What do I do with the scary smart ones?

A member of SLT I greatly admire told me recently “I don’t like labels.” I think I had forgotten you were allowed to say that in a school. We have so very many labels for our sausages (another member of SLT described the kiddies thus – another thing I had forgotten we were allowed to say): SEN, EAL, FSM… At what level are there just “kids in my classroom who are all a bit different”?

In our age of advanced data awareness, we are encouraged to not only differentiate, but to do so for the target groups du jour, and in many schools G&T, AG&T, or GTP (gifted and talented, able gifted and talented, gifted and talented pupils – love a good acronym, do teachers) are a box to tick. I know of one school where these students are given gold badges to wear, undeniably a source of pride for them (and a key visual clue for their teachers).

Yet I’m not convinced this helps us. I worked in one school where G&T students were a massive deal; there were countless G&T coordinators, and the provision for these chosen ones was immense. Other students, not knowing the label, would frequently complain that this cohort got to go on all the trips, for example, and that they felt excluded. I’ve used the term “chosen ones” as that is exactly what they were: teachers would identify about 10% of their class, the official guideline for the proportion of a school’s G&T population, and put them on the list, as early as year 7.

Ever after, that student was on the list. You could be added to the list, but you couldn’t be taken off the list. This kind of assumes that G&T is purely an achievement thing: if a kid is achieving at a higher level, we need to sustain that progress.

Though there are arguments that being gifted is much more than being a high achiever. I put students forward for the list who were gifted creative writers; who wrote stories in their own time which were, frankly, works of brilliance. Clearly a gift. But often their achievement in term of APP box-ticking was not of the highest order.

That brings up another problem, of course; kids change. As a child, I was obsessed with dogs. Imagine, if you will, a school which taught “animals” as a subject. I’d be identified in year 5 as gifted. But by year 9, I actively hated animals. If teachers had been intervening, trying to get me to take up once more my love of furry creatures, I would not have been happy.

Of course, we don’t teach animals; we do identify kids as gifted in academic subjects that we hope they will flourish with throughout their school days. But it is worth considering that a child’s interest may well move, just as some children “struggle” in their primary school and go on to flourish in another school, and can in time be taken off the SEN register.

Once upon a time, I like to imagine (though it is probably untrue), teachers were lone rangers, seeing a smart and motivated student, and giving them a little bit extra to do or think about. In English, that meant extra books to read. I wonder if we don’t already do this without the label.

Word of mouth reaches me faster than the data is made available. Last year, I knew who I had to “look out for”: students who were very, very able indeed. I taught one of them in year 12, but she basically taught me. In the most incredibly polite way, I would make a statement, she would frown a tiny bit, put her hand up and say “but miss…” and destroy my argument. It was an incredible blessing to have such a child in my classroom, but how do you teach such a child?

Luckily, I remembered that I had an English degree. I went back to the days of the Friday 9am “Critical and Cultural Theory” lecture of first year, and found the anthology of critical theory I had done battle with for my four year English degree. I lent it to the student, and she devoured it, quoting essays from it in her coursework. I felt cruel asking for it back when I left.

I have written before on making book lists for students, and in a mixed ability classroom I do think it is worth spending time, perhaps on a cohort-level, talking to high-achieving, highly motivated students about reading particular books. I have made separate reading lists for these students, because I want to make sure they are being challenged when they read, and engaged and interested. (I’ve pasted these below, and before anyone tells me I have duplicated books across year groups, I will say I have duplicated books – I’ve included the whole list for each year group lest anyone be about to reinvent the wheel and find the below useful.) I also think you can never underestimate the importance of “having a chat” in schools, whatever the group of students you choose to focus on.

Sure, some of these students will go on to choose Maths, or become doctors. But while they are interested, we can give them something to chew on. And that is something you can do with the scary smart ones.

Year 7 Extension Reading List

  • John Green: The Fault in Our Stars
  • A girl suffering from cancer meets a boy… Very romantic.
  • Helen Grant: The Vanishing of Katharina Linden
  • An adventure story and one of friendship – it will intrigue you.
  • Anne Cassidy: Looking for JJ
  • An interesting look at psychology and forgiveness.
  • Marcus Sedgewick: Revolver
  • Step into a different world and time for a book about a revolver.
  • Jostein Gaarder: Sophie’s World
  • Kids are smarter than adults – this is the way this book opens! Like to think deeply? This is the book for you!
  • Charles Dickens: Oliver Twist
  • Dickens’ orphan story is epic and full of twists and turns.
  • George Eliot: Silas Marner
  • Explore a small village and a man who loves his pot of gold.
  • Dodie Smith: I Capture the Castle
  • Romantic; a book which is also about sisters.
  • Mark Haddon: The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime
  • Told by an autistic boy, extremely funny too!
  • Marcus Zusak: The Book Thief
  • An imaginative and moving account exploring life in World War 2.
  • Dave Eggers: What is the What
  • One man’s struggle to escape the civil war in Sudan.
  • Harper Lee: To Kill a Mockingbird
  • Racism, civil rights and a very likeable narrator.
  • Philip Pullman: Northern Lights
  • Fantasy; Pullman creates a completely new world.
  • Frederik Douglass: Narrative of the life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave
  • Douglass escaped slavery, taught himself to read and write and told the world about what happened.
  • Lewis Carroll: Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland
  • A girl falls down a rabbit hole and discovers a whole new world.
  • Louisa May Alcott: Little Women
  • One family and many sisters.
  • John Steinbeck: The Pearl
  • Boy dives for pearl… But this book is about so much more.

Year 8 Extension Reading List

  • Jostein Gaarder: Sophie’s World
  • Kids are smarter than adults – this is the way this book opens! Like to think deeply? This is the book for you!
  • Charles Dickens: Oliver Twist
  • Dickens’ orphan story is epic and full of twists and turns.
  • George Eliot: Silas Marner
  • Explore a small village and a man who loves his pot of gold.
  • Dodie Smith: I Capture the Castle
  • Romantic; a book which is also about sisters.
  • Mark Haddon: The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime
  • Told by an autistic boy, extremely funny too!
  • Marcus Zusak: The Book Thief
  • An imaginative and moving account exploring life in World War 2.
  • Dave Eggers: What is the What
  • One man’s struggle to escape the civil war in Sudan.
  • Harper Lee: To Kill a Mockingbird
  • Racism, civil rights and a very likeable narrator.
  • Philip Pullman: Northern Lights
  • Fantasy; Pullman creates a completely new world.
  • Frederik Douglass: Narrative of the life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave
  • Douglass escaped slavery, taught himself to read and write and told the world about what happened.
  • Lewis Carroll: Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland
  • A girl falls down a rabbit hole and discovers a whole new world.
  • Louisa May Alcott: Little Women
  • One family and many sisters.
  • John Steinbeck: The Pearl
  • Boy dives for pearl… But this book is about so much more.
  • Angela Carter: The Magic Toyshop
  • First love, and a toyshop that is magical.
  • Kathryn Stockett: The Help
  • Detailed exploration of American “help” in a time of intense racism and segregation.
  • Bram Stoker: Dracula
  • The original vampire book.

Year 9 Extension Reading List

  • Aldous Huxley: Brave New World
  • There are no families and your life is governed by state-given drugs.
  • Jane Austen: Emma
  • Emma has the best of intentions, but her plans often go horribly awry…
  • Carson McCullers: The Heart is a Lonely Hunter
  • The inner struggles of four central characters.
  • Henri Alain-Fournier: Le Grand Meulnes
  • The seeking of a lost world and the gap between childhood and being an adult.
  • Henry James: Daisy Miller
  • Love or hate her, Daisy is a complex character who knows her own mind.
  • D.H. Lawrence: Sons and Lovers
  • Northern mining town; strange family relationships.
  • Thomas Hardy: Jude the Obscure
  • Heartbreaking story of a man trying against the odds to rise in the world.
  • Thomas Hardy: Tess of the D’Urbervilles
  • A tragedy of a beautiful woman defied by fate.
  • Jostein Gaarder: Sophie’s World
  • Kids are smarter than adults – this is the way this book opens! Like to think deeply? This is the book for you!
  • Charles Dickens: Oliver Twist
  • Dickens’ orphan story is epic and full of twists and turns.
  • George Eliot: Silas Marner
  • Explore a small village and a man who loves his pot of gold.
  • Dodie Smith: I Capture the Castle
  • Romantic; a book which is also about sisters.
  • Mark Haddon: The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime
  • Told by an autistic boy, extremely funny too!
  • Marcus Zusak: The Book Thief
  • An imaginative and moving account exploring life in World War 2.
  • Harper Lee: To Kill a Mockingbird
  • Racism, civil rights and a very likeable narrator.
  • Frederik Douglass: Narrative of the life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave
  • Douglass escaped slavery, taught himself to read and write and told the world about what happened.
  • Lewis Carroll: Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland
  • A girl falls down a rabbit hole and discovers a whole new world.
  • Louisa May Alcott: Little Women
  • One family and many sisters.
  • John Steinbeck: The Pearl
  • Boy dives for pearl… But this book is about so much more.
  • Angela Carter: The Magic Toyshop
  • First love, and a toyshop that is magical.
  • Kathryn Stockett: The Help
  • Detailed exploration of American “help” in a time of intense racism and segregation.
  • Bram Stoker: Dracula
  • The original vampire book.

Year 10 and 11 Extension Reading List

  • Aldous Huxley: Brave New World
  • There are no families and your life is governed by state-given drugs.
  • Jane Austen: Emma
  • Emma has the best of intentions, but her plans often go horribly awry…
  • Carson McCullers: The Heart is a Lonely Hunter
  • The inner struggles of four central characters.
  • Henri Alain-Fournier: Le Grand Meulnes
  • The seeking of a lost world and the gap between childhood and being an adult.
  • Henry James: Daisy Miller
  • Love or hate her, Daisy is a complex character who knows her own mind.
  • D.H. Lawrence: Sons and Lovers
  • Northern mining town; strange family relationships.
  • Thomas Hardy: Jude the Obscure
  • Heartbreaking story of a man trying against the odds to rise in the world.
  • Thomas Hardy: Tess of the D’Urbervilles
  • A tragedy of a beautiful woman defied by fate.
  • Jostein Gaarder: Sophie’s World
  • Kids are smarter than adults – this is the way this book opens! Like to think deeply? This is the book for you!
  • Charles Dickens: Oliver Twist
  • Dickens’ orphan story is epic and full of twists and turns.
  • George Eliot: Silas Marner
  • Explore a small village and a man who loves his pot of gold.
  • Harper Lee: To Kill a Mockingbird
  • Racism, civil rights and a very likeable narrator.
  • Frederik Douglass: Narrative of the life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave
  • Douglass escaped slavery, taught himself to read and write and told the world about what happened.
  • John Steinbeck: Grapes of Wrath
  • Like Of Mice and Men, but epic and enormous. Very helpful to read for your Literature GCSE.
  • Angela Carter: The Magic Toyshop
  • First love, and a toyshop that is magical.
  • Bram Stoker: Dracula
  • The original vampire book.
  • Ken Kesey: One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest
  • A man trying to escape a jail sentence pleads insanity and winds up in an insane asylum   
  • E.M. Forster: A Room With a View
  • A young girl’s heart is awakened on a holiday in Florence
  • Sylvia Plath:  The Bell Jar
  •  Plath explores depression using the story of a young, intelligent girl
  • Fyodor Dostoyevsky: Crime and Punishment
  • A man brutally commits murder and comes to terms with it       
  • Nathaniel Hawthorne: The Scarlet Letter
  • A young woman is ostracised for having a child out of wedlock
  • F. Scott Fitzgerald: The Great Gatsby
  • A man pines after his lost love and accrues great riches in an attempt to attract her back
  • George Eliot: Middlemarch
  • An in-depth exploration of a small society which focuses on different characters, their flaws and redeeming qualities
  • Jack Kerouac: On the Road
  • Tells the story of life on the road, where the only aim is to enjoy life
  • William Faulkner: As I Lay Dying
  • A ground-breaking novel which takes place around a mother’s coffin
  • Virginia Woolf: Orlando
  • A man becomes a woman and grows older through the centuries   
  • Mary Shelley: Frankenstein
  • A scientist creates a monster – or is it less simple?
  • Charlotte Bronte: Jane Eyre
  • Life story of a young Victorian lady. Some romance, some tragedy
  • Leo Tolstoy: War and Peace
  • A novel containing everything that is in life and more
  • Truman Capote: Breakfast At Tiffany’s
  • A woman searches for an emotional home   
  • J.D.    Salinger: The Catcher in the Rye
  • A young man battles for realism in a “phoney” world
  • Oscar Wilde: The Picture of Dorian Gray
  • A vain young man has a sinister portrait painted which has surprising consequences
  • Emily Bronte: Wuthering Heights
  • An examination of the pain that comes with great love
  • Chinua Achebe: Things Fall Apart
  • A gripping study of European colonialism in Africa
  • Samuel Beckett: Waiting for Godot
  • The most philosophical comedy you will ever read
  • Arthur Miller: Death of a Salesman
  • A tragic examination of a man
  • William Shakespeare:  Othello
  • A tragedy concerning a marriage and a deceitful friend   
  • John Milton: Paradise Lost
  • Satan betrays God and is cast out of heaven
  • Walt Whitman: Song of Myself
  • What does it mean to be American? Human? Walt Whitman?
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One thought on “What do I do with the scary smart ones?

  1. Pingback: A guide to this blog | Reading all the Books

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