I currently teach in a self-contained gifted class, and I am often asked if that is what is really best for gifted kids. Just today, I had a family touring the school, wanting to know why a self-contained is better than a pullout. It is so hard to be a parent, and so hard to make those tough decisions about what is really best for your own individual child.
Many schools offer a pullout program, and I think it definitely has its place. For kids that are one standard deviation removed from the regular education program or for kids gifted in only one area, pullout is great! Kids in these categories will benefit from pull out programs because the education is matched to their abilities. They are with their age level peers for socialization, and get the necessary enrichment and advancement where they need it.
That said, for kids that are in the 97th percentile and higher (that small 3% of our population), I am passionate about self-contained. . . Here are just a few of the reasons that I share with parents:
• Giftedness is not just acceleration. Giftedness affects the whole child. A teacher trained in understanding giftedness will be both empathetic and adept at reaching the gifted child in all areas of their development, not just their academics.
• The majority of regular education teachers have had little or no training in how a gifted brain learns. Thus, they are unprepared for the unique academic, social and developmental concerns of a gifted child.
• Studies have shown that gifted kids need only one to three repetitions, while children in mainstream education require at least five to seven repetitions. Imagine the torture of repeating endlessly the tasks which you have already mastered. And when you are successful- you are most often rewarded with more practice of these same skills. No wonder gifted kids check out!
• In a gifted classroom, you have a wonderful support system surrounding you. You have parents, teachers, administrators and fellow peers of your students who know and understand what it is to be gifted. Instead of defending and explaining yourself over and over (and over and over), you are sharing, collaborating and fellowshipping.
• Gifted kids thrive when surrounded by like-minded peers. Because of their rarity in main stream education, based on statistics, most gifted kids in mainstream education will find one or two close friends throughout their entire academic career- if they are fortunate!
• Perhaps my most compelling reason is for the social development of the child. I was in a self-contained class from third through sixth grades. How I wish they had had it in the primary grades back in those days! All children can tell when someone is different. And gifted kids are intuitive enough to sense these differences. They feel isolated, alone, misunderstood and set apart in the mainstream classroom. I know. I felt it every day, and I still feel it now as an adult. If you can give your child the chance to be with people who “get” them and who accept, them how could you not? The alternative is sentencing them to a lifetime sentence of solitude. . .
Now, a self contained classroom is not best for everyone, and I know there are circumstances where it is not the best choice for a family. However, when asked for my professional opinion this is what you get!