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GT Best Practices: Curriculum Compacting

May 1, 2011

by Aanchal Prakash

All too often, we speak and hear of “Best Practices” of gifted education without truly understanding what that means.  As a result, each of our Campus Reps has undertaken the challenge to evaluate and research the “Best Practices” (as based on the book, Best Practices of Gifted Education by Robinson, Shore and Enersen).  The following article is part of our 15 part series, GT Best Practices. 

NOTE: The book, Best Practices of Gifted Education, uses the terms “gifted, talented, high-ability, and promising” learners interchangeably. 

Aanchal Prakash is the Valley Ranch campus rep, 2010-2011.

Somebody once said that “There is nothing so unequal as the equal treatment of unequals”.

And this is exactly what our high ability students are facing today. Because High Ability Learners (HAL) are primarily served in heterogeneous classrooms, especially at the elementary and middle school levels, they spend a good deal of their time

–          reading from textbooks that do not have material sufficiently challenging for them; or

–          practicing skill they have already mastered; or

–          being required to finish the “regular work” at the same pace as the rest of the class, a pace much slower than their abilities

And therein lies the need for compacting the curriculum or diagnostic-prescriptive instruction or any other tongue-twisting terminology one might want to use.

The process of compacting includes 3 phases – defining the goals and objectives to be met during a particular instruction period, identifying the candidates for compacting using pre-testing and/or teacher experience and then providing a combination of acceleration and enrichment options – enrichment, where the curriculum is already mastered; and acceleration where the curriculum may be new, but the gifted student can learn it much faster than their age peers.

The question one may ask is, “how does curriculum compacting affect achievement?” Teachers & parents may fear that students whose curriculum is compacted may do poorly on state accountability tests or standardized achievement tests. A study conducted among high ability students in grades 2nd – 6th, indicated that students whose curriculum was compacted performed as well as similar ability students whose curriculum was not compacted.

In fact, studies indicate that almost 50% of the general curriculum can be eliminated for the HA elementary students in a regular classroom without making any difference to the achievement test scores in reading, math or social studies, even when tested at one grade level above class placement.

A very important aspect of curriculum compacting is teacher skills….the ability of a teacher to identify via pre-tests and experience, the high ability learners in his/her classroom. Studies have indicated that 95% of the teachers who have received training in compacting have been able to identify the HAL in the classroom. Teachers who have received professional development and the support of a gifted resource room teacher, compacted for their students. They do tend to compact at the unit level rather than at the semester or grading period level, thus providing enrichment replacement activities, rather than moving students ahead in semester or course blocks.

The challenge of compacting lies, not in identifying what part of the curriculum should be compacted, but rather what to do with the released time. Teachers with the most intensive professional development, including peer coaching, provided the most opportunities for compacting and more replacement strategies. The greatest frustration reported by the teachers was finding the appropriate replacement material and the lack of time to plan for meeting individual needs.

What needs to be done –

  • Allay the fears of parents and school personnel regarding the student achievement when curriculum is compacted
  • Classroom teachers need support in the form of –
    • Peer coaches to implement and sustain curriculum compacting
    • Support from professional staff such as reading/math specialists and GT teachers who are able to provide replacement material
    • Time to locate or develop replacement activities. Administrators need to carve out time for their faculty to engage in such work
    • Instructional dollars allocated by administrators to acquire alternative material for replacement activities.
    • At the school, because compacting can move students ahead in the curriculum, schools should allow teachers and students access to material from advanced grade levels.

To sum it up, given the time and professional development, teachers are able and willing to compact the curricula for the students who need this. In terms of student effects, there is no fall in achievement levels on standardized testing basis. There is also evidence that compacting contributes to improved attitudes towards learning in the elementary age student because it creates time for self-selected interests. And hence, we can probably say that if students are not required to repeatedly review already mastered material, they will be more involved and fulfilled learners.

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