Monday, June 9, 2008

Curriculum Compacting

Current studies have found that 75-85% of elementary school students of average or above average ability can pass subject pre-tests with 92-93% accuracy. Similar findings have been found for fourth, eighth, and eleventh graders in science and social studies curricula in several states. This means that grade-level curriculum is often too basic and unchallenging for bright learners, as well as for many other learners. Clearly the typical curriculum - at least as reflected in the pre-tests - is set at a low level that would suggest that unless new material is added, gifted children will be stuck in a situation where they are repeating information they already know during virtually all of their time in the classroom. Compacting the curriculum is one oform of acceleration that provide them with more learning and stimulation.

Drs. Joseph Renzulli and Sally Reis (1992) directed a large national study, which found that elementary teachers could eliminate - with no detrimental effects on the student's measures of achievement - up to 40-50% of the regular curriculum in language arts and mathematics for the top 10-15% of students. Up to 80% of the curriculum at grade level could be eliminated for extremely bright students.

-Karen B. Rogers, Ph.D., "Re-Forming Gifted Education"

Too many teachers and administrators fall into the trap of believing that educational standards imply that a student must sit through instruction specified for a grade, whether or not the student already knows it. Because many classes cater to the lower half of learners, gifted as well as average students may find themselves bored. There are alternatives to this scenario, however.

Compacting is one option, particularly for those hesitant to move a child out of a classroom with age-mates. Compacting requires the teacher to determine what is essential information, pre-test the students to determine if they understand the material (after having established a suitable standard to show mastery), and then move a child with mastery onto the next material while addressing any gaps that may have shown up during pre-testing.

There are several ways a student can be assessed for knowledge. While a paper and pencil method may suffice, Rogers also suggestions informal discussions, brainstorming sessions, reviewing previous performance, a formal interview or observation of a task which requires the knowledge.

The method can accelerate the child ahead of age-mates, keeping the child interested in the academic content of their studies while keeping them in a chronological classroom. It is a far more efficient (for the student) way of learning that can help prevent acting out on the part of a gifted child who is bored with or uninterested in their current curriculum.

Another option is to include enrichment materials rather than accelerating the student. This has been shown to produce less gain in achievement for the student, however, so it may not provide the stimulation the child wants.

Regardless, compacting requires effort on the part of the teacher, and it may create more social benefits if compaction occurs in a group rather than to an individual.

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