"I could immediately identify a handful of students I felt I had let down over the years."
- Erin Marsh, Assistant Activities Director at ISB
Developing the ISB Plus Enrichment Programme
As we continue to grow and learn in our understanding of Challenge and what it means to our students at ISB, we have begun to reflect on the opportunities that we offer as a school to all of our learners, the highly able as well as those with specific learning support needs. During the summer, several members of our faculty attended a professional development summit organised by HAGT (High Ability Gifted & Talented Learners Collaborative). This experience was particularly useful in learning more about the importance for schools to develop provisions that enrich and extend the learning of all of their students, and where ISB might be able to create these opportunities within the programmes we already have in place. Erin Marsh, Physical Education & Health teacher and Assistant Activities Director at ISB, took part in HAGT’s development summit and found that what she learned during the conference shifted her understanding of the notion of inclusion in schools. She learned that inclusion should not be limited solely to students accessing the curriculum at the middle or supportive end of the spectrum, but that it should apply to those students who are highly able in a particular learning area, as well. “I spent my whole educational career working to support students with special needs or emotional needs, helping them find ways to access the curriculum. But actually, one of the shocking things I learned from the summit is that the notion of inclusion addresses all students - with a capital A and L - and that all students should be able to access the curriculum to their individual needs and be successful. This was a stark realization for me, that I wasn’t actually paying attention to my highly able learners, and I could immediately identify a handful of students I felt I had let down over the years.” In collaboration with other faculty members including Kristen Schroeder, Director of Inclusion and Challenge, Erin is now investigating whether there is scope within the ISB Plus programme to create more opportunities for challenge for our highly able learners. This is the first step in the development of the ISB Plus Enrichment Programme. To support her work on this, Erin is completing the Level 3 course with HAGT, which is based on a talent development model that helps to define the different levels of provisions that schools can offer their students. The model comprises four levels and Erin is currently focusing on Level 2, which looks at targeted learning opportunities within the after-school programmes and services. “This is something that we do really well at ISB: we have a vast, extensive after-school programme that allows students to discover and explore their passion, meet new friends and establish social and emotional connections. Our learning doesn’t end at 15.30. However, this programme is open to everyone, so there’s no real challenge opportunities within it, no explicit enrichment focus that allows for targeted learning. So there’s a real opportunity here to develop activities that require students to have a certain skillset, understanding, attribute, and readiness for them to access the class. This works for both sports as it does for the performing arts: everyone can do the play, but only one person will get the lead role.” This enrichment can be offered either through the creation of distinct challenge opportunities within the programme or through the connections that students form with like-minded individuals who share their same interests and talents. ISB is currently at the stage in which it is looking at key areas of learning that can be developed further to offer more enrichment and extension. In the area of technology, for example, the school has recently partnered with a Brussels-based organisation to organise some weekend events for students who already have a solid knowledge of coding. As part of the school’s development of this programme, some ISB teachers have been interviewing students to get a better understanding of the specific learning goals they should be working towards. It is a significant learning process for both faculty and staff, and it requires a close and strong collaboration with all of the teachers involved in the journey. “We’re currently identifying the learning goals within the activities we want to develop, and teachers are given specific goals to work through to make this happen: we had a whole Professional Development day focused on how to use questioning to ensure that students are being challenged at all levels. We are interviewing students and there is a lot of very explicit learning happening in all of these key areas. We’re doing a really good, consolidated review of what we currently have in place, we’re defining what we believe Challenge to be and where we believe that it fits into our inclusiveness as a school, and we’re showing that we have a responsibility to all learners and are taking it seriously.” Erin adds that, further down the line, another goal for the school would be to find ways to incorporate a student’s talent into his or her learning profile, essentially connecting their after-school experiences to their work in the classroom. Just as with everything else, students will be given some voice and choice in these developments: they, too, will be responsible for grasping the opportunities that will be given to them, and demonstrating that they have the leadership skills and the ambition to push further and reach their full potential.