Chobham Academy T&L Times

Challenging 'More Able' Learners

How do we challenge the more able students that we teach?

With a class of students of all abilities in front of us, the question is how do we successfully challenge the more able learners we teach?

What we find works well is making sure they have access to a range of thought-provoking tasks, tasks that extend and enrich their learning. In addition, remembering that cognitive challenge is added by increasing the difficulty and variety of the activity we set students, not the amount of work they do. By promoting independence (something I do a lot in my lessons) students will start to seek, investigate, theorise and analyse indpendantly deepening their knowledge and understanding.

More able students do not necessarily need to be doing a completelty different task, it is all about the way the student approaches the task set, the task design should be facilitated by the teacher and allow for exploration and deeper learning to take place.

In performing arts we do this by giving the students varied performance opportunities, embedding the habits of mind within the lesson focus, creative use of technology, peer coaching and use of 'performing arts' industry job roles linked to success criteria.

By improving the quality of learning for more able students we raise the outcomes for all the students that we teach, in turn creating students who can think critically and want to deepen and extend their own understanding of topics, this allows students to take 'ownership of their education'.

Below you can see how my 'more able' dance students took on the role of the 'Choreographer' in lesson. The task involved using higher order thinking skills, they had to create movement, communicate an idea and analyse their own and others work.

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Get them thinking critically! (open, enquiring minds)

Inspired by some of Mike Gershon's many great ideas on his TES teacher toolkit:

  • Analyse meaning: Students analyse the accuracy of their work. When they have finished an activity, ask them to review what they have done. How accurately did they convey the meaning they intended? How precise were they in their choice and use of words? How could they have said the same thing but more simply? Get them to amend or redo their work accordingly.
  • Self-criticism: Stretch students thinking by asking them to reread what they have written critically. Ask them to revisit the work and develop a series of questions in connection with it. These will focus on issues thrown up by the text or questions that have not been answered in the text but ought to have been.
  • Challenging debate: Ask students to look through their work and identify every instance where they have put forward an argument or a view. They should then come up with two pieces of evidence and two examples (additional to anything in the text) that could be used to support their argument. This will stretch their thinking and improve their arguments.

Talking Triads

Talking Triads is another method that I commonly use in science to encourage more able learners within lessons, that can be used in any subject area. It is a strategy that gets people to explore a chosen topic, but with a really rigorous analysis of ideas and views. The triad comprises of a speaker, a questioner and a recorder/analyst. You can prepare questions, or you can get the questioner and the analyst to prepare questions whilst the speaker prepares or reflects upon potential answers. This can be done in front of the class as a gallery of sorts, or you can have all triads working simultaneously. If they do work simultaneously, then a nice addition is to raise your hand next to a particular triad, which signals for other groups to stop and listen whilst that specific triad continues, allowing for some quality listening opportunities.

Higher Order Questioning

Questions that are easy to answer don’t move learning on; they might indicate that learning has happened, or that at least something has been noticed, thought about or memorised, but they don’t promote learning. Questioning should be used to provoke, challenge and extend students thinking.

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At the end of this science lesson more able students created their own hinge questions:

A dead body is floating in space, her name is Miss Gage. She is moving at a constant velocity when her jet pack switches on. There is an upward force of 50N and her weight has a force of 60N. Describe the motion of Miss Gage:

1) Miss Gage would remain at a constant velocity

2) Miss Gage would move to the right

3) Miss Gage would move to the left

4) Miss Gage would decelerate with a resultant force of 10N