Thursday, May 16

Differentiating Curriculum and Instruction for High Ability Learners

Every teacher meets one or more high-ability learners in their teaching career. What’s most surprising is that these students are often seen achieving straight As while some of them never finish their work, and some of them even zone out in class, but they are extremely genius. There are some schools with significant resources to identify and teaching high-ability learners. Ranging from cluster grouping to pull-out programmes and more. So, if you have high-ability learners in your student group (classrooms, tuition classes, enrichment programmes, learning camps, etc.), the following tips will help with their learning!

Start With Difficult 

With normal students, the common practice is to start teaching the basics and easy topics, but high-ability learners don not need to do addition and subtraction problems when they can master algebra within a few minutes. So, when it comes down to teaching high-ability learners, you must teach them difficult topics. Also, it’s best to have extension activities available because their learning capacities are higher. They will probably even learn the difficult concepts quickly. 

In addition, the compact curriculum makes a good choice because they can simply ditch the parts that they already know and receive credit for knowing the concepts. All in all, it will eventually increase their ability to learn challenging academic content. 

Take It Up A Notch 

When it comes down to high-ability learners, it’s needless to say that they are extremely challenging. That being said, whenever you are teaching them something, always have a collection of task cards, differentiated worksheets, and word problems at hand to ensure you’ve challenging tasks available for them. In addition, you can utilize choice boards that offer different ways of learning the same thing, so your students can learn these important concepts however they like. 


Suppose you are teaching multiplication; some high-ability learners will solve everything within a few minutes while some will say, “I don’t know this formula and I need time to practise.” So, it’s best to test the competency of different high-ability learners and see how they respond to difficult topics. Once you have this information, you will know how to respond to their excuses and motivate them to learn. 

Team Working 

According to research, high-ability learners show improved academic performance and achievement when they learn and work in groups. Even more, it benefits other students who are learning with them. It wouldn’t be wrong to say that when students learn together, they are challenged in unexpected ways and will bounce around and shift ideas. Moreover, they will fail along the way, which is important for grounding them. It’s an extremely important step because even high-ability learners should be able to work with normal learners, and always keeping them in isolation won’t do anything well. 

Speak To Their Interests 

For instance, if your students are interested in programming and technology, the best way is to teach them the basics of programming and work them up on online courses, such as Google CS certifications and courses from Stanford University. Basically, these courses are designed for adults, but high-ability learners will be challenged with these advanced courses. In addition, they have to work in teams which helps them coincide with other “normal” kids. 

Secondly, you can opt for the ignite presentation format, which helps differentiate tasks based on every student’s interest. With these presentations, twenty slides spanning over five minutes are presented to students. These slides advance after every fifteen seconds, so students can discuss their desired and in-interest topics. To summarize, these activities will help high-ability learners share their passion with teachers, promising better learning. 

Tiered Learning

Tiered learning is all about planning the units and lessons according to different difficulty levels. It’s best to design the lesson plan for normal as well as high-ability learners by adding complex and deep activities. This lesson planning will provide extension and advanced knowledge levels, which promises multiple ways of learning. Keep in mind that the availability of difficult tasks and activities will ensure that women don’t zone out simply because they are bored. 

In summary, they will know that they have challenging work to do while normal learners will get learning support from high achievers. So, tiered learning actually allows students to co-exist with normal students while improving the learning experience! 


This article is written based on a research paper written by Dr Elmi Zulkarnain Bin Osman (PhD) which was submitted to the Harvard Graduate School of Education (HGSE) faculty. 

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