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Effective Curriculum and Instructional Models for Talented Students

Effective Curriculum and Instructional Models for Talented Students

Joyce VanTassel-Baska

Northwestern University

 

Editor’s Note: From VanTassel-Baska, J. (1986). Effective curriculum and instructional

models for talented students. Gifted Child Quarterly, 30(4), 164–169. © 1986 National

Association for Gifted Children.

This article presents an historical perspective on the evolution of three

curriculum and instructional models that have been shown to be effective

with gifted learners in various contexts and at various grade levels. It

argues for consideration of all three models in a comprehensive program

for gifted learners.

Many people have been attracted to the issue of curriculum for the gifted

because they feel it is new territory. While it is true that curriculum has

not been a central focus in the field until recently, it would be inappropriate

to conclude that we need new models and methods to provide appropriately

differentiated learning experiences for gifted learners. The purpose of this

paper is to present effective curriculum and instructional models that should

form the basis of our curriculum efforts and to discuss their relevance to current

school practices.

Over the last twenty years, general principles about appropriate curriculum

for gifted children have been delineated. Ward (1961) developed a theory of differential

education for the gifted that established specific principles around

which an appropriate curriculum for the gifted would be developed. Meeker

(1969) used the Guilford Structure of Intellect (SOI) to arrive at student profiles

that highlighted areas of strength and weakness so that curriculum planners

could build a gifted program to improve weak areas. Curriculum workbooks

were structured specifically to address this need in the areas of memory, cognition,

convergent thinking, divergent thinking, and evaluation. Renzulli (1977)

focused on a differentiated curriculum model that moved the gifted child from

enrichment exposure activities through training in thinking and research skills

into a project-oriented program that dwelt on real problems to be solved.

Gallagher (1975) stressed content modification in the core subject areas of language

arts, social studies, mathematics and science. Stanley, Keating, and Fox

(1974) concentrated on a content acceleration model to differentiate programs

for the gifted. Recent writings, including Feldhusen and Kolloff (1978), Maker

(1982), and VanTassel-Baska (1984) have stressed a confluent approach to

differentiation of curriculum for the gifted that includes both acceleration

and enrichment strategies. Passow (1982) formulated seven cardinal curriculum

principles that reflect content, process, product, behavioral, and evaluative

considerations.

In examining the state of the art of curriculum and instruction for the gifted,

it is clear that there is a multiplicity of approaches that are adopted wholesale

for classroom use without adequate testing in a research context and without

consideration of their value in the overall educational context. In fact, the recipe

approach seems the most popular at the present time. Throw together a special

unit on the latest topic of interest in the larger socio-cultural context, add creative

problem-solving, mix with higher level thinking skills, and stir in a special research

project until done. In order to implement appropriate curriculum for gifted

students, there must be concern for the faithful translation of sound models for

curriculum and instruction into an action research arena where effectiveness

can be continually tested. The curriculum and instructional models presented

in this paper have all been tested and found effective with gifted learners.

Furthermore, each model emerges from a clearly delineated theoretical and

research context.

The three relatively distinct curriculum models that have proven effective

with gifted populations at various stages of development and in various

 

2 Curriculum for Gifted and Talented Students

domain-specific areas may be termed: 1) the content mastery model; 2) the

process/product research model; and 3) the epistemological concept model.

 

THE CONTENT MODEL

The content model tends to emphasize the importance of learning skills and

concepts within a predetermined domain of inquiry. Gifted students are

encouraged to move as rapidly through the content area as possible and thus

content acceleration in some mode tends to dominate the application of this

model in practice. When the diagnostic-prescriptive (D → P) instructional

approach is utilized, students are pre-tested and then given appropriate materials

to master the subject area segments prescribed.

The D → P instructional approach has proved effective in controlled settings,

but has not been widely practiced in regular classrooms for the gifted.

Several reasons appear to account for this: 1) like any individualized model, it

requires a highly competent classroom manager to implement, for if used

appropriately, each student may be working on a different problem, chapter,

and even book at the same time. Regardless of the rhetoric surrounding individualization,

very little of it is actively practiced in basic curriculum areas;

2) most pull-out gifted programs do not focus on core content areas and therefore

avoid the model, even though such teachers are frequently highly skilled in

individualized classroom management, and 3) the approach has not been particularly

valued by many educators of the gifted because of its insistence on

utilizing the same curriculum and merely altering rate. The lecture-discussion

approach to the content model is more widely practiced at the secondary level,

but its effectiveness is highly dependent on teachers being well versed in the

structure as well as the content of their discipline. Too frequently the content

model disintegrates into learning the exact same skills and concepts as all

learners are expected to do in the school context, only doing more exercises and

drill in a shorter period of time.

In the D → P approach, teachers and teaching assistants act as facilitators

of instruction rather than as didactic lecturers; although many content-based

programs for the gifted place a strong emphasis on lecture and discussion. The

curriculum is organized by the intellectual content of the discipline and is

highly sequential and cumulative in nature, making a proficiency-based model for

achievement outcomes very feasible.

The D → P approach to the content model has been utilized effectively by

the talent search programs across the country, particularly in mathematics

(Keating, 1976; Benbow and Stanley, 1983). VanTassel-Baska (1984) has shown

the effectiveness of the model in teaching Latin. And foreign language teachers

have used the model for years to ensure English syntactic mastery in their

students. Clearly it represents the most individualized instructional approach

to basic curriculum for the gifted that might be undertaken, and embodies a

continuous progress philosophy that schools can understand.

Effective Curriculum and Instructional Models for Talented Students 3

 

4 Curriculum for Gifted and Talented Students

The more typical approach to content-based instruction, however, is one

that presets the mastery level of expectation for students, frequently requiring

more advanced skills and concepts to be mastered one year earlier. The content

model employs existing school curriculum and textbooks, so it is not costly to

implement. And it attempts to respond to the rate needs of individual students,

allowing the very able to move more quickly through the traditional curriculum.

In successful implementations of the model, teachers have made important

alterations in the organization of the subject matter being taught. For example,

in the fast-paced Latin program, the concepts spread out incrementally over

the first three chapters of the book are synthesized into a matrix study sheet,

presenting students all five Latin cases, three genders, and two numbers in their

various combinations all at once. Homework is assigned only from the third unit

where all the interactions of gender, number and case may be practiced. Thus

30 hours of instructional time may be reduced to four or five at the most. And

gifted students have mastered the important concepts governing beginning

Latin syntax in economical fashion.

Thus what appears as a simple process of moving more quickly through

the same basic material takes on a level of sophistication in actual practice.

The effective D →P teacher reorganizes the content area under study according

to higher level skills and concepts so that the focus of student prescriptive

work is in larger increments that carry with them a holistic picture of the topic

under study.

The content mastery model for curriculum and instruction also carries with

it the capacity to reduce the regular skill-based curriculum for gifted learners in

reading as well as mathematics to approximately one-third the time currently

expended. This process occurs through two distinct approaches to modifying

the curriculum: 1) allowing students to move through the skill development

areas at a rate commensurate with their capacity, testing for proficiency and

assigning work based on documented increased levels of development, and

2) reorganizing basic skill areas into higher level skill clusters in order to conserve

mastery learning time and promote more efficient and challenging learning

experiences for talented students.

The first approach might be accomplished through the following modifications:

Reading Curriculum:Topic:Word Attack Skills

 

Typical Learner Sequence:

Recognizing and → Recognizes and → Phonemes → Prefixes, Suffixes

Sounding out Sounding out Vowels

Consonants

 

D P Gifted Learner Sequence:

Pretest on → Analysis of skill gaps → Prescription of work on

Reading inhibiting reading phonemes, prefixes, and suffixes

 

The second approach would be accomplished through this additional

modification, again in the reading curriculum:

Typical Learner Sequence:

Topic: Word Attack Skills

Subtopics: Recognizing and sounding out consonants, recognizing and

sounding out vowels, phonemes, and prefixes and suffixes.

D → P

Gifted Learner Sequence:

Topic: Reading recognition (whole words)

Subtopics: Word attack skills

Prefixes and suffixes

Root words

Through these two modifications then, gifted students can master the typical

skill-based curriculum in less time and at an appropriate level of complexity and

challenge. For much of the elementary reading, mathematics, and language

curriculum, this approach is feasible and efficacious for gifted learners.

The content mastery model, however, does have some limitations and drawbacks.

It does not work well in learning tasks where speed and compression are

not a relevant consideration. One could hardly imagine reading Shakespeare

based on the tenets of content mastery, nor probing a significant world problem.

In addition many teachers have interpreted the content mastery model to be

merely “covering material” faster and assigning greater amounts of homework,

so that many special classes using it deteriorate into a focus on the quantity of

consumed material rather than the quality of the learning experience.

 

THE PROCESS-PRODUCT MODEL

The process/product model places heavy emphasis on learning investigatory

skills, both scientific and social that allow students to develop a high quality product.

It is a highly collaborative model that involves teacher-practitioner-student as an

interactive team in exploring specific topics. Consultation and independent work

dominate the instructional pattern, culminating in student understanding of

the scientific process as it is reflected in selective exploration of key topics.

Discussed in the literature under the rubric of programs like enrichment

triad and the Purdue model (Renzulli, 1977; Feldhusen and Kolloff, 1978),

this approach to curriculum for the gifted can be viewed as successful. At the

secondary level, special science programs for the gifted have used the model

(VanTassel-Baska and Kulieke, 1986). And institutions like Walnut Hills

 

Effective Curriculum and Instructional Models for Talented Students 5

 

High School in Cincinnati, Bronx High School of Science, and the North

Carolina School of Math and Science have practiced the model as a part of their

high-powered science programs for a number of years.

The model seeks to engage the student in problem-finding and problemsolving

and to put him in contact with adult practitioners. In the field of science,

for example, scientists from Argonne National Laboratory work with academically

talented junior high students during the summer to help them develop

research proposals for project work during the following academic year. Students

actively engage in the generation of a research topic, conduct a literature search,

select an experimental design, and lay out their plan of work in a proposal. The

proposal is then critiqued by their instructor and the scientist. In this way then,

students focus on process skill development in scientific inquiry and strive to

develop a high quality product. The following chart delineates the three stages

of the inquiry process used in the Northwestern-Argonne program.

 

Pre-Inquiry (Level 1 skills)

____ 1. The student has acquired scientific knowledge relevant to the question

being asked.

____ 2. The student has done a review of related background literature.

 

Methods of Inquiry (Level 2 skills)

____ 1. The student plans to:

____ a. use the techniques of identifying objects and object properties.

____ b. use the technique of making controlled observations.

____ c. examine changes in various physical systems.

____ d. order a series of observations.

____ e. classify various physical and biological systems by coding and

tabulating data.

____ f. use the techniques of ordering, counting, adding, multiplying,

dividing, finding averages, and using decimals.

____ g. demonstrate the rules of measurement as applicable to specific

physical and biological systems (i.e., length, area, volume,

weight, temperature, force, or speed).

____ h. conduct an experiment by identifying and controlling variables.

____ 2. The student has created operational definitions for the variables under

study.

____ 3. The student has stated a testable research hypothesis.

 

6 Curriculum for Gifted and Talented Students

____ 4. The student plans to manipulate some type of materials.

____ 5. The student has followed the specified proposal format.

 

Interpretive Inquiry Skills (Level 3 skills)

____ 1. The student transformed the observed results into graphs, tables,

diagrams, and reports.

____ 2. The student drew relationships among things he or she had observed.

____ 3. The student generalized from his observations.

____ 4. The student interpreted tabular and graphical data.

____ 5. The student used the skills of interpolation and extrapolation to make

predictions based on his data.

____ 6. The student made inferences based on his data.

____ 7. The student related data to statements of hypotheses.

____ 8. The student related previous work to his/her own.

____ 9. The student used the specified project format.

____ 10. The student developed some limitations of his study.

The process-product model for curriculum and instruction of the gifted differs

from the content mastery model in that content is viewed as less important and

rarely acts as the organizer for this type of curriculum. Student interest is a

mainspring for what “curriculum” will be studied. The nature of the evaluation

effort is product-based rather than proficiency-oriented, and the focus is on

studying selected topics in-depth rather than moving through a given domain

of inquiry in a fast-paced manner.

While the model has worked well in some pull-out programs for the gifted

and as a part of a total science program at the secondary level, it does present

organizational problems for many schools: critics contend that the focus of this

model creates confusion around the curricular scope and sequence of learning

at any given level of instruction and creates a need for articulating new process

and product dimensions into an adopted scope and sequence continuum for the

gifted. Furthermore, the model at the elementary level tends to devalue core

content elements in the traditional curriculum, and to overvalue independent

learning strategies at that stage of development.

 

Effective Curriculum and Instructional Models for Talented Students 7

Nevertheless, it is the curriculum and instructional model most closely

allied with the recommendations of national teacher groups in both science and

mathematics that tend to favor a student-directed, hands-on, inquiry-based

process of problem-solving, where students are engaged in the act of constructing

knowledge for themselves.

 

THE EPISTEMOLOGICAL MODEL

The epistemological concept model focuses on talented students’ understanding

and appreciation of systems of knowledge rather than the individual segments

of those systems. It reflects a concern for exposing students to key ideas,

themes, and principles within and across domains of knowledge so that

schemata are internalized for amplification by new examples in the future. The

role of the teacher in this model is as questioner, raising interpretive issues for

discussion and debate. Students focus their energies on reading, reflecting, and

writing. Aesthetic appreciation of powerful ideas in various representational

forms is viewed as an important outcome of this model.

The model is very effective with gifted learners for several reasons. First of

all, the intellectually gifted child has unusually keen powers to see and understand

interrelationships; therefore, conceptual curriculum is useful, for its

whole structure is based on constantly interrelating form and content. Concept

curriculum is an enrichment tool in the highest sense, for it provides the gifted

with an intellectual framework not available in studying only one content

area, but rather exposes them to many not covered in traditional curricula.

Furthermore, it provides a basis for students’ understanding the creative as

well as the intellectual process through critically analyzing creative products,

and being actively engaged in the creative process itself. And lastly, it provides

a context for integrating cognitive and affective objectives into the curriculum.

A discussion of ideas evokes feelings; response to the arts involves aesthetic

appreciation, and study of literary archetypes creates a structure for self identity.

Many writers in the field of gifted education have advocated the epistemological

approach to curriculum for the gifted (Ward, 1961; Hayes-Jacob, 1981;

Maker, 1982; Tannenbaum, 1983). And some extant curriculum has been organized

around the model at both elementary and secondary levels. The College

Board Advanced Placement Program in history (both American and European)

as well as their literature and composition programs rely heavily on this curriculum

and instructional model.

The Junior Great Books program, Philosophy for Children, and Man: A

Course of Study (MACOS) are elementary programs using the approach. Each

of these programs stresses the use of Socratic questions to stimulate an intellectual

discussion among students on an issue or theme. Creating analogies across

a field of inquiry is encouraged, and interdisciplinary thinking is highly valued.

Recent curriculum development efforts for the gifted have attempted to utilize

the epistemological framework (VanTassel-Baska and Feldhusen, 1981; Gallagher,

 

8 Curriculum for Gifted and Talented Students

1982). And larger curriculum projects in the past, such as CEMREL’s mathematics

program at the secondary level and the Unified Mathematics program at the

middle school level, have utilized a holistic approach to the organization of content.

At the Secondary level, humanities programs have often been the reservoir

for the use of this model with talented learners. One approach to framing discussions

with the humanities is to structure questions about a work of art

(whether it be music, painting, or literature) that asks students to examine an

“art” object from a variety of perspectives. For example, the following questions

might be posed about a poem:

1) What is it? (What’s the subject matter?)

2) What is it made of? (What is its form?)

3) What ideas does it convey? (What does it mean?)

4) What is its context? (How would you categorize it historically?)

5) How do you relate to it? (What is its personal value?)

6) How good is it? (What is your evaluation of its artistic merit?)

Through these several lenses, then, gifted learners can explore the humanities

as a collection of creative products assembled by individuals over the centuries,

and reflect on their relationship to each other in specified dimensions. Thus

appreciation for the arts can be developed through “seeing” them from various

points of view.

While the concept-based model of curriculum offers the advantages of a

unified view of a field of inquiry often undertaken by scholars in individual

disciplines, it requires well-trained teachers to implement it effectively.

Teachers need to possess not only in-depth knowledge about one field of

inquiry but also must have the capacity to make appropriate connections to

other disciplines as well. And there is a need to keep in place a consistent vision

around the exploration of concepts. Furthermore, schools have never really

known how to treat such curriculum organizationally. At the secondary level,

should students receive an English credit for a humanities course or a social

studies credit? Should humanities be offered only at senior level as an elective

or earlier as a mandatory course? The very strength of this curriculum and

instructional model as an integrating force frequently breaks down in the organizational

decision-making over “where it fits.” As with the other two models

discussed, developing a scope and sequence within the epistemological orientation

would seem to be necessary to allow for appropriate student exposure

and progressive development in the realm of ideas.

The concept model for curriculum and instruction differs considerably from

the nature of the previous two models (see Figure 1). It is organized by ideas

and themes, not subject matter or process skills. It is a highly interactive model

in its instructional context, which contrasts with the more independent modes

 

Effective Curriculum and Instructional Models for Talented Students 9

of instruction used in the other two models. Concern for the nature and structure

of knowledge itself is a major underlying tenet. And evaluation of students

engaged in this model typically requires evidence of high level aesthetic perceptions

and insights rather than content proficiency or a culminating product

of high quality.

 

Implementation of Curriculum and Instructional Models

The explication of these three models may be useful in advancing our

understanding of how the confluent approaches to curriculum that are currently

advocated might be implemented in the context of school-based programs.

Clearly, it is not advantageous to select one model over another when planning

appropriate curriculum over a span of years, for each approach responds to

different characteristics and needs of gifted learners. Acceleration and in-depth

as well as broad-based enrichment opportunities are all valuable for the gifted.

There is a need, however, to consider the nature of separate curriculum

areas which may lend themselves more readily to one model than another. And

within a population of gifted learners, there may be important differences to

consider in relationship to curriculum models. There is a motivational factor

that must be considered for certain types of curriculum approaches that involve

independent investigations or studying a content area at a fast rate. Learning

preferences among talented learners should also be considered. Some gifted

students prefer to learn rapidly and go on to more sophisticated work at a

higher level; others prefer to examine a problem from all sides and deliberate

over it in depth. As Renzulli (1978) has demonstrated, task commitment is a

necessary student variable to perform well in the process-product curriculum

model. And the concept model may work best with students evidencing high

level verbal capacity and broad-based reading behaviors. Figure 2 presents a

matrix that matches model type with content organizational issues and salient

student characteristics.

The real issue is how best to conceptualize and operationalize the functional

utility of these models at different stages of development and in different

program organizational models. Figure 3 presents a confluent model of the

three curriculum and instructional approaches as they might be viewed within

 

10 Curriculum for Gifted and Talented Students

Figure 1 Contrasting Curriculum/Instructional Models for the Gifted

A (content) B (process/product) C (concept)

fast-paced in-depth on selected topics epistemological

proficiency-based product based aesthetics-based

D→P approach resource-oriented discussion approach

organized by organized around organized by themes and ideas

intellectual content scientific process

teacher as facilitator collaborative model Socratic method

an academic year program at the local school district level. Each model is allotted

equal amounts of instructional time and equal focus in a student’s program.

While a full-time grouping model would be the most feasible to operationalize

this confluent model, it could be considered under other grouping

patterns as well, notably resource room and pull-out where regular classroom

teachers or other specialists would facilitate models A and B. Model C work

then would be reserved for gifted program time.

As with the adaptation of any curriculum model, partial or selective implementation

may also be appropriate for individual students at a given stage of

development. Students may elect to participate in a special humanities seminar

but not elect to engage in accelerated study, for example. However, adaptations

in the integrative pattern should be viewed as student-selected alternatives

rather than limitations in the school-based program options.

 

Effective Curriculum and Instructional Models for Talented Students 11

Figure 2

Model Type Preferred Content Match Salient Student Characteristics

A Content Mathematics (traditional) Independent learner

Foreign Language High achievement

English Grammar motivation

Reading

B Process/ Product Science High interest in single topic

Mathematics (problem-solving Task commitment

orientation)

Writing

C Concept Humanities High level verbal reasoning skills

Social studies (e.g. history, Broad-based interests and

economics) reading behavior

Literature

Figure 3 School-Based Curriculum Model Linkages on an Academic Year Cycle

Modifications of

Core Curriculum Extended Core Curriculum Curriculum Integration

D→P Content Approach Process/Product Epistemological Concept

Research Approach Approach

A B C

Allows for speeded, Allows for development of Allows for idea

compressed, economized generic problem discussion/generation within

version of regular finding/problem solving and across disciplines

curriculum skills in selected

curriculum contexts

 

Effective curriculum and instruction for the gifted has reached a stage of

evolution where existing theoretical and research-based models need to be

systematically translated into practice at the local level. Competition among

these models has dissipated the effect of building a strong differentiated program

for the gifted that addresses all of their intellectual needs within the core curriculum

and beyond it to all levels of instruction. The synthesis of the content,

process-product, and concept models provides a clear direction for meaningful

curriculum work.

 

REFERENCES

Benbow, C., and Stanley, J. (1983). Academic precocity: Aspects of its development.

Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press.

Feldhusen, J., and Kolloff, M. (1978). A three stage model for gifted education. G/C/T, 1,

53–58.

Gallagher, J. (1975). Teaching the gifted child (2nd Ed.). Boston: Allyn & Bacon.

Gallagher, J. (1982). Leadership. New York: Trillium Press.

Hayes-Jacob, H. (1981). A model for curriculum and instruction: Discipline fields, interdisciplinarity,

and cognitive processes. Unpublished doctoral dissertation, Columbia

University, New York.

Keating, D. (1976). Intellectual talent. Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins Press.

Maker, C. J. (1982). Curriculum development for the gifted. Rockville, MD: Aspen Systems

Publication.

Meeker, M. (1969). The structure of intellect: Its interpretation and uses. Columbus, OH:

Charles E. Merrill Publishing Co.

Passow, H. (1982). Differentiated curricula for the gifted/talented in Kaplan, Sady et al.,

Curricula for the Gifted, Committee Report to the National/State Leadership

Training Institute on the Gifted and the Talented, Ventura County, California: Office

of the Superintendent of Schools.

Renzulli, J. (1977). The enrichment triad. Wethersfield, CT: Creative Learning Press.

Renzulli, J. (1978). What makes giftedness? Re-examining a definition. Phi Delta Kappan,

60, 180–184, 261.

Stanley, J., Keating, D., and Fox, L. (1974). Mathematical talent. Baltimore: The Johns

Hopkins Press.

Tannenbaum, A. (1983). Gifted children. New York: Macmillan.

VanTassel-Baska, J. (1984). Appropriate curriculum for the gifted. In J. Feldhusen (Ed.),

Toward excellence in gifted education (pp. 45–83). Denver: Love Publishing Co.

VanTassel-Baska, J., and Feldhusen, J. (Eds.). (1981). Concept curriculum for the gifted K-8.

Matteson, IL: Matteson School District #162.

VanTassel-Baska, J., and Kulieke, M. (in press). The role of community-based resources in

developing scientific talents: A case study, Gifted Child Quarterly.

Ward, V. (1961). Educating the gifted: An axiomatic approach. Columbus, OH: Charles

Merrill Company.

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