There will be, in every school, some exceptionally bright or talented students; statistically, this is very probable, in any population with over a few hundred. OK, so maybe they’re not Mozart or a Stephen Hawking, but they will display abilities far beyond those of their contemporaries.
For a start, they are usually capable of much harder work than other students, so they often finish earlier, and produce work of higher quality – often, but not always. If they finish first their attention is unoccupied, and some are likely to get up to monkey tricks.
They may also suffer from the dark side of giftedness: arrogance. More able pupils can sometimes be disdainful of people they believe aren’t as bright as they are, because of course they’ve got it all figured out at the age of 11, haven’t they? They can be particularly scornful of newer teachers, especially if the new teachers don’t sound confident about their subject matter.
Of course, these are challenges from the teacher’s point of view. From the pupil’s point of view, if your lessons don’t stretch them, or occupy their minds at an appropriate level, then they might easily get bored, switch off, and certainly fail to get as much out of their education with you than they should do.
Imagine you were asked to complete an entire book of colouring-in: you, with your degree and everything. You would go mental in about five minutes. That’s how many gifted and talented pupils feel in the classroom, the music room and the training field if they’re not provided for in the classroom.
• Make sure the work actually challenges the more able in the class. Just because they’re working, and they seem occupied or quiet, doesn’t mean they’re not bored out of their minds and dreaming their escape from the prison they think they’re in.
This doesn’t have to mean tons of extra worksheets and activities for them, think of activities that they can do in different ways. You could allow some more able students to answer a set of questions as one essay, for example.
• Get more able students to present projects to the class. Get them to share their thoughts with the class during question time in order to provide role models of good practice to the other students, and so they can at least see what’s possible.
• Use them to deepen and broaden debates and thinking for the whole class; ask the less able students an easier question that they are likely to get; praise the student when they (hopefully) get it, and then ask a related, harder question and direct it to a more able student. That way everyone feels involved, successful and challenged appropriately.
• Expect more from them. This is good advice for every student, but expect fantastic results from more able students. If they produce something beneath what you know they are capable of, push them a little harder.
• An easy way to think about dealing with gifted pupils is to imagine if they were in the year above the one they presently occupy. That would be a good challenge for most of them. This doesn’t mean giving them next year’s textbooks (although it could), but thinking about the skills and content they will be reaching for in the next year.
This is an excerpt from Tom Bennett’s excellent book Not Quite a Teacher, published by Continuum. The book is a practical teacher training manual, interspersed with funny stories from Tom's own teacher training experiences.
Useful resources and advice for catering for gifted and talented students
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