Strong and effective curriculum for the gifted is not easy to develop. It requires a collaborative team of people with appropriate expertise, an experimental setting where the trial and error of piloting and review can occur, and a mindset that is serious about program improvement. To allow for this, an investment of three years to design, develop, implement, and revise is acceptable. The following model is central to planning effective curriculum for gifted learners (Van Tassel-Baska, 2003).
The Instructional Design Model
A fundamental design model needs to be employed in developing curriculum for the gifted (see Figure 1). The model is meant to be systematic, yet recursive in its elements. These elements begin with an appreciation for who gifted learners are, how we identify them, and what basic curriculum dimensions are necessary for serving them (cell 1). After educators have a grasp of these issues, the model moves to an emphasis on philosophy and goals (cell 2). At this stage real planning may begin. First efforts need to focus on clarifying the fundamental purposes of a gifted program, how it fits in with a regular program of study, and what the important but broad learnings would be that gifted students receive. This phase of design needs to be done in a consensual way so that all relevant educators in a school district can agree with the outcomes of the planning effort.
At a more specific level, learning outcomes (cell 3) are derived from the stated student goals. These outcomes should be extensive enough to cover the intent of a given goal, yet be manageable in a program sense since each of them will need to be assessed to determine the level and extent of student learning that has occurred. Outcomes should be developed consensually among teachers working in the program at relevant levels. In a framework document, specification of outcomes can be across K-12, but in a scope and sequence guide, it may be useful to cluster the outcomes across proximate grade levels. Thus primary, intermediate, middle school, and high school outcomes may be treated separately. Further refinement by grade level may be done as needed.
Beginning with teaching-learning activities, resources, and strategies (cells 4-6), the model focuses strongly at the teacher level of classroom implementation via units and lesson plans. At this level, the use of archetypal activities linked to specific teaching models and the resources that employ them may be very helpful tools. No teacher has the time to develop curriculum for the gifted from scratch nor should it be encouraged, given that many good models and curricula exist. At this stage of development, it is important to ensure the linkages of these elements to the overall goals and objectives. One strategy to ensure the linkage is to identify at least one specific learning model for each goal in order to provide a pathway for coherent translation into classroom practice.
Classroom management techniques (cell 7) are also discussed as important elements of design. Attention to variables like grouping, pre-testing, and the use of contracts and IEP's all contribute to the potential for successful implementation of a curriculum and also to the degree of flexibility employed in particular classrooms. Even a high-powered curriculum delivered in the same way to every student fails to account sufficiently for differences within the population. This is especially true for gifted students with special needs where flexibility in curriculum implementation is essential for success.
The last stage of the design model involves assessment of learning outcomes (cell 8). At this stage of the process/ we are interested in ascertaining how well students learned what they were supposed to learn, to what extent they grew and matured in the identified goal areas, and what aspects of the curriculum/instructional design process worked well and what didn't. Student achievement, attitude, and teacher judgment all play into making the assessment stage of the process work well. Newer approaches to student achievement, such as performance-based assessments and portfolios, can be very helpful in judging how well the particular curriculum unit of analysis was implemented. Results of this stage of the process then should feed the next stage, that of revision and recursion.
Revision and recursion involves a careful evaluation by teachers and other educators of what has occurred as a result of implementing a particular instructional design module or unit of study. At this stage of the process, decisions should be made about the nature and extent of revision necessary to improve the model or whether other alternative models should replace it. Revisiting each cell in the design model is useful in deciding what revisions may be most appropriate. Assessment results may suggest a need for more activities to support a learning outcome, a more effective instructional strategy to teach a concept, or a broader array of resources. Careful assessment of each of these possibilities is important to improve learning the next time around.
Roles in Instructional Planning
Educators need to recognize that four essential roles must be performed during instructional planning (Kemp, Morrison, & Ross, 1998). These roles are not overlapping, but rather call for different types of expertise.
Too frequently, gifted programs have expected the designated gifted specialist to carry out all of these roles. Clearly such an expectation invites failure.
Premises Underlying Instructional Design Process
Kemp, Morrison, and Ross (1998) also identified seven basic premises that are important to internalize in the process of engaging in the instructional design process. These premises, as they apply to gifted curriculum development, are:
One of the most neglected areas in our schools is adequate attention to gifted programs and the curriculum designs employed to deliver those programs. In order for such programs to improve, curriculum design features, roles, and premises need to be carefully considered.
Kemp, J. E., Morrison, G. R., & Ross, S. M. (1998). Designing Effective Instruction. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Merrill.
Van Tassel-Baska, J. (2003). Curriculum Planning and Instructional Design for Gifted Learners. Denver: Love.
Van Tassel-Baska, J., Zuo, L, Avery, L. D., & Little, C. A. (2002). A Curriculum Study of Gifted Student Learning in the Language Arts. Gifted Child Quarterly, 46, 30-44.
Reprinted with permission from Open Space Communications.
This article is provided as a service of the Davidson Institute for Talent Development, a 501(c)3 nonprofit dedicated to supporting profoundly gifted young people 18 and under. To learn more about the Davidson Institute’s programs, please visit www.DavidsonGifted.org.
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