In-Class Differentiation vs. Acceleration - Mothering Forums

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#1 of 18 Old 01-20-2011, 08:05 AM - Thread Starter
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I'd like to hear experiences from people whose children have done either/or. We will be meeting with DS' teacher about math. DH & I are trying to determine what we'd like to ask to get for him.


The problem I see with acceleration is that I'm not sure where they'd put him. There are only K-1 students in his school, and though I'm sure that there likely are other children who could benefit, it doesn't appear that there's a concerted effort to coordinate students from various classes into one math group. So, if he's accelerated, how does that look when he's at a level beyond what his school holds? He's really somewhere around 3rd/4th grade level. (We'll know more by the time we meet.)


At the same time, how does differentiation in the classroom look? I imagine him sitting by himself at a desk while the other students do whatever they're doing.


Our district does not identify gifted students formally until 4th grade, so we are not receiving any required instruction or differentiation. All of what we're doing is based on his current teacher. She's said that she believes we need to do *something* with him, but we have to go over our options together and decide. I'm hoping we can get an administrator in the meetings with us so that it's smooth sailing into Gr 1, rather than convincing a new teacher to pick up where this year's teacher leaves off.


The district is really cash-strapped right now, which I know affects their decision-making. DH & I are happy to pay for whatever they do - differentiated curriculum, transport to another school, etc. - but I'm not sure they want to set that precedent. 


Anyway, that's a brain dump of the major questions I have, and I'm curious to hear others' experiences.

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#2 of 18 Old 01-20-2011, 10:22 AM
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My DD is in 1st & in a similar situation.  Our school is a K-2 & there is really no point of her going to a 2nd grade classroom as she is beyond what they are doing.  Her class does math together - they do a set number of pages & everyone moves at the same pace.  However, DD is allowed to just do the pages & then can either read at her desk, use playdoh at her desk or go to one of the centers (not sure of all the options but she always goes to the writing center & usually draws).  She has been happy with the arrangement so far.  Recently we visited a new gifted private school in the area & as we were talking about it & our local school, she did say that she'd like to move ahead in math.  The way I see it our options are either to ask the school/teacher to let her move ahead in the math book at her own pace (I anticipate them objecting to this on several fronts) or for me to send in pages (likely from Singapore math) for her to keep in her desk & to discreetly pull out when it's time to do math work.  Our school is also in a tough situation in terms of money so I'm not really expecting much - I am just hoping they'll "put up with" me providing her the differentiation.

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#3 of 18 Old 01-20-2011, 11:48 AM
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We've had successful in-class differentiation and subject acceleration.


For DD, she had a grade acceleration first, then an additional subject acceleration in math where she was placed in the high level group. By 5th grade, there were several kids capable enough to make a 6th grade math group. 


For DS, his whole school is about 1 year accelerated and then he gets a subject acceleration in math on top of that. There are like 5 kids in his grade that do this. Now that they are in 5th grade (last year in the school) they just do 6th grade as a small group.


It may not be an "either/or" thing for your DS. He may need a subject acceleration and then be placed in the high math group. It still may not be enough but it'll certainly be better. Consider that many kids will come into their own as they age. They may all appear pretty average at math in 1st grade but come 4th grade, there always seems to be a handful tha pull forward and are ready for more.


Personally, we found individual differentiation most successful with language arts. It's no big deal to get your own spelling lists but do similar activities with them as the other kids have. You can read your own level books and do your report. You can be held to higher writing standards but still be given the same topic. Math is tougher... at least for my kids who are gifted in math but still need an actual teacher. They wouldn't be happy or quite as successful just being given the grade up text book and told to do it.

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#4 of 18 Old 01-20-2011, 01:11 PM
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Originally Posted by rusticity View Post

Her class does math together - they do a set number of pages & everyone moves at the same pace. 

My dd is in the first grade in a public gifted K-5 elementary school.  Like rusticity, everyone in the classroom does the math together. So all year long, they have been doing worksheets that involve adding (and now maybe subtracting) single digit numbers.  At the first P-T conference of the year (early Nov), the first grade teacher showed me a sample and said that because there were no errors, she wanted to start my dd on what the school calls "Accelerated Math".  She said that it would be completely optional, and at whatever pace dd wanted to take it.  She said that they usually don't have first graders do this (and I know of only one other first grader in the 75+ first graders that are doing this) because it starts at the third grade level.  The teacher said that she wanted to offer it to dd because she didn't want dd to get bored.


The way it works is the following.  Child is sent home with a multiple choice diagnostic math test (~20 questions) and a blank scan tron.  Child takes the diagnostic test at home, and brings the scantron to school where school librarian scans the test to grade.  Presumably, this is how weak topics in math are identified (i.e. rounding numbers, multidigit addition, etc).  So then I guess a computer program generates a list of multiple choice practice problems, based on the unmastered math topics. Student brings this list of practice problems and a blank scantron home.  Parents spend a couple quick minutes to teach the topic to the student.  Student does the practice problems at home and completes the scantron.  Completed scantron goes back to school, where it gets graded.  On that same day, child takes a few minutes of class time at school and takes a test based on the topics in the practice problems in order to demonstrate mastery.  Once mastered, the cycle repeats again and child brings home a new diagnostic test to see how well child does with the next set of math topics. 


Dd is not pulled out of the classroom.  Pretty much it is all entirely at home, on top of what is done with the rest of the class.  Dd sits through all of those math worksheets that the rest of the class does. This is fine with me, although it may not be fine with your child.


In our family it is very low pressure.  We first started out doing this once a week.  Ever since school was dismissed for winter break, we have not touched it at all. And everyone is fine with that.


I think that if it is already going on somewhere in the public school district, it would be very cheap to implement for your child.

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#5 of 18 Old 01-20-2011, 01:31 PM
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My son was subject accelerated in math in 4th grade. He goes to a K-6 school so he did 5th gr math last year and 6th gr. this year. Next year, he'll be in 6th and will go to the middle school to take either pre-algebra or algebra (we haven't decided which yet) during 1st period there. Then he'll be bussed by the district back to the elem school. During regular 6th grade math, he will just work on his math homework or participate with the class if he feels like it.

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#6 of 18 Old 01-20-2011, 03:02 PM - Thread Starter
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Lindberg, I did something similar to what your son does with the busing back & forth. It probably wasn't ideal, but it was an okay set-up. It worked out for me. 


Emilysmama, I do like that idea! I've been coming to terms with the idea that we'll have to satiate his need for more math at home. We have been introducing new topics. He's developed a major interest in architecture and is really focused on the measurements of rooms, angles, etc. We had some old books of blueprints lying around, so I got them out for him. His whole face lit up when he realized what they were, and he pored over them. I have considered hiring someone not as a tutor per se but just as a person to do some math stuff with him. (We do that, but he seems to have a desire for someone who isn't his parent to "teach" him.)


I posted on my FB page asking what teachers thought of differentiation vs. acceleration, and the idea seems to be that differentiation is difficult and just a huge pain, which may explain the general reluctance to implement it.


WNM, he actually would enjoy being handed a math book and told to have at it. I think his reading skills probably would hamper him, though. A brief 1-minute explanation of most concepts, and he's got it. Still I think that may feeling isolating after a time. 

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#7 of 18 Old 01-21-2011, 01:20 PM
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My DS is in 1st grade and we just switch him back into our school district.  They are in the process of assessing him right now and then we were promised to get to have another meeting with the principal and his teacher.  We are hoping they will let him do ALEKS math, which is online, and also learn the definition to each of his spelling words using  Just a suggestion that might help in letting your son stay within his classroom more?

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#8 of 18 Old 01-21-2011, 02:37 PM
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It really has everything to do with the teacher(s), the school policies, the attitude of the principal/administrator... But since you asked specifically, here is the experience dd6 is having in 1st grade:


DD is highly advanced in ELA, and she goes to a special pull-out reading program for a handful of kids in 1st grade.  The kids read during class and discuss their books (they sometimes read the same book, and sometimes get to choose individual books).  The reading teacher assigns questions to be answered and turned in at the end of the week.  She is also responsible for their spelling words and tests.  All of this happens during "quiet time" in my dd's classroom.  So, during her normal class's reading time, dd is allowed to read her own book quietly.  She's fine with that - hand her a book and she'll read indefinitely!  The schedule for this class is actually working out quite well, and dd enjoys the class very much.  I also appreciate that this is likely to be a program they continue with throughout elementary (though there are no guarantees with budget cuts, of course).  The teacher is trained in gifted education and is really approachable about issues related to asychronous development - e.g. dd can read at a 5th grade level, but it takes her 30 minutes to write out a short paragraph.  I guess that's not really asynchronous - dd's writing is simply grade-appropriate. :)


Math is different.  The school will not accelerate unless a student shows proficiency TWO to THREE grade levels higher than their grade.  DD is about 1 year ahead with her math skills (she'd be fine in a 2nd grade class this year.)  So, while I know some program was developed for a few 1st graders, my dd was not one of them.  However, her teacher (bless her) recognized early on that dd was not thrilled with the 1st grade math.  For a while, the teacher just gave dd some 2nd grade worksheets to do while the class did their workbook.  Dd was okay with that, but honestly she got bored after a month of the same addition and subtraction problems.  She worked quietly at a table in the back of the room (not at her own desk) and I believe she was given instructions, but no further assistance (not that she needed it, but she likes attention as much as the next kid!).  Often she would bring the page home to finish with her other homework, since she couldn't complete the sheets in class.  More asychronicity (or is it asychrony?) - I'm REALLY starting to think she has issues with slow processing speed (whole other post!).  BUT, just before the holidays, the teacher started sending home some really cool stuff.  Definitely not 1st grade stuff, but not actually hard or boring stuff either.  She sent some Sudoku puzzles, KenKen puzzles, logic puzzles, unique math coloring projects, and some other unusual stuff.  She had said her goal was to get dd "deeper" and I have to say she's finally getting it right!


I think in younger grades, the teachers are more flexible with differentiation, and many of them do an excellent job.  If there are enough like-ability students, the parents may have strength in numbers, as far as lobbying for pull-outs or grouping.  I think you're wise to consider the specifics of your requests.  If the school agrees to any form of acceleration or differentiation, an important part of that program is VERIFYING that the child is learning.  As in, maybe do a pre-test before a math unit, and compare the score after the final test.  If the child is getting 100 on the pretest every time, there is PROOF that the program needs adjusting.  Without proof, the school won't be willing to do anything MORE for you - it will just seem like you're "that parent" when you keep requesting further considerations. 


In this regard, I'm actually glad my dd is NOT in a 2nd grade class for math - I'm not convinced she would be learning much.  But I love the "deeper" idea (now that it's actually working!), as it's more global in it's application.  Of course, next year I'll have to advocate AGAIN and I may not be so lucky!

Mom to DD (6) : Pumpkin
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#9 of 18 Old 01-22-2011, 08:46 AM
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I wouldn't expect acceleration to the level at which the child is working unfortunately.  Our oldest dd (12) has consistently been between 6-12 grades above her grade level in reading and writing on tests like the WJ-III, WIAT & SRI Lexile, for instance, since 2nd or 3rd grade.  They pretty much stopped testing her at age 10 (6th grade) b/c they either don't do that type of testing anymore later in middle school or there wasn't room to show growth anymore.  Although I am pretty sure she has been able to handle college coursework in language arts for the past year, we're okay with her just doing the accelerated literacy class in her grade b/c she has already been grade accelerated and she seems to be making progress even if she isn't accelerated to her full potential.


Both of my kids have also done subject acceleration and we've found both subject acceleration and grade skipping, even again if they didn't accelerate the child to as high as she was testing, to be much, much better than in class differentiation.  I've never seen anything seriously substantively different taking place when the kids were supposed to be getting in class differentiation.  It might have looked like harder homework assignments or the teacher having higher expectations in terms of how she was graded on the standard assignment, but it never entailed her doing something different than the class for the majority of the time.

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#10 of 18 Old 01-23-2011, 01:20 PM
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Regarding Accelerated Math, and what information can be found about it on Google.


This is what Wikipedia has to say.


I believe that this is the product, although it looks like my dd's teacher is not using it as an instructional aid as intended by the vendor, but instead just as a way to identify and feed dd new math topics for parents to expose to dd.  (To be honest, I don't have to patience to wade through their educational mumbo-jumbo.)


Hmm, I am pretty sure it's the same product, because we keep getting sent to our home what the website refers to TOPS reports and Diagnostic reports that look just like the sample downloadable TOPS reports.


Here is some info, although I don't know how reliable, about cost.

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#11 of 18 Old 01-23-2011, 02:19 PM
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Differentiation worked well in K and 1st for DS. The teacher was invested in it and had a group of about 6 kids who were way above grade level. She set up math notebooks for them that had challenging problems glued into them. They would work together as a group a couple days a week on those problems. Then 1 day a week a math specialist would come and pull them out during math lessons (multiplication, etc.) and the classroom teacher would rotate to their group 1-2 times/week.


Unfortunately this year, the school has not allowed any math specialist time to his classroom teacher. The class only has 3 kids who are capable of working above grade level. So the only differentiation that is happening is on Monday and Friday when parent volunteers come in and pull these kids out for about 30 minutes (I am the Monday volunteer). The rest of the time is spent doing the 2nd grade curriculum with everyone else. I am very frustrated and am revisiting options with the teacher. DS feels like it is all way too easy!


There is great differentiation for reading and literacy but math is definitely lacking.

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#12 of 18 Old 01-23-2011, 03:11 PM
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Dd, who is in 1st grade, is receiving 'in-class' acceleration in both reading and math. For each she has a pull-out group of other kids who are performing well. For reading, there are about 8 kids, but dd is still the highest in that group. She's reading about a 4th grade level, the next highest child is about a 3rd grade level, and the rest are 2nd-3rd grade levels. Some of the stuff they're doing is group-based, where they all read the same book, talk about it and write about it. Some of the stuff they do on the computer. The 'lower' level kids work with a program to increase reading fluency, the two higher level kids (dd and one other girl) work on a system called Study Island. Dd started on 3rd grade level stuff this year, completed all of that and has moved on to 4th grade. I strongly suspect she'll complete all of 4th grade Study Island this year too.


For math, she also receives pull-out, but for a shorter time. They do group work, problem solving, etc. There I would say that dd is working probably 1 1/2 -2 grade levels ahead. She can do some basic multiplication, for example, but it's more that she understands the concepts than that she knows how to do it. She hasn't done multidigit addition or subtraction yet, though she's ready and I can tell that the math teacher is getting her set up for that. For the math group, she's right about middle of the pack, so it meets her needs better.


I've thought about grade acceleration for dd, since she would still be at the top of the class for reading in 2nd grade, and right with the top of the class for math. For a variety of reasons (late May birthday, emotional immaturity, and the fact that the in-class acceleration is working for her now), I haven't pursued it. We might later, if her emotional maturity increases and/or the in-class acceleration no longer works.

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#13 of 18 Old 02-06-2012, 07:13 AM
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We just started using Accelerated Math with our kindergartener who is at about a 2nd grade math level.  The school sends home a folder nightly with practices, which we do with her, and then a test that we won't help her on.  It's fun for her.

We asked for bumping her up to first grade math, but the kindergarten teacher thought she needed to just be a normal k-gartener as her socializing is a little behind.  I agreed.  Also, she's already beyond first grade math, so what is the point.


I am thinking about asking if my second grader can be started on the program as well.  She's about half a year ahead in her math class, and bored out of her mind.  

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#14 of 18 Old 02-06-2012, 09:37 AM
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My DD is a 4th grader doing 6th grade math independently with a daily "check in" from the gifted teacher.  Most of the "check in" address accuracy on problem solutions only.  My DS is a kindergartener who worked through the school's 2nd grade curriculum independently in 9 weeks.  He's had no interaction with a teacher on this progress.  I recently got the computer report:  He solved >2000 problems, and made 26 errors.  (Some on mouse click accuracy; some on trying to figure out what the computer wanted him to do.  A few real errors.)


I am slowly coming to grips with just how unusual my kids are, as well as just how much they *need* in class instruction with a human teacher.


The problem with "in place" acceleration is that the student loses access to the interactive part of learning.  When the back-and-forth between student and teacher is short circuited because of a huge mismatch between the rest of the class and the student, problems start to arise.  As two examples:


*We recently discovered that DD has a somewhat erroneous understanding of the equals sign.  We have spent a few sit downs at home straightening this out.  However, mom and dad (with a MS and PhD in the STEM fields between them) don't have much credibility to her, so it's been a frustrating experience.  Some kids are better learning when 'teacher' and 'parent' aren't the same people.  All of this would have been easier if the understanding problems had been caught significantly earlier, which would have been caught if taught systematically and with some significant back-and-forth in a classroom setting.

*DS wrote me a note that said "I ~hate you!"  ??  Upon probing, he told me that the ~ sign means that you get the answer wrong, so you can use it for something you don't mean.  Huh??  Turns out the computer program was trying to teach estimation, and he had noticed that he could click close to the right number, but not *the* right number and still get it wrong, so in his head he'd learned '~' to mean 'not really.'  With a teacher, this never would have happened because the '~' would have been defined.


We are currently advocating for DS to be slotted into a classroom immediately, as placing him in the next level up of the math program is just going to make it harder and harder to slot him back into the curriculum in the future. 


Accelerations bring up their own problems.  So far, we've mostly encountered scheduling problems for both kids this year, as well as organizational problems, keeping track of assignments across multiple teachers when in a grade level before those things are typically taught.    We also struggled with DD in that her 3rd grade handwriting was too big for the 5th grade book.  We have not encountered problems with DD getting picked on or otherwise mistreated by the teacher or other kids in the room.  DH is quite concerned about this for DS.  I'm less so.


We have abandoned differentiation as a solution for each kid for a couple of reasons:

*The degree of differentiation needed is simply too great.

*The curriculum (Everyday Math) is not easily differentiated when much of the work requires doing things in partners, carrying numbers across several pages of the book, etc.  The spiral also meant that if the teacher were to give DD an extra digit to add, then she'd already mastered the next spiral out, carrying the problem forward.

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#15 of 18 Old 02-07-2012, 04:21 AM
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Our experience was that differentiation didn't work-it just wasn't enough, and ended up being frustrating.  One grade level acceleration, has helped, for now, but like moth kids in this boat, there could be more radical acceleration.  We are waiting on this for now.

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#16 of 18 Old 02-07-2012, 10:33 AM
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I would describe DD's current school math situation as homework differentiation, rather than in-class differentiation, but that may be changing in the future.


DD was begging for more advanced math in 1st grade, and mid-year her teacher said she would try to give her "bigger numbers" to work with, but her teacher never got around to it, and never actually did a single thing to differentiate or accelerate her math instruction. Very frustrating!  I ended up buying her some "gifted" math workbooks from for her to use at home, and when DD found multiplication and division flash cards in the Target dollar bins, I agreed to buy them for her. 


I met with the principal and a 2nd grade teacher at the end of 1st grade to ask what they could do for her in 2nd grade. They were hoping to start a small advanced pull-out math class for 2nd and 3rd graders, but hasn't happened.  The teacher started giving her more advanced math homework within the first few weeks of school, usually on the topic the class is covering.  They use Investigations, which is spiraling.  She started with 3rd grade worksheets, then 4th grade, and now her math homework tends to be variety of stuff from  


There hasn't been any differentiated math instruction during the school day, but the teacher has said that she is willing to meet with DD at the end of the day if she has any questions about her homework.  Mostly I just answer her questions as they come up, with occasional elaboration/instruction as needed.  During math time at school, DD participates with the class, and does the worksheets they do in class.  I think this is mainly due to the fact that the class takes required math assessments together, so the teacher wants her to be exposed to the material before the tests.  DD and 2 of her classmates miss one math period each week due to a pull-out in a different subject, but at least she isn't required to make up what she missed.


The school also uses the First In Math website, so DD can work ahead at her own pace at home this year, and the teacher can see how she's doing.  That site is more for practice than instruction, but DD is enjoying it since she can choose to practice topics they haven't covered in class.  When she is untimed, she has aced the 5th grade stuff she tried.  In the timed section, she is about 2/3 of the way through the 4th grade skill set.  Another benefit to the website is that she can click or type much faster than she can write as a 7-year-old.


Last week DD's teacher surprised me by asking if I had any suggestions for math books or additional websites she could use with DD.  Based on posts I read here, I recommended the Challenge Math books.  The teacher had a positive reaction.  I look forward to seeing how that goes.


DD joined a weekly afterschool math class for kids at a local university, but it is a idea-discussion group, not a skill-drill class.  For example, one day, in a discussion about doubling numbers, they learned about finger binary counting, and made a big chart showing how many combinations they could think of with the fingers of one hand held up or down.  Then by adding fingers, they could keep counting higher and higher.  This class is really fun for her, and now her math-thinking time isn't limited to working alone on the computer or just with me.


The school did start a split 4/5 advanced math class this year, and I'm going to ask if DD can go to it in 3rd, assuming she doesn't do a full grade acceleration.  I know she could handle it this year, but the 2nd grade schedule is not in sync with the other grades. Since she is already pulled out 3 times per week, I think her schedule would be a mess.

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#17 of 18 Old 02-07-2012, 10:43 AM
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When the option of differentiation has been given to my daughter (mostly in kinder) she preferred to do what the other kids were doing. Now that she is a bit older (third grade), acceleration has worked well for her. Our school has many blended classrooms so she has always been in the lower grade of a split, currently she is in third grade of a third grade/fourth grade class. That has worked out great for her and the teacher, the teacher just keeps her with the older grade for  all reading and math. She is several grades ahead in reading, I think they said 8th grade level, but they just keep her in the next grade level. It has worked out "fine". I think they could do more but most days I am just glad they are doing anything extra for her. 

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#18 of 18 Old 02-08-2012, 05:52 PM
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You may want to wait to see just how advanced your child is. DD isn't school aged yet, but I can briefly describe DH's and my own schooling. For DH, he both skipped fourth grade and then was in accelerated/gifted classes after skipping. This worked well for him and he was much happier in school. For myself, I tested 4-6 grades above grade level in all subjects throughout school and was in accelerated/gifted classes throughout. This did not work for me, I was miserable and bored until I got to college, and both my mother and my school probably would have needed to be very willing to think well outside the box for things to be any better.


Is your son ahead only in math? Or in all subjects? How far ahead? Is he happy in class or frustrated?


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