Challenges Ahead

challenges aheadOn Friday we had an INSET day at DHS.  I spoke about the importance of modelling, Andy Tharby then shared how he is working smarter with regards to marking and finally Lucy Darling talked us through some of the great literacy developments that are happening across the school.

On top of this, staff were asked to write down and share one successful strategy they have used to develop ‘challenge’ in their teaching – one of our ‘Big4’.  Challenge in terms of:

  • Stretching student understanding of a topic
  • Making students want to learn deeper
  • Developing their belief that they can achieve beyond their expectations
  • Building the resilience of students to overcome challenges

I have summarised the strategies they shared below:

beyond your best

When a student says they don’t know the answer in front of the class, instead of asking someone else I draw out the answer from them by changing/simplifying the question, until they can answer the original question.  I have found that fewer students say ‘I don’t understand’ because of this and they have a go as they know I will try and draw out the answer from them.  Julie House, maths teacher.

Not answering questions for students – but asking them more questions to get to the answer.  Makes them think and develops independence. Matthieu Cauchy-Duval, MFL teacher.

Don’t use ‘All, most, some’ learning objectives – as this gives students a way out!  Set concise but challenging learning objectives and support/ expect all students to get there.

Show students what excellent work looks like and immerse them in it – A great example of this is Steve Bloomer’s textiles classroom:


Use critique and peer feedback to encourage students to make their work better and better – find your own Austin’s Butterfly:

Question chains – Deepen student thinking by responding to their response to questions with a what, why or how question.

Ban students from saying their ‘work is finished’ – there’s always improvement to be made. Andy Tharby, English teacher

Plan differentiated questions – easy, medium and hard. Refer to the learinng journey poster a great deal.  Have a positive attitude and develop a ‘can do’ mindset, by not giving up on a student who thinks they cannot do the work. Contextualise the knowledge “Why are we studying this……where is it going?”

question grid

Use John Sayers’ questioning grid (above) to develop deep thinking. Simona Trignano, Science Deputy Leader

It starts with lots of motivational input e.g. “You guys are amazing and I’m really looking forward to your great ideas” and lots similar. Stressing to students that mistakes are part of learning and that we learn from them.  I truly believe that improving students’ self belief is a fundamental tool to achieving beyond their expectations. Jane Squire, Beliefs teacher

Level descriptors with examples of the work underneath.  At the start of the lesson students are given a post-it note with their name on it and stick it on the example they think they are currently working at.  During the lesson, learning reviews are done and students move their post-it note to where they are now working at.  This is repeated at least twice and once at the end.  They are challenged to exceed their target level by the end of the lesson.  This has made progress visible to students and teachers during the lesson.  Pat Sculley, PE teacher.

challenge charlie brown

Students used as peer coaches during the lessons to ask each other challenging questions about the topic (I act as the referee!).  Modelling – especially important in Product Design – where I will demo an activity/ drawing alongside a student.  Short chunks of re-explanation and questioning throughout the lesson to ensure the learning is embedded. Ros Loftin, Teaching Assistant.

Contextualise the learning by building on what they already know, relating it to their lives and uses as well as the skills and expertise of famous people. Barbara Chapman, Teaching Assistant.

Having an ‘extender task’ for any student to try and challenge themselves – but target certain students to try it:


Include open questioning when re-interpreting instructions to check understanding and foster independence.  If a student is struggling, provide a choice of possible answers they can select from – then unpick why it was right.  Claudia Beard, Teaching Assistant.

Use differentiated questions on the board and give students ownership about which question they choose.  This has meant that some lower ability students have chosen to complete the more challenging task with success. Hannah Townsend, Geography teacher.

Towards the end of the lesson, I will reiterate a key point from the lesson and ask the student I am supporting to come up with a hard question for that topic.  This will prove to me that – they have achieved the learning objective; they have taken in and fully understood and haven’t just learned the topic ‘parrot fashion’; they remain fully engaged during the lesson. Debbie Wilson, Teaching Assistant.

charlie brown give upWhen students are working on a number/ word problem and the process has been modelled to them, they can then select a problem to work on from ‘a pile’.  This is a non-threatening method. They’re not being asked to complete a whole work sheet and they have control over the work they complete.  If they can’t understand a question, putting it back in the pile and coming back to it later, feels much better than “leave that one and go on to the next”. Gillian Almond, Early Interventions Teacher.

Using the assessment criteria to identify where they are in their learning and then setting themselves ‘personal learning objectives’ to move on their learning.

When a student says they can’t do something, respond with “Yet!”:

Appoint a student as a ‘Challenge Leader’ during the lesson.  Their job is to come up with and then ask the class, the hardest possible question they can think of – about the learning that lesson.

Praise the effort and the struggle with the learning – not getting the right answer.

Do copies of the best example of a piece of work from within the class – distribute to all students and discuss what makes it so good.  Advantages are creating a culture of aspiration and demonstrates that excellent work can be produced in ‘our class’.

Students start on a task that they think suits their ability and progress at their own rate.  The first two students who reach the final task and the extender task then stops the class and teaches/ shows the rest of the class what they should be aiming to achieve.  They can then act as coaches to other students. Kelly McCullock, PE teacher

More able students to lead learning check points during the lesson, relating back to the assessment criteria and modelling by demonstrating.  More able students to pose questions that can’t be answered by a ‘yes/no’.  Lizzie Wolstenholme, PE teacher


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