Modifying Regular Classroom Curriculum for Gifted and Talented Students

September 13, 2007 at 6:46 pm (all, blogging, children, classroom management, Education, Educational Leadership, Elementary, ESOL, Gifted, High School, kids, Middle School, Parents, principals, reading, school, school administration, teachers, Thornebrooke, Uncategorized)

Many educators have become well-versed in modifying the regular classroom curriculum to meet the needs of students with disabilities. Educators are not as experienced, however, in meeting the instructional needs of high-ability students. In a growing number of states, revisions in regulations pertaining to gifted and talented students are requiring that high-ability students, previously served in part-time pull-out programs, must also receive appropriate instruction within the context of their regular classrooms. For example, in Kentucky, high-ability students can no longer be viewed as sufficiently served by a once-monthly or once-weekly program. These students have educational needs that must be met daily, just as students with disabilities have.Many regular education teachers report that meeting the needs of high-ability students equals and often exceeds the challenges of integrating disabled students in their classrooms. High-ability students can be delightful, but they can also be demanding, impatient, perfectionistic, sarcastic, and disruptive. In addition, few regular education teachers have received sufficient training in issues related to gifted and talented education. Before teachers can develop appropriate instructional strategies to meet the needs of high-ability students, they must recognize the value of such efforts. For many educators, services to gifted and talented students may seem to be elitist. However, public education is founded on the belief that all students (including those with high abilities) have the right to instruction appropriate to their needs. Gifted and talented students, like all students, should learn something new every day.

General Strategies for Modifying the Curriculum

The objectives for modifying standard curricula for high-ability students include:

  • meeting the learning capacity of the students,
  • meeting the students’ rapid rates of learning in all or some areas of study, and
  • providing time and resources so that students can pursue areas of special interest.

In order to modify standard curricula for high-ability students, Lois Roets (1993) proposed three options:

  • lesson modifications,
  • assignment modifications, and
  • scheduling modifications.

Lessons can be modified through acceleration or enrichment of content. Assignments can be modified through reducing regular classroom work or providing alternate assignments. Scheduling options include providing opportunities for high-ability students to work individually through independent study, shared learning in homogeneous groupings with peers of similar ability and interests, and participation in heterogeneous groupings of mixed-ability students.

Lesson Modifications

One way teachers can extend or enrich the content they present is by asking open-ended questions. Such questions stimulate higher order thinking skills and give students opportunities to consider and express personal opinions. Open-ended questions require thinking skills such as comparison, synthesis, insight, judgment, hypothesis, conjecture, and assimilation. Such questions can also increase student awareness of current events. Open-ended questions should be included in both class discussions and assignments. They can also be used as stimulation for the opening or conclusion of a lesson.

Another strategy for lesson modification developed by Susan Winebrenner (1992) is to use Bloom’s taxonomy of six levels of thinking to develop lesson content. Bloom’s model implies that the “lower” levels (knowledge, comprehension, and application) require more literal and less complex thinking than the “higher” levels (analysis, evaluation, and synthesis). Teachers are encouraged to develop thematic units with activities for students at all ability levels. This strategy involves four steps. Teachers first choose a theme that can incorporate learning objectives from several different subject areas. Secondly, teachers identify 6 to 10 key concepts or instructional objectives. Third, they determine which learner outcomes or grade-level competencies will be targeted for the unit. Finally, they design instructional activities to cover each of the six levels of thinking.

Assignment Modifications

High-ability students are often expected to complete assignments that they find boring or irrelevant because they represent no new learning for them. Allowing them to reduce or skip standard assignments in order to acquire time to pursue alternate assignments or independent projects is called curriculum compacting. The curriculum for a gifted student should be compacted in those areas that represent his or her strengths. When students “buy time” for enrichment or alternate activities, they should use that time to capitalize on their strengths, rather than to improve skills in weaker subjects. For example, a student advanced in math should have a compacted curriculum in that area with opportunities given for enriched study in mathematics.

The first step in compacting the curriculum is determining the need to do so. A student is a candidate for compacting if he or she regularly finishes assignments quickly and correctly, consistently scores high on tests related to the modified area, or demonstrates high ability through individualized assessment, but not daily classwork (i.e., he or she is gifted, but unmotivated for the standard curriculum).

The second step in compacting the curriculum is to create a written plan outlining which, if any, regular assignments will be completed and what alternate activities will be accomplished. A time frame for the plan should also be determined. Modification plans can be limited to a few days (i.e., length of lesson or chapter) or extend over the course of an entire school year.

Alternate assignments for high-ability students can either be projects related to the modified area of study that extend the curriculum, or they can be independent projects that are chosen based on students’ individual interests. Winebrenner (1992) described a strategy in which students use written independent study contracts to research topics of interest to become “resident experts.” The students and teacher decide upon a description and the criteria for evaluating each project. A deadline is determined, and by that date, each student must share his or her project with the entire class. Before choosing their projects, students are also given time to browse various areas of interest. After completing compacted work, students are allowed to look through research materials to explore various topics. A deadline for choosing a topic for independent projects is also given to the students to limit their browsing time.

Scheduling Modifications

Cooperative learning through traditional heterogeneous groups is often counterproductive for high-ability students. When the learning task involves a great deal of drill and practice, these students often end up doing more teaching than learning. When placed in homogeneous cooperative learning groups, however, gifted students can derive significant learning benefits. This does not mean that high-ability students should never participate in heterogeneous cooperative learning groups. Rather, groupings should be chosen based on the task that is being assigned. When the task includes drill and practice, such as math computation or answering comprehension questions about a novel, gifted students should be grouped together and given a more complex task. When the task includes critical thinking, gifted students should be part of heterogeneous groups to stimulate discussions. Open-ended activities are excellent choices for heterogeneous groupings.

Cluster grouping of high-ability students in the same classroom is another option for meeting the needs of gifted students in the regular classroom. The traditional method of assigning students to classes has often been to divide the high-ability students equally among the available classes so each teacher would have his or her “fair share.” Under this system, however, each teacher must develop strategies for modifying the curriculum to meet the needs of the advanced students. With cluster grouping, four to six high-ability students are placed in the same classroom. This system allows the students to learn with and from each other and reduces the need for multiple teachers to develop appropriate instructional modifications.

Case Studies

The following case studies describe how the curriculum was modified for three academically able students.

Mark

Mark entered first grade reading at a fourth-grade level. He had mastered math concepts that challenged his first-grade peers. He was placed in a second-grade class for math instruction and in a third-grade class for reading and spelling instruction. Despite these opportunities, Mark was always the first to finish assignments and spent the majority of his school day reading library books or playing computer games. His parents and teacher were concerned that he was not sufficiently challenged, but as a 6-year-old, he was too young to participate in the district’s pull-out gifted program. They were also concerned that he was having difficulty developing friendships in his classroom since he spent much of the day apart from his homeroom peers. A request for consultation was made to the school psychologist.

With input from Mark’s parents and teachers, an independent study contract was developed for Mark to channel his high reading abilities toward study in a specific area. After browsing for a week, he chose dinosaurs as his project area. Mark then narrowed his focus to the Jurassic Period and decided to create a classroom reference book complete with pictures he drew. When he completed his daily work, Mark researched his topic area and worked on his project. When completed, Mark’s teacher asked him to share his project with his classmates. Because he had chosen a topic of high interest to his peers, Mark’s status as “resident expert” on dinosaurs made him attractive to his classmates. Mark’s teacher encouraged these budding friendships by asking the other students to bring dinosaur toys and books from home to share with the class during the following weeks.

Katrina

Katrina’s parents chose to move her from a private school to public school at the end of her third-grade year. Following the advice of the private school staff, Katrina’s parents enrolled her in a second year of third grade at the public school due to reported weaknesses in reading and written expression. After a few weeks of school, Katrina’s teacher approached the school psychologist with her concern that retention may not have been in Katrina’s best interest. The teacher reported that Katrina was performing on grade level in all areas and demonstrated high-ability math skills.

Upon meeting with Katrina’s parents, however, they expressed the desire to keep her in the third grade. They felt that Katrina had suffered no harmful effects from the retention since it involved a move to a new school with different peers. Further, Katrina’s parents reported that she felt very comfortable and successful in her classroom. Although the committee decided to keep Katrina in the third grade, they developed a compacted curriculum for her in the area of math. A contract was written specifying modifications for Katrina in the regular class math curriculum. She was required to complete half of the assignments given to her peers, as long as she did so with 90% or higher accuracy. When finished with her modified assignment, Katrina then used her time earned through compacting for enriched study in mathematics. The committee was careful to avoid presenting material to Katrina that she would study in the future to avoid the possibility of repetition. Instead, an enriched program of study was developed that emphasized critical thinking and problem solving related to the addition and subtraction being taught in her classroom.

Katrina’s contract included several choices of activities, any of which she could choose to do on a given day, such as creating story problems for the class to solve, drawing pictures or using manipulatives to demonstrate calculation problems, or activities involving measuring, classifying, estimating, and graphing. Katrina’s teacher would present a specific activity choice in these areas that extended and enriched the basic concepts being taught to the class as a whole.

With these modifications, Katrina’s advanced skills in math were addressed. Her parents and teacher judged her school year a success, and Katrina made an easy transition to fourth grade, where she was able to work on grade-level material with an average level of accuracy in all areas.

Adam

Adam demonstrated a very high spoken vocabulary and advanced ideas when participating in class. He completed few of his assignments, though, and showed strong resistance to putting pencil to paper despite obvious high abilities. He was able to read orally at a level 2 years above his fourth-grade status and could perform multidigit calculation problems mentally. However, in the classroom, Adam demonstrated task avoidance and disruptive behaviors. His teacher and parents were frustrated by his lack of work output and behavior problems, and they sought assistance from the school psychologist.

In interviewing Adam, the psychologist found that he did not see the need to put on paper answers he already knew. It seemed likely that Adam’s behavior problems were related to boredom and frustration. To test this theory, the psychologist recommended the use of Winebrenner’s (1992) “Most Difficult First” strategy. With this strategy, the teacher identifies the most difficult portion of an assignment and the student is allowed to attempt that portion of the assignment first. If he or she completes it with 100% accuracy, the student is excused from the remainder of the assignment and allowed to use his or her free time to pursue an alternate activity.

Adam was resistant to this strategy at first, but he quickly saw its advantages and began completing those assignments that were modified using the strategy. With guidance from the school psychologist, Adam’s teacher then extended modifications to include pretesting and compacting opportunities across the curriculum. Adam used his time earned from compacting to pursue independent projects and recreational reading, and his behavior problems decreased accordingly.

Conclusion

The focus of educational services for high-ability students is shifting to the regular classroom. While this expansion of services to the regular classroom is a welcome recognition of the need to challenge high-ability students all day, every day, this initiative also brings with it a significant need to train regular education teachers. Support staff such as educators of gifted and talented students and school psychologists must learn to become effective consultants to assist regular classroom teachers in applying instructional strategies appropriate for meeting the needs of high-ability students.

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31 Comments

  1. joa Gutierrez said,

    everyone has the opportunity to learn even though, some might be in different levels of learning process.

  2. Linda Jones-Bell said,

    Everyone does learn on different level. I believe all have the ability to learn.

  3. Linda Jones-Bell said,

    The needs of every student should be met in the classrom. You don’t want to make them feel like their classroom environment shouldn’t be structured, They need to be exposed to new concepts daily to keep their attention and to continue strengthening their ability to handle the workload of GT students when transitioning to higher level of education.

  4. shena smith said,

    Everyone has the ability to learn but some students may need more guidance and motivation. Its our job as teachers to figure out the best way to educate each student individually.

  5. Tribeniea Fletcher said,

    The level one learns on should not dictate the amount he/ she learns.

  6. Sherita Flowers said,

    All students can learn when they are in the right environment and given the correct to tools to help them succeed.

  7. Shantrey Glenn said,

    Some students may possess innate abilities and naturally excel in certain areas of the curriculum; furthermore, the teacher is responsible for determining the students’ natural aptitudes and modifying their lessons to appeal to the needs of these “GT” students. However, each child possesses their individual talents and drawbacks–and, the teacher should be aware that each child can learn more efficiently by implementing the correct approach that targets the students’ individual learning idiosyncrasies.

  8. cjparsons said,

    I liked the fact so many specific examples were illustrated. This helps new teachers explore options when creating lesson plans for GT students.

  9. Sylvia Fox said,

    The information was insightful. It not only will help in the classroom, but in my family.

  10. Antwahn Barrett said,

    This was very good information but I do believe that all can learn something to a certain degree. I do believe this information will help new teachers have a better understanding of their students and how they learn.

  11. Mariel Gutierrez said,

    My child used to belong to GT and he enjoyed attending the sessions but he was missing out of some classes he really needed help with due to him being an ESL so we decided to pull him out. It was at the beginning frustrating for him because he thought he wasn’t good enough an special anymore. So I am happy to hear that changes to the program are being planned.

  12. Varian Mosley said,

    This info is very helpful, all students can learn, long as you have a well prepared instructor with the right mindset and tools to comprehend to students at all levels, understanding each student in different ways…..

  13. Rafael Delgado said,

    This is good info, I agree that all students learn in different ways. So as a teacher learning the vast differences in each students will help modify their learning skills.

  14. Demond Cohn said,

    All students have the ability to learn through modified curriculum and its a great idea for students and teachers to succeed. I like the adjustments that is made for students with higher learning abilities and the students that have trouble in certain areas because it enable all students to reach their potential.

  15. Christopher Hogan said,

    Good information, I think that every student is capable of learning, any materials taught to them, but they just learn it at their own pace, and own unique way some just need the proper modifications to learn the information taught, all things are possible with every student.

  16. Angie Wardley said,

    Every student has the ability to learn information that is being taught to them. There are great adjustments made for higher learning students. Differentiated learning is very important because all students learn at different levels.

  17. Ashley Bauer said,

    Every student is different and learns different that means we as teachers need to work hard to reach all of our students no mater what their level is.

  18. Michal McCormick said,

    Great reading. With all the teaching we do to acknowledge those with disabilities and struggles, it is important to recognize and design individual plans for those who excel as well so that we can keep them engaged, eager to learn, and challenged. Offer these students ways to showcase their talents and utilize their strengths to help others who struggle within the classroom.

  19. Isabel Santillan said,

    I have several students in my class that could benefit from curriculum compacting.

  20. Patricia Miller said,

    I have a new appreciation for gifted/talented learning strategies. I find the readings very helpful .

  21. Dorothy Cisneros said,

    Excellent post. I think GT students need to be challenged this allows them to use critical thinking skills to further enhance their learning abilities, with the encouragement of teachers and parents.

  22. Michael Johnican said,

    Love the information to extend learning for GT students

  23. Trevor Desmond said,

    Great post. Because students learn differently, we as teachers need to figure out how each student thinks and attack the lesson plan with this is mind.

  24. Alicia Wilson said,

    This is great information. I was just meeting with my Principal yesterday on ways that I could engage my high- ability students. This is a great reference!

  25. Stacy Mensik said,

    This is all great information. You need these modifications in your room because each child learns differently. Students may be on different levels. So you need to keep them engaged with work they find stimulating.

  26. Lakendra Jackson said,

    Great information and this will help me reach out to the students more.

  27. Alisa DeVillier said,

    Great article on GT students. It is very important that GT students are challenged in the classroom. The curriculum should be modified to stimulate the students higher order thinking skills.

  28. Rachel Flores said,

    I loved the information given! It will help me deal with my GT students for the better. There has to be modifications for those GT students in order to reach their full potential. They are labeled that way for a reason and there should be modifications to have them reach their potential with higher ordered thinking.

  29. Sarah Pena said,

    Great article! I found it a challenge to accommodate those GT students in my classroom, considering our classes our joint classes. This article is really going to guide me through the tough process.

  30. Sonya Roberson said,

    It is vert difficult to accommodate GT students in mixed level classes.

  31. Mindy Hogan said,

    The information provided me new insight on how to accommodate GT student’s. Providing the GT student’s the opportunity to explore various topics and use research material in areas of special interest is a great idea. Involving all student’s to participate in a GT student’s research provides all student’s the opportunity to learn higher order thinking skills.

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