Extension, Enrichment And/or Acceleration?

Age 5 to 18
Article by Jennifer Piggott

Published 2011 Revised 2015

Gifted Education is Good Education for Everyone

"A programme that helps students develop their mathematical abilities to the fullest may allow them to move faster than others in the class to avoid deadly repetition of material that they have already mastered. Such a programme may also introduce them to topics that others might not study but, most important, it introduces pupils to the joys and frustrations of thinking deeply about a range of original, open-ended, pr complex problems that encourage them to respond creatively in ways that are original, fluent, flexible and elegant."

L. J. Sheffield, (Developing Mathematically Promising Students, 1999)

The aim of this short article is to encourage you to consider your own, your subject team's and your school's attitude to, and approach to, enrichment, extension and acceleration.

Use the questions below to help you discuss how you can most effectively support the needs of learners with mathematical potential in your classroom and in your school. The questions are here to stimulate your thoughts and discussions and act as support for a professional development session.

Productive environments:

The environment in which mathematics is offered is central to a learner's experience of, and view of, the subject. What sort of environment do you foster in your classroom? Which of the following describe what you offer, or would like to offer, to your learners? An environment which:
  • is learner-centred rather than teacher- or content-centred,
  • emphasises learner independence,
  • opens opportunities for innovation and exploration,
  • focuses on acceptance rather than judgement,
  • allows for complexity not just simplicity,
  • allows for varied groupings,
  • encourages flexibility rather than too rigid a structure,
  • encourages students to be mentally agile,
  • focuses on concepts rather than procedures,
  • uses rich tasks that enable higher order thinking skills (HOTS) rather than more of the same (MOTS),
  • fosters creativity,
  • develops and values productive communication.

In preparation:

What sorts of things can be identified and prepared in order to support the sort of classroom culture described above? Do you:
  • find, prepare and offer open problems and rich tasks?
  • ensure access to a wide range of resources (online and paper based)?
  • share your ideas with colleagues?
  • consider how you might use your able pupils to support other children?
  • plan for your learners to work independently and/or in small groups?
  • give opportunities for, and encourage, self assessment and selection of materials?
  • make use of online communities?
  • enjoy the unpredictable?
Other focuses:

There are many other ways in which you can support your able learners. Here are some other points for you to consider and discuss:
  • Acceleration. What are the benefits and drawbacks of using an acceleration model such as entering learners early for high stake tests? How might your approach be affecting learners' uptake of the subject post-16?
  • Do you offer a condensed Key Stage 3 programme? If so, why? Are your learners practised in working mathematically and being functional in the subject? Are there other models that might be more effective in terms of learners' attitude to and uptake of the subject?
  • Using competitions (for example the UK maths challenge). Can these motivate and add value to the experiences of your pupils?
  • Do you encourage pupils to attend local Masterclasses or after school maths clubs? Do you build on experiences that happen outside the classroom so that they join up with work in school? Do you encourage learners to talk about what they have done with the rest of the class? Do you allow time for other ideas this experience might stimulate to be pursued?
Remember to share resources with other staff. Think about using similar problems with learners of different ages and abilities.
Why not do some mathematics together in a staff meeting or development session, so you can share a mathematical expereicne and talk about its potential for use in the classroom?

Preparing extension activities should be a natural part of lesson planning. Make use of sites like NRICH for ideas.