Deborah L. Ruf, PhD
Any parent who has more than one child knows that regardless of the way they parent or what they provide for their children, the children are different from one another in many, many ways. Although certain characteristics certainly run in families, the looks, temperaments, abilities, talents and interests of each child are usually at least somewhat dissimilar between them. Even our school systems acknowledge that children vary in their learning abilities; but at the same time that we recognize that children are different from one another, we set up school instructional and social situations that treat them as though any differences are either small or nonexistent. The problem may be that there is little or no understanding in schools of how vast the learning differences are.
The customary method of grouping children for instruction in schools is heterogeneous (mixed ability) grouping and “whole class” instruction. Despite considerable evidence that the achievement span among children of the same age can be — and usually is — quite significant, children are almost always strictly grouped with others who are the same age as they. The intellectual differences between children of the same age become socially and academically problematic when the children are continually grouped together in schools all day for all their instruction and activities. For example, when a little girl routinely uses advanced vocabulary and wants to guide the play of her more typical classmates, they may resent her and see her as “bossy” or strange because of the words she uses. If a boy who enjoys reading books on history and wants someone to discuss his passionate interest with, he may be viewed as socially immature if he keeps turning to his teacher for attention instead of playing with the boys his age.
I believe that unless we know and understand how different children can be from one another, we cannot effectively address the best methods for meeting the needs of any of them. Some years ago I set out to study learning differences — particularly those of highly intelligent children.
There is a mountain of research on individual learning differences that is available, and has been available, for many years. Although my Ruf…