Gifted and Talented Students



Differentiating by task

In circumstances where a group of able students cannot be withdrawn from the classroom, there is the issue of differentiation by task to address. This is necessary in order to provide each student with an education appropriate to his or her needs and ability. As an example, I will use my Year 10 GCSE group. The group is a 'top set' of 25 students who have opted to take the subject at GCSE level. Predicted grades for the group using the autumn package and Yellis suggest that of these 25 students 4 are capable of attaining a grade A, three a B grade, 12 a grade C and the remainder a D grade. Here is a group in which there are huge differences in terms of ability, understanding and motivation to do well. If as a teacher I choose to adopt whole class teaching, activities from the textbook or one set of worksheets I fail to recognise the differences in ability and therefore at least one group of students will fail to attain to their potential. There are a number of particular needs within the group. Some understand all of the concepts raised within the text books straight away and can draw upon other knowledge they have to write answers that are reasonably succinct and almost always of a standard suited to a grade A or B. Others need assistance with the structure of their answers and require supplementary notes to make the content more easily understandable. At the end of Key Stage 3 these students ranged in ability from level 8 through to level 4 when assessed against the attainment targets for History.

The dynamics of the group mean that differentiation by task is required in most lessons. I have no option to withdraw students from this group and so my grouping has to be within the classroom. To facilitate this I have arranged the tables in the classroom into a horseshoe with a group of tables at the centre of this. The group of students within the centre can then be given alternative work with ease and I can focus as much attention on the students on the C/D borderline as I can on the gifted students who are likely to attain much higher grades. The class are aware of the reasons for this arrangement and I regularly alter the positioning of the groups so that the gifted students are sometimes those working at the central table; in lessons where I want to work with them in particular as a group and sometimes they are around the outside working more independently. This allows me to then work with a group of students at the central table that have distinctly different needs.

This arrangement allows the teacher to introduce higher order thinking skills into lessons, questioning can be more challenging than within whole class sessions and the conceptual work undertaken can be much more demanding, requiring the student to not only think much harder than they would if their less able peers were involved but also research in greater depth as I can then also expect the students level of substantiation and reasoning to be far in excess of when they are completing tasks that the whole group have undertaken.

Many different types of learning activity are suitable for use with more able students. Different students respond to different activities and outcomes will vary dependant upon the individual child. The following are examples of activities that I have found to prove effective in developing historical skills:

Historical Interpretations are often difficult for students to cope with initially. When asked, for example, why the Norman's invaded England in 1066 even the more able will focus initially upon one reason such as 'William had the right to be king' or 'The Normans were greedy'. Evidence may be produced to back up the claim, the language may be excellently chosen but no mention is made of other possibilities. Even for many able students there is only ever one 'right' answer. Students need guidance here, and, if they are capable of writing at the equivalent of English level 5 they will be able to use a writing prompt sheet to write a very solid response.

With Year 7 student's this can be created by using a wide variety of sources written from a number of perspectives. These should be analysed by students who have to highlight the motive for the invasion. Once this has been completed, students should attempt to link the different sources, they should lead them having two or three motives with two or three sources of evidence to support each interpretation.

Give smaller groups, or pairs, one selection of sources relating to one interpretation. Using these, they have to write a paragraph stating why the invasion took place. After editing, present these paragraphs to the other groups who can then ask debate the points raised by each group. In theory, at least this will provide strengths and weaknesses for each interpretation, which should be annotated by the teacher.

Students should at this point be able to see that each interpretation has valid points and must be included in any well- reasoned response. A suitable structure can then be presented to students who can then take copies of each annotated paragraph to form a longer piece of written work. Essentially each child here is simply linking the paragraphs and ensuring that they are of suitable length and quality.

Upon completion of this, the group is brought back together and a model answer is read out. Then ask students what is wrong with the answer. Lead the discussion to bring out responses that indicate that students have recognised that no judgements as to the merits of each interpretation are made within the modelled answer. Students then write, in groups, a paragraph that discusses the merits of each interpretation. This should then be edited before being presented.

The group now has a response that presents two or three possible reasons for the invasion. It then debates the merits of these interpretations. Students should now be asked to write an introduction and a conclusion for the answer. These again ought to be modelled: asking for one sentence to summarise each interpretation is often a useful method of prompting a sensible introductory paragraph.

Students can then be shown how to plan responses in this manner:

Reason 1
Reason 2

Future pieces of work ought to be done with reference to this method of planning. If used properly, and with substantiation of points made, students will be able to:

Sometimes reach substantiated conclusions independently

Analyse reasons for, and/or results of, events and changes

Select, organise and use information to produce well-structured narratives, descriptions and explanations, making appropriate use of dates and terms.

Each of which suggests that the student is producing work equating with regards elements of the attainment target to Level 7 or higher.

My experience of this method is that after a period of 3 or 4 sessions, spread across a year, the student will have adapted their method of responding to questions of this nature and will naturally look for two or more interpretations.

Barry Teare, in effective provision for able and talented children, recommends using able students to assist in delivering elements of lessons. This method has several advantages. First, as Teare suggests, it deals with the potential worry that the student might actually know more than the teacher does. Second, it provides a stimulus to students to make their research relevant and accurate. This tool can prove to be highly effective and can lead to other rewards when combined with other tasks.

Effective use of this method enables the integration of Key Skills into the curriculum. Students have clearly defined expectations of what they are expected to do, when work needs to be completed and what the assessment criteria will be. The more able student should excel in this environment. The student then uses this data and information to substantiate their thoughts and interpretations. They are working independently and can explore areas that might not necessarily have been covered in detail elsewhere. They have the motivation to do well as they can contribute 'normal' class work to an assessable portfolio and they will be presenting to their peers: so they are likely to want to perform well.

There are a number of ways to integrate the use of student presentations, and/ or Key Skills into the curriculum. An example, used with a Year 10 group following Syllabus A (Medicine through time), is:

Background: Introduce the concept of Plague and do some background work on the spread of the disease. Provide limited details of the effects of the Black Death and mention some other outbreaks of the Plague in the period 1300-1700.

Give the students primary source material relating to deaths in London in the Years 1625, 1630 and 1665. Students enter the information into a spreadsheet. Then they transform this information into a visual representation of the impact of the plague, in relation to other recorded deaths, at the time.

Provide students with two documents relating to the Plague. These documents should be a challenging read for the students. Using these documents, the student has to write, in their own words, a brief report (300 words) that includes the use of images, on the causes and consequences of the plague. This brief could be adapted to say that the report must be representative of scientific or supernatural beliefs.

The student then prepares a 5-minute presentation on a specified element of the disease. They must use a combination of relevant props, audio-visual aids and/ or drama to provide clarity.

Students are given 2-3 lessons in an ICT room to produce the necessary work. The results of these types of activities have proved to be of great value. From the students perspective they are appreciative that the department is willing to give them the opportunity to gain additional qualifications, and have responded by producing work of a higher quality. The variety of resources used and the different methods employed in demonstrating the various tasks that they will have to perform is multi-sensory and has an impact on students who are less inclined to read studiously. Students have been able to express their knowledge and understanding in alternative, often innovative ways and in some cases have clearly grown in confidence as a result of having 'got it right' in front of their peers. Such activities can lead naturally into further investigative work, can be used to demonstrate different interpretations of events: leading to debates and can make some of the areas that students view of more mundane, much more interesting. These activities are available from:

Students are often intrigued and stretched by 'Whodunit' activities. The onus is placed on investigative thought rather than on comprehension of sources. This in itself lends itself to stretching a student. For example rather than working through the events leading up to the Murder of Thomas Becket in chronological order, with students identifying interpretations and causes as they work through the content, it is quite feasible to present students with information about his death and ask them to use a variety of sources to establish who was responsible for the killing. Students can then be challenged to substantiate their theories and alternative arguments can be put forward in a 'trial'.

Problem solving is a useful way of challenging students in history. Instead of providing students with details of how developments and changes came about it is often beneficial to ask students how situations can be developed. Placing students in the place of people from the past can also provide interesting challenges. An example of this would be asking students to develop methods of attacking a powerful Castle making use of only weapons that were available at the time. For most of their suggestions there is a defensive solution and so students are prompted to think of using combinations of attacking methods rather than sticking with one simpler method.

These activities are the tip of the ice-burg in terms of suitably challenging activities for students in History. The key to providing for students that are more able is ensuring that expectations are high. This can be maintained in all lessons through use of a few simple techniques:

Use more advanced language when questioning able students.
Question responses of students to stretch them and offer alternatives to which the student must then respond.
Demand substantiation of both verbal and written responses.
Adapt questions to demand more: for example asking 'Why did?' can usually be changed to 'Explain the causes of.' Prompting students to analyse a theory also demands more of a student.

Each of the suggestions above can be adapted to suit the specific needs of any given group of students. The level of difficulty can be amended with little difficulty; they should however provide a useful guide to the types of activity that can be used within a classroom with a minimum of time or expenditure being involved.


Pages within this article.

Introduction,Defintions and Identification of Gifted and Talented Students, Characteristics of effective provision in the subject, Ideas for classroom provision, Withdrawal groups, Differentiating by task,Enrichment,Conclusions

BigFoot Theatre Company provide living history lessons that are ideal for use with gifted and talented students.

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Page last updated 04/05/01
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