So I’ve knocked off differentiation, now I’ll have a go at ‘challenge’ (or ‘stretch’ or ‘stretch and challenge’)
We all like to complete a challenge. That marathon run to raise money for a charity, trips to escape rooms, that little book of sodukus, or Candy Crush (self confession). Kids love challenges too. Repeating levels on a computer game, with such resilience to keep going again and again in the face of failure. We could do with some of that willingness with computer game challenges to translate to the classroom. In all these we try, we fail, we go again, we learn and finally we win. There is no greater sense of achievement than conquering a challenge.
A big no no is the practice of different learning objectives for different students (‘some/most/all’, etc), and different tasks for different groups of students. Same task with support for some to reach it I have already covered in my post on ‘differentiation’. Apologies for repeating myself but I do find it hard to come up with a satisfactory answer to the question posed by many a student, “why can’t I do the purple/green/expert/(insert school practice) task?”, or for this practice to sit well with my conscience. I really don’t see how ‘growth mindset’ and ‘differentiated tasks’ fit in the same sentence.
Let me explain how this practice of grouped learning objectives and grouped tasks works itself out in the classroom.
So typically there’s a task up on the board. Call it the ‘core task’, the ‘green task’ or henous of henouses the ‘Grade 3’ task (who wants to do a task that has no academic currency?). As mentioned in my post on differentiation this caps both learning and in the process attainment. So back to the lesson. Along with the ‘core task’ (‘all’), there is a challenge/stretch task or question to be completed (usually) after the core task. The more able students get through the core task quickly and love the fact they have been given a special task by the teacher to complete and are overtly being praised for being bright (and often for working hard, I get that). Then you have the middle ability children. They are annoyed they aren’t allowed to do the same work as the bright students, they fancy having a go at a challenge too. They are highly motivated to work harder and to try harder work, but they’ve also realised their fate is now set in stone. The less able suffer the most. They get it, they’re the ‘dumb’ ones. They know they’ll never be allowed a challenge, even though they too quite fancy the sound of one. Now eternally doomed to word matches, gap fillers and easy worksheets. And the result of all this? We are actively (if not intentionally) widening the achievement gap between our students.
Students ARE keen on completing difficult work. They feel privileged to be thought of as good enough, clever enough to be chosen for this work. But we can’t give up on academic rigour for the less able. All material should be challenging and made accessible for all through clear prior instruction, modelling of answers/solutions and then ‘live support’ for those who need it.
These thoughts are based on the work of Mary Myatt, from her book The Curriculum: Gallimaufry to coherence.