Designing Curriculum for Gifted Students Tips for teachers

Throughout the literature of gifted education, the modifications recommended for differentiating curriculum for gifted students may be categorized as relating to content, process, product, learning environment, and (to a lesser extent) affective concerns. As a result of work done through the Jacob K. Javits Gifted and Talented Students Education Program (funded by the United States Department of Education) in particular, there are now data that provide evidence of some effective curriculum interventions for producing achievement gains in gifted students. These findings may prove useful for designing curriculum for highly able students. In this blog, I will provide a few related recommendations that can serve as a guide for preparing curriculum materials to develop talent and optimize educational opportunities for gifted children.

Tips for Teachers

Tip 1: Read, read, read!

​Take the time to read about what works when developing and implementing curriculum for gifted students. Books, journal articles, blogs such as this one, and the resources of gifted education professional organizations can supply you with ideas for what you can do for your students. You need to understand the needs of gifted children and the related curricular implications.

"Read, read, read!"

Tip 2: Pay attention to your context and what it means for your curriculum work.

​Your context drives ideas about gifted education, conceptions of giftedness, identification protocols, and provisions for programming. Gifted students may be served in general education classrooms, in specialized schools, or not at all. Decisions about differentiating curriculum and instruction may be driven by national or local standards or other regulations. When you do the reading I suggested in the first tip, you must extrapolate the information to your context and adapt accordingly.

"...extrapolate the information to your context and adapt accordingly."

Tip 3: Develop a curriculum design template.

For the last 14 years, I have been fortunate to work as the Curriculum Director at the Center for Gifted Education (CFGE) at the College of William and Mary in Virginia. The CFGE is known internationally for its curriculum development work and research. Throughout the nearly 30 year history of the center, staff, students, and teachers have developed curriculum units that have been found to be efficacious for use with gifted students. In the absence of programming and commercially available materials, however, it is still possible for teachers to differentiate appropriately for their students.

When you decide that you will develop curricula, it is essential to use an articulated curriculum design plan that includes specific curricular components; this could be considered a template for your work. The first decision should be whether and to what extent you will differentiate the content, process, and/or product. This decision will then allow you to determine which elements must be included in the curriculum, such as an emphasis on higher level thinking through questioning and other activities, the inclusion of metacognitive components, the use of advanced resources, etc.

"...it is essential to use an articulated curriculum design plan that includes specific curricular components"

Tip 4: Implement a process for ongoing improvement when developing curriculum.

Curriculum development is a challenging and lengthy process! Incorporating opportunities for ongoing improvement is important. The following is a suggested sequence of steps in developing curricula:

• Review the relevant research about the topic to be studied.

• Learn about best practices for teaching in the discipline in which the topic falls.

• Develop a set of preliminary lessons based on what you learned from your research.

• Try implementing the preliminary lessons. Based on student responses and your own perceptions of how the curriculum worked, revise the lessons.

• Compile all lessons into a comprehensive unit of study.

• Pilot the unit in your classroom. Use your anecdotal notes and student learning results as sources of information to judge the effectiveness of the curriculum.

• Make revisions to the unit before teaching it again.

Based on the data you collect each time you teach the unit, this process allows you to refine the unit continually.

[Adapted from What Works, What works: 25 years of curriculum development and research (2nd ed.). Prufrock Press, Waco, TX.]

"Incorporating opportunities for ongoing improvement is important."

Tip 5: Collaborate with others when developing curriculum.

The development of process skills and the enhancement of discipline-specific thinking and habits of mind through hands-on activities are crucial considerations when designing curriculum that mirrors the work of professionals in various fields. You may need to call upon an expert from the discipline in which you are preparing curriculum materials. Such a person can provide information about the essential content principles that are central to understanding the discipline.

Working with people who have expertise in gifted education is also important for ensuring that your curriculum will address gifted students’ needs appropriately. If you do not have access to someone locally, the possibility of collaborating virtually can allow you to find someone who can assist you.

"You may need to call upon an expert from the discipline in which you are preparing curriculum materials."

Tip 6: Document student learning and modify instruction through the use of curriculum-based assessments.

You must plan for both formative and summative assessments when designing curriculum. Designing curriculum-based performance measures will allow you to modify instruction and measure student progress. Including pre- and post- curriculum-based assessments can provide guidance for differentiation and for measuring growth linked to instruction. Additionally, assessment allows students to become active participants in their learning and track the progress they make, thus increasing their sense of efficacy.

"Designing curriculum-based performance measures will allow you to modify instruction and measure student progress."

Tip 7: Have fun!

​Each year, I teach a course about curriculum design and development for teachers of the gifted. The end product is a curriculum unit designed specifically for use with the gifted students they teach. I always tell them to “have fun,” as this is the type of work that teachers like to do. Looking for resources, designing learning activities, and determining how to measure student growth are all exciting endeavors to those of us who teach! The challenge is remembering to “rein yourself in,” though, as the plethora of resources combined with the limitations of time and money can overwhelm the first-time curriculum developer.

"Looking for resources, designing learning activities, and determining how to measure student growth are all exciting endeavors to those of us who teach!"

Conclusion

Developing curriculum for gifted learners must be purposeful and targeted to the needs of this special group. Curriculum must be relevant to the students’ lives and feature advanced level thinking activities with modeling and scaffolding embedded so that students have opportunities to think critically, apply advanced levels of thinking to meaningful tasks, and practice using the language of the disciplines. Even if you are not in a position to develop research-based curriculum, you can apply the key components of such curriculum and related pedagogical strategies. Optimal learning for the most able students necessitates that teachers use appropriate curriculum materials and employ instructional practices that focus on higher order skills.

About the Author

Dr. Kimberley Chandler is the Curriculum Director at the Center for Gifted Education at the College of William and Mary and a Clinical Assistant Professor. Kimberley completed her Ph.D. in Educational Policy, Planning, and Leadership with an emphasis in gifted education administration at the College of William and Mary. Her professional background includes teaching gifted students in a variety of settings, serving as an administrator of a school district gifted program, and providing professional development training for teachers and administrators nationally and internationally.

Kimberley has served as the editor and contributing author of numerous curriculum materials from the Center for Gifted Education. She co-authored (with Tamra Stambaugh) the book Effective Curriculum for Underserved Gifted Students and is the co-editor (with Cheryll Adams) of the book Effective Program Models for Gifted Students From Underserved Populations. Currently Kimberley is the Network Representative on the National Association for Gifted Children (NAGC) Board of Directors and the editor of the CEC-TAG newsletter The Update. Her research interests include curriculum policy and implementation issues in gifted programs, the design and evaluation of professional development programs for teachers of the gifted, and the role of principals in gifted education.

You may contact Kimberley at klchan@wm.edu.

Written as part of the 2017 New Zealand Gifted Awareness Blog Tour. The #NZGAW Blog Tour is run by the New Zealand Centre for Gifted Education.

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