Where in the world is ‘curriculum compacting’ actually happening?
Friday, December 15, 2017
The first time in my career that I received in-depth training in how to teach gifted students correctly was at a training called "Confratute" at the University of Connecticut. It was amazingly motivational and thoroughly informative, and I returned to my school district raring to get started, as correctly as possible.
The core information of that training was the importance of consistently applying a principle called "compacting." Originated by Dr. Joseph Renzulli and Linda Smith, it exquisitely describes the essential core practice that must be present at all times during the education of these significantly "advanced" learners.
It is essential because the main reason gifted learners often refuse to "do their work" is because the work we ask them to do is not their work. It is the work associated with grade level standards, many of which have already been mastered by students who have advanced learning capacities in those specific areas of curriculum.
As adults, we feel the same way when we are asked to listen to or learn about topics we have already mastered.
Below are the core practices of compacting, based on my research with Dina Brulles, Ph.D.
First, with content that is skill-based — such as language arts, mathematics, geography, vocabulary, physical education and other areas that have at least some portion that advanced students might already know — we must do the following before we even start teaching the unit or chapter.
Select two "extension activities." Students can choose these activities once their pretest results indicate they have already mastered the upcoming content. The third choice may be their own idea for which they must receive teacher approval.
Allow all students to examine that material. Give students about three minutes to decide if they want to take the pretest because they believe they will get all but two items correct. While they are pretesting, provide a high-interest activity from content in the same subject area for the students who are not taking the pretest. In this way, all students will look forward to the first day of a chapter or unit.
Those who take the pretest will have a chance to demonstrate they do not need to experience again material they have already mastered. And those who do not take the pretest are happy because they also enjoy the alternate learning experience, participation in which leads to less resentment on their part toward the students who experience compacting throughout the class time spent on the upcoming targeted standards.
Compact the time to learn it. For areas where the content is new, we compact the amount of time students are expected to spend learning that material. We can even decide to allow those advanced learners to be required to do only the assessments as long as they continue to do well on them without turning in the classwork related to those standards.
These methods solve the dilemma of what to do with students who don't hand in their assignments but "ace" the assessments. These issues further demonstrate the advanced learning capacity of students who have been in conflict with teachers over their habits of not "doing their work," at the same time they are demonstrating content mastery through the assessments.
As I have spoken to teachers in several states during the past few years, I have been saddened to observe that few teachers use curriculum compacting consistently. These observations have been supported by a national report called "A Nation Deceived: How Schools Hold Back America's Brightest Students," which confirms the benefits of content acceleration, though which highly advanced students move more quickly through required course work.
Compacting strategies are even more essential as we move into the spring of this school year when huge amounts of school time are used to prepare for national assessments of student achievement. Students whose teachers can use more compacting during the curriculum reviews that dominate school activities will be hugely relieved and extremely grateful for their teachers' understanding of how uncomfortable that review time is for them.
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