for Gifted Students
ERIC Identifier: ED342175
Publication Date: 1991-00-00
Author: Berger, Sandra L.
Source: ERIC Clearinghouse on Handicapped and Gifted Children Reston VA.
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 questions.
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 (Maker, 1982).
ASSESSING CURRICULUM EFFECTIVENESS
- MODIFYING CONTENT
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.
- MODIFYING PROCESS
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
- MODIFYING ENVIRONMENT
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 be.
- MODIFYING 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 self-evaluation process.
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:
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
- 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 and
- By providing students opportunities for making connections within and across systems
of knowledge by focusing on issues, themes, and ideas.
The curriculum committee of the Leadership Training Institute (Passow, 1982)
developed seven guiding principles for curriculum differentiation that reflect the
considerations described in this Digest.
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.
- 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
- 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
- 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.
This publication was developed by Sandra L. Berger with funding from the Office of
Educational Research and Improvement, U.S. Department of Education, under contract
no. RI88062007. The opinions expressed in this report do not necessarily reflect the
positions or policies of OERI or the Department of Education. ERIC Digests are in the
public domain and may be freely reproduced and disseminated.
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: Aspen.
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
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).
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