Catering for gifted students in the literacy classroom.
Gifted children (Education)
Special education (Analysis)
Taylor, Tracy
Oakley, Grace
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Name: Practically Primary Publisher: Australian Literacy Educators' Association Audience: Academic Format: Magazine/Journal Subject: Education Copyright: COPYRIGHT 2007 Australian Literacy Educators' Association ISSN: 1324-5961
Date: Feb, 2007 Source Volume: 12 Source Issue: 1
Product Code: 8294000 Education of Handicapped; 9105115 Special Education Programs NAICS Code: 61111 Elementary and Secondary Schools; 92311 Administration of Education Programs SIC Code: 8211 Elementary and secondary schools
Geographic Scope: Australia Geographic Code: 8AUST Australia

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Gifted students and literacy learning

What's the problem?

Worldwide, it seems that classroom teachers are facing the same problems and asking similar questions about how to cater for gifted children in the literacy classroom: Who are gifted children? Who are gifted readers? Are all gifted children gifted readers? How can I cater for these children in my classroom? (Vosslamber 2002). It is important that teachers are able to find some answers to these questions because, without them, school is not always the inspiring and challenging experience it could be for gifted children.

Furthermore, the report of the National Inquiry into the Teaching of Literacy (NITL) has stated that we as teachers should cater for the needs of all children in our literacy classrooms, whether they are having difficulties or need extension: '[We should] recognise the learning needs of children experiencing difficulties in learning to read and write, as well as extending successful readers and writers ...' (2005, p. 41). Gifted children can fall into either of these categories.

Who are gifted children?

Gifted children are not necessarily 'successful readers and writers', and this is one of the reasons that they are not always identified as gifted. Although many gifted children do indeed achieve excellent results in literacy and a range of other academic areas, others underachieve, and some even experience great difficulties in reading and writing.


It is beyond the scope of this article to discuss the issues associated with the identification of gifted children, but The New South Wales Association for the Gifted and Talented Children (NSWAGTC) has an excellent website that describes typical characteristics of gifted children in the following dimensions: general intellectual ability; specific academic aptitude; creative thinking and production; leadership; psychomotor ability; and visual and performing arts. This website may be a good starting point for teachers and others who would like to investigate this area. It can be accessed at:

How are teachers catering for gifted children?

What are classroom teachers actually doing to help this group of children, and are there other things they could try to enhance the literacy learning of these children?

Well known U.S. research suggests that classroom teachers, in fact, do not make major changes to cater for gifted children (Archambault, Westberg, Brown, Hallmark, Emmons and Zhang 1993a), for a variety of practical and political reasons. It would appear that this may also be the case in many Australian classrooms (Taylor and Milton 2006).

Many teachers report that they set gifted children independent study or 'research' tasks as a means of extending them. This type of self-directed learning usually involves the student choosing and reading a range of texts relating to a particular topic, and then writing some sort of project. However, the notion of 'research' is wide and it may be implemented in many different ways, some more advantageous to gifted children than others.

Other strategies often used by classroom teachers include collaborative learning, peer tutoring and giving gifted children more choices about texts they might read and literacy activities they might engage in.

Whilst the above approaches certainly have their merits, teachers often do not have the time or the recourses necessary for the optimal teaching of gifted children. Another stumbling block is that the education of the gifted child is not often adequately covered in teacher education.

In this article, we discuss the use of three different approaches to tailoring literacy teaching to suit children who are gifted:

* Curriculum compacting

* Research-based activities

* Webquests.

Curriculum Compacting

What is curriculum compacting?

'Curriculum compacting is the system designed to meet the needs of gifted students by either eliminating work that has been previously mastered or by streamlining work that may be mastered at a pace commensurate with the students' abilities' (Reis 1994, p. 128).

Why use curriculum compacting?

The regular curriculum often does not stimulate and challenge gifted students, meaning that they are 'at risk' in terms of failing to reach their potential and, worse, becoming disinterested in school literacy tasks and 'turning off' altogether. This happens to a substantial number of our young gifted people.

A compacted curriculum eliminates unnecessary tasks and therefore makes more effective use of student time. In addition, it reduces student boredom, increases student interest, and eliminates misbehaviour associated with boredom.

Up to 50% of the regular curriculum can be compacted for gifted students (Reis et al. 1993).

Gifted students are often given extension activities to work on after completing regular class tasks. The learning activities provided for gifted students should replace regular class work rather than be added on top. Curriculum compacting is a simple system that allows clear identification of activities that can be eliminated for a particular gifted student, allowing the extended time necessary for higher level extension work.

How can is curriculum compacting be used in the literacy classroom?

There are three basic steps to curriculum compacting, whatever the curriculum area: name it, prove it, and change it.

Recommendations for compacting the curriculum (Siegle 1999)

Start small. It is advisable to select one or two responsible students to start with, as the classroom routines and dynamics will need to be changed.

Select only one content area, which should be a subject that both the teacher and the selected children feel confident in.

Try a variety of methods to determine student mastery of the material (a brief conversation with a student may be just as effective as a written pre-test).

It is better to compact by topic rather than by time. That is, compact by a language theme, rather than trying to compact for a term, or half-term.

Define proficiency based on a consensus with administrators and parents.

Reward early finishers with a useful, engaging activity. Simply giving them 'more of the same' will soon discourage them from working at an accelerated pace and activities such as peer tutoring and 'busy' work can also be counter-productive.

Engaging Gifted Children in Research

Suggestions for using research with gifted students Choice of topic. Students need to be involved in the choice of topic to engage intrinsic motivation. Ideally, all students should work on individual, self-chosen research tasks.

Developing Questions. Students then need to create their own questions to guide the investigation. The KWL strategy (Ogle 1986) works well here to allow students to reflect on what they already know about the topic (K), identify specifically what they want to learn (W) and, later, to reflect on what they have learnt (L). This, of course, is a strategy suitable for use with all students, but has the potential to engage gifted students at their own level.

Research Skills. It is often assumed that gifted students automatically possess independent research skills; however, this is not usually the case. All students, even gifted ones, need to be specifically taught research skills, such as locating information, note-taking, summarising and referencing. It may seem a paradox to teach a student who is capable of understanding university level concepts but still requires research skills to be taught at (for example) a 10 year-old level. However, this is the reality for most gifted learners.

Research Product. Gifted students particularly need a choice of product, which should be an authentic, real-world product.

Assessment. Include self-evaluation, preferably using a negotiated rubric.

Teach how to ask higher order questions. Students also need to be taught how to analyse the type of thinking involved in the questions they ask. This can be done by having students compare their questions with the categories in Bloom's Taxonomy (1956). While many teachers use Bloom's to plan higher order thinking in their programs, it is of immense benefit to teach the taxonomy directly to students.

The Revised Bloom's Taxonomy

Bloom's Taxonomy has recently been revised by members of the team that devised the original version (Anderson and Krathwohl 2001). Two main changes were made. Verbs, instead of nouns, are now used to label each level, i.e. 'application' becomes 'applying' etc., resulting in a more active conception of thinking.

The second major change is the exchange of the two highest levels, synthesis (now called creating) and evaluation. It was thought that in order to synthesise or create new information, one must have already evaluated existing information, making creating a higher level of thinking than evaluation.

A useful reference on the new taxonomy can be found at

This site contains many practical resources for teacher information, as well as for presentation to primary students such as a PowerPoint presentation, posters (suitable for classroom use), planning frameworks and units of work.

Research Questions--examples

The following are examples of questions that were constructed and analysed by a ten year old, moderately gifted student on the (self-chosen) topic of palaeontology. The child also decided which level of Bloom's technology must be used in order to answer the questions:

How do palaeontologists know where to dig? (An)

What kinds of fossils do they find in certain places? (App)

What places are best to look for fossils? (E)

What sorts of tools do palaeontologists need? (R)

How do they use these tools? (U)

How do they treat fossils? (U/App)

How much has the world changed since the dinosaurs? (E)

By analysing the type of thinking involved in each question, learners develop an understanding of the type of language structures required to answer the particular question. For example, the recall question above ('What sort of tools?') involves a listing of nouns in a simple sentence, whereas the higher order questions will require a more developed paragraph with topic, developing, supporting and concluding sentences.

In analysing their questions in this manner, students will also learn that the higher level questions actually assume information from lower order questions. For example, the question: 'How much has the world changed since the dinosaurs?' from above, assumes information such as:

* Are there new rivers?

* Is the sea in a different place?

* Were different continents joined?

* Where were the deserts and mountains?

Gifted Children and Webquests

What is a Webquest?

According to Chatel, 'A webquest is an inquiry-oriented activity, in which some or all of the information that students interact with comes from resources on the Internet' (2003, p. 70).

Major features of Webquests

Webquests have four main parts. Firstly, there's an introduction, in which the topic and the purpose of the webquest is explained. Secondly, there is a task. Here, the child's 'quest' is set out; for example, the quest may be to visit several nominated websites and find out about life in Ancient Egypt and then create a presentation, or it could be to find out about the life cycle of a butterfly and then create a timeline. Thirdly, the process is set out. Here, the child is given clear instructions on what to do in order to fulfil the quest; the steps and sequence of the webquest are outlined. Children are given links to click on (websites to visit) and are instructed to take notes, make concept maps, discuss with peers, etc. These processes vary from webquest to webquest. The fourth stage of a webquest is evaluation. Here, the child self-assesses, using a rubric that is provided in the webquest. The teacher may assist with the assessment.

Benefits of webquests

Webquests involve children conducting research on the Internet, but they minimise some of the usual difficulties associated with using the Internet for learning, such as the dangers of getting lost in hyperspace, the frustration of not being able to find appropriate websites, and the limited learning associated with an unclear focus or purpose.

Through the use of webquests, children can get down to the business of using and thinking about information rather than merely searching for it. If written well, webquests can support learners' thinking at the levels of analysis, synthesis and evaluation.

In terms of literacy, webquests are therefore an excellent context for furthering students' abilities in the areas of comprehension, vocabulary, and writing. There is also great scope for critical evaluation.

Why are Webquests particularly appropriate for gifted children?

Webquests are particularly appropriate for gifted children because they necessitate higher order thinking, such as comparing, critiquing, evaluating, inferring, synthesising and questioning. These are comprehension processes that gifted children are often (but not always) good at and need to stretch.

Webquests allow independent, self-paced learning, which is an approach to learning that is recommended for gifted children. Likewise, webquests allow for active learning, a degree of self-determination, self-selection and self-assessment which enhances meta-cognition).

Modifying Webquests for gifted children

It may be necessary to modify the use of webquests to suit the gifted child. Simply giving such children extended choices about webquests to do can often be good starting point, since such children are often passionate about certain topics and are eager to learn more.

Another simple means of modifying the use of webquests for gifted children is to give more focus to higher order thinking aspects of webquests creating and evaluating) and less on lower levels, such as remembering (Bloom's revised taxonomy). Children can be asked to 'skip' some of the lower-level steps, especially if they already have some background knowledge of the topic.

Finding Webquests

There are many webquests on the Internet that are ready to use. These can be found by conducting a Google search or by visiting sites such as the following.

Making Webquests

Teachers can make webquests for the children in their class and add different activities for gifted children, or direct them to skip some of the activities. It is not difficult to create webquests, as templates are available that only need to be edited, for example by using Word or any other software that can be used for writing and editing html. All you need to do is fill in the template. You don't even need to upload the webquests to a server. If you have an internet connection, your webquests can be stored locally (e.g. on the Desktop or in a file called Webquests) on a classroom computer and accessed by the children from there. Templates can be downloaded from

Steps to making a Webquest

According to Bernie Dodge, the 'grandfather' of webquests, it is useful to follow the following steps when creating webquests.

* Pick a fruitful, appropriate TOPIC and GOAL

* Select a TASK that engages higher level thinking

* Start creating the WEBSITE

* Develop an EVALUATION

* Flesh out the PROCESS

* Write documentation for other TEACHERS

* Test it. REVISE as needed.

See the following website for further details:

Gifted children can make webquests

Gifted children can make webquests for other students to use, perhaps for children in more junior grades. In order to make webquests, students must engage in higher order thinking to compose explanations, pose questions and design rubrics. They must understand the problem or topic well enough to be able to guide someone else though it. Furthermore, they must synthesise and evaluate the information found on websites in order to choose a path through them for their webquest users to follow (Peterson and Koeck 2001). Making webquests is also creative and allows for a degree of self-determination; it is a perfect activity for gifted children.

Catering for a diversity of needs in the classroom is a constant challenge for teachers, but being able to give a gifted child the 'wings' to fly in literacy is indeed worth the effort.


Anderson, L.W. and Krathwohl (eds) (2001) A Taxonomy for Learning, Teaching, and Assessing: A Revision of Bloom's Taxonomy of Educational Objectives. New York: Longman.

Archambault, F.X., Westberg, K.L., Brown, S.W., Hallmark, B.W., Zhanfg, W. and Emmons, C. (1993) Regular Classroom Practices with Gifted Students: Results of a National Survey of Classroom Teachers (Execultive Summary). Storrs, CT: The National Research Centre on the Gifted and Talented.

Bloom, B.S. (1956) Taxonomy of Educational Objectives. Handbook: Book 1: Cognitive Domain. New York: Longman Inc.

Chatel, R. (2003) 'Developing literacy in the technological age: Expanding the boundaries of reader-text interactions', New England Reading Association Journal, Vol. 39, No. 2, pp. 67-73.

DEST (2005) Report of the National Inquiry into the Teaching of Literacy.

Ogle, D. (1986) 'K-W-L: A teaching model that develops active reading of expository text', The Reading Teacher, Vol. 39, pp. 564-570.

Peterson, C.L. and Koeck, D.C. (2001) 'When students create their own webquests', Learning and Leading with Technology, Vol. 29, No. 1, pp. 10-15.

Reis, S.M., Westberg, K.L., Kulikowich, J., Caillard, F., Hebert, T., Plucker, J., et al. (1993) Why not let high ability students start school in January? The curriculum compacting study. Unpublished manuscript, Storrs, CT: The National Research Center on the Gifted and Talented, University of Connecticut.

Reis, S.M. and Westberg, K.L. (1994) 'The impact of staff development on teachers' ability to modify curriculum for gifted and talented students', The Gifted Child Quarterly, Vol. 38, No. 3, pp. 127-135.

Siegle, D. (1999) Curriculum Compacting: A Necessity for Academic Advancement,

Taylor, T. and Milton, M. (2006) 'Preparation for teaching gifted students: An investigation in to university courses in Australia', Australasian Journal of Gifted Education, Vol. 15, No. 1, pp. 25-31.

Vosslamber, A. (2002) 'Gifted readers: Who are they, and how can they be served in the classsroom?', Gifted Child Today, Vol. 25, No. 2, pp. 14-20.


This involves deciding upon the learning objectives or outcomes for the unit of learning.


Assessment techniques are used to find out which parts of the unit have already been mastered or are close to being mastered.


The final stage of this very basic diagnostic-teaching cycle involves eliminating activities that may be unnecessary for particular children, such as drill and practice activities. Other activities can be streamlined to suit gifted children, allowing them to join in class activities only when necessary. Small group and/or individual instruction can be provided for students who haven't mastered all objectives but are capable of working at a faster pace. It is often necessary to offer gifted children more challenging activities, preferably based on their interests.

Some useful references on curriculum compacting

Differentiation using Curriculum Compacting The National Research Centre on the Gifted and Talented (PowerPoint file suitable for professional development.)

Curriculum Compacting: A Strategy for Responsive Teaching docs/ppts/compactingfixed.ppt

Curriculum Compacting: A Systematic Procedure for Modifying the Curriculum for Above Average Ability Students An article explaining curriculum compacting.

Webquest Search Page at:

Best Webquests at:

Webquest! At:

Webquests: 3rd Grade Through 6th Grade at:
Original        Terms New Terms

Evaluation      Creating
Synthesis       Evaluating
Analysis        Analysing
Application     Applying
Comprehension   Understanding
Knowledge       Remembering
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