Monday, May 18, 2009

Gifted Kids in the Regular Classroom, Part 2

Today, we are going to take a look at gifted kids in the regular classroom and compacting. The number one complaint that I hear from parents of gifted children is that their kids are bored. Rightly so! The gifted child needs approximately one to three repetitions of a concept before they achieve understanding, and slightly more for mastery. Contrast that with most children, who require seven to nine repetitions, and lower level children who need who knows how many repetitions! Consider your child sitting and experiencing those extra six to twenty repetitions beyond what they need. . . As a reward for demonstrating their understanding quickly, most often their prize is MORE of the same work!

You would be bored out of your mind, too. . . The end result is varied but sad. Gifted kids turn themselves off to teachers; they oftentimes are off task when the teacher looks to them, trying to "catch" them in goofing off or not understanding. Teachers try to trick the gifted child into proving that they really aren't as smart as they think they are. Gifted children also under perform. They are either tired of the extra work or permanently checked out. They have given up on school as a learning place. Do you see your gifted child in one of these places right now? It's not a good place to be. . .

What can we as parents and teachers do and advocate? Today, we are going to talk about curriculum compacting for the gifted student.

What is curriculum compacting? It means compacting and condensing the curriculum to the meat, and trimming away all the fat. With curriculum compacting, you are cutting out the needless repetition in a lesson, and getting to the heart of the objective. A typical school lesson consists of an introduction, the teacher doing examples on the board, the students practicing with a partner, the students practicing independently, and the students reviewing for homework. Sound familiar? Each step of the lesson includes at least a dozen repetitions of the task for a grand total of nearly fifty repetitions. How many does the gifted child need? One to three. . . They checked out way back when you were just introducing the lesson, because they thought they already knew what you were talking about.

A compacted lesson includes stating the new objective. Three examples of increasing difficulty demonstrated on the board. Three examples of varied difficulty with each child in the group responding on a small white board to demonstrate understanding. A practice activity with a handful of problems done independently and submitted. Then, students who are not demonstrating mastery are pulled separately for more instruction as needed. See the difference? If a child demonstrates mastery, they are free to move on to the next topic. Period. Full stop. Extra work is for children who need extra practice.

Another way to approach curriculum compacting is called "Most Difficult First". This works particularly well in a classroom of highly varied ability levels. It requires some advance preparation, but is highly successful. After teaching a lesson, the teacher puts the "challenge" on the board. They write the numbers of the five or so most difficult problems on the board, or circle them on the handout. Any child who can complete these more difficult problems is free to skip the others. This works well because all children have the option. The children who need more help will make themselves known by not finishing the most difficult problems correctly. The gifted students will be free to move on, having shown mastery, instead of being chained to the other thirty problems on the page. . .

Another successful compacting method I have used is pretesting. I do this most often in math. Students are given the option to pretest on the math concepts being covered. The pretest includes all the objectives that the unit will be covering. Students can take the pretest to test out of a level and move on in the curriculum. Most math curriculum offer several versions of a post test. I simply doctor one of the post tests to create a pretest. Any student that passes the pretest can move on to the next higher level of that concept.

As a final note- my greatest advice as an expert on gifted children is simple.

Stop giving extra work.

This is the number one step to take in getting gifted kids back into a learning state of mind. They don't need the extra work, you don't need the extra work, and it is not beneficial to them anyway. Studies have shown with repeated drilling, gifted children actually reduce their accuracy. When they have shown mastery- stop. That's it. Just stop. Let them choose another related activity, or have a variety of other mentally stimulating opportunities for them to choose from.

These are just a few strategies I have implemented in my classroom with great success. They are your's to fit to your students and your classroom. I'd love to hear other ways that the content is compacted to meet the needs of gifted learners!

**Most Difficult First is a strategy drawn from Susan Weinbrenner's book Gifted Kids in the Regular Classroom. Several strategies this week originated and/or are adopted from theories presented here. Check it out in my bookstore for blackline masters and more complete implementation instructions. As always, feel free to email me for tips and advice!**


  1. Thank you for this! We're in the middle of a disastrous Kindergarten year with my HG+ son. His teacher insists that he finish the regular work and ask for harder work every day. Then she gets mad that he goes to play legos instead. Who wants to do 50 identical problems when you can do 10!

    These are fabulous suggestions to help differentiate for every child, not just the gifted ones.

  2. Hi Anonymous,

    Glad you liked the suggestions. I cannot count the number of children who have been in your son's shoes. Please talk to your son's teacher- these strategies are really not that difficult to implement and make a world of difference!

  3. "When they have shown mastery- stop. That's it. Just stop. Let them choose another related activity, or have a variety of other mentally stimulating opportunities for them to choose from."

    Best advice I've heard from an education professional in a long, long time.

  4. If only I could pin this post the the forehead of almost every teacher in the school.

    Teachers try to trick the gifted child into proving that they really aren't as smart as they think they are. As G&T coordinator at my school, this is my absolute pet hate. At best it's misguided and ignorant, at worst it's downright bullying. These teachers could be spending time and energy finding out what they can do.

    I had a student yesterday who is not a great writer. I read the beginning of his story to him and asked him if it sounded like a story. He immediately 'got' that it didn't and only needed minor prompts to be right back on track. If I'd drilled him on story beginnings, he might have turned off completely. Instead, he's written an awesome story beginning.

  5. I'm Anonymous in the first post too-
    Our son's teacher doesn't believe in "gifted" children and has insisted that all children learn the same way. She clearly hasn't read any research in the last 50 years!

    You're doing a great service to your students and to everyone reading this blog!

  6. I really like this post, and I like your suggestions. I have trouble implementing it though. When a gifted child shows you mastery, how do they go on to the next topic if you the teacher are busy working with the lower kids who have NOT mastered it?

  7. My one big issue with this is *how* the students achieve mastery. As a gifted student myself (and now a teacher with an MS in ecology), I spent a lot of time "moving ahead" in subjects because I demonstrated quick mastery. However, my mastery was more technical than conceptual, and I find that I often have to review topics to refresh them in my memory. I wonder if I would remember better had I worked more on the conceptual basis of what I was doing once I showed the technical mastery.

  8. Oh my gosh, thank you so much for posting this! I could cry- I am a hs'ing mom of 4, two school aged, 11 (son) and 12 (stepdaughter). My son was identified as gifted when he was in school. I knew this all along, having been gifted myself, but they didn't "believe" me until they tested him in 3rd grade... I have been trying to figure out how to accelerate (or rather, keep up with!) him without just giving more work. Thank you soo much- we will start tomorrow!!! Any ideas on how to address the asynchronous reading ability vs. age appropriateness of material issue?

  9. Thank you so much for this post. I'm a homeschooling mom of a 7 yr old who is very smart. We haven't tested him for gifted, but he is working a grade level or two above in each subject. We are having a hard time in math, he hates the repetition and I couldn't figure out how to make it work. I'm going to take your suggestions and stop making him repeat the same things over and over again.

  10. What a great article to help us advocate for our children! Thank you!

  11. I came across this while researching the subject of curriculum compacting for math. I was formerly a middle school math teacher and while working with my first grade son noticed how advanced his number concepts were. Naturally, I pushed him further and notice how he learned a new concept in one to two tries. I have battled the school this year with subject acceleration, but of course they gave me the run around. So, I went and had him tested privately just to prove that I was right and that he is gifted in math and High IQ. They don't formally start in the gifted program until 4th grade, but I have fought hard enough to get them to agree to curriculum compacting and acceleration. The schools response was that they didn't have any idea how to do this efficiently. I offered several suggestions, some of which you have listed, and then started researching the subject to help the school see that this isn't uncommon. It is sad how hard I had to fight for this, but I had the experience of having been an out of the box thinking teacher! Thanks for proving that this can be easily done and that it SHOULD be done!


I love to hear your feedback! This website is intended to be a welcoming and safe space for parents and advocates of the gifted. All wholesome and encouraging questions are invited, as well as questions or concerns relating to gifted topics.