the Dragonfly journal

Challenging The More Able In English

By Pamela John


If I’m honest, I am to Olympic long-jumping what Mr Pickwick would have been to Victorian pot-holing rescue. I just don’t have the legs for it. As I frequently rant (in my mind at least) to ladies’ clothes’ manufacturers, “ONE SIZE” JUST DOESN’T WORK FOR ME! (Does it work for anyone?) For students, it’s the same.  We all know that. Differentiation by outcome is a cop-out. 

Our More Able students suffer more than anyone else when this approach is adopted.  (I even hesitate to use the word ‘approach’.) Disenchantment, frustration and a nose-dive in the flight of ambition result. OFSTED has made More Able students a focus and states that asking about the provision for them is one of the first questions Inspectors will ask SLTs.  The idea is that if you are doing this well, you are probably doing lots of other things well and everyone’s happy.  If you’re not … (Not sure why gory scenes from the recent BBC production of ‘Gunpowder’ flashed into my mind then. Note to self: being a prostrate woman seeing a heavy door about to be placed on top of you is never going to end well.) But don’t just do things because OFSTED says it’s good, and grumble and resent it: do things because they make sense to you. 

In my practical English course, Challenging More Able Pupils in English, I offer lots of strategies to challenge these students.  One of them is The Impact of Choice: When, Where, How. When you’re faced with teaching 439 poems from an anthology and you’re “determined to get them all done by a week Tuesday”, offering choice is neither an appealing nor practical option. But there are times when the skill is what’s important, not the content. If I’m teaching persuasive techniques to More Able pupils, why would I make them all attempt the same writing task? I’m a middle-aged, middle-class (maybe I’ve given myself a slight societal leg-up here) woman. I am no longer a teenager. I don’t think like a teenager any more. Determine your objective, convey it to the students and with guidance from you, give them choice in their subject matter. Able students are young people with opinions, passions and dreams. Offer them the opportunity to express themselves. Watch them take flight. 

That reminds me … I’m off to my local park’s sandpit now for a bit more long-jump leg-stretching.

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