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Greenfield School

What does it mean to 'extend' a child's learning?

Schools are often asked how they 'extend' their 'more able' pupils. Indpendent schools often find this is a critical question when posed by a prospective parent. But what does it actaully mean to 'extend' a child's learning and ultimately, how will it benefit them? Mr Brown explores this in his latest blog.

In many schools, ‘extension’ means giving ‘clever’ children ‘harder’ questions to complete. It’s a concept that has never sat well with me; and here’s why:

My cousin, Shaun, is a Systems Engineer at Jaguar Land Rover. Recently, he has been working on a project to increase the length of time the battery can maintain the car’s systems while the engine has automatically stopped to save fuel. The job is typical of the type of profession that will be prevalent in the coming decades. There is no manual to tell you how to do it or answer on Google. Instead, Shaun and his team are required to use their creative, evaluative and analytical skills in order to solve the problem. And so, when we talk about employability skills, arguably there can be none more important than these.

Name any educational theory, whether it be ‘Growth Mindset’ or ‘Learning Styles’ and it will undoubtedly have its fans and its detractors. But there is one staple of my educational diet that, for me, cannot be argued with – Bloom’s Taxonomy. In simple terms, Bloom’s Taxonomy is a framework to promote higher forms of thinking. At the bottom of the framework, the ability to remember facts and figures props up the next level, being able to understand or explain an idea or concept. On top of this comes being able to apply that new understanding in a different situation. Whilst all of these are important foundations in learning, it’s the top three that interest me the most – the ability to create, evaluate and analyse.

For schools on board with this, three important questions can form the basis of a useful self-analysis:

  1. Can ALL of our children demonstrate the ability to relate, compare and test their own thoughts or ideas or those of others?
  2. Can ALL of our children demonstrate the ability to justify a decision they make using robust judgements?
  3. Can ALL of our children use this judgement to formulate new ideas to produce new and original work or ideas?

Recently, I was privileged to visit one of Mr Lovejoy’s new Engineering lessons. Each week, a different year group are spending their Friday afternoon with him working on an extended project designed to promote these higher order thinking skills. Using a ‘low threshold high ceiling’ approach, Mr Lovejoy gave the children some very basic instructions to construct a cuboid out of Lego K’Nex. Points were to be awarded for accuracy and sturdiness. Each group approached their task with enthusiasm but what was most pleasing was Mr Lovejoy’s use of questions to promote higher order thinking skills. Not once did Mr Lovejoy give any answers or suggest any concrete ideas. Instead, his use of the words ‘how’ and ‘why’ helped children evaluate their own work and come to their own ideas as to how to improve their designs. In terms of promoting higher order thinking, it was one of the best lessons I have ever seen.

This is just one example of many ways all children at Greenfield are being ‘extended.’ Other examples include our ‘Understanding the World’ subject, studied by years 3 – 6, which is full of higher order thinking based on topics such as current affairs, debating, modern British History and others. Our Maths curriculum requires children not just to perform sums, but to solve problems and justify their answers using sound reasoning. Our Design Technology curriculum is also full of opportunities to continually evolve an idea into a concept and Mrs Reeve’s new ‘Music Technology’ syllabus is just one of the ways in which we can bring these vital thinking skills into the Arts.

For Shaun, it’s these skills which will help him to assure Jaguar drivers everywhere that their radio will stay on for longer than two minutes after the engine has shut down at a red traffic light. For Greenfield children, our aspiration to produce well-rounded, confident and ultimately employable young people is precisely why it is no longer good enough to only extend higher ability children. All children can be extended by being encouraged to think in a more complex and intelligent way; for it’s these analytical, evaluative and creative skills that will serve them well in their secondary schools and adult life.