5th June 2009 at 01:00

Problem: Some of the brighter pupils in my class get fidgety at certain points and I feel this is because they're not being stretched. What can I do?

Being bright is no guarantee against misbehaviour. In fact, indifference and frustration can bring behavioural issues to the fore, especially among able pupils.

"If teachers are using formal methods, where they are constantly repeating the same old message verbally or on the board, bright pupils will become horribly bored," says Diana Montgomery, emeritus professor in education at Middlesex University and author of Able, Gifted and Talented Underachievers. "Able pupils don't need to hear everything 30 times over. They'll have picked it up the first time."

Instead, she says, teachers need to develop critical thinking skills and more problem-based questioning. There is abundant evidence to show this is the best way forward, not least from a report by the Institute of Education in London last year. It found that thinking skills, an enriched curriculum and personalised learning are key to helping gifted and talented (Gamp;T) pupils reach their potential.

This means resisting the temptation to give pupils quiet, individual work. Problem-based questions, including those that don't necessarily have clearly defined methods or solutions, are preferable, says Julie Fitzpatrick, chief executive of NACE, the association for able children.

At Moorside Community Technology College in County Durham, staff put themselves in children's shoes by being "taught" by their colleagues perodically. It helps them ensure they are setting challenging targets and activities for able pupils.

"We want to make sure there is enough focus on independent learning, open- ended questions and high expectations," says Linda Rodham, deputy head and Gamp;T co-ordinator at the college. "Those are the best ways to avoid a dull diet."

Moorside has won a NACE Challenge Award this year in recognition of its excellent Gamp;T provision. As well as early identification of able pupils, personal data about them must be taken into account and acted upon by teachers, insists Ms Rodham.

A Year 8 research project involved able pupils conducting their own research into Indian schools, which they then videoed and sent to a cluster of schools in Bangalore for feedback. "They decided how to present it, what the content should be and areas that needed further work," says Ms Rodham.

Homework is not set in key stage 3 at Moorside. Instead, pupils are given wide briefs that form the basis of independent study. An art project on sea creatures saw an able Year 7 pupil create a huge 3-D sculpture that was of GCSE standard.

"The pupils drive the work and the results excel our expectations," says Ms Rodham. "The worst thing you can do for an able child is limit them by being too prescriptive."

Stopsley High in Luton, another NACE award-winning school, employs a full- time non-teaching member of staff to support its Gamp;T pupils. Russell George meets the school's 120 able pupils once a term to ensure they are meeting their potential.

"Some will be playing up in class just because they can," says Mr George. "They can muck about in class, but still hand work in on time. They may get a C grade instead of an A, but otherwise they get away with it."

It is Mr George's job to ensure that they don't. "It's important to provide able pupils with a challenge and not be afraid to see them fail. Teachers need to equip them with the skills and confidence to pick themselves up, try again and really stretch themselves."

Mindless, add-on activities that keep Gamp;T pupils occupied while the rest of the class catch up will not work, says Professor Montgomery. Instead, problem-based work will rarely result in cries of, "I've finished, Miss" - there will always be more research they can do.

Ask the Gamp;T co-ordinator for strategies, extension activities and problem- based ideas, suggests Professor Montgomery. Then observe the disruptive pupils and watch to see when the misbehaviour kicks in.

"The classic scenario is pupils start to play up when a writing task is introduced," she says. "Able children can find it boring and I don't blame them. Change your practice and you'll change the unwanted behaviour."

Next week: Lesson pace

Do .

. Get pupils to justify their answers.

. Introduce a range of problem-solving activities.

. Use Belle Wallace's TASC (Thinking Actively in a Social Context) wheel to encourage personalised learning and thinking skills.

Don't .

. Rely on closed questions.

. Ignore self-assessment. Able pupils will welcome evaluating or commenting on their work before you mark it.

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