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Think Different.

by Caroline Daniel

In honor of National Poetry Month, I wanted to share a short poem titled, “Here’s to the Crazy Ones” by Jack Kerouac.  

Here’s to the crazy ones. The misfits. The rebels. The troublemakers. The round pegs in the square holes. The ones who see things differently. They’re not fond of rules. And they have no respect for the status quo. You can quote them, disagree with them, glorify or vilify them. About the only thing you can’t do is ignore them. Because they change things. They push the human race forward. And while some may see them as the crazy ones, we see genius. Because the people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world, are the ones who do. 

This poem, although not written by Steve Jobs, is often credited to him for the “Think Different” campaign Apple started to rebrand itself in the late 1990s. Steve Jobs had a powerful concept with this campaign to stretch the way we would think about the possibilities with technology. That same idea to think differently resonates when we think about supporting the intellectual and social needs of gifted students. We should challenge ourselves to think differently so gifted students can utilize their remarkable abilities and talents in new ways.  

How is it possible to offer something different for gifted students when school systems lack the flexibility with curriculum standards? Is it possible to plan for different opportunities when gifted students learn along-side mixed-ability learners in a classroom? The answer is yes, using the instructional strategy known as curriculum compacting.  

What is Curriculum Compacting? Curriculum compacting is an instructional strategy that allows gifted and academically advanced students to showcase content strengths through pre-assessments at the start of a new course of study to determine a customized path of learning that corresponds to the readiness needs of the students. Based on pre-assessment feedback, students can skip or move quickly (compact) through mastered objectives/goals into learning experiences that are appropriately intellectually challenging and that support their topic-focused interests or passions.  These challenging opportunities can range from tiered assignments that allow students to work with higher levels of inquiry and questioning, research opportunities, problem-based learning tasks, and much more. 

How can parents advocate for this strategy in the classroom?    

Tip #1: Begin dialogue about your child’s intellectual and social needs. 

If your child is consistently performing at high levels, it may indicate a need for the use of curriculum compacting in the classroom. However, evaluate whether your child is truly showing high levels of achievement because course work is appropriately challenging or because it is easy. Once a need is established, begin communication with the teacher regarding the types of instructional options that are available for extension, acceleration, or challenge that can support new learning. This type of dialogue with the teacher will stimulate an awareness of your child’s instructional needs and opportunities for collaboration.  

Tip #2: Advocate for the Gifted Difference 

Research indicates that when teachers eliminated 40-50 percent of previously mastered content for gifted or high-ability learners, the learning outcomes were similar between students engaging in compacted curriculum and those who completed all the tasks and activities originally designed for a unit of study.  Additionally, for elementary gifted students, it has been shown that teachers can eliminate 25-70 percent of previously acquired content without any negative impact on test scores.  What units can be adjusted or adapted differently to suit the intellectual engagement needed for gifted students? How can questioning, product outcomes, learning processes and materials look different for gifted learners? These are the types of questions to ask. When the gifted difference is used in the classroom, students will be able to blossom and showcase their true capabilities.  

Tip #3: Partnership with an Open Mind 

It is always important to advocate for the gifted learner with the understanding that practices may not change overnight as it is dependent on many different external factors. Advocacy starts with an open mind, communication, and the desire to work together toward solutions that meet the needs of gifted learners. The use of curriculum compacting in the classroom for gifted learners is only the beginning of instructional possibilities for gifted students, and it lends itself well to other recommended instructional practices such as independent learning contracts for investigations, tiered assignments, or research opportunities. 

The goal of curriculum compacting is for gifted students to interact with course work in new ways that challenge them to engage in new learning objectives and concepts appropriate to their needs. When we think of ways gifted students can engage differently, it opens the possibilities for a unique partnership – one that is grounded on a trust for acquiring new knowledge, validation of ability and intellectual potential, and of appreciation. Think differently so gifted students can make a difference with their potential. 

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