Two Ways We Change the Curriculum for Gifted Learners

Food is critical to our physical bodies. Children need plenty of food in order to gain the nutrition they need to grow and develop properly. As parents, we constantly pay attention to how much and what kinds of food we provide our kids. If we are really on top of things, we might plan out our meals for a week or more so we know there will be a balanced variety of the important foods our children need.

The curriculum in a school is like meal planning for learning. We design a menu that is appropriate for most students most of the time. It has the right amount and types of content to provide a nutritious and balanced diet over the course of the school year.

But not all students have the same learning metabolism. Some gifted learners need more calories or a different balance of nutrients in order to be healthy. The regular curriculum won’t work for them. There are two ways we can adjust things to give them the right nutrition so they are learning well.


Acceleration is done when a student just needs to learn at a faster pace. The same amount of material is provided more quickly. In terms of food, this is what you’ve likely experienced if you have a teenager in your house: it becomes difficult to keep enough food in the house to satisfy them, and they eat whole meals in between their meals.

With the curriculum, there are a number of ways we can accelerate to get more learning in a shorter time. One is to allow a student to move at his or her own pace through the content. This is complex for a teacher to manage, however, and is only done when other options are inadequate or inappropriate. More frequently we will allow students to work on content that is a year or two above grade level. This might happen by placing the student in a different classroom for that subject, but more often it is done through individualized instruction by the gifted teacher and online resources.

For students who are extremely advanced, we might consider whole-grade acceleration, commonly referred to as “grade skipping”. In this case, a student might demonstrate the ability to do academic work in all subjects that’s above level. This is always a complex decision and we use a standardized tool called the Iowa Acceleration Scale to guide the school team in planning.


Doing more faster isn’t our only option, however. We can also meet needs by giving students a richer, more sophisticated learning experience. This is the equivalent of letting our teenager eat on the same schedule as the rest of the family but modifying the menu to get more nutrition into the same meals.

In the classroom, this means we might continue working on grade level topics, but will ask the student to do more complex things with the knowledge. Or we might reach out and try topics that aren’t part of the normal K-12 curriculum (i.e. giving the student new foods to try that aren’t on the menu). In many cases, we want to give all students the opportunity to try these new foods, so while they are a normal part of the plan for a gifted student’s diet, there will often be many other students who taste and try them as well.

Because enrichment allows us to give many students what they need without having to make extra meals or feed several completely different meals to different students at the same time, it is often the best tool in the curriculum kitchen.

In practice, most gifted learners need some combination of acceleration and enrichment. When we find a student with such complex needs, it’s a good indication that we need to get the team together regularly to create a detailed, individualized plan for his or her learning. This is the purpose of a gifted IEP and is one of the main questions we ask when deciding if a student is eligible for gifted support.

photo credit: Fresh Veggies via photopin (license)

Photo by Chris Metcalf

Welcome Back!

The weather forecast says that summer still lingers, but the calendar insists that it’s time to return to school. All Cheltenham teachers have worked diligently to prepare for a new school year, and we are excited to welcome all students into our buildings this week.

Some of that work has included updating our curriculum and learning about improving the way we teach in every classroom. Our teachers and administrators are lifelong learners, and we know that there is always something new to learn to create an even better experience for the children we teach.

We also recognize that the general education curriculum, while challenging and rich, won’t meet the needs of every child. Some of our students will need different opportunities for enrichment, acceleration, or both. The purpose of the Challenge program in Cheltenham is to find and create those opportunities. Our Challenge teachers work every day with classroom teachers to help ensure that all students have deep, meaningful learning opportunities every day, regardless of their level of skill or ability.

If your child is already receiving gifted support services, you will be hearing from the Challenge teacher in your building soon. For those of you who would like to know more about the program and services that we offer, the booklet below provides a great overview of what’s available to students and how to access the services.

If you’d like more information about the opportunities available in a specific school, contact the Challenge consultant for that building. Their names and phone numbers are listed on the last page of the booklet. If you have questions about the district’s program, please feel free to contact the supervisor of gifted and elementary mathematics, Gerald Aungst. You can call his office at 215-881-6327, or email him at

Also, follow this blog for regular updates and information about gifted support and Challenge services in Cheltenham.

Gifted Services Booklet – Screen

(Photo credit: Crayola Lincoln Logs by Chris Metcalf)

7-12 Challenge and Gifted Information Night

The Office of Education is holding an information session on Monday, March 2, about the Challenge Program and services for gifted and high ability learners in the district. All parents are invited to attend this presentation at the Administration Building by Gerald Aungst, the district’s gifted supervisor. In this general session he will discuss:

  • What is the Challenge Program?
  • What is gifted education and why do we have it?
  • How to know whether your child may be gifted
  • How the district determines eligibility for gifted support
  • Advanced services and programs available to students, including SYNC Curriculum, accelerated math, academic competitions, internships, and dual enrollment

Though this session will focus on grades 7-12, all parents are welcome to attend regardless of what grade your children are in or whether they are already involved with any aspect of the Challenge Program.

Mr. Aungst will also be available at the conclusion of the presentation to answer general questions about gifted support and related services in the district.

7-12 Challenge and Gifted Information Night
Monday, March 2, 2015
6:30 p.m.
Room 102
Cheltenham Administration Building
2000 Ashbourne Road
Elkins Park, PA  19027

For more information, or if you have questions about the event, please contact Mr. Aungst at 215-881-6327 or

Info Night Flyer 7-12 2015

Webinar for Parents about Strength-Based GIEPs

On Thursday, December 11, 2014, the Capital Area Intermediate Unit is hosting an online discussion centering on Strength-Based GIEPs. The presenter is Tanya Morret, expert in gifted education and the Statewide Gifted Liaison for the PA Department of Education. This will be a 20-30 minute presentation followed by 30 minutes for questions.

Registration is limited to 100 online connections, so parents are encouraged to organize viewing parties to watch together.

To register, sign up here: If you have questions about registration, please contact the CAIU directly by emailing Lori Rogers. For more information, see the flyer linked below.

Strength-Based GIEPs: A Parent Webinar

Free Educational Forum for Intellectually Curious Students

From time to time, we share interesting opportunities for students. The event below may be of interest to many Cheltenham families:


A Free Educational Forum for Families

You and your family are invited to attend an Educational Forum for Intellectually Curious Students and their Families at Springside Chestnut Hill Academy on Saturday, October 18th.

This Forum is free of charge and open to anyone who enjoys the world of ideas. Families can explore educational programs, approaches, and resources that support students who appreciate discovery and flexing their minds.

Visit and on the red horizontal menu bar on the homepage click on “Philadelphia 10/18/14” for further info and click on “Register for a Forum” to make reservations.

Sessions for students include:

  • Viral Insights of Germology (grades 4-6)
  • Math and Gymnastics: You be the Judge (grades 4-6)
  • The Claymation Movies–The Sequels (grades 4-6)
  • History in the Making (grades 4-8)
  • Introduction to Computer Automation (grades 5-8)
  • Neuromagic…Sleight of Hand, Sleight of Mind (grades 5-8)
  • Money 101 (grades 6-12)
  • Writing the College Application Essay–Options for College (grades 7-12)
  • Realizing Your Leadership Potential (grades 7-12)

Sessions for parents, friends, and students include:

  • Project-Based Learning: Teaching Failure for Ultimate Success
  • Instilling Interest, Purpose and Motivation
  • Early College Alternatives
  • Brains and Bravery: The Role of School in the Lives of Girls
  • Affording Your Educational Goals for Your Child
  • Intercultural Learning – A Journey Toward Transformative Growth
  • Common Core, the New SAT’s, and the Impact on College Admissions


  • Acceleration: Myths, Misconceptions, and FAQ’s–presented by PAGE representative, Dr. Mary Ann Swiatek

To get more details, see what other sessions are being offered, or to register for the event, go to

[photo credit: ZachMontellaro via photopin cc]

Gifted Services in Cheltenham: Overview

Our last two blog posts addressed what it means to be eligible for gifted support in Cheltenham, and described the process we use to determine a student’s needs for that support. Today we begin a 3-part series describing what services are available to advanced learners in the district. This first part will focus on general principles that guide how we implement services, next week we’ll talk about gifted services in grades K-6, and the following week we’ll address the services at Cedarbrook and CHS. Continue reading Gifted Services in Cheltenham: Overview

"Me think am victim IQ theft." © Mark Anderson,

Qualifying for Gifted Support Services in Cheltenham

In my last post, I shared some general information about the goals and purpose of gifted education. Today, I’m going to expand on one idea which I introduced at the end of the post.

To recap, I described several things that gifted support eligibility is not:

A question we often receive is, “How do I get my child into the gifted program?” The implication is that there is some “secret sauce” or special effort required to be admitted. The eligibility process for gifted support is not a “weed-out” procedure designed to judge the caliber of a student…. It is also not a selective process where students have to earn their way in by surpassing a series of hurdles.

That raises a logical follow up question: “Well, then, if that’s what it’s not, then what is it?”

In Pennsylvania, districts must provide gifted services to students who fit both of two broad characteristics: they must be gifted, and they must require specially designed instruction (called “SDI” for short). Let’s tackle each of these one at a time.

Continue reading Qualifying for Gifted Support Services in Cheltenham

What is Gifted Education All About?

To many people, gifted education seems mysterious and elitist. The argument goes something like this: “Why would we give even more privileges and special treatment to children who are already privileged? They do fine on their own. Why take resources away from kids who are struggling and actually need help?”

Questions like this come from a fundamental misunderstanding of the purpose and goal of gifted education, and we will be taking some time in this blog to periodically address this topic and help you to better understand why we do what we do.

Continue reading What is Gifted Education All About?

MAP Testing to Strengthen Gifted Support for Students

Beginning in October, 2013, Cheltenham will begin using the Measures of Academic Progress (commonly known as the MAP Test) to assess and monitor the progress of gifted students in grades K-6. This test will serve multiple purposes, and the choice to use it grew out of the recommendations of the Gifted Renewal Task Force.

Continue reading MAP Testing to Strengthen Gifted Support for Students