Teaching a child with High Learning Potential: what I wish someone had told me when I started my teaching career.

By Hayley Akers and Laura Brown, The Nisai Group.

Teaching a child with High Learning Potential: what I wish someone had told me when I started my teaching career.

When you enter a teacher training programme you are full of passion, excitement and ideas for the future. You are considering all of the students that you are going to help, comparing yourself to the great teachers that you had guiding your education, thinking of how years from now someone will mutter the wonderful words of “(your name) was the best teacher!” But the reality of teaching doesn’t always live up to this.

Let’s start with the teacher training itself. This is largely focused around preparing you to teach a traditional student in a traditional school. If you want to work with different types of students or in different school systems, then you have to complete additional training for this – something you are not told until you want to do this. However, as more students are entering the mainstream school system with additional needs, should this not be a mandatory part of initial teacher training? Not every student will fit into the neat little box that you prepare for, so what tools do you have at your disposal when you first witness this? Who is leading you through that period of discovery? As teachers we are lifelong learners – constantly developing and learning from those around us, both adults and students alike, but is ‘learning on the job’ the best way to support the students?

Differentiation is something that we are all taught as part of our training, in terms of how best to apply this into everyday practice. We think of how we can support the whole class in completing a task, some working at average attainment pace, some ahead and some below. We can use Bloom’s Taxonomy to separate our objectives to allow for higher order skills to be developed. But where is Vygotsky when you need him? It would really be helpful to have this same knowledge of how to differentiate based on further needs, as each student is an individual who learns in their own distinct way.

The tools that we can use to support a student who has gone streaks ahead of the upper objectives and is now getting bored due to the lack of challenge. The tools that we can use to support a student who will be able to succeed, but only if particular sensory needs are met. Differentiation is a key teaching technique. We use it on a daily basis, yet it is never as straightforward as we are told in theory. The vast depth of experience that our trainers and mentors have will benefit new teachers, and it is this that it is vital to share. The development of best practice and confidence in this area will allow the teachers to better support the students, leading to improved outcomes for the young people whose lives we want to impact upon.

One thing that we can consider is the growth of knowledge and awareness of different needs. This has made it seem like every student has a need for you, as the teacher, to take into account when planning, delivering and assessing. This can be a tricky balancing act when one student needs a blue background, another needs 1-2-1 support and a third needs sensory support with dimmed lighting. The way in which we can make sure that all three students are given a fair opportunity to reach their potential can be hard to organise. This really is something that we will learn to do through getting to know the individuals, their learning styles, and ways that they react to different things that you try.

Getting to know the students is the key role of a teacher, only by knowing them are you able to support them fully. For example, being able to recognise that a student is very capable with science and mathematics, and yet will hardly contribute within an English lesson. By considering these subjects as individual areas and treating the student appropriately within each will help the young person to feel confident in engaging in their education and will enable them to access the relevant support to be able to progress in areas where they struggle. Identifying that a student is acting out of character and being able to reflect on the reasons for this rather than excluding them from the lesson and therefore limiting their access to their continued education. Acknowledging students who are distracted in the classroom, might be due to boredom as opposed to being disruptive. The relationship that you can forge with the young person will tell you more about them than any test ever can.

This is particularly true for High Learning Potential students. Although they have the ability, we have to develop techniques and opportunities which will allow the student to be able to fully achieve their potential. Although we use the terms gifted and talented, or stretch and challenge, throughout our teaching career – we are not told what this truly means, the differences between young people under the same umbrella term, or the emotional and social implications alongside this. The fact that we are able to join an Initial Teacher Training course, should tell us that we will face continued training and that it will not cover all elements of the profession. Our support for the students has to cover all elements of their lives, both in and out of the classroom.

A child’s formative years are the ones which will dictate how they will engage with education for the rest of their lives. If they are not adequately supported, then they will decide that the education system isn’t for them – which can ultimately limit their progression into fields which they may have dominated. As teachers we have to find the balance between support and challenge. We have to recognise success, whilst working on weakness. We have to treat each child individually, at the same time. It is not an easy profession, and it’s those who are truly passionate that will go on to make a difference.

Teaching a child with High Learning Potential is something that we should better prepare for. And now that we are progressing through our own teaching careers we should share our experiences, our successes and our mistakes. Our new colleagues, and the students deserve this from us.

About the authors and The Nisai Group

Hayley Akers is a Senior English Teacher currently studying her Education Doctorate specialising in the educational sector and the development of SEN students. Having further qualifications with an MA in Education, PGCE and a BA in English. Hayley now regularly teaches student with HLP as well as individuals with SEN barriers.

Laura Brown is currently the Manager of Innovations and New Services, at the Nisai Group. Laura’s undergraduate degree was a joint honour in History and Education Studies, leading to her joining Nisai as a history tutor in 2010. She has undertaken many roles during the last 11 years with Nisai, focusing on the teaching and learning department, where she developed from a tutor to be in a leadership position over all of the online teachers. This has developed further to include the development of educational projects across the Nisai Group, considering new products and innovations which can be implemented within the teaching and learning department. Working alongside both the UK and international partners Laura has been able to launch a number of new projects, looking at academic subjects and skill development.

For over 24 years, The Nisai Group have delivered flexible, innovative programmes to their learners and supported them in achieving their ambitions. Nisai is more than online learning. They provide a friendly, supportive learning community and offer students up to the age of 25 incredible opportunities to learn and help create pathways to further education and employment through personalised learning. Nisai believe that everyone – including children and young people who have High Learning Potential or who are Dual and Multiple Exceptional has equal value and should be able to access high quality education whoever they are and wherever they are in the world. Nisai also has a charitable arm, The Nisai Education Trust, which exists to answer emerging questions around maximising the potential of learning in a post-industrial education system and to connect high quality research and practice which explore innovative approaches to learning and non-traditional education models.

For further information about the work of The Nisai group and The Nisai Education Trust email them at info@nisai.com, look at their website https://www.nisai.com or follow them on social media Facebook: @NisaiLearningPage Twitter @NisaiLearning Linked in: Nisai Group YouTube https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCAG5QGc091jG2_EcTIjrNJw?view_as=subscriber

About The Potential Trust.

The Potential Trust is a registered charity (charity number 326645) whose aim is to provide, promote and encourage whatever makes education and learning more interesting for children and young people (up to school leaving age) who have High Learning Potential (sometimes called more able, highly able or Gifted and Talented) or Dual or Multiple Exceptionalities (sometimes called DME, Twice Exceptional or 2e, neurodiverse or gifted with learning differences). We want to support all those children with more than the average share of curiosity, creativity, perception and persistence and to enable them to have access to events and experiences that facilitate their personal and social development and their creative, artistic and practical abilities as well as their intellectual abilities. We do this by:

  • Providing Potential Bursaries
  • Running Potential Conferences
  • Developing Potential Collaborations
  • Being a catalyst for Potential Change.

For more information about how to get involved or to support us, please log onto our website at https://thepotentialtrust.org.uk or follow us on Twitter @PotentialTrust

The views expressed in this blog are those of the authors.