Curriculum Compacting

What Is It?
................How Do You Do It?
.......................................... and Does it Work?

Curriculum compacting is one way to meet the needs of gifted students in the regular classroom. It involves eliminating the repetition of work that has already been mastered and streamlining lessons that "can be mastered at a pace commensurate with the student's motivation and ability." (p. 165) The process also assists teachers with accountability by documenting student proficiency on instructional objectives and listing specifically what enrichment activities are offered in place of repetitive classwork.

The process of compacting includes three phases - defining goals and outcomes, identifying candidates for compacting, and providing acceleration and enrichment options.

First of all, goals and outcomes of the given unit of instruction should be defined. Determine which of the tasks are new material as opposed to review of old material from past units. Scope-and-sequence charts can be useful in this part of the process. Teachers need to be able to make individual programming decisions.

Secondly, candidates for compacting must be identified. If you have had the students for awhile, you will likely be able to estimate which students you think may have the ability to master material faster than the majority of the class. Also useful in this step are scores on previous units and tests, observing student participation and motivation as well as the desire to do more and/or different work than the regular class. In this phase, it is also necessary to evaluate specific learning outcomes. Pretests are especially useful in doing this as they allow easy documentation of previously mastered material and show specifically any areas that may need practice.

The third part of the compacting process is to provide acceleration and enrichment options. This should be done cooperatively with the student to best increase academic challenge and meet his/her needs. Try to choose activities that fit student interest and strengths rather than more of the same seatwork or random games. Some students who see this process in action will realize they can earn time to do self-selected projects and increase motivation in mastering regular work more rapidly.

In my first year of teaching I had a sixth grade heterogenously grouped math class which I consistently gave pretests to at the beginning of the units. Often I found that most of the class had mastered certain topics which we were able to breeze through quickly, whereas some topics they had no previous experience with required extra time and attention. In this way I was able to streamline my entire curriculum to better meet the needs of the entire class. In the reading/spelling class, anyone who got a 95% or higher on the spelling unit pretest automatically scored that for the unit without having to do all the homework or final test. They could write stories or poems with the spelling words in them for extra credit if they wished. These students were allowed to do free reading during the class time for that spelling unit. In these ways I managed to do some basic curriculum compacting that improved my teaching.

Curriculum Compactors are forms that have been developed to help with the documentation of this method of providing enrichment. They should be kept in a student's academic file and updated as needed. They have three colums. The first one, titled "Areas to be considered for compacting" should include information on the learning objectives and student proficiency in these objectives. The second column, "Procedures for compacting basic material" describes specifically which activities are used to document proficiency, such as which pretests and what the student scored on each part of it. Attaching the pretest to the compactor might be a good method of documentation as well. The third column, "Acceleration and/or Enrichment Activities" is to describe the replacement activities the student will be engaged in during the time saved by the compacting process. The activities should focus on student interests, abilities and preferences. This is a potential time for students to work on Type IIIs (see the section on Schoolwide Enrichment Model).

The National Research Center on the Gifted and Talented conducted "The Curriculum Compacting Study" aka "Why Not Let High Ability Students Start School in January?" in 1990-91. Published in 1993, this research monograph demonstrates that students who are compacted regularly do not lose ground in the academic areas that are compacted, and in fact achieve at or above the levels of control groups in the same subjects by end of the year. The following is, in my opinion, the most important finding of this study:

"..standardized achievement tests were administered in this study to find out if compacting was detrimental to students' achievement, as measured by standardized tests. Results indicated that in reading, mathematical concepts and computation, spelling, and social studies, there were no significant differences among all treatment groups and the control group in pre/post achievement. This indicates that when 40-50% of content is eliminated in the regular curriculum, achievement test scores are not affected -- their scores, relative to their peers, - do not go down! In fact, for science achievement and mathematical concepts performances on out-of-level achievement tests, compacting the curriculum resulted in more positive outcomes for treatment group students than for the control group." (p. 85 of "The Curriculum Compacting Study" by the NRCGT.)


The information regarding the specifics of how to do compacting is gathered from Schools for Talent Development: A Practical Plan for Total School Involvement copyright 1994 by Joseph Renzulli, Chapter 6- Curriculum Modification Techniques, pp. 165-170, combined with my (W. Chapman's) own experience and understanding of the compacting process.