When Olivia and I were first asked to look into extensions we began to ask ourselves: just what is a meaningful extension task?
Our starting point was reflecting on how we usually set extension tasks. The most common way of setting an extension was to have an extension task displayed on the board, typically a task that related to the main activity, but which required the application extended writing skills. The other way we would set extensions was to have a more difficult question displayed under the subheading, ‘Challenge Zone’. Many enthusiastic learners are keen to get stuck into the ‘Challenge Zone’ when it’s pitched right and when it’s advertised positively (e.g. a raffle ticket will be given to anyone who tries the ‘Challenge Zone’ and manages to get x amount of marks). In many ways this kind of extension task is like a variation of the teaching strategy ‘Into the Pit’ where we clearly signify to learners that the task will categorically be difficult, but we sell this as the opportunity to really learn. The picture below summarises:
This prompted us to reflect on the quality of extension tasks we set. If More Able students finish tasks at a more rapid pace from the outset of the lesson, how frequently do we need to set extensions on our slides or lesson plans to challenge them and make sure they have something to do? Even when we include extensions on extended writing activity slides, are they always purposeful? We realised that sometimes this style of extension task can lack real purpose and involve writing more rather than learning more. We came up with the following table of advantages and disadvantages to an ‘extension task’ on slides approach to extensions:After this , we started to think about and research alternative styles of extension tasks and happened upon another education blog (https://misstait.wordpress.com/2014/08/29/finished/) which had a range of excellent ‘ready-made’ extension tasks with handy hyperlinks to all the resources. Thank you Miss Tait! We printed off some of these colourful, useful and thoughtful extension tasks and shared them with our Butterfly group and they went down a storm!We especially loved the idea of running with an extension of DeBono’s hats (or, as we discovered on Google, Thinking Cats!) across the entire school. Have a look!
There was definite agreement that there is scope to have students associate colours with particular skills relating to critical thinking (“today you excelled with your black hat – thinking critically and negatively – now have a go at approaching this question with a red hat, thinking about the emotions involved in this kind of decision”). The best received idea was, without a shadow of a doubt, the idea of ‘Extension Cards’ with a different colour card for each extension. An excellent editable example of these kinds of cards can be found thanks to this lovely TES user: extension cards. Since these tasks tend to be more taxing and time-consuming (e.g. ‘Throughout time many books have been banned by governments. Write an essay exploring why Literature can be seen as dangerous’), we suggested that perhaps the back of student books could be dedicated exclusively to these longer project-style extensions which require critical thinking and higher-order skills.
The final style of extension we considered the benefits of was creating a laminated ‘extension card’ much like the Reading Group Accelerated Reading Cards used down in the Learning Support Base. Individual copies of this extension sheet could be glued into the back of student books.An example of this that the teachers had fun having a go at is shown below:
The terms, ‘Developing’, ‘Securing’ and ‘Mastering’ have been used here to indicate increasing difficulty, but this could be adapted to the levels or skills involved in any subject. The purpose in this style of extension task is that students who finish earlier than their peers must work their way down through each and every task on the ‘Extension Sheet’. When they complete it, the task is ‘checked off’ by the teacher, before they move on to the next one, to ensure they really have mastered that skill or successfully achieved that task. Each task can be levelled depending upon the skills required within your unit and an extension task card could be issued half-termly or termly, depending on the subject.
Ultimately, we enjoyed putting on our ‘green hat of creativity’ when preparing for this session. The traditional PowerPoint slide extension task can, if done right, be highly useful and relate to the task and learning challenge at hand. However, this approach can be time-consuming and can mean more written work for the sake of completing written work (and thus more work to be marked!) A viable and creative skills-based alternative is to create a display wall packed with pre-prepared and relevant extension tasks which gives students some autonomy over their extension work. The final idea we suggested was an extension card which students can work their way through, with rewards for completing every level (e.g. moving from ‘Developing’ to ‘Securing’) to help incentivise completing the extension card.
We hope that you have found the ideas we have outlined here useful – now it’s your turn to put on your blue hat and figure out what’s next for you and your future extension tasks! Thanks – Chris and Olivia.