Improving the Learner/Teacher/Curriculum Connection

Spring 1994 Masthead

E. Jean Gubbins
University of Connecticut
Storrs, CT

Several research studies conducted by The National Research Center on the Gifted and Talented have assessed the current status of classroom strategies and practices. Other studies have included an intervention. The Curriculum Compacting Study used a specific approach to modifying students’ learning agendas by eliminating or streamlining what is known or what could easily be mastered in a limited amount of time (see Reis et al., 1993). The results of this study provided substantive data on the effectiveness of various approaches to teacher training. It also documented the student learning outcomes after a considerable amount of mastered content was eliminated. If you wish to become familiar with the technical aspects of the study, you can consult the research monograph: Why Not Let High Ability Students Start School in January? The Results of the Curriculum Compacting Study (Reis et al., 1993). You could also choose to watch the videotape, Curriculum Compacting, summarizing the data (Reis, Burns, & Renzulli, 1992). Or if you just wanted a brief overview of curriculum compacting, you could read our Practitioners’ Guide on the same topic (Siegle, 1993).

Our research results are provided in multiple formats for multiple audiences. You choose the level of involvement with the research data, depending on your current needs and interests. We hope the multiple formats will ensure that audiences make the decision to wade through complex tables and charts, witness the process on film, or skim a brief document. There are multiple documents or sources of information about the Curriculum Compacting Study, but other studies incorporating an intervention are in various stages of completion; therefore, details are limited. Brief abstracts of three intervention studies follow:

Preservice Teacher Preparation in Meeting the Needs of Diverse Learners
Carol A. Tomlinson
Carolyn M. Callahan
The University of Virginia
The impact of direct instruction regarding the needs of diverse learners, including high ability students, has been assessed. Preservice teachers have become familiar with strategies of curriculum differentiation to meet students’ academic needs. Some of these same teachers have worked with a peer coach to further their experiences with these strategies. In addition, a small sample of preservice teachers will be followed in their first teaching job to determine the longevity of the interventions (Tomlinson & Callahan, 1992).

The Theory-Based Approach to Identification, Teaching, and Evaluation of the Gifted
Robert J. Sternberg
Yale University
The research study identified high school students who were high in analytic, creative, or practical intelligences and involved them in a course in introductory psychology. The study “systematically manipulated identification, instruction, and evaluation of gifted students to determine what would be gained by broadening identification procedures, teaching in ways that are or are not tailored to gifted students’ particular patterns of abilities, and assessing the students’ performance in ways that either do or do not address their particular strengths” (Sternberg & Clinkenbeard, 1993, p. 4).

The Longitudinal Study of Successful Classroom Practices
Francis X. Archambault, Jr.
Karen L. Westberg
he University of Connecticut
The Longitudinal Study of Successful Classroom Practices examines the impact of a program to develop higher level thinking skills among fourth and fifth grade students. Students were involved in the direct instruction of thinking skills at a basic task level related to several content areas: mathematics, science, and social studies. Students were introduced to thinking skills at a complex task level. One group of students used an inductive, technology-embedded approach; another group worked with hands-on simulations. Next year, students will have opportunities to apply thinking skills to advanced research projects, with or without the aid of technology.

These studies and others created experimental treatments that may lead to effective classroom strategies and practices; we will keep you posted! While the results are still unfolding, we wanted to capitalize on the professional experiences of our staff. Therefore, we have developed other resources to help you wend your way through an analysis of promising classroom strategies and practices that may improve the learner/teacher/curriculum connection. The following is a working definition of strategies and practices:

  • coordinated series or group of specific activities
  • carried out by teachers, students, administrators, or parents
  • designed to reach designated goals/objectives
  • eveloped from educational research and practice
  • field-tested with students

Our satellite teleconference on May 11, 1994 featured a program entitled Curricular Options for “High-End Learning.” The resulting videotape and handbook illustrate how to create curricular options for students that are responsive to their known and emerging talents. Four learning events are featured in mathematics, science, social studies, and enrichment clusters. The goal of the learning events is to engage students with the content to such an extent that they achieve a deep understanding. Gardner (1991) states this goal another way in his book, Unschooled Mind: How Children Think & How Schools Should Teach.

Most important from my vantage point are students who possess genuine understanding of the major disciplines and areas of knowledge. (p. 186)

We designed lessons that would encourage a genuine understanding of the concepts. We also wanted to ensure that the lessons were well within your current instructional repertoire. This was done purposefully. We wanted to start with familiar material that would incorporate Strategies of Curriculum Differentiation (see Chart 1) to achieve high-end learning (Gubbins, 1994).

Chart 1
Strategies of Curriculum Differentiation
  1. Present content that is related to broad-based issues, problems, or themes.
  2. Integrate multiple disciplines into an area of study.
  3. Present comprehensive, reinforcing, related experiences within an area of study.
  4. Delete curriculum that has already been mastered.
  5. Streamline curriculum that can be mastered quickly.
  6. Organize content to accentuate higher level skills and concepts.
  7. Select representative topics that illustrate the basic principles, functional concepts, and methodologies of the field.
  1. Encourage the in-depth learning of a self-selected topic.
  2. Emphasize independent or self-directed study skills.
  3. Encourage the application of advanced research and methodological skills.
  4. Focus on open-ended tasks.
  5. romote productive, complex, abstract, and higher level thinking skills.
  1. Encourage the development of products that challenge existing ideas and produce new ones.
  2. Encourage the application of the methodologies of the discipline in product development.
  3. Evaluate student outcomes by using appropriate and specific criteria through self-appraisal, criterion referenced, and standardized instruments.
  4. Promote the creation of products that focus on real-world problems presented to appropriate audiences.
Learning Environment
  1. Encourage the development of self-understanding (e.g., recognizing and using one’s abilities, becoming self-directed, appreciating likenesses and differences between oneself and others).
  2. Encourage self-directed learning to promote the development of independent research studies.
  3. Encourage the development of a positive attitude toward creative challenges, investigative activity, and knowledge creation.

Adapted from Passow (1982), Renzulli (1988), and VanTassel-Baska (1989)

The phrase “high-end learning” may not be as familiar as curriculum differentiation. It was coined recently by Joseph Renzulli of The University of Connecticut (1994). The phrase goes beyond a list of strategies, and it is truly a philosophical and an educational stance. Our goal for students is to meet and challenge their highest levels of learning potentials. High-end learning does, indeed, incorporate strategies of differentiation. It also promotes a larger vision of developing the talents and abilities of all students.

We have captured various approaches to high-end learning in several content areas for our videotape and accompanying handbook: Curricular Options for High-End Learning (Gavin et al., 1994). Two of the four learning events will be described briefly: mathematics and social studies. A sample of the objectives and a list of promising strategies and practices will be provided.

Several years ago the mathematics standards were released by the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics (1989). The application of these standards will transform the classrooms into “…mathematical communities where students can explore together, wonder aloud, and communicate mathematically” (Gavin, 1994, p. 5). For the videotape on Curricular Options for High-End Learning, Gavin created a learning event based on a familiar activity using Cuisenaire rods. The standard of interest was mathematics as communication. The instructional objectives in “Mathematical Communication: Build What I’ve Created” included:

  1. The teacher works with a peer coach and views a videotape of a model lesson. The teacher and peer coach adapt the lesson to the current academic needs of the students.
  2. Students reconstruct a hidden structure with a given number of Cuisenaire rods in response to verbal cues.
  3. Students use critical thinking skills to analyze the similarities and differences between the original structure and the recreated structure.
  4. Students assess their accomplishments by photographing the most complex duplication and scripting the directions that were used to build their structure. Documentation is placed in their math portfolio.

The classroom strategies and practices for teachers that promoted engagement in learning were:

  • Reflecting on your own instructional techniques through videotaping and then selecting the elements that prompted understanding of the lesson objectives. Sharing videotape results with another teacher during a peer coaching session.
  • Using spatial visualization, verbal cues, and written communication to foster a working knowledge of geometric and directional terms.
  • Incorporating an assessment technique within the lesson to confirm students’ knowledge of the concepts.
  • Promoting productive, complex, and abstract higher level thinking skills.

Another learning event on the videotape was: “Creating a Product and Reporting the Findings.” This social studies lesson revolved around the development of artifacts or clues for the Artifact Box Exchange Network (Johnson & Reid, n.d.). The Artifact Box is an interschool project that involves students in advanced research, reference, and reasoning skills through a simulation. Schuler (1994) shared her experience with creating an Artifact Box with a classroom teacher. She worked cooperatively with the teacher as students designed products in multiple formats to represent the life accomplishments of an historical figure. The instructional objectives included:

  1. Students read and analyze the writings of the historical figure and design products that will capture the essence of his life.
  2. Teacher and students engage in a simulation of a significant event in the life of the historical figure.
  3. Students create high quality product forms based on a set of standards and communicate findings to specific audiences.
  4. Students participate in the assessment of their learning processes and products.

The students chose Mark Twain as a clue for their Artifact Box and formed interest-based, product development groups. They examined Twain’s writings and the writings of others to determine three significant challenges he faced in life. The challenges were the bases for products, including a timeline, videotaped mock interview, a political cartoon, and an advertisement. Each product was evaluated using criteria developed by Samara and Curry (1990). The product critique for the mock interview included:

  • explains reasons for interview; describes expertise of person being interviewed
  • establishes rapport with interviewee; elicits positive, pertinent information
  • asks open-ended questions; asks focus questions
  • summarizes key points with questions or statements (cited in Schuler, 1994)

Artifacts representing a challenge faced by Mark Twain were prepared for the Artifact Box. The box will then be exchanged with another school. The task for the receiving school will be to analyze the clues and determine the location, the personality, and the time period for the historical figure. The students who created the clues were involved in problem-based learning through the following steps:

  • Stating a challenge and developing a plan.
  • Gathering information and organizing information.
  • Creating a product and reporting the findings. (Schuler, 1994, p. 18)

Several strategies and practices were part of the lesson on “Creating a Product and Reporting the Findings.” The lesson was one snapshot of a series of lessons that used the following strategies and practices:

  • Using multiple instructional techniques to capitalize on students’ learning styles.
  • Encouraging the application of advanced research and methodological skills.
  • Evaluating student outcomes by using appropriate and specific criteria through self-appraisal, criterion referenced, and standardized instruments.
  • Providing students with examples of high quality products completed by other students as illustrations of the performance standards.

These lessons in mathematics and social studies were highlighted as examples of approaches to high-end learning. They incorporated strategies of curriculum differentiation, as well as the goal of developing the emerging and known talents of students. The lessons truly “enriched the tapestry of the curriculum” (Parham, personal communication, 1980) by capturing the interest and involvement of students and teachers.

If you are interested in implementing some of the strategies and practices from our intervention studies and videotape, you might have to make some changes in your curricular offerings or instructional styles. Change is not an easy process, but it is needed if we are to escalate the learning opportunities for students. It may be wise to reflect on some lessons in change offered by Fullan (1993):

  1. You can’t mandate what matters.
  2. Change is a journey not a blueprint.
  3. Connection with the wider environment is critical for success. (pp. 21-22)

Change is often thought of as a series of steps leading to a well-defined goal. Fullan thoroughly analyzes change and uncovers the forces that hamper the process. It is clear from his work and ours that a vision for schools has to be agreed upon before any change process is initiated. Our vision for schools is that we need to improve the learner/teacher/curriculum connection and promote the emerging and known talents of all students. Achieving this vision means that we need to keep you apprised of promising strategies and practices and share the research-based results as they become available.

Fullan, M. (1993). Change forces: Probing the depths of educational reform. London, England: The Falmer Press.
Gardner, H. (1991). The unschooled mind: How children think & how schools should teach. New York, NY: Basic Books.
Gavin, M. K., Gubbins, E. J., Guenther, D. R., Neu, T. W., Reis, S. M., Robinson, . . . Vahidi, S. (1994). Curricular options for high-end learning (videotape and handbook). Storrs: University of Connecticut, The National Research Center on the Gifted and Talented.
Gavin, M. K. (1994). Mathematical communication: Build what I’ve created. In M. K. Gavin et al. (Eds.), Curricular options for high-end learning (pp. 5-11). Storrs: University of Connecticut, The National Research Center on the Gifted and Talented.
Gubbins, E. J. (1994). “High-end learning”: An educational necessity. In M. K. Gavin et al. (Eds.), Curricular options for high-end learning (pp. 1-4). Storrs: University of Connecticut, The National Research Center on the Gifted and Talented.
Johnson, S., & Reid, B. (n.d.). The artifact box exchange network. Bolton, CT: The Artifact Box Exchange Network.
National Council of Teachers of Mathematics. (1989). Curriculum and evaluation standards for school mathematics. Reston, VA: Author.
Passow, A. H. (1982). Differentiated curricula for the gifted/talented. In S. N. Kaplan & National/State Leadership Institute on the Gifted/Talented (Eds.), Curricula for the gifted: Selected proceedings for the First National Conference for the Gifted/Talented (pp. 4-20). Ventura, CA: Ventura County Superintendent of Schools.
Reis, S. M., Burns, D. E., & Renzulli, J. S. (1992). Curriculum compacting (videotape and handbook). Storrs: University of Connecticut, The National Research Center on the Gifted and Talented.
Reis, S. M., Westberg, K. L., Kulikowich, J., Caillard, F., Hébert, T., Plucker, J., . . . Smist, J. M. (1993). Why not let high ability students start school in January? The curriculum compacting study (Research Monograph 93106). Storrs: University of Connecticut, The National Research Center on the Gifted and Talented.
Renzulli, J. S. (1988). The multiple menu model for developing differentiated curriculum for the gifted and talented. Gifted Child Quarterly, 32(3), 298-309.
Renzulli, J. S. (1994). Schools for talent development: A practical plan for total school improvement. Mansfield Center, CT: Creative Learning Press.
Samara, J., & Curry, J. (1990). Critiquing multi-product activities. Austin, TX: The Curriculum Project.
Schuler, P. A. (1994). Creating a product and reporting the findings. In M. K. Gavin et al. (Eds.), Curricular options for high-end learning (pp. 18-27). Storrs: University of Connecticut, The National Research Center on the Gifted and Talented.
Siegle, D. (Ed.). (1993). Curriculum compacting: Practitioners’ guide. Storrs: University of Connecticut, The National Research Center on the Gifted and Talented.
Sternberg, R. J., & Clinkenbeard, P. R. (1993, Winter). Year 2 Updates: A theory-based approach to identification, teaching, and evaluation. NRC/GT Newsletter, p. 4.
Tomlinson, C. A., & Callahan, C. (1992, Fall). Year three research abstracts: Preservice teacher preparation in meeting the needs of the gifted. NRC/GT Newsletter, p. 5.
VanTassel-Baska, J. (1989). A comprehensive model of gifted program development. In J. Feldhusen, J. VanTassel-Baska, & K. Seeley (Eds.) Excellence in educating the gifted (pp. 123-142). Denver, CO: Love Publishing.


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