ERIC Identifier: ED342175
Publication Date: 1991-00-00
Author: Berger, Sandra L.
Source: ERIC Clearinghouse on
Handicapped and Gifted Children Reston VA.
Differentiating Curriculum for Gifted Students. ERIC Digest
Students who are gifted and talented are found in full-time self-contained
classrooms, magnet schools, pull-out programs, resource rooms, regular
classrooms, and every combination of these settings. No matter where they obtain
their education, they need an appropriately differentiated curriculum designed
to address their individual characteristics, needs, abilities, and interests.
DEVELOPING AN EFFECTIVE CURRICULUM
An effective curriculum
for students who are gifted is essentially a basic curriculum that has been
modified to meet their needs. The unique characteristics of the students must
serve as the basis for decisions on how the curriculum should be modified
(Feldhusen, Hansen, & Kennedy, 1989; Maker 1982; TAG, 1989; VanTassel-Baska
et al., 1988).
It is difficult to generalize about students who are gifted because their
characteristics and needs are so personal and unique. However, as a group they
comprehend complex ideas quickly, learn more rapidly and in greater depth than
their age peers, and may exhibit interests that differ from those of their
peers. They need time for in-depth exploration, they manipulate ideas and draw
generalizations about seemingly unconnected concepts, and they ask provocative
A program that builds on these characteristics may be viewed as qualitatively
(rather than quantitatively) different from the basic curriculum; it results
from appropriate modification of content, process, environment, and product
Content consists of ideas, concepts, descriptive information, and
facts. Content, as well as learning experiences, can be modified through
acceleration, compacting, variety, reorganization, flexible pacing, and the use
of more advanced or complex concepts, abstractions, and materials. When
possible, students should be encouraged to move through content areas at their
own pace. If they master a particular unit, they need to be provided with more
advanced learning activities, not more of the same activity. Their learning
characteristics are best served by thematic, broad-based, and integrative
content, rather than just single-subject areas. An entire content area arranged
and structured around a conceptual framework can be mastered in much less time
than is traditionally allotted (VanTassel-Baska, 1989). In addition, such
concept-based instruction expands opportunities to generalize and to integrate
and apply ideas. (See Bruner, 1966, MAN: A COURSE OF STUDY [MACOS] for an
example of a thematic, integrated curriculum.)
Middle and secondary schools are generally organized to meet student needs
within content areas. Providing an interdisciplinary approach is another way of
modifying curriculum . Jacobs and Borland (1986) found that gifted students
benefit greatly from curriculum experiences that cross or go beyond traditional
content areas, particularly when they are encouraged to acquire an integrated
understanding of knowledge and the structure of the disciplines.
To modify process, activities must be restructured to be more
intellectually demanding. For example, students need to be challenged by
questions that require a higher level of response or by open-ended questions
that stimulate inquiry, active exploration, and discovery. Although
instructional strategies depend on the age of the students and the nature of the
disciplines involved, the goal is always to encourage students to think about
subjects in more abstract and complex ways. Activity selection should be based
on student interests, and activities should be used in ways that encourage
self-directed learning. Bloom's TAXONOMY OF EDUCATIONAL OBJECTIVES (1956) offers
the most common approach to process modification. His classification system
moves from more basic levels of thought, such as memory or recall, to more
complex levels of analysis, synthesis, and evaluation. Parnes (1966), Taba
(1962), and others have provided additional models for structuring thinking
skills. Every teacher should know a variety of ways to stimulate and encourage
higher level thinking skills. Group interaction and simulations, flexible
pacing, and guided self-management are a few of the methods for managing class
activities that support process modification.
Gifted students learn best in a receptive, nonjudgmental,
student-centered environment that encourages inquiry and independence, includes
a wide variety of materials, provides some physical movement, is generally
complex, and connects the school experience with the greater world. Although all
students might appreciate such an environment, for students who are gifted it is
essential that the teacher establish a climate that encourages them to question,
exercise independence, and use their creativity in order to be all that they can
PRODUCT EXPECTATION AND STUDENT RESPONSE
Teachers can encourage students to
demonstrate what they have learned in a wide variety of forms that reflect both
knowledge and the ability to manipulate ideas. For example, instead of giving a
written or oral book report, students might prefer to design a game around the
theme and characters of a book. Products can be consistent with each student's
preferred learning style. They should address real problems, concerns, and
audiences; synthesize rather than summarize information; and include a
ASSESSING CURRICULUM EFFECTIVENESS
In their synthesis of
curriculum effectiveness studies and effective practice, VanTassel-Baska et al.
(1988) suggested that differentiated curriculum would respond to diverse
characteristics of gifted learners in the following three ways:
By accelerating the mastery of basic skills through testing-out procedures and
reorganization of the curriculum according to higher level skills and concepts.
By engaging students in active problem-finding and problem-solving activities
By providing students opportunities for making connections within and across
systems of knowledge by focusing on issues, themes, and ideas.
Curriculum development is a dynamic, ongoing process. Special attention needs
to be paid to articulation, scope, and sequence to avoid gaps and repetition
through grade levels; ensure that the understandings and skills we expect
children to develop fit together; and assure that children are provided with the
knowledge and skills that will prepare them for the future. Periodic evaluations
of curriculum effectiveness allow corrections to be made when needed, and they
are essential if curriculum is to meet the long-term needs of gifted students
for increasingly complex and challenging opportunities.
The curriculum committee of the Leadership
Training Institute (Passow, 1982) developed seven guiding principles for
curriculum differentiation that reflect the considerations described in this
The content of curricula for gifted students should focus on and be organized to
include more elaborate, complex, and in-depth study of major ideas, problems,
and themes that integrate knowledge within and across systems of thought.
Curricula for gifted students should allow for the development and application
of productive thinking skills to enable students to reconceptualize existing
knowledge and/or generate new knowledge.
Curricula for gifted students should enable them to explore constantly changing
knowledge and information and develop the attitude that knowledge is worth
pursuing in an open world.
Curricula for gifted students should encourage exposure to, selection, and use
of appropriate and specialized resources.
Curricula for gifted students should promote self-initiated and self-directed
learning and growth.
Curricula for gifted students should provide for the development of
self-understanding and the understanding of one's relationship to persons,
societal institutions, nature, and culture.
Evaluations of curricula for gifted students should be conducted in accordance
with the previously stated principles, stressing higher level thinking skills,
creativity, and excellence in performance and products.
Developing curriculum that is sufficiently rigorous, challenging, and
coherent for students who are gifted is a challenging task. The result, however,
is well worth the effort. Appropriately differentiated curriculum produces
well-educated, knowledgeable students who have had to work very hard, have
mastered a substantial body of knowledge, and can think clearly and critically
about that knowledge. Achieving such results for one or for a classroom full of
students who are gifted will produce high levels of satisfaction, not only for
the students who are beneficiaries, but also for every teacher who is willing to
undertake the task.
Bloom, B.S. (1956). Taxonomy of educational
objectives: The classification of educational goals. Handbook I: Cognitive
domain. New York: Longmans, Green.
Bruner, J.S. (1966). Toward a theory of instruction. New York: Norton.
Feldhusen, J., Hansen, J., & Kennedy, D. (1989). Curriculum development
for GCT teachers. GCT, 12(6), 12-19.
Jacobs, H., & Borland, J. (1986). The interdisciplinary concept model:
Theory and practice. Gifted Child Quarterly, 30(4), 159-163.
Maker, C.J. (1982). Curriculum development for the gifted. Rockville, MD:
Parnes, S.J. (1966). Programming creative behavior. Buffalo, NY: The State
University of New York at Buffalo.
Passow, A.H. (1982). Differentiated curricula for the gifted/talented. In
Curricula for the gifted: Selected proceedings for the First National Conference
on Curricula for the Gifted/Talented (pp. 4-20). Ventura, CA: National/State
Leadership Training Institute on the Gifted and Talented.
Taba, H. (1962). Curriculum development: Theory and practice. New York:
Harcourt, Brace & World.
The Association of the Gifted (TAG). (1989). Standards for programs involving
the gifted and talented. Reston, VA: The Council for Exceptional Children.
VanTassel-Baska, J., Feldhusen, J., Seeley, K., Wheatley, G., Silverman, L.,
& Foster, W. (1988). Comprehensive curriculum for gifted learners. Needham
Heights, MA: Allyn & Bacon.
VanTassel-Baska, J. (1989). Appropriate curriculum for the gifted. In J.
Feldhusen, J. VanTassel-Baska, & K. Seeley (Eds.), Excellence in educating
the gifted (pp. 175-191). Denver: Love.