Bright ideas for the able;Learning to teach;Reviews;Books
Nearly 40 years ago, at Saltley Teachers' Training College, a lecturer said to us, "One of the most important lessons for you to learn is that you will meet children who are more intelligent than you are."
Techniques apart, it is this awareness that really counts when dealing with children of high ability, for there are many stories of pupils unjustly written off as disruptive or "dreamy". Once the issue is understood, it is not difficult to find helpful books and organisations.
This short (100-page) book by Valsa Koshy and Ron Casey, co-directors of the Brunel Able Children's Education Centre, is an excellent introduction to the subject. It is particularly good at describing the difficulty of providing for children struggling with some thing that seems to set them apart from their friends. Among the many examples is that of Matthew, a key stage 1 pupil who said: "Miss, I am not going to do any more work for you, never again."
Why? Because his teacher, anxious to do her best for him, was constantly giving him extended written work when he finished his ordinary tasks before the rest of the class. The authors highlight the guilt felt by the teacher, and the fact that she only became aware of the problem when the pupil told her.
Discussion of the issues, though, is only part of this book. It provides lots of examples of what can be done, besides just giving more and harder written work, to extend and enrich the learning of more able children. And should anyone worry about the "elitism" of attending to bright pupils, let them take comfort from the authors' reminder of what HMI says on the subject: "where specific attention is given to able children there is often a general increase in the level of expectation for all pupils".
Expectations, of course, underlie this whole issue. Few pupils, "very able" or not, fail to benefit from being presented with high expectations, whereas we know all too well the results of doing the opposite.