Differentiating Instruction for Gifted Students in Regular Education Social Studies Classes

Article excerpt

Educational reform movements are transforming the shape of schools by modifying the composition of classes. Heterogeneous classes inherently include students with an array of abilities, interests, learning styles, motivational levels, personality types, and cultural heritages. Furthermore, the number of students with disparate abilities is increasing in regular education classes as a result of inclusion practices (Goree, 1996). Goree also claims that when students with learning difficulties are included in regular education classes, their needs are more readily addressed than those of the above-average and gifted students.

Gifted students are spending more time in regular education classes because of a loss of funding and support resulting from "political priorities and competing paradigms" which are not particularly supportive of their unique needs (Cohen, 1996, p. 183). A national comprehensive study conduced by Archambault et al. (1993) revealed that third and fourth grade teachers made only minor modifications in the regular curriculum to meet the learning needs of individual students, especially gifted ones. According to Reis and Purcell (1993), "a dumbing down of textbooks" also has occurred resulting in content repetition in textbooks which further aggravates the situation for advanced, able learners. A steady diet of traditional, textbook-centered learning experiences as is found in many regular education classes is inappropriate for gifted learners.

In addition to the increased diversity in regular education classrooms, revised educational standards and performance expectations require teachers to make major shifts in teaching practices and strategies. For example, new goals and expectations recently have been developed by the National Council for the Social Studies (Schneider et al., 1994) because of the concern that the social studies curriculum consisted of topics which were acquired rather than explored and because of the lack of activity involving mental processing beyond the knowledge and comprehension levels. Today, performance expectations and goals are centered around themes such as "time, continuity and change" and "people, places, and environments" recommended by the National Council for the Social Studies (Schneider et al.). Learning experiences suggested by those themes emphasize the development of higher level thinking skills (application, analysis, synthesis, and evaluation) which contrast with more traditional teaching strategies cultivating thinking at the knowledge and comprehension levels such as teacher-directed, large-group instruction, worksheets, and workbooks.

The shift from instruction at the knowledge and comprehension levels to facilitating learning at higher levels of thinking combined with the increased diversity of student populations in regular education classrooms contributes to the burdens already faced by regular education classroom teachers. Many depend on textbooks and other traditional activities because they lack knowledge of strategies which provide appropriate educational experiences for such a wide array of students especially those at higher levels of functioning. This article briefly describes several methodologies for differentiating instruction in regular education social studies classes which comply with the performance expectations from the National Council for the Social Studies (Schneider, et al., 1994) and assure that gifted learners are offered appropriate social studies curriculum in regular education classes. Curriculum compacting, conceptual thematic units, questioning strategies and interested development centers as well as independent study and mentorships are strategies from the field of gifted education that regular education social studies teachers can merge into their classroom agendas to accommodate their more diverse student populations' learning needs at the higher levels required by new curriculum guidelines.

Curriculum Compacting

One way to differentiate learning experiences for gifted learners in the regular classroom is to use curriculum compacting. …