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A focus on the needs of the most able can help raise all students’ achievement

A focus on the needs of the most able can help raise all students’ achievement


Reading time: 3 minutes. Related programe: TEEP


Sarah Monsell, subject leader of art at Kingsford Community School, describes how a critical thinking approach can be applied across the school to improve attainment of the most able and standards for all pupils.

Since 2005 Ofsted has maintained that “secondary schools across the country are failing to stretch their most able students.” Many schools have since focused on the attainment of the most able and closing the gap. But are we tackling this in the right way?

This challenge is made more acute because while most able students “enjoy a creative and sometimes more cross-curricular approach to teaching and learning; they often have a passionate interest in a particular area” (DfE, 2011), since the introduction of the English Baccalaureate it seems that such opportunities have lessened. As Amanda Spielman noted last year, this has led to problems: “we found many examples of key stage 3 being narrowed to just two years. That means that pupils drop design and technology, art, music or languages after just two years of secondary study, often in very limited time each week.”

Against these common current limitations on most able pupils, I think the approach to critical thinking in art at Kingsford has been very beneficial. During art lessons I have seen pupils ‘learning by making’, which involves creative, explorative and independent thought, involvement and discussion (eg how is this captured? Can this be replicated?) To me, this is an important skill that is being increasingly undermined, in part by the stark division between the core school subjects and the creative subjects that develop pupils’ aesthetic appreciation. This issue needs to be addressed across the core curriculum in many schools.

How did we tackle this issue?

Solo Taxonomy

Image credit: http://www.johnbiggs.com.au/

Kingsford has developed a teaching strategy that supports creative and critical thinking and that can be developed across the wider curriculum. This fits with the objectives of the school’s ‘most able’ policy: ‘by raising the achievement of the most able, we are raising the achievement of all children within the school.’

My experience of TEEP (SSAT’s Teacher Effectiveness Enhancement Programme) showed that acting as a facilitator in collaborative learning I could develop an effective strategy to formulate critical thinking. In CPD sessions I have introduced staff to the four levels of conceptual understanding, based on Solo taxonomy (see figure), which staff have then trialled in their classrooms.

“I found the task very beneficial for the most able and those pupils who were high prior attainers.”(Staff feedback)

Example of the resource from a French lesson:
French Work

Taking it further

The resource was then adapted to fit the contexts of a number of subjects across the curriculum.

As a facilitator of teaching and learning groups, I used this to gather advice and support for staff, making sure that any teething problems were addressed. I have since taken staff advice on board, and tried to best suit their needs when developing resources, through:

  • identifying where I can make the most impact
  • identifying where I am getting the most enthusiastic responses
  • working on developments to allow teachers to share good practice in their distinct subject disciplines.

Working in partnership with other teachers has been rewarding, and has encouraged me to review and adapt learning resources further. I have now shared the findings with the school’s co-ordinator for the most able students, and hope to integrate the strategy into lessons school-wide. Also, from a whole school perspective we want to see how collaboration is approached in the wider curriculum, leading to a culture of more diverse thinking in the way questioning tasks are structured.

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One thought on “A focus on the needs of the most able can help raise all students’ achievement

  1. Lbyford23 on said:

    As an Art leader within a large, multi-campus special school in Dorset, I am interested to know if any other teachers within a similar capacity have experience in leading art-based projects and have seen a raise in attainment across a class cohort/ targeting the most able but also enhancing the abilities of less able students?
    Any feedback or experiences would be gratefully received.
    Many Thanks in advance

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