A variety of enrichment methods used to inspire gifted and talented children are given the term ‘extension’, which is the subject of this at-a-glance reference for gifted and talented associated education vocabulary

Extension is a term used to include a variety of methods of providing stimulation, challenge and pace for able pupils. It involves teachers in planning appropriate differentiation for quick learners rather then requiring them to do ‘more of the same’.

Extension also addresses the issue of gifted and talented students coasting along inside their comfort zone; if they aren’t stretched and never meet difficulty or failure, their development as learners is impeded and they are not being prepared for adult life. Effective extension also encourages seemingly ‘average’ pupils to respond to challenge and demonstrate their (sometimes unexpected) ability.

Teachers can provide challenge in various contexts, presenting particular problems and activities to the whole class or to targeted groups on different occasions, and ensuring that all pupils regularly experience challenge (including those inclined to be lazy, and the disaffected). 

Extension should be part of any planning system but a popular model is the ‘All must, most should, some could’ approach. This outlines the core concepts, skills, or knowledge to be achieved by all, with extensions that should/could be attempted by those who succeed. There are two factors to bear in mind:

  • teachers should be aware of what constitutes the essential ingredients of ability (as opposed to knowledge) in different subject areas, with the development of pivotal skills, concepts and attitudes being emphasised rather than content. Well-designed extension tasks promote higher-order skills such as speculation, inference, prediction, hypothesis and synthesis, as well as nurturing independence and self-knowledge.
  • not all types of extension can be planned for. Effective teachers will notice opportunities to extend pupils in the course of lessons, eg, when they ask a particularly interesting question or demonstrate a depth of understanding over and above their peers.

Extension by resource
Every subject coordinator (primary) and department (secondary) should have resources that are ‘more challenging’ than others. These can include:

  • books with more complex text and/or diagrams
  • a tool or piece of equipment that requires more dexterity or technical expertise
  • an artefact that is more obtuse in its function or design
  • a medium that is more difficult to work with (eg, in art, textiles or food technology)
  • more exacting technology.

Extension by work rate or pace
Gifted and talented students often think and work faster than their peers, and teachers need to take account of this. Those who are capable of working fast should be encouraged to do so, without fear of having to complete more work than everyone else – especially ‘more of the same’. Units of work can be ‘telescoped’ when appropriate (work out answers to all the questions with odd numbers; start at number 20, etc. ) 

Extension by task or input
Using the ‘all must, most should, some could’ format enables teachers to set extension tasks for the most able, or provide a range of options for extension work from which they can choose. The drawback of this approach is that unmotivated pupils, however able, may not always reach the ‘higher-level’ work. A common starting point that allows for a wide variety of individual responses is more inclusive and can result in able pupils being suitably engaged and challenged. Teachers should be aware, however, of the needs of those G&T pupils who require structure and guidance.

Extension by individual negotiation
In some lessons, pupils might negotiate the nature of the work they are to do, or the ways in which they might present its outcomes. In technology and other process-based subjects, pupils have to demonstrate competencies rather than knowledge; and by their nature, these require pupils to develop individual work. This approach is especially suitable for pupils who have good organisational skills as well as good ideas and can confidently manage their schedules.

Extension by support
It should not be assumed that extension tasks always imply less need for guidance, structure or personal support. Many pupils, including some who are gifted and talented, have problems with organising themselves and/or their tasks and for them, some scaffolding of their learning can help. This type of support need not displace challenge, or the need for pupils to take risks. Guidance on short-term learning targets and longer-term goals and explanation/negotiation of assessment criteria can also be helpful. In addition, timely interventions and challenges from an adult will prevent the tendency of some able pupils to coast along, to ‘lose the plot’ or to get bogged down in meticulous detail.

Extension by dialogue
Teachers can use more difficult vocabulary and more complex language to extend G&T pupils. Challenge can be extended by:

  • asking probing questions
  • effective discussion between teacher and pupil
  • well-constructed opportunities for collaborative discussion between pupils
  • interventions by the teacher to take the concept further, explore the idea more broadly or interpret the task in a different way.

Built-in extension
Activities can be designed with ‘built-in extension’ by employing some generic features, such as:

  • plan/do/review
  • using a range of information sources
  • recording in an unusual way
  • role play
  • problem solving
  • decision-making, eg, who does what in the group, what to include in a presentation and what to leave out
  • open-ended tasks that do not have one right answer
  • setting the questions to given answers
  • time restraints
  • developing meta-cognitive knowledge
  • opportunities to develop higher-order thinking skills (HOTS)
  • using technical language
  • working with experts
  • considering moral/philosophical issues.