Brad's Blog

Time for a challenge

Wednesday 31st July 2019

A lack of challenge for learners is a regular theme in Ofsted inspection reports. The following quotations arise from a very recent college inspection report (June 2019) and contributed to a 'requires improvement' grade, "Too many teachers do not routinely challenge the most able learners with stretching targets and activities." In addition the inspectors commented, "Teachers are not skilled enough at ensuring that learners and apprentices think deeply about topics." This is a common issue and reflects lessons focussed on presenting knowledge content rather than the standards of the programme. The easiest correction, as illustrated, is to plan, topic by topic, for two levels of knowledge: core and advanced with the addition of a challenge level above and beyond the immediate requirements of the programme. Learners need to know the distinction between an answer or work that matches the relevant core knowledge ( pass level) requirements and an answer that trips a higher grade (advanced). Within most qualification pathways the difference between core and advanced levels represents the difference between factual and conceptual knowledge or what Hattie references as a Piagetian program. It ranks second in his overall rank order listing of 150 major influences on achievement. It addresses coaching the shift from pass level to advanced level answers and/or skills by modelling and illustrating the differences and pinpointing and correcting students' misconceptions. This two level approach, firmly grounded in the programme standards, is preferable to applying the gradations of a cognitive hierarchy like Bloom's Taxonomy. Coe suggested that, "Learning happens when people have to think hard." Topic by topic consider what would involve the students in thinking hard relevant to the programme standards. Kahnemann distinguished between system one and system two thinking. Imagine walking with a friend and engaging in everyday chat. You will experience no difficulty talking while walking because of the low cognitive challenge. This is system one thinking but what if your companion posed the question, multiply 247X6? It is highly probable that you would need to stop walking in order to focus your whole attention on calculating the answer. This is system two thinking i.e. a question or task that prompts full concentration and deep thinking. Plan questions, individual, paired, group and extensions tasks that involve deep thinking. Above and beyond the lesson introduce a challenge level involving critical or creative thinking to stretch the most able and/or most motivated. The aim is to encourage our learners to look beyond the narrow confines of the curriculum and to promote critical thinking in relation to the major issues and problems confronting relevant industry, business and wider society. Encourage a look to the horizon because the students in our classrooms will be in mid-career when many of us will be long since retired. What might they help to solve, design, improve or invent in future years or even before they leave school or college? All of the above can be easily filtered into our lessons by using the prompts of my Diamond Lesson Plan and the guidance within an Advance Organiser and/or a LMS. Specify a challenge as the 'appetiser' at the start of a lesson, or an end of lesson 'bridge' task or the focus of a Harkness style seminar or individual, paired and group tasks that spill beyond the classroom for completion with creative presentation options.