Challenge for all involves ensuring that our lessons support students with special needs and weaker prior attainment so that they can access the learning, but also lifting the ‘ceiling’ on what students can achieve. If we ‘overload’ students then the chances are that they will learn and retain very little of the lesson. On the other hand, by offering insufficient challenge, our students get bored and won’t reach the potential of which they are capable. There are many resources online that might help generate ideas for generating pace and challenge in lessons. Here are two starting points:
Frequently the phrase ‘active learning’ is used when talking about planning appropriate challenge in lessons. However, there’s an important distinction worth making between lessons that are simply ‘busy’ and ones which provide deeper cognitive challenge. I write a bit about that distinction here:
Another way of thinking about planning suitable challenges in lessons is to consider the individual differences possessed by our students. This area, perhaps more than any other, has become the subject of a wide range of myths and pseudoscientific ideas about differences in the way children learn. I’ve written some short articles on some of these ineffective ways that teachers have been encouraged to differentiate in the past:
Are children right-brained or left-brained?
Are there visual, auditory and kinaesthetic learning styles?
Do people really only remember 10% of what they read but 75% of what they do?
There are better ideas out there. There’s also growing body of work trying to apply what psychologists have uncovered about memory to help teachers differentiate lessons for students who need support:
Not least amongst these are some suggestions for how individual differences in working memory may affect children’s learning and how we can help accommodate those differences.
A further aspect – linked to literacy – is to consider the readability of text which we provide to students. Whilst we want to push the boundaries of their vocabulary, we should consider whether putting something with a reading complexity suitable for the average 17-18 year old in front of a child with a reading age of 11 is really going to help many of them achieve! There are lots of ‘reading age calculators’ online – for example:
There are a wide range of resources available from Teachers’ TV: 3,500 archived short TV programmes related to teaching and learning.
Lastly, but not least, questioning, formative assessment and marking can be used to provide a valuable form of differentiation. There are a range of articles and resources on AfL here: