Confusing 'Challenge' With 'Not Getting It'

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11+ exam By: Please log in to see tutor details
Subject: 11+ exam
Last updated: 22/07/2017
Tags: being successful, challenge, differentiation, fun

A learning assistant in one of my lessons with a ‘nurture group’ (a class made up mostly of students with special educational needs) once told me that the students displayed far more independence in my lessons than they did elsewhere in the school. I was pleased to hear this, as independence and resilience was something I had been working on since making a discovery early on in my teaching career.

I'd discovered that large classes and pressure to ensure students made rapid and sustained progress was tempting teachers into spoon-feeding instead of challenging pupils. By spoon-feeding, teachers can convince themselves that the pupils have made progress as the student can just repeat back what the teacher had just told them at the end of the lesson. A week later all would be forgotten.

A result of this spoon-feeding was that students would back away from challenge, they'd put their hand up at the first sign of difficulty and the teacher would willingly help out immediately. The students were confusing being challenged with ‘not getting it’ and becoming too dependent on the teacher to complete work.

A well-planned lesson will include tasks that will stretch everyone from the least, to the most able. A good example of this is a stepped activity. This is an activity that starts easy and gets progressively harder and more challenging. I found that spoon-feeding meant the task started at a level that was far too easy and therefore nobody in the class was getting to the most challenging work. I needed to do something about this in my lessons.

I decided to up the difficulty (still relatively easy but with a bit of challenge) of the beginning of the task and institute a rule that students couldn’t ask for help in the first few minutes. At first, there was a bit of staring blankly at a task sheet, perhaps some looking round for distractions, while others relished the challenge. They got used to it relatively quickly. Those still waiting for immediate help or looking for distractions realised that it was on their shoulders. They were going to have to think for themselves and when they did, they got that rush you get when you succeed at a challenge. They liked the rush and wanted more challenge.

Lessons got a lot more fun for both the students and me as a teacher. Instead of having to spend my time helping people get the bare minimum done I was able to spend my time stretching and deepening their understanding as well as helping those that were genuinely struggling.

By employing this and other strategies that I'd developed over time, I’d created a classroom environment and culture that embraced challenge and the feeling of success that comes with it.

Mr Bryant 11+ exam Tutor (Birmingham)

About The Author

As an experienced teacher, I've had many students pass through my classroom. Over that time, I've developed techniques that promote the independence, resilience and academic stamina required to be successful at the 11+ exam and grammar school.

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