Visualize yourself at a professional development presentation during which you painfully discover you already know much of the content. How do you feel about being required to stay for the entire presentation when all you want to do is leave?

Your gifted/advanced learners are dreading a similar experience waiting for them during the first days of a new school year. Much of school time during those days are spent "reviewing" information students were supposed to have mastered earlier in their education.

Has it occurred to you that they may be having the same reaction as you identified in the opening paragraph above? "Why do I have to participate in this entire activity when I already know this stuff?"

When we begin the school year anticipating this issue, we can be ready for these learners by consistently offering "compacting options." Compacting the standards is quite easy, if you are prepared ahead of the moment you discover you need to use it.

Following are easy-to-use steps to take that make your advanced learners smile and happily to tell their parents, "This teacher really understands me!"

For all review material, select the five tasks you can identify as the most difficult of the entire exercise. As you distribute the material, explain to all students that since you are new to each other, you really have little information about what they have mastered. Then, write on the board the numbers of the five tasks you consider to be the most difficult part of the entire review assignment.

Announce to the entire class:

"Since we've just met, I don't know yet which of you could be successful with the tasks I have selected as a short pretest for anyone who thinks they are already competent with the material. Your first task will be to try those tasks. If you decide to start with those designated tasks, and you get no more than one wrong, you will have shown me that you 'need less practice' than the entire assignment provides.

"If you want me to check those, just raise your hand, and I will get to you check your work — and you must be finished before the end of this class. You may notice that sometimes I have a student helping me, and that person can do the same thing I am doing.

"If we tell you that you have less than two wrong, you may choose to work on one of the alternate activities I have made available for you in this location. If we discover that you have more than one wrong, you will know that you need more practice with the review content than you thought, so I will expect you to complete the entire activity."

(Caution: Use a matter-of-fact voice when describing this option. If you make the opportunity sound too special, those students who do not get to work on them may feel badly.)

This is the secret to the success of this strategy: Ahead of teaching or reviewing the review content, you must select some alternate activities that are not necessarily connected to the same standards this lesson is reviewing, but are connected to the same subject area. These activities will not be graded, but agreeing to do them relieves advanced learners from the drudgery of having to spend school time on what they may consider to be a waste of their learning time.

The extension tasks are not graded since you already have the mastery documented. Explain that you will enter their mastery grades before the end of this class period once you are satisfied that these students are following the "essential rules" while they are working.

The essential rules for independent work

  • Don't bother anyone — that includes me if I am working with other students or continuing direct instruction.
  • Don't call attention to yourself or the fact that you are doing extension work.
  • Spend all remaining class time today working on extension activities.
  • Keep records of your extension work as I describe that record-keeping form.

As long as you follow these rules, you continue to make your own choices for your extension work. If you do not follow these rules, I will make these choices for you.

Once you and your students discover the considerable excitement this opportunity provides, they will hope that similar opportunities will be available with other content during the school year. This strategy works best with material that has been taught in previous grade levels or even when you are spending considerably more time teaching content than you had expected.

Having these "extension" or alternate activities ready when needed guarantees your pacing won't be robbing any of your students from continuing to stay engaged with the content over time.