High impact teaching strategies and high-ability

Overview of the strategies

The High Impact Teaching Strategies (HITS) comprise ten instructional practices. Experts rank the HITS as the most effective strategies to improve student learning. The HITS are included as a part of the Victorian Teaching and Learning Model. 

Here we provide guidance on how to use the HITS with high-ability students. Each of the HITS are described and suggestions are provided for how they can be used in the classroom. Not all HITS will be used in all lessons. Instead, teachers will make careful decisions about which HITS they will use and when they will use them. Some of the HITS will be more effective for high-ability students than others. For example, multiple exposures will be less important for high-ability students than for their same-age peers. The exception to this is if the multiple exposures focus on supporting the high-ability student to transfer their learning to new settings.

Strategy 1: Setting goals

Goal setting should happen with high-ability students. Goal setting is particularly important for high-ability students as whole-class goals may not meet their advanced learning needs. This provides opportunities for these students to have control over their learning. Lessons should have clear learning intentions. The goals should clarify what success looks like. This will help high-ability students know what they are required to do. It also helps students to see the purpose in learning.

Suggestions for goal setting

  • Partner with high-ability students to look at their own achievement data. They can then co-design their own learning goals.
  • Ensure that high-ability students are clear about what they intend to learn.
  • Pitch lessons to the Zone of Proximal Development for high-ability students. This can be done in one of two ways:
    • know the success criteria of the lessons and extend them
    • know what comes next in the progression of learning and plan lessons around this.
  • Support high-ability students to understand their own data. They can use this knowledge to track their own learning.
  • Revisit learning goals regularly. The goals can then be adjusted to reflect student learning.

These suggestions can work together. For example:

A Year 7 high-ability student is in an English class. The class is moving into a new unit of work. At the beginning of the new unit, the teacher gives the class a diagnostic assessment task. The diagnostic task contains questions at and above Level 7. The high-ability student and the teacher sit down together to look at their achievement data.

They also look at the learning intentions and criteria for the unit of work. 

The teacher and high-ability student discuss the following:

  • What does the data tell us about what you already know?
  • What does the data tell us about what you are ready to know?
  • How does the data connect to your interests and passions?
  • What is the long-term learning goal?
  • What will help you grow your understanding from here?
  • What goals will help get you there?

Goal setting in practice

High-ability students work with their teacher to co-construct learning goals. They use a goal planning template to support this process. These goals are in the student's ZPD. The teacher uses regular formative assessment tasks to help the student track their progress. As a learning goal is reached, a new learning goal is set.

Strategy 2: Structuring lessons

A lesson structure maps the teaching and learning that occurs in class. It should reinforce routines and scaffold learning. Through good planning, it is possible to make the most of teaching and learning time. Structured lessons can compact the curriculum and push student progress. This will help engage and motivate high-ability students.

Suggestions for structuring lessons

  • Compact the curriculum. This is done by removing content where high-ability students already have mastery. This will mean high-ability students are not redoing things they can already do.
  • Reduce the amount of time spent on teacher talk or drill and practice activities. This will help to increase the pace of the lesson for high-ability students.
  • Let high-ability students work on their own sometimes. Give them creative thinking activities to help engage and motivate them.
  • Find ways for high-ability students to have input into the structure of lessons. This will make sure they can follow their lines of interest and/or inquiry as they arise. This does need teacher flexibility.

Structuring lessons in practice

A Year 9 History teacher is planning to teach a series of lessons on World War 1. To prepare, the teacher decides to pre-test the class to determine their prior knowledge. The teacher uses this data to structure lessons that meet the varying points of need in the class. For the high-ability student, this means compacting the curriculum by removing content where the student has demonstrated mastery in the pre-test. The teacher replaces this content with extension tasks. These tasks require the high-ability student to use their full repertoire of thinking skills when tackling the new content.

Strategy 3: Explicit teaching

High-ability students benefit from explicit teaching. They will know what they are learning, why they are learning it, and what they need to do to achieve.

Learning goals and success criteria are explained by the teacher. Sometimes teachers might provide a model of the expected standard. For high-ability students, this standard may be higher than for the rest of the class. The teacher checks in with the high-ability student - do they understand the task and know how to go about it? At the end of the lesson the teacher revisits the learning goals. High-ability students can assess their learning through self and/or peer assessment.

Suggestions for explicit teaching

  • Support high-ability students to set their own success criteria. Make sure the criteria provide for breadth and depth in the learning. This can be done by substituting verbs.
  • Provide ongoing feedback to high-ability students as they work through activities. This can be done by using complex action verbs.
  • Check understanding of high-ability students at regular points. If they demonstrate understanding before the rest of the class, they can be asked to apply their learning in real world contexts and to complex problems.

Explicit teaching in practice

When using the 'I do, We do, You do' model, high-ability students are allowed to move on before their peers. The teacher uses a range of formative assessment to determine when high-ability students are ready to move between the different instructional phases.

Strategy 4: Worked examples

A worked example demonstrates the steps required to complete a task or solve a problem. They support skill acquisition and reduce a student's cognitive load. The teacher presents a worked example and explains each step. High-ability students can use worked examples during independent practice. They can also use them to review and embed new knowledge.

Suggestions for worked examples

  • Support high-ability students to focus on their understanding of how to complete a task. This means there is more focus on the process than the answer. This can be done through providing worked examples to problems that do not have a single solution. High-ability students could evaluate the many solutions across different worked examples.
  • Use advanced worked examples for high-ability students. This means the examples will meet their point of need.
  • Use formative assessment to track high-ability students' learning. You can then stretch the content in each new worked example.
  • Remove some steps in the worked examples. Or provide a worked example that contains errors. These will foster problem solving in the high-ability student.
  • Allow high-ability students to find their own worked examples where possible. Make sure that you check the worked example is appropriate.

Worked examples in practice

In mathematics class a high-ability student may be given two worked examples that both reach the correct answer. Each worked example has a number of lines missing from the solution. The student needs to evaluate the solutions and determine the most efficient way of doing the task. Or, the high-ability student could be given worked examples that contain errors. The student needs to locate the errors and explain why they are errors.

Strategy 5: Collaborative learning

Collaborative learning happens when students work in small groups. All students play a part in completing the task. Putting students with like abilities together has shown to impact learning in positive ways.

Collaborative learning is engaging when high-ability students are challenged. This means tasks should be in the students' ZPD. Tasks can also link to real world contexts. High-ability students working together can move through a task at a faster pace than their peers.

High-ability students can help to sort out group roles and learning outcomes with guidance from the teacher. This can assist to develop their self-regulated learning. Collaborative learning helps students to learn the skills of working together.

Suggestions for collaborative learning

  • High-ability students can work together to create tasks. Give high-ability students a solution and have them develop a task to reach that end point. For example, the solution is to use less water at school. What problem might this solve? What tasks will need to be completed to get there?
  • Support high-ability students to work with a range of others outside of the classroom and school.
  • Support high-ability students to collaborate in ways that connect to real-world problems.
  • Keep the groups flexible so they can change. Groups should meet student needs across different curriculum areas.

Collaborative learning in practice

The teacher uses flexible grouping to allow like-ability peers to work together. This might mean that some high-ability students are grouped together in Mathematics, but not in literacy tasks. For some tasks, the teacher groups students based on their interests.

Strategy 6: Multiple exposures

Deep learning happens over time. Multiple exposures mean high-ability students will engage with new learning many times. This may mean spacing practice over several days or weeks. You can use different activities to vary the way students engage with new knowledge.
High-ability students may not need as many exposures as the rest of the class. It is important to track their learning. This will allow teachers to move high-ability students on when they are ready. Multiple exposures will also be most beneficial for high-ability students when they are presented in varied formats. This will support high-ability students to transfer their learning to new settings.

Suggestions for multiple exposures

  • Use formative assessment to make sure high-ability students are not practicing things they already know how to do. Formative assessment will need to take account of the student's high-ability. It may need to take the form of above-level testing.
  • Ensure high-ability students get timely feedback. Feedback can be from the teacher or from peers. This will ensure high-ability students do not repeat mistakes and can move on when they are ready. They may be ready to move on before the rest of the class.
  • Make links between the multiple exposures and the high-ability students' learning goals. These learning goals should be challenging for the high-ability student and may not be the same as for the rest of the class.
  • Use a range of learning tasks that vary how high-ability students interact with the knowledge or skills. This will support their transfer of learning across different subject areas.
  • Use multiple exposures to support the transfer of new knowledge to a range of real-world contexts.

Multiple exposures in practice

The teacher recognises that the high-ability student learns new material in 1-2 exposures. The teacher provides exposures beyond this that require them to connect their learning to real world scenarios. For example, in Science, students in Year 7 may be looking at water as an important resource that cycles through the environment (VCSSU101). High-ability students may need only one exposure to the concept of the water cycle. In the next lesson high-ability students are given a real-world problem to explore. This might be to consider the impact of building, or not building, a dam. It might be to explore the impact of deforestation on the water cycle, and to consider solutions. 

Strategy 7: Questioning

Questioning is a powerful tool that effective teachers use for a range of purposes. It can motivate high-ability students to learn. Questioning can stimulate high-ability students' interest and curiosity in learning. It can also help students to make links to prior knowledge and their lived experience. Questioning opens up opportunities for high-ability students to:

  • discuss
  • argue
  • express opinions
  • hear or present alternative points of view.

Good questioning gives immediate feedback on high-ability students' understandings. This provides information to teachers on the impact of their teaching strategies.

Suggestions for questioning

    • identify information
    • clarify information
    • extend understanding.
  • Support high-ability students to ask their own questions about what they are learning. They can ask the questions of themselves or they can ask questions of their peers.
  • Ask questions that challenge the ideas of high-ability students. This will help them see there can be many different perspectives.
  • Use different types of questions. Different types of questions elicit different student responses. For high-ability students, questions should be asked that require a range of higher-order thinking skills. Questions can be used across any of the curriculum areas.

Questioning in practice

  •  Some examples of questions for high-ability students in the primary classroom include:
  • Inference questions
    • English: What do these two different images of the same character tell you about that character?
    • Mathematics: Why do you think the problem was solved in that way?
  • Interpretation questions
    • English: How do the author's descriptions of 'place' set the tone for the story?
    • Mathematics: How could you present that data in another way?
  • Transfer questions
    • English: How would this fantasy author have tackled this modern day issue?
    • Mathematics: How would this problem have been solved before calculators and computers?
  • Questions about hypotheses
    • English: How would this story be different if this character was a child rather than an adult?
    • Mathematics: If you did this instead, what would happen?
  • Reflective questions
    • English: What does this piece of writing show about your understanding of this text?
    • Mathematics: Why did you use this solution to get to this answer?

Strategy 8: Feedback

Feedback provides information about how a student is going as they work towards their learning goals. This information is useful for both teachers and high-ability students. Feedback can redirect or refocus teacher and high-ability student actions. This makes sure effort is given to things that will help students achieve their learning goals.
Teachers and peers can provide formal or informal feedback. It can be oral, written, and formative or summative. Whatever its form, it provides advice that high-ability students can use to improve performance.

Suggestions for feedback

  • Support high-ability students to review, reflect on and refine their understanding. This can happen at various points in a learning task.
  • Encourage high-ability students to reflect on work on their own and with others. This will help them to recognise and track their own progress.
  • Provide a variety of audiences to give feedback to high-ability students.
  • Support high-ability students to engage with their achievement data. They can collect evidence of their learning. This could be in hard copy or digital form. For example, high-ability students could keep a journal during a science unit. This journal could include annotated work samples. Feedback could come from the teachers, peers and self-reflection. High-ability students should be encouraged to analyse their own achievement data. High-ability students can use this feedback and data analysis to decide on next steps in their learning.

Feedback in practice

The teacher groups high-ability students together at the end of an independent task. They discuss their work and provide feedback to each other. Then they have five minutes for self-reflection. This peer and self-reflective feedback is guided by a set of criteria that have been co-constructed by the students and the teacher. This feedback is kept in a learning portfolio.

Strategy 9: Metacognitive strategies

Metacognitive strategies give high-ability students an understanding of who they are as learners. Then they can better understand their own capacity. Metacognition is more than 'thinking about thinking'. It helps students to know about:

  • how they think
  • how they use strategies and skills
  • how contextual knowledge impacts their understanding.

When students understand how they learn, they gain control over their own learning. Metacognition helps students to regulate their own learning. Metacognitive activities may include:

  • planning how to approach tasks
  • evaluating progress
  • tracking understanding.

Metacognition helps students to have knowledge of their own strengths and weaknesses. They understand when they know and when they do not know something. When high-ability students use metacognition, they can use strategies to address the demands of a task. They can apply these in various contexts.

Suggestions for metacognitive strategies

  • Encourage high-ability students to find out what they do and do not know. This will help them address gaps in their own knowledge.
  • Support high-ability students to know what they need to do to complete tasks. This can include planning, tracking, checking, evaluating, and revising.
  • Provide tasks for high-ability students to transfer the strategies they know. This could be to unfamiliar complex problems and contexts
  • Provide problems for high-ability students where there is not a clear starting point. This will mean they need to process information to make decisions.
  • Support high-ability students to consider the strategies they have used. This will help them know which learning strategies are most effective for them.

Metacognitive strategies in practice

To support transfer, a secondary student could use their knowledge of algebra and geometry to design a bridge. The bridge may be in a difficult to reach area that regularly floods. This task would require the student to plan, track, evaluate and then revisit and rework if their design does not work.

Strategy 10: Differentiated teaching

Differentiated teaching supports the learning of all students. For high-ability students, this is a chance for teachers to add breadth and depth to learning. These strategies can also change the pace of learning.

The aim here is to improve the learning outcomes for high-ability students. This happens when lessons include adjustments to the content, process, and product. These are based on the needs of the high-ability student. There is sometimes confusion as to what differentiation is, and what it is not.

Differentiation is:

  • a response to difference in our classrooms
  • the right of every student
  • an attempt to respond to students' needs based on readiness, interest and learning profile
  • flexible
  • adding depth and complexity for high-ability students
  • varying the pace for high-ability students
  • compacting the curriculum for high-ability students (removing content where students have demonstrated mastery).

Differentiation is not:

  • individualised instruction – it is not a different lesson plan for each student every day
  • the assigning of more work of the same level to high-achieving students
  • the sole responsibility of learning support teachers
  • limited to organisational solutions such as acceleration, ability grouping or withdrawal classes.

Suggestions for differentiated teaching

  • Use assessments before starting a new unit of work. This will help teachers to know the high-ability student and their:
    • readiness
    • interest
    • learning profile
    • individual needs and strengths.
  • Assess high-ability student work against achievement progressions, rather than against other students.
  • Engage students in tasks that need higher order thinking. This adds complexity and challenge to the learning.
  • Use more complex texts or resources. This will make the tasks more challenging.
  • Set tasks that are based on complex real-world problems. These problems should not have a single solution.

In this short video, the Assistant Principal of Mill Park Secondary College reflects on how she differentiates for her high-ability students.

 

Differentiated teaching in practice

The teacher adds depth and complexity to the learning by using a differentiation model designed for high-ability students.

References

Charteris, J. (2021). How do I assess, provide feedback and report on learning? In Sharp, H., Weatherby-Fell, N., Charteris, J., Brown, B., Hudson, S., Lodge, J., McKay-Brown, L., Sempowicz, T., Buchanan, R., Imig, S. Introduction to education. Knowledge, practice, engagement (pp. 238–256). Melbourne: Cambridge University Press

Earl, L. (2003). Assessment as learning: Using classroom assessment to maximize student learning. London: Corwin Press. Google books. 

Ee, J. (Ed.). (2009). Empowering metacognition through social-emotional learning: Lessons for the classroom. Cengage Learning. 

Garcia, M., & Cooke, P. (2020). Social Thinking - Free Articles & Strategies. 

Wolf, D. (1997) cited in Shaunessy, E. (2000). Techniques questioning in the gifted classroom? Gifted Child Today, 23(5), 14-21.