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  • Writer's pictureVicky Keston

Gifted Friendly Schools: Options for a Fast Learner

Updated: Apr 12

Parents of gifted kids often struggle to find the best school placement. Since most Bay Area public school districts don’t offer gifted programming, families often seek private schools or home school. What makes a school a good fit for a gifted or fast learner? What features would this school have? What is most important to look for in a school?

Student Learning Profile 

Before you choose a school, it’s helpful to understand how your child learns. Are there areas of particular strength? Does your child also have some weaknesses, or are they evenly gifted? How are their social skills, including the ability to make friends and maintain their friendships? 

Core Strengths. If your child is school aged, you may notice some obvious areas of strength. Similarly, if your child has been assessed with an IQ test or neuropsychological assessment, the report should help you understand their strengths. For instance, has your child excelled at reading, writing, math, or science? Does your child research topics on their own and become a mini expert? Does your child complain that school moves too slowly in specific subjects?

Extraordinary strengths are areas that your child learns without explicit teaching. For instance, did your child read spontaneously without instruction? Did your child start completing word problems without a lesson, like calculating how many meatballs per person when serving food? 

Asynchronous Development. Many gifted children are either unevenly gifted – say more advanced at math than writing or the reverse – or have uneven skills in areas such as social skills, executive functioning, or gross/fine motor skills. What does this mean when looking for a school? 

  • If academic potential is uneven across subjects, students might benefit from schools that have a variety of learning levels. For instance, maybe the student is happy with grade-level work in one area (say writing) but wants to explore more deeply in another area (say science or math). Or the reverse. This means that the best school for students who are “spiky” learners will offer single subject acceleration in areas of strength, but also not require advancement across the board (full grade acceleration). 

  • If social skills are weaker than academic skills, students might benefit from schools with strong social emotional learning programs and onsite counselors. They also could supplement outside of schools with social circle programming, but learning these skills in the same environment as classmates gives an opportunity to make and develop friends with classmates.

  • If executive function skills are less developed, there will be a mismatch if the student is single subject accelerated to a level where expectations require studying for tests, taking notes, and independently completing assignments. In this scenario, a strong program to teach these skills is critical, because the academic needs will push the student into higher expectations more quickly than a typical kid.

What Is a Gifted-Friendly School

Deeper Curriculum. Gifted students, as a whole, learn more quickly and can better absorb more material. One way to enhance their learning is by offering a curriculum that lets them explore material further in depth. The goal of deeper learning is to enhance the critical thinking process, because when a student accelerates quickly, they sometimes hit roadblocks due to executive function skills (age inappropriate expectations in advanced classes) or college requirements (whether the ultimate university will accept transfer credits for classes taken during K-12). So, deeper learning seeks to offer more intellectual satisfaction with learning materials before moving on to subject-matter acceleration.

  • For instance, when a science class discusses the atom, there are many layers beyond the protons, neutrons, and electrons that a student could explore, whether with books or online resources. Hands-on labs can offer further scientific exploration at different levels for different students.

  • Similarly, gifted-friendly math replaces pages of repetitive number problems with fewer word problems, math puzzles, and more difficult number problems. A student who can complete a page of number problems often slows down when asked to solve the same operation in a word problem because they don’t truly understand the math but have quickly memorized an algorithm. 

  • In reading, once students are reading chapter books, book clubs allow groups of students to discuss character motivation and explore literary devices, and to ask themselves why the author chose different aspects of the book.

Single Subject Acceleration vs Ability-Based Groupings. Regardless of depth, among gifted students, there will always be situations where a student needs more advanced material. A gifted-friendly school will offer an opportunity for students who learn quickly, even when the material is more meaty, to accelerate. That means that some students might read more difficult books, complete more difficult math problems, and so forth. Some schools accomplish this pairing by assigning all students to literacy and math groups by their level (Ability-Based Groupings), while other schools will pull out specific students who are exceptional learners and put them either in their own group for independent learning or with older students (Single Subject Acceleration). 

Soft Skills – Social Emotional Learning and Executive Function Skills. As referenced above, a gifted-friendly school will also teach social skills and executive function skills. 

  • SEL should include help on how to make friends and resolve conflict. Learning to compromise is a key area of growth for most people.

  • Public speaking and writing well are also important social-type skills that help students across the board. 

  • Executive function skills include taking notes, creating a study guide, and organizing to complete long-term assignments. 

Progressive vs. Traditional vs Balanced Curriculum. There is no one approach that suits all students. Considerations that might apply for the gifted student include:

  • Teacher-Driven vs Student-Driven. Does your student prefer to explore topics on their own, and do they enjoy taking ownership of the learning process? Or do they like teachers to help guide them? Most gifted learners like some ownership, but some prefer more guidance than others.

  • Structure. Does your student like to know when they will be learning each subject, or do they prefer to have a flexible schedule each day? Do they prefer overlap of curriculum with interdisciplinary projects or one subject at a time?

  • Tests vs Projects. Do you prefer your student to have some exposure to testing, and if so, how much importance do you place on tests vs. student-led projects?

Role of a K-12 Consultant 

A consultant can help parents by reviewing your child’s needs and recommending potential K-12 schools. In addition, your consultant can help you apply to schools, and then weigh the pros and cons of each school that accepts your student.

Want more input on K-12 schools?

Vicky consults with families to help select, apply to, and communicate with public and private schools in the San Francisco Bay Area. Vicky maintains a principle of non-judgment. Hourly, VIP, and Season packages include a discussion to review school options, applications, essays, and key decisions. Vicky offers a limited number of packages each year to assure her availability. 

Vicky’s own children have attended both public and private schools, and have received both accommodations and curriculum changes; her elder is in high school, and her younger in middle school. New clients can email to learn more about her services, or see her website to learn about her packages.

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