Ian Warwick and Matt Dickenson offer a practical approach for encouraging colleagues to challenge their gifted studentspdf-1484260

G&T Update Bonus Material – Active reading.pdf

In the last issue we explored what we mean by quality first teaching (QFT) from a not entirely neutral perspective. We argued that much of the published material approaches QFT from a deficit position – designed to address the issue of floor targets – the life support model of education, in that the materials have been produced to raise the proportion of learners achieving baselines measures.

Rather than simply giving more fine words here, we follow up by presenting an activity which we use in training in order to get colleagues engaged and thinking about what positive classroom practice looks like.

The question below can be tailored to any key stage or subject:

Outline a learning activity which you can give to students at the beginning of a GCSE course to enable them to show their potential.

Present the question and try not to give any more support or illustration. Give colleagues a few minutes to develop their own ideas.

Here are some slightly modified examples of ideas given by some of the teachers we worked with on a recent session of ‘Star Performance’, our learning network, which aims to raise A/A* achievement at GCSE:


  • Give students a range of questions of varying demand from B to A/A*. Ask them to try to place them in a rough order of the challenge they represent and to justify their choice.
  • Talk about the methods which might be used in order to answer/solve problems.
  • Develop the conversation to ask students what makes for challenging maths. Post a list in class and refer back to it.


  • Give students a wide range of source artefacts in relation to a topic.
  • Ask them to use the material to generate questions, ideas and hypotheses.
  • Mind maps are then used to show the extent to which the sources give access to different questions/issues within the topic
  • What are the big questions?
  • Extend their thinking with examples of GCSE assessment criteria to bring out an understanding of what these questions might look like in an exam-shaped way.


  • Give students a presentation task on a topic of their choice. Use assessment criteria to give students a soft target to aim their work at (ie don’t give detail – they will carry forward their own understanding of what much of this means from KS3).
  • Students give presentations.
  • Use feedback to collect what students have noticed about what makes for… Eg originality, flair, criticality, clarity in comprehension.


  • Give students a word, for example ‘snow’. Brainstorm words associated with snow. Ask students to write a paragraph about snow in which they are not allowed to use any of these words (a variant of the game taboo).


  • Give students a context or a very loose brief with only some supporting material.
  • Discuss the kinds of skills you are looking for in a piece of GCSE work.
  • Enable students to research, explore and expand brief with source material, etc.
  • Develop product/art work, etc.
  • Students present individual examples emphasising process, influences. Perhaps provide a list of words/phrases you would like to see them using to describe their work.
  • Feedback to collect what other students have noticed. Use a ‘what did you find interesting about?’ approach, rather than a judgemental one.


  • Give groups of students an investigation task which is at B grade or above in terms of demand. Generate thinking questions – for example relating to: What are the big ideas? What are the scientific processes? Fair test etc.
  • Ask students to think and plan through investigation. What might they find?
  • Can do investigation or just treat as a ‘thought experiment’.


  • Provide an A-level text (but do not tell them that this is what it is).
  • Use as an exemplar to train students on active reading techniques (you may wish to use SQ3R – see the associated download).
  • Summarise and précis the content to present key words/ideas.
  • Reveal that the text is of A-level standard and that the students have deconstructed it and understood it.


  • Provide students with a picture. Discuss how they might use it, for example constructing a narrative for before/after.
  • Generate plenty of choices and refer back to these to explore what skills each gives the students the chance to demonstrate.
  • Groups choose a task and get on with it.
  • Groups feed back.
  • Collect what students have noticed on how different groups have exploited the source/vocabulary/technical devices, etc.


  • Give students a piece of card.
  • Challenge them to make an open box with certain requirements to build it, eg minimum surface area/maximum volume. Groups investigate and develop products.
  • Take feedback on different examples.
  • Generate and explore some thinking questions, for example: How many different combinations/sizes etc are possible? How do we know when we have identified all of these? Can we make any generalisations? What would change if we altered the size of the card?

When taking the examples from your colleagues simply ask questions to clarify (resist the temptation to give your own opinions or to evaluate).

Once you have the examples, go back through and ask colleagues to identify interesting elements of each. Stress that you are not looking for exemplary practice, but for ideas that can be transferable.

Generalise these into a set of positive characteristics of good exploratory teaching and learning for all learners and here you will have a set of manifesto-type points from your colleagues which characterise what good quality first teaching for G&T learners looks like.

The same teachers gave us these responses:

  • Open-endedness
  • Choice
  • Creativity
  • Challenge
  • Restricted teacher input
  • Pupil-led
  • Accessible to all • Engaging
  • Teaches skills
  • Decision-making
  • Talk
  • Motivating
  • Relates to assessment in interesting ways

A simple activity which speaks for itself and which quickly gets your colleagues to speak for you.

This e-bulletin issue was first published in July 2010

About the author: Ian Warwick is Senior Director of London Gifted & Talented, a branch of London Challenge. Matt Dickenson is Equalities and Achievement Director with London Gifted & Talented, leading the REAL Project (Realising Equality and Achievement for Learners).