A Lesson in Lesson Compacting
Mr. Wilkerson notices that some of his students in math always complete their
practice work quickly. Having learned “the most difficult first” strategy in a
recent workshop, he presents it to the class the next day.
He begins the lesson with 15 minutes of direct instruction and then explains
to students that he will now be offering a new option: Those students who
understand a lesson—and prove it by correctly doing the five most difficult math
problems on the day’s assignment—won’t need to do the rest of the problems.
They can work instead on an “extension page”—that is, a more challenging
math activity—for the rest of the class period.
Students who attempt to do those five problems but have difficulty solving
them on their own go back to the beginning of the page and try to complete all
the problems. During this time, the classroom “checker” verifies the answers of
those students who have tackled the five most difficult problems, thus freeing
the teacher to help students who need more support.
This strategy accomplishes several important outcomes. First, the teacher
doesn’t waste the learning time of students who require little practice. Second,
he structures sufficient time for those who need it. Finally, he frees up time to
work directly with the students who most need his assistance. “Most difficult
first” represents a simple solution to the challenge of teaching in classes with a
range of abilities.
that they are not doing more work
than others, just different work. Students must also understand that their
recorded grade will not be lower than
it would have been had they completed
the regular class work instead of the
more challenging work they tackled.
Because teachers are required to assess
only the grade-level standards—this is
what the recorded grade reflects—they
can give alternative credit to students
who successfully complete extension
satisfies parents, and sets the stage for
higher achievement for all. ;L
Brulles, D., Cohn, S., & Saunders, R.
(2010). Improving performance for gifted
students in a cluster grouping model.
Journal for the Education of the Gifted,
34( 2), 327–350.
Brulles, D., & Lansdowne, K. (2009).
Enfranchising gifted Hispanic English
language learners through cluster grouping. In B. A. Kerr (Ed.), Encyclopedia
A Solution That Satisfies All
In this time of rapidly expanding school
choice, schools need to provide a
challenging learning environment for
students of all levels of ability and
achievement. Cluster grouping creates a
more rigorous and relevant school
setting, encourages smart students to
remain in their schools, and draws back
students who have left. In addition, it
provides equitable services to all
students, is feasible to implement,
Learn how grouping can be
used to promote student
success in math in the online-only
article “Math Groups That Make
Sense” by Sandra Dean and
Michael Zimmerman at www
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Dina Brulles is director of gifted education services at Paradise Valley Unified School District, Phoenix, Arizona;
firstname.lastname@example.org. Susan Winebrenner is founder and president of
Education Consulting Service; susan@