Developing Challenge

When I started teaching, all those many moons ago, challenge wasn’t really discussed. When it was mentioned it was as something we had to add on for the most able as an “extension task” and often consisted of more of the same work – perhaps a little more difficult – or open ended so as to fill up the rest of the lesson. I am willing to accept the possibility that I was just a terrible teacher in those early years but discussing this with colleagues today I don’t think I was alone.

I think the conversation about challenge has come on along way since then but in my experience the practice can still be patchy and there are still cases where I am not sure I have been getting it quite right.

This is why I spent last year looking at challenge in more detail and reading everything I could get my hands on. As ever Shaun Allison and Andy Tharby’s book Make Every Lesson Count was invaluable with a lot of practical advice for the classroom. Daisy Christodoulou and David Didau gave some great insight into the purpose of challenging work and how to build it in to curriculum planning. Then I went to the source with Daniel Willingham’s Why Don’t Students Like School.

Last week I wrote about the need to trust professionals with their CPD and how our school were approaching this by not only giving us additional time on our timetables to read these wonderful books and to discuss them but also created a group of us to plan and lead CPD on INSET days and twilight. On the first of these sessions I worked with Emma Smith (@Smith_EL101) on a 30 minute presentation looking at the work of these authors and the implication for making challenge the key part of every lesson.

Our main message was that we needed to move beyond “strategies” and gimmicks and instead ensure that pupils were challenged to think (Memory being the residue of thought) and that work was modelled, and scaffolds were used, to show pupils what excellent work looked like.

This is what we came up with.

This led to some fascinating discussions as a group and the sharing of ideas for making this work in the classroom. It is also helping to build on our school priority this year of “Creating Excellence”. As ever leading a CPD session gave more to go away with and think about and work on than I brought to the party for which I am truly grateful.


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