ERIC Identifier: ED372553
Publication Date: 1994-06-00
Author: Winebrenner, Susan - Berger, Sandra
Clearinghouse on Disabilities and Gifted Education Reston VA.
Providing Curriculum Alternatives To Motivate Gifted Students.
ERIC Digest E524.
How to get the best performance from every student is a challenging task,
especially in classrooms where there are many different levels of ability.
Often, students who are gifted are not challenged to perform to their full
capacity because they seem to be doing just fine. Unfortunately, these students
may never achieve their potential because they have not had complex tasks and
have never learned to really work. This digest presents two strategies to help
highly able students get more out of school. Teachers may find that the
following strategies enable them to challenge and motivate not only gifted
students, but also other students who have talents and abilities in specific
STRATEGIES FOR MOTIVATING STUDENTS TO WORK AND LEARN
students benefit from participating in activities that are different from those
designed for other students. Such alternative activities should extend basic
concepts and allow students to connect their personal interests to the course
curriculum. Extra credit activities should be avoided as they send a message
that more work is required. Two strategies that are helpful to teachers in
managing alternative activities are COMPACTING and CONTRACTS.
COMPACTING. Students who demonstrate previous mastery spend less time with
the regular curriculum and more time with extension and enrichment
CONTRACTS. Written agreements between teachers and students that outline what
students will learn, how they will learn it, in what period of time, and how
they will be evaluated. Contracts allow students to engage actively in the
decision-making process, directing their course of study (Parke, 1989,
GUIDELINES FOR COMPACTING
The following guidelines are
useful for pretestable subject areas where students move between an
instructional group and extension activities.
At the beginning of a unit, provide opportunities for interested students to
demonstrate mastery in some way. The same activity may be used for
Students who achieve a specified criterion or grade attend class only on the
days when instruction includes concepts they have not mastered. On those
occasions, they become part of the regular class and participate in assigned
For each student who achieves a specified criterion level on the preassessment
activity, prepare a contract listing required concepts, enrichment options, and
specified working conditions. Check only the topics students have not mastered
so they know when to join the larger group.
The following guidelines are useful when material may not be pretestable
because it is unfamiliar to students. Compacting is still required because
gifted students need less time than their age peers to learn new material.
Prepare a study guide that includes the same concepts for which all students
will be responsible.
Offer the study guide opportunity to all students who have exhibited easy
mastery of previous topics. Eligible students will be expected to learn the
study guide material, but it is understood that they will spend the majority of
their school time working on their extension tasks. Students should not be
required to write out the answers for the content of the study guide. They may
use any means they choose to learn the material, but must be able to demonstrate
Include dates when students must meet with the rest of the class to demonstrate
their competence with the required concepts. Students who do not demonstrate
competence must return to work with the class for the rest of the unit.
Thus, during a specific unit of time, students are moving back and forth
between the teacher directed group and independent work on extension activities.
GUIDELINES FOR CONTRACTS
The following guidelines are
useful for pretestable subject areas where students are moving between
instructional group and extension activities.
In one section of the contract, list the concepts or outcomes that the whole
class will learn. In another section of the contract, list a variety of
alternative or extension activities from which students may choose. These
activities may be developed by the teacher, the student, or both. If extension
activities are developed solely by the teacher, options should include "Your
original idea" so that students can link their personal interests with the
required curriculum. Ideas designed by the student must have teacher approval.
Students work on alternative activities on the days when the class is learning
concepts they have previously mastered.
Students should be responsible for documenting their time. One option is to ask
students to keep a log of their activities on the days they are not working with
the rest of the class. Set guidelines for those activities.
Student outcomes or grades result from a combination of work completed with the
class and a posttest or postassessment activity. The section on Guidelines for
Evaluation of Alternative Work provides details.
The following guidelines are useful for subject areas that may not be
pretestable because material is unfamiliar to students. In this case, teachers
use a study guide with an independent study agreement, illustrated on the
Provide students with a study guide that contains a list of expected outcomes
for a unit, which they may choose to achieve independently. Instead of working
with the regular class, these students will research and present information
about an alternative topic related to the general theme or unit.
Students work on the extended activity in school during the time the class is
working with the regular content. Thus, the activity becomes their real work for
the class period.
Students sign an agreement similar to the following illustration.
INDEPENDENT STUDY AGREEMENT
The following terms are agreed
to by teacher and student:
student may learn the key concepts or the information described on the study
student must demonstrate mastery at appropriate checkpoints to continue this
arrangement for the rest of the unit.
student must participate in selected group activities when one day's notice is
given by the teacher.
student agrees to complete an independent project by (date) to share with the
The student agrees to work on the selected project according to the following
guidelines while the remainder of the class is involved with the teacher. (List
A similar agreement may be used with all independent study activities. The
prototype may be used for ideas on what to include, or teachers may use their
own ideas. Students rejoin the large group for special experiences in which all
students should participate.
Students who do not work on their alternative activity or do not honor the
working conditions of the agreement are required to rejoin the class for the
duration of the unit.
Students present their project to the class at an appropriate time. Written work
is not required. Students are expected to present a talk of 7-10 minutes,
accompanied by at least one visual aid. Or, students may negotiate a suitable
means of demonstrating to the class what has been learned.
Evaluation or grading alternatives are described in the section that follows on
Guidelines for Evaluation of Alternative Work.
GUIDELINES FOR EVALUATION OF ALTERNATIVE WORK
guidelines are useful for pretestable subject areas where students are moving
between instructional group and extension activities.
Alternative student work is more easily managed when student activities require
more than one class period to complete. In mathematics, for example, students
might research the real world applications of the course content, work with
various number bases, or investigate the lives of famous mathematicians. In
writing or English classes, students might work on more complex or open-ended
writing assignments, or investigate the writing style of several authors.
When eligible students work on alternative activities, the goal should be to
provide them with opportunities to master challenging tasks. They would earn the
same credit as if they had completed the regular tasks as long as they adhere to
the agreed-upon working conditions.
The following guidelines are useful for subjects that may not be pretestable
because material is unfamiliar to students.
Alternative work extends the regular curriculum. Therefore, extension projects
should earn at least a grade of B or the equivalent because the students are
going beyond what is required.
All criteria for evaluation should be presented and understood before students
begin an extended activity. Teacher expectations should be clearly stated.
Students earn a grade of B if the completed work represents typical research
that merely reports secondary sources and if the presentation is properly made
to an appropriate audience.
Students earn a grade of A if the completed work represents unique or creative
research, provides evidence of primary sources, represents an interesting or
unusual synthesis of available data, or the material is presented in an original
It is important for students to understand that they need to be working
productively during school time. If they do not follow the expected working
conditions, they need to rejoin the regular instructional group and may be
required to make up some of the regular work. If students become immersed in the
topic and wish to continue beyond the expected date, they must provide a
progress report at regular intervals.
If point systems, rubrics, or holistic assessment methods are used for other
activities, these methods may also be used to evaluate students' extended
projects. Students may become engaged in the creation of the scoring rubrics and
evaluate their own work as the project progresses by measuring their project
against the rubric criteria. Responsibility for evaluating student work is then
shared between teacher and students.
Effective teachers at all grade levels have found
that students differ in the ways they learn best and therefore learn better when
teachers vary approaches to learning. Compacting and contracts make it possible
for teachers to present alternative activities to highly capable learners that
are challenging, promote cognitive growth, and are based on student interests.
Regular use of compacting and contracts will benefit not only gifted students,
but also provide interesting educational opportunities for the entire class.
Parke, B. N. (1989). GIFTED STUDENTS IN REGULAR
CLASSROOMS. Needam Heights, MA: Allyn & Bacon.
Reis, S., & Renzulli, J. (1992). "Using curriculum compacting to
challenge the above-average." EDUCATIONAL LEADERSHIP, 50(2), 51-57.
Winebrenner, S. (1992). TEACHING GIFTED KIDS IN THE REGULAR CLASSROOM.
Minneapolis: Free Spirit Publishing.
Note. This digest was developed from TEACHING GIFTED KIDS IN THE REGULAR
CLASSROOM by Susan Winebrenner.