Don’t Forget the Top: Challenging Higher Performing Students

So I found I’ve run into a predicament that occurs in every classroom: how to challenge higher level students while providing enough support for students that need extra help.  I am student teaching in classes of both regular level English 9 and honors English 9.  We have quite a few students who need extra accommodations and teachers are often there to help as soon as they need it.  It’s wonderful to see what we do to help students reach higher levels, but sometimes there is such a disconnect in the classroom between the higher performing students and the material or activities.

During projects when choice can be offered, these students are challenged and have a chance to do well.  But what about days when we aren’t working on projects?  Days when I’m teaching parts of speech and can see the bored looks on the higher-level students’ faces?  How can we challenge them daily, not just during projects?  In normal instruction time, how can we both help lower level students, challenge middle-level students, and push higher level students?

I’ve spoken with other teachers and done a bit of research on my own time.  First and foremost, more of a challenge does not mean more work.  All that will do is build resentment toward the teacher and to their own status as an honors student.  Other students might hold back to stop from being given more work.  So, more work is not the answer.  One teacher I asked talked about the importance of choice and how she will have options for her students (e.g. they could write a summary of points or make a poster about it).  Choice allows students functioning on a range of levels to pick the option that best suits them.  Usually, she said, the students will pick the more challenging option.  After all, no one wants to be bored for 50-80 minutes of class.  

Today, as my honors students finished their essays, I recommended peer editing.  They didn’t have to do it, but I suggested that it could help to have a fresh set of eyes.  They agreed and spent the rest of the bell peer-editing as they finished.  It worked very well for the day, but I want to incorporate the extra challenge throughout my teaching.  This is definitely a topic to continue researching.  I will post resources about the issue as I find them for sure.


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