In our last post, “Curriculum matters” we looked at the two main approaches that have developed over time for GT curriculum: acceleration and enrichment.
If you look at a dictionary, “curriculum” is often defined as the courses that are offered by a school, even though schools actually rarely use it in such a general sense.
More typically , “curriculum” refers to the knowledge and skills students are expected to learn. It often starts with the learning standards or learning objectives that students are expected to meet which then flows into the units and lessons that teachers teach, the assignments and projects given to students, the books, materials, videos, presentations, and readings used in a course, and the tests, assessments, and other methods used to evaluate student learning.
Before schools think about GT curriculum though, the school system should actually first think broadly about the gifted program. According to researcher Carolyn Callahan, gifted programs should have goals and objectives that can be clearly specified, operationalized, and translated into measurable outcomes. They should lead to a clear answer to the question:
If students are successful in this program, what will they know, understand, and be able to do that they would not have known, understood, or been able to do had they not been in the program?
Once gifted program objectives are established, then it is time to design curriculum for GT students that are reflective of these goals. Indicators of a successful GT curriculum include evidence of high levels of abstractness, greater levels of depth and complexity, more rapid pacing, multi-faceted and open-ended problems, mastery of content that requires a transfer of learning and greater leaps of insight, and the use of more advanced and sophisticated resources. All of this should be matched to a student’s developmental level and culture-based learning needs while also tying into the program’s specified goals and objectives.
For examples of excellence in GT curricula, take a look at the National Association for Gifted Children (NAGC) which presents curriculum awards in an effort to encourage and showcase exemplary curricula for gifted and talented young people. The rubric the NAGC uses aligns with established guidelines that were set forth in the article “Bridging the Gap: A Tool and Technique to Analyze and Evaluate Gifted Education Curricular Units” originally published in 2002, and recently updated in 2017.
Finally, there is curriculum evaluation, an essential phase of curriculum development. It is through evaluation that determinations about whether a curriculum is fulfilling its purpose and whether students are actually learning can be made. Evaluation is the method for determining the worth and effectiveness of a curriculum, the results of which stakeholders — parents, teachers, the community, administrators, and curriculum writers — are all deeply interested in.
This evaluative piece is especially important in Maryland, which will begin looking at gifted and talented students as an accountability group under ESSA beginning in the 2018/19 school year. Questions to consider include: What indicators are being employed to document the effectiveness of the curriculum with the gifted population? How is this being measured? Are districts thinking “big picture” about what the goals and objectives are for their GT students, how the curriculum meets those goals, and how this is being evaluated? Are they publicizing these goals and objectives and the evaluative measures that are used to determine to what degree these objectives are being met?
Stakeholders want information about how GT students are performing, and soon Maryland schools will need to be reporting on this.