Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Gifted Curriculum and Why I Don't Use It

I am often asked why I don't use 'Gifted' curriculum with the kids. Why piece together Language Arts instead of using a Language Arts program created for Gifted kids? Why piece together their Science & History instead of finding something for Gifted kids? Why didn't I start both kids on a 'Gifted' Math curriculum?

The answer is almost always the same - I don't like them. I have looked at many curricula written for, aimed at, or marketed to Gifted kids. I have looked over samples and read the articles on the sites (especially if they provide info on the creator/writer's experience with & philosophy on Gifted education). It generally comes down to one simple fact, I don't like them. They are often dull. They are often too easy. They often talk down to the child or dumb down the information. They are usually overpriced.

Sometimes, it's the methodology I don't like. Sometimes, it's the philosophy. Sometimes, the content is just too simplistic. Whatever the reason, I find other (and better) ways to educate my kids.

For instance, I have often looked at the Michael Clay Thompson Language Arts Curriculum. I have gone back & forth considering it. I have looked at samples, read the site, read reviews, and asked about it on forums. This last time I looked at it, though, I think I finally made up my mind. I will not be using it. It's not that I don't think it will work. It's just that I don't think it will work for my kids. First, I don't appreciate programs that tell me what my kids should read. I don't have lists of required books before high school level courses. I have already chosen the books my eldest will read for the remainder of her high school English courses. I also have a running list of ideas for my youngest's high school required reading. It will likely change over the years, as he reads half of what is on the list well before hitting high school (that's what my eldest did). Second, I don't feel the need for formal poetry study each year. Third, I don't like the samples for the vocabulary. Plus, we have our own way of doing vocabulary, and the kids study Latin, which helps with vocabulary (and takes away any need for a Latin based vocab program like in the MCT materials). Fourth, the 3rd grade Grammar book looks like it was written for toddlers. My kids would be irritated with me if I bought something like that for them at that age. Besides, I didn't wait until 3rd grade to start Grammar with either kid, and the 3rd grade MCT Grammar book sure looks like an introduction to it. Fifth, the Writing simply wouldn't work for us. It's not that it's a bad program. It would not work for us, though.

Art of Problem Solving is a Math program aimed at Gifted kids grades 6-12. There's no way I could have used it for my eldest. She hates Math & always has. She would not have used this program. She would have become frustrated with it's method. I am thinking of using it for my youngest however. I have a very different reason for saying no to Beast Academy (elementary level Math from Art of Problem Solving). It just came out and only has grade 3 available so far. My youngest is well beyond grade 3 Math, even Gifted grade 3 Math. So, it would make no sense to use it.

Some universities have curriculum and/or classes available for Gifted kids. However, they never seem to offer topics I want at the grades I would need them. Therefore, I would need to tweak or add to them to make them work. Why pay the prices they're asking, when I will still have to tweak/add, spending extra time, energy, and money? It makes far more sense for me to get something less expensive, so I have more money to spend on the additions. Mensa even has some lesson plans, but again, simply not the topics I want. I won't use a program/curriculum/class just because it's 'for Gifted kids' or just to be able to tell people my kids are using a 'Gifted' curriculum. I prefer to use materials that actually fill our needs & fit our budget.

Of course, there are some 'Gifted' curricula that I simply feel are low quality and/or way below level. I won't use something that talks down to my kids or that dumbs down information. I don't like materials that recommend misinforming my kids of something, even if it plans to correct it in a later level. I don't like abridged versions of books or the 'for kids' versions (like Shakespeare for kids). I prefer my kids to read the normal version of it. If that means they aren't reading Shakespeare in 1st grade, then that's what it means. They will read it when they are capable of understanding it the way it was originally written, are mature enough to have an appreciation for it, and mature enough for the content (my eldest started reading Shakespeare in 7th grade and is planning to read every single thing he wrote).

I also don't automatically get what most see as the most 'advanced' options for subjects. Most people will tell you that Singapore Math is the most advanced Math program available. I don't like it. I don't like the scope & sequence. I don't think it's as advanced as most people do. Sure, it may introduce multiplication & division in 1st grade, but it's not like they have them actually doing multiplication & division in 1st. From what I could tell from the scope & sequence, it's just an introduction to the concepts. It's not until 2nd that it lists multiplying & dividing by 2s & 3s. Understanding the properties of 0 & 1 in multiplication & division isn't listed until 3rd grade. Remainders aren't mentioned in the scope & sequence until 3rd. Multiplying & dividing with 2-digit numbers aren't listed until 4th & 5th grade. Sure, fractions are there from 1st grade on, but (according to the scope & sequence) you don't cover adding, subtracting, or multiplying them until 4th, and you have to wait until 5th to divide them. Decimals only seem to be mentioned in 4th & 5th grade. Area & perimeter (two very easy concepts) don't seem to be really covered until the 2nd half of 3rd grade. Percentages aren't until the 2nd half of 5th grade! Place value, which is NOT a difficult concept, is covered in 1st - 5th grades. To me, that just doesn't scream advanced Math program. More than half of what's listed for 1st grade my kids did in pre-k.

Real Science 4 Kids is listed as a fantastic Science program that will introduce your young children to college level subjects. According to the publisher site, they currently have Chemistry, Biology, Physics, & Astronomy for elementary school & middle school, with Geology to come. For the high school grades, the only currently available option is Chemistry. Then, there's the fact that each course only covers 1 semester or 12 - 16 weeks! So, they split the typical 13 years of school into 3 groups of 4-5 years, and provide less than 3 full years of instruction for each grade grouping? What the hell are you supposed the rest of the time? If you get the 'Study Bundle' for Elementary Chemistry it's over $120, and I didn't see any mention of the materials you'll need to complete the labs. That's just for half a school year. That is ridiculous! There's also no mention of other topics generally covered - Meteorology, Botany, Marine Biology, Anatomy & Physiology, etc.

Of course, these are just some of the 'Gifted' or 'advanced' materials we've looked at. However, I've found that very few of the materials lauded as 'perfect for the Gifted child' actually meet my standards and our needs. I've found that choosing 'average' materials, going through them faster (at the kids' pace), using multiple levels each year, adding in tons of supplements (for depth & variety), using higher level texts (when we use texts), and using a large variety of books works best for us. By doing things the way we do them, choosing the materials we choose, and focusing on doing/using things that fit our list of criteria, instead of just grabbing whatever we see that is 'for Gifted kids,' my kids are getting a much better education than they would be if all I looked for in their materials was a 'Gifted' or 'Advanced' label.