Is your school embracing a stretch and challenge agenda? Find out what practical measures you can take to make sure everyone is thinking for themselves.
What is Stretch and Challenge?
Stretch and challenge, a pedagogical approach that resonates with both primary and secondary school leaders, is more than a mere buzzword in modern education. It's a philosophy that embodies an ethos of ambition, aiming to push students beyond their comfort zones and inspire them to reach new heights in their learning journey.
At the heart of the challenge model lies the belief that every student, regardless of their current ability, can benefit from being stretched intellectually. It's about creating an environment where the challenge in practice is not an exception but a norm. This approach encourages teachers to allocate time for students to delve into complex problems, explore key concepts in depth, and engage in critical thinking.
For instance, in a challenge classroom, a mathematics teacher might introduce a complex problem-solving task that requires students to apply various mathematical concepts they've learned over the course of the year. This not only reinforces their understanding but also promotes a deeper connection with the material.
According to Dr. Carol Dweck, a renowned psychologist and researcher, "In a growth mindset, challenges are exciting rather than threatening. So rather than thinking, oh, I'm going to reveal my weaknesses, you say, wow, here's a chance to grow." This quote encapsulates the essence of the stretch and challenge approach, where challenges are seen as opportunities rather than obstacles.
A study published in the Journal of Educational Psychology found that students who were consistently challenged in their learning environment showed a 12% increase in overall academic performance. This statistic underscores the tangible benefits of integrating Challenge into Activities.
In essence, the stretch and challenge approach is about fostering a culture where lesson time is maximized, and students are continually encouraged to strive for excellence. It's about creating a dynamic and engaging learning environment where Challenge learners become an integral part of the educational experience.
As educators and school leaders contemplate this philosophy, they are embracing a path that leads not only to academic success but to the cultivation of lifelong learners. Another insightful read on this subject can be found in the International Journal of Educational Research, shedding light on how this approach can be tailored to different educational settings.
Why is Stretch and Challenge an important agenda?
To answer this question, let's consider the curriculum as a vehicle for social mobility. Every school has a range of ability levels and challenge activities should be designed to move classroom thinking forward. The level of challenge should be suitable for the pupil which requires a certain level of differentiation. What is hard for me might be easy for you. We want every pupil to go beyond their current understanding and where possible, adopt threshold concepts, the type of thinking that changes the way you view the world forever. In many state schools, the pupil premium agenda skews curriculum access over a rigorous stretch & challenge programme.
To transform challenges into activities for the classroom, our members have adopted the universal thinking framework. This practical planning and delivery tool enable educators to design challenge teaching strategies that really gets everyone thinking. The learning actions extend the opportunities to provide challenge across a wide ability range. Instead of ability streaming, teachers can create lesson plans that have different tangents embedded within them.
The learning objectives can be seen as a compass (giving the task direction) whilst the challenge activities are carefully mapped out to cater for the broad ability spectrum. This approach has meant that classrooms can take on adopt an 'access and challenge' agenda. Instead of just providing additional learning materials for those who have finished the task, the framework enables children to deepen their learning experiences by changing perspectives and looking at topics from different angles. The best performing schools see additional learning opportunities throughout the curriculum to develop advanced knowledge. This is not just 'more stuff' but new perspectives and ways of using that knowledge to achieve different goals.
Designing and assessing challenge activities
Using frameworks such as solo taxonomy and blooms enables educators to explore the academic potential by subtly reframing the learning objective. These types of frameworks enable teachers to design learning experiences that can move classroom thinking into new territories. Mary Myatt recently discussed the idea that schools often talk about 'doing the romans'. Using a framework for teaching enables educators to outline bespoke learning opportunities for the entire class ability range. The thinking and learning actions within our framework have also been used as an assessment method. For example, if we take the Roman topic, can a pupil:
1) Identify what the Romans have done for us?
2) Categorise those benefits into different criteria?
3) Provide local examples of those benefits?
4) Find suitable adjectives to describe these benefits?
5) Imagine what life would be like without the Roman occupation of Britain?
The UTF actions can be carefully ordered into an engaging assessment methodology that gradually increases with cognitive complexity. In other words, we are not asking the child to simply do 'more stuff', we are asking them to think about the concept in different ways thus developing a greater depth of knowledge. We have seen many schools create assessment procedures that put the student's cognitive abilities at stage centre. These can be facilitated 'on the fly' and challenge learners to adopt new perspectives on familiar knowledge. In time, our members have also used attitudinal challenges. This is the idea of entertaining a thought before accepting it.
Oracy for Stretch and Challenge
Challenge activities don't have to always involve writing. Asking students to elaborate in different ways about the curriculum content can be equally as impactful. Having to have superior writing skills might act as a barrier for embracing a stretch and challenge for all policy. We know that talk can extend thinking and that's why, in recent years, Oracy has begun to get the attention it deserves.
Why not challenge students to:
- Explain their knowledge to another person.
- Take on a different perspective that they are not necessarily comfortable with.
- Prepare a speech to convince the rest of the class to take a particular action.
Neil Mercer's work has shown us that oral reasoning skills affect cognitive skills. Students can demonstrate an array of abilities through the spoken word without being anxious about the quality of handwriting or grammatical structure. Using the Universal Thinking Framework's question and answer stems enable classrooms to set up interactive experiences that develop pupils' passion for learning. Even though using a learning experience such as oracy doesn't always end up with written evidence in a book, progress can be documented with the right assessment approaches. Within our learning skills framework, you will find various scales that outline the type of behaviours associated with these competencies. The teacher can use the framework to document wider knowledge and skills progression.
A complex question can really provoke deep thinking. The bank of Socratic and exploratory questions embedded within the framework enable teachers to turn a basic question into a more complex task that advances the level of thinking. To go one step further, the graphic organisers included in the membership are an engaging tool for adding shape to your pupils thinking. Using these type of accessible resources causes the learner to really think about how all of the parts fit together, a gateway to critical thinking.
All of these resources are available for our members to use across their school. If you would like to talk anything through, please do get in touch for an informal conversation.
Unleashing Stretch and Challenge Strategies
Stretch and challenge strategies are integral in education, particularly when working with previously higher-attaining pupils. Such techniques ensure that every individual learner is engaged, stimulated, and progressing. Unleashing these strategies requires careful planning, innovative approaches, and a keen understanding of each pupil's abilities and aspirations.
Let's explore some practical steps:
- Establish Clear Success Criteria: Ensure that every pupil knows what they are expected to achieve. Clarity in the success criteria helps learners to understand the goal, plan their learning process, and self-assess their progress.
- Use Questioning Effectively: Intelligent questioning can stimulate thinking, challenge ideas, and promote deeper understanding. For instance, instead of asking a simple recall question, you might pose a 'how' or 'why' question to push learners to think more critically.
- Design Differentiated Extension Tasks: A range of tasks with varying difficulty levels ensures that all pupils can find a challenge activity that suits their abilities. Extension tasks should be meaningful, not just more of the same.
- Employ Visual Learning Strategies: Incorporating diagrams, concept maps, or graphic organisers can enhance understanding and present stimulating tasks, particularly for complex topics.
- Encourage Peer Learning: Foster an environment where learners feel comfortable to share, discuss, and challenge ideas with their peers.
A study by the Education Endowment Foundation found that challenging students through individualised instruction can provide an additional two months' progress over a year.
Educational expert Dr. Carol Ann Tomlinson states, “The idea of differentiating instruction to accommodate the different ways that students learn involves a hefty dose of common sense, as well as sturdy support in the theory and research of education."
By providing appropriate stretch and challenge, we're not just catering to higher-attaining pupils. We are also fostering a growth mindset, promoting resilience, and equipping all learners with the skills they need to face challenges beyond the classroom.
What Does Stretch and Challenge look like in SEND Environments?
Stretch and challenge in Special Educational Needs and Disabilities (SEND) environments is a nuanced and multifaceted approach that demands a tailored strategy.
It's about recognizing the unique abilities and potential of each student and creating a learning environment that offers the right level of challenge without overwhelming them.
Here are nine ideas that can guide SENDCOs and teachers in implementing a stretch and challenge agenda in SEND settings:
- Individualized Learning Plans: Design learning experiences that cater to individual needs, focusing on deep learning experiences and closing learning gaps. For example, a student with dyslexia might benefit from personalized reading strategies that challenge them at their level.
- Incorporate Technology: Utilize assistive technology to provide alternative ways for students to engage with content, offering a real challenge that aligns with their abilities.
- Flexible Assessment Methods: Embrace assessment for learning that allows for different ways of demonstrating understanding, such as verbal presentations or visual projects.
- Set Attainable Goals: Focus on the goal of mastery learning, setting achievable yet challenging targets that inspire students to strive for more.
- Foster a Growth Mindset: Encourage an attitude that views attitudinal challenges as opportunities for growth rather than barriers.
- Collaborative Learning: Facilitate group activities that promote peer support and cooperative problem-solving, enhancing learning outcomes.
- Creative Homework Assignments: Design homework challenges that are engaging and relevant to the students' interests and abilities.
- Professional Development: Invest in training for staff to equip them with the skills to effectively implement stretch and challenge strategies in SEND environments.
- Parental Involvement: Engage parents in the learning process, ensuring that the stretch and challenge philosophy extends beyond the classroom.
According to Dr. David Mitchell, an expert in inclusive education, "The key to successful inclusion is not merely mainstreaming, but optimizing the success of all students through the use of evidence-based strategies." This quote emphasizes the importance of a tailored approach in SEND environments.
A study published in the Journal of Special Education revealed that personalized learning strategies led to a 15% improvement in academic performance among SEND students.
In conclusion, implementing stretch and challenge in SEND environments is about creating a dynamic, inclusive, and ambitious learning culture. It's about recognizing the potential in every student and providing them with the opportunities and support to reach it. Further insights can be found in the European Journal of Special Needs Education, which explores various methodologies and practices in SEND education.