Ways to challenge the most able

Updated: Mar 7

One of our biggest challenges as educators is to satisfy the demands of our more able students, providing them with sufficient stimulation while maintaining the flow of our lessons for the majority of the class. Research has found that the more cognitively able students are the most difficult to satisfy in terms of their own perceived educational quality (DME Griffioen, JJ Doppenberg, RJ Oostdam - Higher Education, 2018).

Most of the literature on this matter highlights the importance of setting high expectations (AO Masters, N Geoff 2015). While this is easy to do with the most able students in your class, we are actually talking about high expectations in terms of progress. This means that we should expect our most able to gain as much from a lesson as everybody else. Now in order to do this, we must move away from using tests as our means of measuring progress. Why? Because tests have a limit, and I'm sure you've all had a student achieve/ get close to achieving 100% in an exam. This is far from easy, and probably often not very high on your list of priorities. However, we may be doing these students an injustice by not challenging their deeper thinking skills.

Your school probably has a way of identifying these students, and they can vary across different subjects. Once you know exactly who you're targeting, it's time to plan for challenge, creativity and deeper thinking in lessons without hindering the progress of the majority of the class. An idea? Set up a challenge area in your classroom, here are some practical ideas to help you get started.

1. Wider reading resources- open your student's eyes to the bigger picture in your subject.

2. Challenge cards- fun/ challenging/ competitive tasks to further challenge students.

3. Allow students to plan parts of the next lesson, this will get them thinking about the learning process, you could provide a template and leave copies in the challenge area. You could ask them to design a game.

4. Debate- challenge students to defend the content that they have learnt against an alternative view point.

5. Deeper thinking challenge sheet, a template for students to fill in that encourages deeper thinking.See image below. Free download available at request.

It is really useful to ensure that students must provide tangible evidence of challenge work completed, if it is too open-ended students are less likely to fully engage. Most of these strategies follow the model of Bloom's taxonomy questioning, by ensuring that the tasks include a creative/ design element to them.

If you try any of these, let us know your thoughts. Research is great, but real class teacher's perspectives are greater.

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