Continuing our at-a-glance references for explaining the vocabulary associated with gifted and talented education we look at compacting

Compacting is a way of making curricular adjustments for students to avoid them ‘learning’ what they already know and can do. Essentially, the procedure involves:

1. defining the learning objectives of a particular unit of work

2. determining and documenting which students have already mastered most, or all, of a specified set of learning outcomes

3. providing alternative objectives/activities that are more challenging and lead to productive use of the student’s time.

It is an approach that is used more in the USA than in this country, and its success depends upon skilful assessment by the teacher of individual pupils’ knowledge and understanding. Preferred learning styles, emotional maturity and other differences also need to be taken into account, as well as speed of learning and motivation. The more able the child, however, the more important it becomes to find effective and manageable ways of implementing curriculum compacting.

Examples of successful compacting include:

  • A teacher asking pupils to make a concept map using their existing knowledge and showing connections. When a number of them showed a reasonable understanding of several of the concepts about to be studied, the teacher compacted their curriculum by removing parts of the unit (given as a five-week self-paced unit) and negotiated areas of extension and enrichment with the students.
  • In her book, Teaching Gifted Kids in the Regular Classroom, Susan Winebrenner outlines the ‘most difficult first’ strategy, whereby gifted students are invited to attempt a number of tasks (say, five), which are seen as the most difficult examples of the ideas or skills to be practised and learned. Successful students (ie those with no more than one error) are then allowed to progress to other, more appropriate, work.
  • In Deborah Eyre’s book, Able Children in Ordinary Schools, students are shown a picture (in this case of the gunpowder plot) and asked ‘What could you say about the picture?’ This open-ended task would help the teacher to assess existing knowledge – and to use this to plan differentiated provision, including compacting.

Streamlining the curriculum can allow students to study an additional subject – some schools now compact the KS3 curriculum for more able students.