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Michael Clay Thompson Wins Gifted Education Award

Michael Clay Thompson has won the prestigious Richard W. Riley Award for “superior services to the gifted community.” Given by the South Carolina Consortium for Gifted Education at its annual conference, President Marva Tigner presented the award to Michael for his unique contribution to teaching gifted children, both nationally and locally. His grammar, vocabulary, writing, and poetics programs have inspired teachers and students for more than twenty years.

The award reflects the unique place that Michael’s language arts curriculum has come to have in gifted education. While others have attempted to produce curriculum for gifted children, none has had the success or the longevity of Michael’s. Its pedagogic effectiveness has been recognized increasingly by educators, and the curriculum is being eagerly embraced by parents who are teaching their children at home.

The Work of a Lifetime

It started with a vocabulary course that Michael developed for his high school gifted students; a graduate professor encouraged him to seek publication, and he came to Royal Fireworks Press as the leading publisher in the field. That curriculum became The Word within the Word, and a fruitful partnership was born between Michael and Royal Fireworks Press. The curriculum encompasses seven levels, with grammar, vocabulary, poetics, writing, and practice books at each level. It is used by hundreds of thousands of students throughout the United States each year.

Central to the curriculum is Michael’s method of teaching grammar that employs his own four-level analysis technique and a Socratic questioning approach. His poetics books take students through an increasingly rigorous study of the techniques that poets use, with a sideways look at Plato at the higher levels. His grammar and his vocabulary approaches bring students to an understanding of the systems that underlie the English language—students are no longer learning long lists of arbitrary rules but are coming to an appreciation of the organization that provides the foundation for the language.

For Michael, the summative capability is the ability to produce a formal academic essay—which students will need in college and throughout the rest of their lives if they are professionals—and he shows them how everything that they have learned about grammar, vocabulary, and poetics is necessary to write an excellent essay. In Michael’s curriculum, there are no tricks or shortcuts; a thorough understanding of the basics is the essential starting point.

Dr. T.M. Kemnitz, President of Royal Fireworks Press, says, “Michael’s books reflect an original and creative mind and a zealous championing of the classics against the trend to dumb down literature in the classroom. For Michael, grammar is not dull and difficult; he brings students to understand that it is beautiful and bewitching, simpler than they ever imagined, and extremely useful. He uses art and creative design, funny stories and whimsy to convey his huge joy in the language. And the students get it; they learn, are surprised by how much they learn, and then learn still more. Most of them enjoy the process enormously.”

The curriculum is the work of a lifetime, and it represents an almost unparalleled achievement in American pedagogy. At a time when committees produce instant curricula for textbook adoption boards, Michael and Royal Fireworks Press have tenaciously spent more than two decades producing a curriculum for children. And of course, that partnership continues, with new books planned for the future.

You can explore the MCT language arts curriculum here.

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