Research School Network: Supporting High Attaining Students at a Distance How can we use the research evidence to support the progress of our high attaining students?

Supporting High Attaining Students at a Distance

How can we use the research evidence to support the progress of our high attaining students?

by Durrington Research School
on the

At Durrington we are working very closely with our teachers to help them develop their distance teaching expertise. As a part of this, we are asking them for aspects of distance teaching that they would like further support with. A common response to this question is, how can I ensure that my brightest students are being stretched and challenged?

This is a really important question. On the face of it, these students will appear to be engaging with distance teaching really effectively. They will be working really hard, submitting all the work they are set and generally causing us very few headaches. This will be in contrast to those students who were already behind before lockdown. These students will be struggling with distance learning and as result, falling even further behind. This will be despite our very best efforts but understandably, these students will be in the forefront of our minds. That said, we still owe it to those high attaining students, to be stretching and challenging them and not just accepting that they are doing OK’. So how might we do this at a distance?

In November 2018, Chris Runeckles wrote this blog. In the blog Chris highlighted the problem with trying to find the answer to the high attaining student question :

“Usually at this point we turn to the evidence, but here again we find a disappointing lack of guidance. I say disappointing as I (along with most in education) while accepting this isn’t how it works, yearn desperately for some clarity on what to do. This lack of clarity is well explained by a literature review by Gabriel Heller-Sahlgren titled What works in gifted education? The main conclusion of the review is that the current evidence is not strong enough to make firm conclusions about how to cater for the highest attaining students and actually what is most needed is some robust studies into what works best.”

Chris went on to discuss how the answer to the question about supporting the progress of high attaining students, can probably be found by looking at what the research says about effective teaching. So we probably need to think about aspects of teaching such as metacognition, memory, feedback and questioning, when looking to support high attaining students during distance teaching.


If our high attaining students are going to be solving complex problems, or producing work that demonstrates a breadth and depth of knowledge, they need to have committed that knowledge to their long term memory – they can only think about what they know. We can support their long term memory of this breadth of knowledge, by providing them with lots of opportunity for retrieval practice and spaced practice. Practising to automaticity, will enable them to use this knowledge with great agility.


Over the last couple of weeks we’ve shared a number of blogs, focusing on helping students to become better at self-regulated learners. A self-regulated learner, will be able to plan, monitor and evaluate their own learning. This video by Chris Runeckles, summarises this really well. Although our high attaining students will probably be pretty good at doing this, we shouldn’t take it for granted. We can help them with this in a number of ways, for example:

- Providing them with a checklist of the most challenging content, for them to monitor their own understanding.

- Signpost them to high challenge websites that they can use to plug any knowledge gaps that they identify.

- Use something like a Loom video to model your own metacognitive thinking when tackling a particularly challenging task.


In his researchED Durrington Loom presentation, Professor Paul Kirschner talked about the importance of feedback when distance teaching:

“It’s important that students receive feedback on their answers. This can be corrective (wrong: the answer is), but better is directive (wrong: you should have solved it that way) or epistemic (How did you get this? Was the answer different if you had taken into account ...?”

High attaining students crave feedback on how to get even better. Whilst tools such as Google Forms are useful in terms of giving students immediate feedback about their responses, it won’t tell them why they got that really difficult question wrong – and they will really want to know! A really useful strategy is to record a Loom video, talking through the summary of the Google Form, paying particular attention to the really challenging questions that students got wrong and modelling the correct approach to use. This is a great way of taking whole class feedback online and will be really appreciated by your high attaining students.


Elaborative questioning is really important for high attaining students, as it makes them really engage and think about the subject content – why do you think that? How did you come to that answer? What else could you add to that? So we need to think about doing that online. Some possible approaches might be posing them questions on the stream on Google Classroom, posting a video of you asking a sequence of questions and asking them to pause the video and answering the questions or simply posting a series of challenging questions for them to tackle and submit. And of course, encourage them to ask you and their peers really tricky questions!

By Shaun Allison

More from the Durrington Research School

Show all news

This website collects a number of cookies from its users for improving your overall experience of the site.Read more