Highly Able Programme at ACS Cobham


Author: Karen Herschleb

Highly Able Programme Programme Coordinator, Middle School and High School Divisions, ACS Cobham

ACS Cobham’s Highly Able Programme was created in 2014 to enhance provision for students who require an additional level of challenge due to their outstanding levels of aptitude or competence in one or more areas, enabling them to reach their full potential.

A bit about me …

There are two full time Highly Able Programme Coordinators; Emily Gordon and I. I am originally from Girdwood, Alaska and I began my teaching career in Seattle, since then I’ve taught all over the world – in Mexico City, Lisbon, Portugal and the UK.

I joined ACS Cobham in 2013 and in December 2015, I finished my Masters in Educational Leadership, which I studied at University College of London. I am deeply passionate about supporting students’ learning and encouraging them to pursue their interests.

My role within the Highly Able Programme

We use a range of indicators to help us identify students we think might benefit from the Highly Able Programme; including test evidence, checklists and questionnaires, prior achievement, previous school nominations or suggestions from ACS teachers. In my role as the coordinator I work to identify students and share information about their areas of high ability with their teachers as well as identifying enrichment opportunities.

In the High School I meet with students individually to look at different enrichment and extra-curricular activities on offer at the school which might help each student reach their learning goals. In the Middle School, students meet for lunchtime enrichment sessions in science, debating, and maths, among other topics. Students have consistent access to our help, as well as extra enrichment opportunities throughout the school year.

I also work with the teaching faculty providing a range of additional learning resources that can be used to provide highly able students with that extra level of challenge during class. We also suggest a programme of courses and training for teachers to help equip them with skills to support student on the highly able programme.

A wide variety of support methods available

There are a number of ways that highly able students are supported both within and beyond the classroom setting. During class, teachers use differentiated learning strategies to ensure every student engages with the curriculum on the deepest level.

For example, teachers will often group highly able students together, allowing them to collaborate on tasks and tackle challenging problems.  Extension tasks are also often used and these exercises allow students to use higher order thinking skills, work practices and response skills to solve problems. Teachers also have a plethora of resources to challenge students at different levels, such as demanding word banks, data files or image banks and open-ended tasks.

Beyond the classroom

The enrichment sessions are also a very successful way of encouraging deeper thinking and creativity and we help organise a number of enrichment activities including competitions, school debates and extra curricular sessions.

This year, Middle School science teachers have held extra-curricular sessions, where students explored scientific concepts such as ‘Rockets’, where students designed and launched water rockets; ‘Towers’, building and testing towers; and ‘Crystals’ where groups explored crystal formation.

We often also run debates amongst students using the public forum debate structure, focussing on academic topics or on school-based discussions. Through these debates, students’ hone aptitudes such as self-confidence, general knowledge, communication and collaboration.

With our support, highly able students enter competitions across a variety of subjects. This year, students from the Middle School entered the BBC 500-word short story competition; United Kingdom Mathematics Trust (UKMT) national maths challenge competition; the Independent School’s Association Essay competition; and the Young Writers Poems and Short Stories competition. Recently, one of our grade eight students, Calvin Kirkpatrick, received a merit designation in the UKMT intermediate competition.

Competitions have also proved popular with High School students who have entered the the TEDx (Technology, Entertainment, Design) Conference at the 02 arena, the Biology Challenge (Society of Biology), UKMT national maths competition and the November National Novel Writing Month. Competitions are an excellent way for students to challenge themselves, apply their skills and showcase their talents outside the traditional classroom setting.

School wide enrichment

ACS Cobham provides opportunities for all students to enjoy enrichment activities. All students have access to a variety of clubs in each year group. For example, in the High School, clubs include a newspaper club, maths club, Duke of Edinburgh and a peer tutoring club. The Middle School ‘CLUBZ’ programme provides students with engaging activities, including chess club, wakeboard club, maker club (IT focused), art club and yoga club.

Every year we also have a number of experts and guest speakers visit the school to share their expertise with students. This year author of children’s books, Alan Gibbons, led a creative writing workshop; research immunologist, Dr Sarah Gaffen, talked about her latest research; and South African author, Beverley Naidoo, was interviewed by students on her books which focus on life during apartheid in South Africa.

Outsider speakers are a great way to inspire students and to introduce them to elements of the curriculum in a new way – helping to increase understanding.

The Highly Able Programme ensures that students who need extra levels of challenge are fully supported and are inspired to reach the highest levels of achievement. School-wide enrichment ensures all students have access to explore and enrich their learning with opportunities within and outside the classroom.

Karen Herschleb

Highly Able Programme Programme Coordinator, Middle School and High School Divisions, ACS Cobham

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