- Teaching and Learning
There seem to be so many options today when it comes to selecting a school. We are fortunate to live in a time when schools rival to be the best at what they do. Since not every school is for every student, it is good to know what all of the options mean for your child. Some schools have very identifiable qualities that make them easy to select for specific needs. They may be noted for their visual and performing arts. They might prepare students for a career in a math or science field. They may potentially gear children towards a future in the military. But what if you are looking for a school that fits your “smart kid?” This is perhaps one of the most enigmatic elements when it comes to choosing a school.
How can you tell if a school will challenge and motivate your inherently inquisitive learner?
For a school to say that it has “strong academics” is really not enough verification. You should question what exactly they mean by that term. Likely, they will explain about the curriculum they follow and perhaps talk about how “above-grade-level” their students are. But rigid and robust curriculum alone does not make for challenge.
You should look closely at the type of teaching that is done in the school.
- Are teachers required, even pressured, to get a certain amount of material “covered” in a certain amount of time? Studies show that teachers who have some autonomy over what and how they teach see better results from their students. They have the freedom to go “deep” in the curriculum rather than superficially “cover” things in breadth. That way they can differentiate their teaching based on student interest or even current events that are relatable to what they are teaching.
- How about assignments and projects? Are teachers only assigning dittos and worksheets, or are they exploring other options? Homework assignments and projects can frequently be differentiated and become authentic opportunities to provide students with some voice and choice. We do not live in a cookie-cutter world, so our students’ products should be varied. They should be opportunities for the child to be creative and to manipulate the content in their minds. Often, when students are given choice in their assignments, they end up delivering a far better product and master the material better than if they had to complete a simplistic worksheet.
- Project-based learning (PBL) allows students to learn content while solving real-world problems that are meaningful and relatable to them. It allows them opportunities to collaborate and communicate with peers, think critically and creatively, and ultimately gain confidence in their knowledge and abilities. In action, PBL may look chaotic and unstructured, and in some ways it is. But isn’t that the type of world we often live and work in? Solving real problems. Working with others to do so. Failing. Starting over. Changing. Re-working. This type of learning is not only challenging, but it is also enriching and long-lasting, and it creates children who become productive leaders and risk-takers.
How do extracurricular activities come into play for these students? By the time students get to middle school, these are often the areas where they spend much of their time and are often a place where they meet like-minded peers.
To appropriately challenge a gifted student, extracurricular clubs and activities should be well-run and should encompass a large breadth of interests. If your child doesn’t have a wide range of activities from which to choose, they may end up not participating at all and will, therefore, have lots of idle time on their hands. In a school that creates a “land of opportunities” after school, students may be able to select from offerings ranging from athletics to chess to debate to STEM. These opportunities will challenge your child’s intellectual curiosity and spark enthusiasm in areas that might not be well-represented in the regular school curriculum.
And let’s not forget the tell-tale sign of a strong academic school. Assessments! The Holy Grail that proves your child is getting a good education! Surely the more challenging the test, the more items on it, the more rote knowledge a student must call forth and put down in print…surely those are testaments to “strong academics.” Right? Wrong. Assessments should be authentic and promote divergent thinking, and even sometimes divergent answers.
They may not be easier to grade, (that is not your problem as a parent anyway!) but they will challenge your “smart child” and allow them not only to feel successful but to BE successful.
So, when evaluating whether a school will challenge your smart child, remember that things aren’t always what they seem. Observe with an open mind. And be sure to ask questions.