A Successful Experience
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What is differentiated curriculum?
Differentiated curriculum is one that is individualized to meet the diverse needs of all of the students in one class. As gifted children expert Susan Weinbrenner says, "Equality means giving everyone equal opportunities to learn, not teaching everyone in exactly the same way." If implemented appropriately, differentiation does not have to mean more work for the teacher. In fact, it will allow a teacher to spend his or her time more efficiently with a greater number of students.
Compacting the curriculum
Compacting the curriculum occurs when students are allowed to "buy back" time for what they already know so they can "spend" time another way (Renzulli & Reis, 1991). It is a way that allows students to earn self-directed time to work independently on special interest projects. First, look at your curriculum in a particular content area. Determine what criteria students need to meet in order to convince you they know the material. Then compact the curriculum:
Give the unit test at the beginning of the unit. Students who achieve 85% or better agree to follow a learning contract outlining an independent study during the time the rest of the class is working toward mastery in a certain area. It is understood that the independent contract students will need to do a lot of problem solving without the one-on-one help of the teacher during this particular time. This is not to say that the teacher ignores those students. They need to be checked on from time to time, just like the rest of the students in the class.
For instance, if you usually give spelling tests on Friday, give a practice test on the prior Monday. Students who score 85% or higher can work on projects of their choice or on alternate word-building activities such as creating a spelling game, playing Scrabble, or making a crossword puzzle.
If your goal is for students to write a coherent paragraph, tell them and show them specifically what you are looking for. Give a quick assessment that will allow students to prove they can write a coherent paragraph with at least 85% mastery. Those who can write at this level should be encouraged to pursue individual projects such as creative writing or journaling, or the activities may not have anything to do with writing, depending on students' needs and teacher's comfort zone.
In math, grade level standards may require students to add and subtract fractions. After an introduction to basic concepts and some practice, a quick, informal assessment should show who has internalized the mechanics as well as developed an understanding of fractions. Those scoring 85% or better can pursue projects, problems, or games involving fractions or some other area of interest while the rest of the students continue to familiarize themselves with the beginning components of numbers less than one. The same compacting applies to reading, social studies, and science.