Working Together to Support Able Students
If you are the parent of a child of outstanding ability, or one with a special talent in a particular area, you are almost certainly aware of it.
This booklet is designed to help you and your child make the most of his or her time at Kingsmead, by explaining our systems and policies for our most able children and answering some of the most common questions about how we provide for them.
What do we mean when we say a child is ‘bright’, ‘able’ or ‘gifted?
On national scales the top 20% of the ability range are regarded as ‘more able’ and the top 2% as ‘exceptional’.
How bright is my child?
These examples are taken from a checklist produced by the Maryland Council for Gifted and Talented Children
|Knows the answers
||Asks the questions
||Is extremely curious
||Gets completely involved
|Has good ideas
||Has wild 'silly' ideas
||Loses concentration but does well in tests
|Answers the questions
||Questions the answers
|In the 'top' group
||Beyond any group
|Listens with interest
|| Shows strong feelings
|Learns with ease
||Constructs abstract theories
|Grasps the meaning
||Creates a new design
|Is a good technician
||Is an inventor
|Good at memorising
||Good at guessing
||Is keenly observant
| Is pleased with own work
||Is highly self-critical
Are able children good at everything?
In the days of IQ tests, it was assumed that intelligence was a general characteristic, which could be measured by a series of tests. Recent research finds this indicator unreliable and has developed the idea of multiple intelligences. Howard Gardner (1983) suggests that a person is more likely to be exceptional in one or a combination of these areas than outstanding in them all.
The areas he identifies are:
||sensitivity to words and word order
|| ability to recreate images of scenes and objects
||ability to discern patterns and relationships and solve problems non-verbally
||ability to respond to music and other sounds
|| ability to learn through physical experience
||ability to understand and work with others
|| ability to understand oneself and access one’s own feelings
Accelerated learning approaches
In recent years much research has been carried out into “brain-based learning”, exploring how the human brain learns and recalls information. In order to maximise students’ potential, schools are advised to:
- create a positive, supportive learning environment;
- provide situations combining ‘high challenge’ with ‘low stress’;
- build and maintain positive self-esteem;
- encourage the setting of personal performance targets;
- develop activities which use both hemispheres of the brain.
Do pupils of high ability always succeed?
Definitely not. Many factors contribute to their eventual success and it is a fact that few ‘child prodigies’ become recognised as exceptional in later life. Support from home is an important ingredient for success, and it is important that they receive both the opportunities and the motivation to succeed.
How do we identify able pupils in school?
At Kingsmead, we use a range of methods:
Before pupils join the school in Year 7, we meet their Year 6 teachers to discuss their abilities and needs.
All Year 7 pupils take nationally standardised tests, the NFER Cognitive Abilities Tests and the MidYIS test. Both test verbal skills and number skills. They also contain tests relating to shape and space, which have no verbal content at all. These give us an indicator of each pupil’s potential, and strengths and relative weaknesses in specific areas.
Throughout the school there is regular assessment to monitor progress.
All pupils in Year 10 take the Yellis test, which gives an indicator of likely performance at GCSE.
In addition, all subject areas seek to identify and then nurture any talents which are shown in their areas – for music, for sport, for languages etc.
What are the signs we might see at home?
Caution: these rarely all occur together
- good powers of reasoning
- extensive general knowledge
- good memory
- interest in words – may sometimes hesitate while searching for the correct word
- awareness of hidden meanings and subtleties
- intellectual curiosity – wanting to know why
- sensitivity to distress in others and to injustice
Are there any disadvantages to being an ‘able child’?
This depends on the individual, but a number of potential problems have been identified:
- if their needs are not met, they can become restless and easily distracted;
- in extreme cases they can find it difficult to communicate with other pupils, because their thinking is on a different level;
- ‘writing block’ – some bright children find the whole process of writing things down very slow and tedious – their work can often be scanty and untidy;
- they can become labelled as a swot or a ‘bod’ – some cope with this with pride – others may try to hide their ability in order to fit in;
- they may seem arrogant to teachers, without meaning to;
- they can become impatient with those who can’t understand things that to them are obvious.
Do able children have particular emotional and social needs?
It can sometimes be difficult for able children to lock into the world of the children around them and they can become overdependent on their own inner world. At times they can become either aggressive or withdrawn.
There is a danger that they miss out on childhood processes which are important parts of personal development. They can sometimes find it difficult to cope with failure – because they rarely find themselves in situations where they perform worse than those around them. In extreme cases this can lead to serious emotional problems when they reach degree level and encounter intellectual superiors for the first time.
How do we meet the needs of able children in school?
Much research has been carried out into the effects of setting pupils by ability and the results are inconclusive – however, two key points seem to appear regularly:
- pupils succeed best when working within a system that the teacher is comfortable and confident with;
- whatever grouping system is used, pupils need to be treated as individuals – even in a high ability set, each
- pupil has individual strengths and weaknesses and these need to be recognised and catered for.
The Select Committee’s Report on Highly Able Children (April 1999) stressed:
- the importance of flexibility of teaching approaches – there is no “best way” to provide for them;
- that highly able children must be allowed to enjoy their childhood;
- the need for “well-integrated enrichment and extension activities”.
At Kingsmead some subjects prefer to group by ability, others prefer mixed groupings - all subjects are expected to provide:
- differentiated work within the classroom to ensure that all students can achieve;
- varied approaches in lessons;
- supplementary resources and activities to stimulate and extend pupils and enrich their learning;
- opportunities to work in groups and teams.
How can you best support your child’s education at home?
- Give plenty of encouragement;
- Don’t assume that reading and writing will always be a pleasure;
- Visit places of interest: museums, concerts, art galleries, sporting events;
- Enable them to read specialist magazines / explore their interests;
- Provide opportunities to develop higher level thinking skills: to invent, to imagine ‘what would happen if . . . ?’, to discuss, to explore ideas;
- Provide opportunities to experience failure – within a supportive and encouraging environment;
- Attend Review Interviews in school and encourage your child to set challenging but achievable action points for academic and personal development.
Twice a year you will be invited to attend a Review Interview to discuss your child’s progress. These interviews are designed to provide opportunities to monitor progress and agree action points to ensure continued improvement. To make the most of these discussions, we suggest that, before you come, you:
- read your child’s report carefully;
- discuss how well your child has succeeded with the last set of action points;
- consider what areas might be appropriate for new action points.
Review Interview Action Points
Able students, particularly those who are already working hard and making the most of their ability, sometimes find it difficult to set action points because they associate them with failure and underachievement.
It may help to perceive action points as opportunities to build on strengths, to develop new skills or areas of interest or to take the pupil to an even higher level of achievement.
They may wish to set action points which involve their own interests or to set deadlines for a project which they have already planned.
Action points may also include extra-curricular activities and social skills, where appropriate.
At Kingsmead, we like to work in partnership with our pupils and their parents and we would like to know of any concerns you may have. We all want your child to achieve his or her full potential in all aspects of school life.
If you have a concern, it can be difficult to express it – many parents feel they will be labelled as ‘awkward’ or ‘pushy’ and sensitive pupils can find it embarrassing when parents say or do something which may single them out in some way.
Should you have a concern about your child’s education at Kingsmead, the following people may be able to help:
- for concerns about general progress and social development – your child’s Form Tutor or Review Day Mentor;
- for concerns about progress in a specific subject – the Head of Year;
- for serious concerns connected with your child’s ability – the Achievement Co-ordinator, Mrs. W. Morgan, who also has special responsibility for Able Children.
- There are a number of useful websites for further reference. A useful starting point is the National Association for Gifted Children which can be found at: www.nagcbritain.org.uk