Stretching Strategies

At the end of last term I went to the Gifted and Talented Conference. Below are a few ideas that I heard about which I think will really help stretch our Accelerated Learners. The overall message from the conference was that all pupils are entitled to be stretch and challenged regardless of their current attainment levels and ensuring teaching is challenging enough for the more able improves teaching overall.

Learning is supposed to be hard!

Most able students enjoy challenge and over-coming obstacles and this needs to be encouraged. However, these students often fear making mistakes. I frequently hear "I don't get the stretch task" or "how do you do the stretch" from my top set year 8s as they don't want to commit to an answer they are not sure about. I respond to this with, "you're not supposed to get it straight away, it's supposed to stretch you!" The students are almost always able to complete the task once they persevere, so try telling them that in order to complete this task they should not be doing anything but thinking for the next 3 minutes. It is important to let students struggle with a task for a while so that they learn how to tackle problems and develop their problem solving skills. If they do make a mistake, school is the place to do it! In our lessons students can be supported in understanding why they have made a mistake and how to learn from it. They need to learn these skills now, as if they go on to study at university, students are expected to deal with mistakes they have made on their own.

Going SOLO

Debbie explained the SOLO taxonomy and how it can be used to plan sequences of lessons in her post linked below. SOLO is also a really useful tool for getting students to assess their learning. By showing them the diagram above, they can visualise where their learning needs to be and how to develop it. In the case of Accelerated Learners, they should be aiming to link ideas across other topics and use this to predict what might happen in other circumstances.

Patterns of Interaction

Accelerated Learners will often switch off in whole class discussions which go backwards and forward between the teacher and student (T-S-T-S-T-S) like a tennis ball. To build more engaging class discussions (and save your voice) aim for 5 students "bounces" before the ball returns to the teacher to guide the conversation (T-S-S-S-S-S-T-S-S-S-S-S).

You can encourage debate between pupils by:

- Promoting the ABC of discussion: Agree with, Build on or Challenge.

- Asking the person who has spoken to choose a pupil with their hand up to speak next (reminding them that they are not allowed to return to the person who has just spoken to avoid one-on-one debates).

- Nominating a "because" counter to assess how in depth answers were. One person in the class counts how many time the word "because" has been used in the discussion.

- Using "might" and "could" in question to reduce the perceived risk of making a mistake.

- Asking some Accelerated Learners to play devil's advocate. Find out what their point of view is on the topic and ask them to argue from the other side.