Curriculum Compacting- Six Steps to Make it Work

Tiffany OttBlog, Innovation, Lesson Planning, Mastery Learning

Curriculum Compacting - Six Steps to Make it Work

You now know all about the what and the why of curriculum compacting (and if you don’t check out Part 1 and Part 2 of this series). Next, it’s time to talk about how to make it actually work in your classroom with your students and your unique situation.

Start at the Standards

Your first step, whether you are curriculum compacting, backward designing, implementing mastery learning, or some other new initiative, is to start at the standards. Standards sometimes get a bad rep in education. Understandably so with concerns about excessive testing and curriculum far too rigid to allow for freedom of learning. They really are not the boogeyman that some make them out to be!b When used correctly, standards can help us guide the pathways our students follow towards learning. Standards help us to always know where our students are going and what our goal is for their learning.


With a clear idea of the end goal of the learning experience, it’s time to talk about pre-assessment. You must develop a pre-assessment to measure their prior knowledge.  Creating a good pre-assessment is identical to creating a good summative assessment. In fact, your pre-assessment should closely match your summative assessment in length, content, and depth of understanding. This lets you accurately compare data from pre- and post-tests, giving you a clear picture of the growth students have made.

Make a Plan

All of the theory, research, and great ideas I’m sharing with you will only work if you create a well-thought-out plan for implementation. There are several ways to go about doing this with curriculum compacting. One option is to have students work on independent learning investigations on days when you are teaching the content they have already mastered. Learning contracts and genius hour projects can work well.

A better option is to structure your class as a student-paced, mastery learning environment. This will allow students to move through the content at a pace appropriate to them, skipping the content they have already mastered, and truly allow them to be masters of their own learning.

Take Off

Once you have the data and your plan, it is time to take off! At this point, you may be feeling a little nervous or unsure of how this is all going to work out.

Be open-minded. Be flexible. Be excited.

You are diving into a learning adventure that will transform learning in your classroom. You will have problems. There will be moments when it doesn’t work out the way you planned. Don’t let that fear of the unknown cripple you in your endeavors to make a difference for your students.

Constantly Assess and Provide Feedback

One of the most important parts of teaching is knowing what your students know. Best practices tell us that we should be using formative assessment constantly and providing high-quality feedback to students quickly.

As you are diving into curriculum compacting, you need to be sure that you are checking and rechecking what students do and do not understand. This does not have to be a complex long drawn-out process. It can be a quick 2-minute conversation with students, or a 1 question quiz, or even eavesdropping on student conversations as they are working through their learning.

Whatever your approach is to this formative assessment, be sure that you keep track of where your students are and how they are progressing. This becomes much easier when you are implementing a student-paced, student-driven, mastery learning system.

Remove yourself from the position of a content deliverer. Provide your students access to the resources that they need to learn the content. You are going to end up with so much time. Time that you can use to really understand where your students are in their learning.

Let Them Soar!

Now is the fun part! This is the time when you really get to see the fruits of your labor! The reward of the first five steps of this process! Because some of your students are now moving through the curriculum at a faster pace, they can finish grade level standards earlier. Now they get a chance to explore deeper connections to the content or accelerate into above grade-level material.

Most importantly, you will see a level of engagement in your students that you have not seen before. When students are recognized for what they understand, change happens. When they do not have to sit through a class about what they already know, they get excited about learning again. Over and over again, my students tell me that they are often bored in their other classes. They don’t like spending so much of their time on what they already know. This instructional method, curriculum compacting, can transform the school experience for your students.

So dive in. Be a trash compactor for your students. Eliminate the wasted time in their academic lives and watch them fly.

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