Challenge in itself holds together all the disparate elements that appear to make up the teaching lexicon, including resource and space need, differentiation, activity, thinking, talking, engagement, intervention, evaluation and assessment and resilience.
Challenge, in different forms, describes the purpose of action; trying to do something, which may be just a little harder or different to anything that has been tried before.
When faced with a problem, a difficult task, this can test earlier knowledge, by bringing to the fore earlier efforts and successes. The comparison between earlier and current needs can enable the practicalities of overcoming the perceived obstacle to become clearer, with a series of practical tasks to be accomplished. Problems can then become achievable. If, during the course of action, including dialogue, it becomes clear that the proposed solution, although initially decided as the best course of action, is going awry, the evaluation of the current need might lead to decisions to stall, to review, to seek additional information from external expertise, before continuing. These actions become useful life skills.
Working together, in itself, can be a challenge, in that collective decisions might be subject to disagreement, including opposition. The ability to negotiate through difficulty is another human need, occasionally requiring a moderating voice to be available.
There is a simple question that, to me, indicates the quality of challenge; what have they got to think about? This can vary from relatively simple recall of earlier facts through to dealing with an overarching challenge.
Activity may hold some challenges and there are some activities that have to be in place as practice tasks in order to undertake more significant challenges. In earlier incarnations of the Design Technology scheme in the National Curriculum, these were resource tasks. The principle can be applied across all curriculum areas. Of course, there is an easy way to ensure some level of concentration on these tasks. Simply ensure that children are aware of the purpose; we’re doing this SO THAT we can use it in the next challenge.
Resources, including space can be a challenge, but it’s feasible to consider challenge within the available resources. Tables can be moved to create different working spaces, covered, as needed for different activities. Resources availability, if planned ahead of time, in labelled boxes or drawers, can enable independence in retrieval and return.
I’d want to frame challenge over time, so that the timetable, in itself, does not become a limiting factor. Current timetables can appear to preclude continuity of challenge, ensuring that there’s enough available to fill the available hour. This can push some to discrete activities that might be less challenging. Quality outcomes can take a little longer, especially for some children. It might be better to have one finished piece of quality, as a baseline, rather than a series of unfinished pieces.
I said at the top that challenge incorporates other areas that make up teaching. Challenge is set by the teacher. In the early days with a class, the challenge may be generic, as a means of getting to know how each child thinks and reacts. Over time, this becomes more refined, as the teacher recalibrates expectations to the new group. In so doing, the interactions are also likely to become more refined and meet the needs of each learner. In another blog, I propose that differentiation is informed dialogue.
The challenge of keeping going, in order to produce a piece of quality work, can require different levels of resilience, but might also require different layers of coaching intervention. This act, in itself, underpins assessment; how much could x do independently and in what areas did x need?
Ongoing challenge can be provided by low level sharing of developing outcomes; reading out loud an interesting fact or sentence; a child sharing how they have solved a maths problem. Visualisers or iPads linked to IWB can help to make this more overt.
Challenge can enhance dialogue, including the use of vocabulary appropriate to the task. Enabling different layers of planning and preparation provides the groundwork for taking first steps, including identifying the knowledge and skills that are likely to be needed.
At no point does a challenge curriculum divorce from the need to directly teach discrete elements. This has always been a need, it’s the simplest way to get information across to someone who needs it, and, in the context of learning, the knowledge and skills become “resources” in themselves. The challenge is to use and apply the knowledge and skills in the problem context, which, in itself, becomes the test.
Thinking a little further, I’d propose such things as Learning Objectives and Success Criteria are shared at the beginning of the challenge journey, as part of the overview of how the week, fortnight, half term will pan out. It will be the overview “so that”, sharing the eventual aim. Discrete pieces of resource tasking could have discrete LO/SC, eg how to set out a letter.
Children should be able to tell someone what they’re learning and why. That shouldn’t be the challenge.