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Enrichment and Acceleration plus Power P

Suzanne Daw
Acceleration & Enrichment.
Discussion Paper
Acceleration and enrichment are two of many extension programs available with the
purpose of providing academic challenges to meet the “intellectual and affective needs” (NSW
DEC, 2004, p. 7) of those students identified as gifted. Townsend (1996) cited in Rawlins
(2004), defined Acceleration as learning that supports gifted and talented students' capabilities
and knowledge in line with the curriculum and asserted that children could be accelerated either
through exposure to content earlier than other children their age or by completing similar
content over a shorter time period. He defined Enrichment as being activities that are in
addition to the day to day classroom actions that encourage deep thinking through challenges
and choice in how the final product is presented. These activities are designed to meet the needs
of each student’s skills and requirements.
Acceleration: To accelerate or not?
The jury is still out when it comes to the acceleration of gifted and talented students
around the world. There exists a long history of educators and practitioners citing a potential
for harm to the social and emotional development of accelerants as the main disadvantage of
acceleration despite research literature overwhelmingly showing no risks to the students social
and emotional development. Gross (2006) cited studies carried out by Ternman and
Hollingworth in the 1920’s and 1930’s as showing that acceleration through school was
acceptable at that time, with Hollingworth (1931) stating that society had found a way of
dealing with those students who were “socially annoying” (p. 3). In other words, they
questioned bad behaviour and believed it was a result of boredom. Further research carried out
by Hollingworth in 1942 led her to say that what happened in the life of a gifted student during
the first three years of their schooling would pave the way for the rest of their lives leading to
her belief that social rejection was the catalyst for deliberate underachievement to gain peer
acceptance in school.
Southern, Jones & Fiscus (1989) following their work on acceleration, highlighted four
reasons why acceleration was seen as problematic. They believed that there would be no
academic advantage later in life, the child’s social and emotional development would lead to
underachievement when compared to older classmates and they also found that students’
lacked the required physical, social and emotional maturity to combat associated stresses.
Additionally, they believed that some students were at risk of developing an arrogance towards
others. It is interesting to note that they also learnt that where practitioners had personally been
involved with acceleration, they were much more inclined to be positive about it. Similarly,
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when participants were asked about arguments against acceleration, they could all quote
authors of the literature for the negative but not for those who supported acceleration. It was
concluded that “the issue of acceptability was more important than the issue of efficacy” (p.
Further, many teachers and executive staff in Australia still hold the belief of “early
ripe, early rot”, (Vialle, Ashton, Carlon & Rankin, 2001, p. 14), despite literature showing the
opposite. Regardless of the fact that the NSW government produced a policy in 1991 that
suggested that gifted students should be offered an option to accelerate at any stage of their
education, a report by Bailey (1997) cited in Vialle et al (2001), outlined that while there had
been an increase in acceleration through grade skipping, early entry and subject acceleration,
it had occurred predominantly in the city areas whilst other areas in NSW had neglected to
implement the policy. This information must prompt educators to consider whether separating
the social and emotional needs of a student from their cognitive needs is creating a dichotomy
which is ignoring the research and current beliefs about the “nature of thinking and learning”
(Vaile et al, 2001, p. 14) and pose the question of why not accelerate?
Neihart (2007), after looking at the socioaffective impact of acceleration and ability
grouping in research carried out by academics such as Slavin (1987), Rogers (1992), Moon &
Reis (2004) and Gross & van Vliet (2005), said that the best practice should be decided based
on evidence. Of particular interest to the selective high school setting are the results of Roger’s
(1993) 81 studies which looked at the “social or emotional impact of acceleration combined
with Slavins (1986, 1987) best evidence synthesis technique, [which found] that there were
positive effects in both social and emotional aspects” (p. 331). Again, this research highlighted
that social or emotional harm would not occur to children who are accelerated academically.
Van Tassel Baska (2007), stated that the future of gifted education rested on the
application of curriculum and programs used by schools and fostered by teachers who were
effective in differentiating programs to meet the needs of the diverse gifted population. This
was supported by Lee, Olszewski-Kubilius & Peternal (2010) who studied students in an
accelerated maths class. The students felt excited and valued the opportunity as advantageous
to their future education. Teachers believed that the acceleration provided challenges for the
students and they saw a commitment to the work which enhanced the student’s overall
outcomes. Consequently, there were no negative outcomes following this study. Furthermore,
Steenbergan-Hu & Moon (2011) who prepared a meta-analysis of data from 1984 – 2008 found
that high ability learners were influenced in positive ways through accelerated programs. These
students returned higher results than their non-accelerated peers in tests, attended the ‘better’
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universities and studied degrees that were more difficult. Similarly, the accelerated students
outperformed their non-accelerated peers in “self-concept, self-esteem, self-confidence, social
relationships, participation in extra-curricula activities, as well as life satisfaction” (p. 39), thus
concluding that acceleration can be effective in both K-12 education and university.
Acceleration in my selective high school setting occurs in mathematics and English
where students can access acceleration via an above level test which enables them to skip a
grade in one or both of these subjects. In Mathematics, students can access the HSC
examination when in year 10, 11 and 12 if they chose and their highest grade will be taken into
account. In English, students complete their HSC examination one year above their age peers,
not forgetting that many student in the selective setting have already skipped a grade in primary
school, thus making them two years younger than their grade peers. They skip Year 10 by being
accelerated from Year 9 to Year 11 and can only sit the examination once freeing up their time
to study other subjects more intensely in their Year 12 year of study.
Enrichment: What is it and how does it differ from acceleration?
Eckstein (2009) associated enrichment with Renzulli & Reis(1984) and Renzulli (1994)
and discussed their Schoolwide Enrichment Model (SEM) in terms of enrichment clusters.
These were groups organised across KLA’s and year groups based on interests and they
focused on an end product or service. Such enrichment clusters were successful in the 20th
century as they were based around knowledge, thinking skills and interpersonal relations in the
“real world” (p. 59). With all work being directed towards a common goal, this type of learning
was effective in generating the creative producers required in the 20th century. With the
introduction of the internet and Web 2.0, the ease of collaboration globally enabled the growth
of communities of learners world-wide.
Kanasa & Garvis (2011), looked at the results of a teaching program in a gifted and
talented class in a girl’s high school in Queensland as part of ‘middle school’ education. It
focused on the fact that teachers delivering such programs needed to be trained in gifted
education as well. Further, it was mentioned that training in this area was sparse in Queensland
whereas in NSW particularly since 2004 and the Gifted and Talented Policy (2004),
underpinned by the work of Gagne (2004), all teachers have access to high quality information,
strategies and support through the Department of Education website. Fortunately, in the
selective high school setting, the work and recommendations of Gagne (2004) are largely
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utilised and much professional development has occurred. This said, it is not a given that all
educators put what they have learnt into practice and teachers with a fixed mindset can be
problematic. Dweck’s (cited in Gutshall, 2014) research explored the way mindset impacted
motivation and said that when teachers reflected and understood “that intelligence is malleable
they provided increased support” (p. 788) and saw improved results.
Moon, Feldhusen & Dillon (1994), focused on the long term effects of a “pull-out”
enrichment program involving a school using the Purdue Three Stage Model. This system
allowed for students to be taken out of their classes to attend specialist classes to meet their
needs. Along with the SEM, this model provided “guided learning experiences in creative and
critical thinking, complex problem solving, independent learning, and creative productivity”
(p. 38). Similarly, this program has also been criticised. While the strengths include mixing
with other like-minded children and well-trained teachers who deliver a differentiated
curricula, disruptions in the regular classroom instruction and missed instruction prompted
scholars to advocate fulltime programs for gifted students rather than programs that required
extraction from ‘normal’ classes.
Again, one could look to the work of Hollingworth when exploring the history of
Enrichment. Establishing enriched classes in New York in 1916, Hollingworth spent half of
the day on curriculum and supported students in their pursuit of enrichment in languages,
biography and the history of civilisation for the other half of their day. In support, Vaughan.
Feldhusen and Asher (1991) cited in Rogers (1993), asserted that twenty two of twenty five
studies about the effectiveness of enriched classes for gifted students, demonstrated that more
was achieved when the students were taught in special programs. Evidence of gains in
accomplishment and thinking skills for gifted students was evident. Henderson (2007)
following studies of multi-level selective classes for gifted students suggests that when creating
such classes one should consider the concept of “mental age rather than chronological age” (p.
62). Through this practice, enrichment programs can be designed to truly meet the needs of all
students in each group.
Whilst Enrichment promotes imagination, complexity, and challenge in the content
students are learning, this type of extension for gifted learners can be achieved in a variety of
ways. An effective strategy seen in the selective high school is that of ‘grouping’ students
within the classroom. This has been achieved through Individual Student Profiles, a
combination of data and personal information, used to place students into three tiers of learning
to enable students to access work that is suited to their individual needs, ability and interests,
aligned to the curriculum. This is supported by Braggett (1997) cited in NSW DEC (2004),
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who defined enrichment as “part of an extension program that broadens the curriculum to aid
in the development of “knowledge, application, thinking skills and attitudes to a degree of
complexity appropriate to the student’s developmental level” (p. 18).
Enrichment can also be observed in the selective high school through an enrichment
program specifically designed for 180 Year 7 students each year where students select a
different class for two periods a week for a duration of five weeks according to their learning
needs, skills and interests. Currently this is being run by teachers who have autonomy over
what they teach ensuring that the lessons are guided by passion and personal interest such as
seen in the ‘Norse Mythology’ class. Beginning with the history of Myth through belief
systems, the program moves onto creative writing through devising a character collaboratively
via an open ICT blog. The setting is provided from Nortic Mythology and the students learn
how to write a narrative through the ‘write story, write read, proof read’ strategy to cement the
cyclical nature of writing and embed a deep knowledge of writing practice. The final product
will be a picture book devised on the program ‘Storybird’, 8 – 10 pages long with graphics.
This one class addresses four of the seven General Capabilities in the Australian Curriculum,
provides choice within a semi-guided scaffold and has resulted in deep knowledge, improved
skills and fun for all.
It can be concluded that either of these forms of extension are appropriate for the
selective high school. When a student in this setting is underachieving, teachers must look at
ways of challenging the student to enable that student to reach their true potential. Perhaps
the school could look at acceleration across other KLA’s, but as all staff have been trained in
differentiation according to Gagne’s (2004) differentiated model combined with student
profiling, all students can be enriched to some degree in every classroom. In a school steeped
in tradition with controlled student and teacher numbers which is judged on performance, it is
perhaps clear that there is more work to be done. As Van Tassel-Baska (2007) said, it is a
school’s duty to practice curriculum and instructional models based on research with proven
results for our gifted learners, “only then will gifted learners achieve at optimal levels of
learning” (p. 354).
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Power Point and activities for Staff Professional Development Day.
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This study has certainly been enlightening in a sense of the amount and the type of research
that has been afforded to Gifted and Talented education over many years. To discover that the
research carried out in America between the 1800’s and the 1930’s by people such as
Hollingworth, Tannenbaum, and Terman & Oden who all advocated Terman’s 1921
‘traditional positivist design’ was based on the principals of science makes the launching of the
Sputnik by Russia in 1957 even more significant. This prompted the US government to listen
to the educators who had been heralding the needs of gifted children for some time. The
educational goals for gifted student in the 50’s and 60’s were mainly related to America’s
global competitiveness.
Closer to home, in Australia, it is the work of Gagne and his Differentiated Model of
Giftedness and Talent (DMGT) (2004), which is the basis of teaching and learning in my
selective high school setting. Based around Gardner, Bloom, Kaplan, Maker and the William’s
models of learning, Gagne’s model is popular due to its international recognition because it is
known for its strong research base and accessibility to teachers. Featuring a direct and logical
connection to identification and curriculum development it also provides a framework for the
‘gifted’ underachiever. Gagne’s assertion that a gift can become talent through knowledge and
effort is seen in many schools through model performance. Within the University of NSW,
GERRIC was formed to undertake their own research and design modules for schools to access
as learning for their teachers so that every gifted student is accessing learning according to their
personal needs. It is this organisation that is leading the professional development in my setting.
I personally agree with Callahan & Plucker (2013) when they said that whilst there is a
general conception of giftedness, it doesn’t always transcend into the classroom as many
teachers are unsure of the diverseness of a gifted learner and continue to focus on the IQ based
conceptions rather than obtaining a holistic view of the gifted student that covers many
domains. This is particularly noted in reference to those gifted students with disability that are
increasingly arriving at the selective high school and require differentiation, accommodations
and effort by those teachers who are fixed in their mindset of what a gifted learner ‘should’
look like. This course has once again highlighted the lack of differentiation in my setting,
particularly for those students with disability such as Autism, ADHD, ODD and those with
physical disability such as Cerebral Palsy.
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Further, I particularly enjoyed learning about the work of Andrew Miller (2012) who
described the content, process and product as ‘The Learner Relationship’. He outlined the
content as curriculum, the knowledge, concepts and skills, the process as making sense of the
content – the strategies we employ to challenge student interests, backgrounds and choices, and
the product as how we judge the learning. Further, Munro (2013) discussed the idea that
intrinsic motivation played a large part in a student achieving excellence and his guiding
questions are similar to the way Gagne suggests posing a series of conceptual questions
pertaining to content and aligned with outcomes to promote higher order thinking. Both Munro
and Gagne base their models on the Maker model and this information has validated what we
are doing in my school.
Olenchek (2010) amongst other issues and ideas, suggests that we need to make sure
we teach with the individuals in mind and not just the content. It is clear that many models of
differentiation exist. I don’t think that any one is ‘better’ than the other but it seems to me that
to be able to create truly differentiated lessons to meet the needs of every student we teach in
out inclusive classrooms, we really need to know the students. For this reason, I am an advocate
of individual student profiles that identify what students know, how they learn best and how to
tap into their interests in order to transform their gift into a talent. Whether it be through
enrichment programs in or out of the classroom or acceleration, it is clear that there is still a
long way to go to convince staff that our 21st century gifted learners are bored with the same
strategies from days gone by and it is our duty to move forward and address their needs with
innovative, up to date material and teaching strategies so that they too can become valuable
adults who contribute to society in relevant ways.
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Reference List
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