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4 reasons why you should stretch advanced learners

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4 reasons why you should stretch advanced learners

Editor’s note: This is an updated version of a blog post published on July 19, 2018

Advanced learners may grasp lesson objectives quickly and easily. But no matter how well a child understands a concept, it’s important to keep challenging them — here’s why.

Why then, would we want these bright sparks to struggle and even fail at maths? Getting the answers right isn’t always a good indicator of true mastery. There are some crucial skills advanced learners miss out on by accelerating ahead of their peers.

When you’re planning lessons and thinking about differentiation strategies, it’s important to add activities that stretch your advanced learners’ conceptual knowledge.

Why do they need this stretch? Here are four important reasons.

1. It encourages true mastery of the curriculum

Teaching learners to struggle pushes them to work at a greater depth without being accelerated onto topics for older children.

Just like any learner, challenging their learning can be a great assessment tool. It reveals learning behaviours that need to be looked at and worked on. Specifically for advanced learners, going deeper into mathematical content shows you who is relying on strong arithmetic skills instead of having a deep understanding of the topic.

With advanced learners (and with all learners, really) the goal is to learn to manipulate skills from previous lessons, and apply them to different and unseen problems. It’s not enough to just replicate methods they’ve memorised.

2. It stops learners from coasting through education

Learners need to experience the discomfort of not knowing the answer straight away or even failing. Through practice, learners become more comfortable with the struggle and working through to a solution. This fosters a growth mindset where they start to enjoy the challenge.

Struggling learners are much more familiar with these feelings through the stretch contained in the curriculum as it stands, but you’ll need to create these scenarios for advanced learners. They too need to experience the immense personal satisfaction of solving a hard problem.

3. It teaches children to take calculated risks

You want learners to push boundaries while still sticking to mathematical rules. Like most things, you need to know the rules before you can think about breaking them. Learners need to understand what they can and can’t do in the world of maths, so they can take calculated risks.

If they can justify and evidence their answers even though they may have stepped away from methods learnt in class, they will have true conviction in their solutions. This will set them up nicely for the multi-step, multi-topic word problems they’ll face throughout their mathematical education when students are required to write coherent and confident proofs.

4. It transforms failure from a worst-case scenario to a learning experience

You don’t want learners to see failing as a negative thing, but as an opportunity to reflect on their own learning and working styles. learners should be encouraged to ask themselves:

“Why did I get this wrong?”
“What have I misunderstood?”
“Where have I miscalculated?”
“What don’t I know yet?”

This will strengthen their problem-solving skills, as they start to analyse the information given in a question at each stage of the problem. If failure is no longer a bad word, our advanced learners will confront it head-on and it will become a natural part of their learning.

Just like your other learners, you want advanced learners to cope well with not being the best at everything — this fact shouldn’t make them give up or even worse, not try to begin with. They should strive to better themselves and convert their weaknesses to strengths.

Realistically, you want to keep your advanced learners busy, keep their attention in class and stop boredom from creeping in. If they move away from feeling like ‘this is easy and I get everything right’, learn to push themselves and really enjoy this new and added stretch — their mathematical learning will have no limits.