutions for advanced students? Check out this video about how schools in Pennsylvania and Arizona are successfully using Study Island for acceleration!