TWHF Teaching and Learning: Episode 1 – The Challenge with Challenge!

Teaching and Learning Champions

Last week, a number of senior leaders from across the WHF met to start a year long project on improving teaching and learning within the MAT. The group (Teaching and Learning Champions) are focusing on the 6 core principles outlined in Allison and Tharby’s excellent book “Making every lesson count.”

As explained by Allison and Tharby, these 6 principles, although not very controversial, are key to success in the classroom. The 6 core principles are;

  1. Challenge
  2. Explanation
  3. Modelling
  4. Practice
  5. Feedback
  6. Questioning

The role of the working group is to research and then develop training around each principle to disseminate across schools.

First up; Challenge…

The Challenge with Challenge

As Tom Sherrington wrote in 2013 , “The point is that Great Lessons, with or without the buzz factor, have something in common: Challenge. Not just for a few; for everyone.” The idea of “challenge for all” is something that has become increasingly prominent over the last few years especially within Maths and the Shanghai Mastery approach to teaching. But what does this actually mean in practice?

Flow: Where challenge and skill levels are high.

Sherrington suggests that “the Holy Grail of challenge are lessons that lead to Flow, where the challenge levels are continually just ahead of the level of skills.”

But this in practice is very hard when, in one class, the range of learners is wide.   How do you stretch everyone? How within one lesson can you teach those reaching the top levels to go further, whilst ensuring those at the lowest levels are supported or accelerated?

Differentiation is a term widely used in addressing this very issue however it has been argued that, over time, the original meaning of ‘differentiation’ has been distorted and narrowed to just mean sourcing different tasks for pupils of varying ability. This has been further magnified by SLTs and inspectors using examples of different tasks at different levels as “evidence” of  differentiation.

By differentiating in this way, many suggest, the expectation of our perceived lower ability pupils are constantly lowered which  dramatically impact their progress over time.

Sherrington suggests, “A much more effective notion of differentiation is that it applies to the level of support and scaffolding learners need to reach common, aspirational learning goals. We’re all aiming for the top of the mountain – but some of us will need more help, more guidance, more time.” In other ways it is the level of support that is ‘differentiated’ by the expectations to achieve remains the same for all.

Sherrington also argues that by viewing differentiation as scaffolding of learning suggests it is not permanent; it is something that can be taken away gradually over time.

As the group research more around the theme of Challenge,  this blog will be added to however in the meantime you may find the following articles of interest;