Strategy Two: Scaffolding Stretch

(image credit: www.missbsresources.com)

This post’s ideas come from one of our Maths teachers. Stretch and Challenge is a buzz word in schools that can often become tokenistic if we are not careful: an extension that asks students complete more questions of the same calibre, an additional task for the student we know will finish the quickest. One of the difficulties of Stretch and Challenge is motivating students to complete not only the expected work but also something harder. After all, they’ve done exactly what they were supposed to do, why should they do more?

If you look in the dictionary, stretch is defined as:

“Be capable of being made longer or wider without tearing or breaking.”

Underneath this, in the Meopham Stretch and Challenge book, the Maths teacher has written that as teachers, we do need to challenge our students to think outside of the box and push themselves out of their comfort zone. However, we need to be careful that the challenge isn’t so large that the task is impossible and we break their spirit and confidence with the subject. Striking the balance between ‘stretching’ and ‘breaking’ is a difficulty that every teacher faces at one point. However, here is just one example of how it has been achieved in a Meopham classroom using this carefully scaffolded work sheet.

S&C

Originally from www.missbsresources.com , this resource not only takes students through the different stages to understanding links between decimals, percentages and fractions, but the Stretch activities ask students to use that information in new ways and perform conversions using this information. The best part of this Stretch is that the two different tasks are pushing students to make links and use their initiative rather than merely regurgitating the prior activities.

These Challenge tasks are not intended for everyone in that classroom though. At Meopham, students choose differentiated tasks and outcomes within a lesson using their RAG (Red, Amber, Green) cards. Meopham School uses differentiation by outcome in every lesson. Students are used to using their RAG cards to communicate their learning pathways and their aspirations for the lesson. This is practice in many schools, no doubt, but what is important at our school is closely marrying the tasks of the lesson to these differentiated outcomes. For some students, stretching and challenging themselves means simply completing the lesson. For others, they are pushing their confidence by answering in the classroom or by attempting a task independently instead of with support.

David Didau’s posts on challenging work for students refers to asking students to make choices within their learning. This is exactly the method that Meopham School employs every day. On our previous post, The Lead Lesson, the differentiated outcomes and pathways are visible on each slide. By building in a narrative of resilience in to the school, students are encouraged from their very first day to choose the path that will challenge them.

This is only one example of Stretch and Challenge at Meopham School. It is not flashy or time consuming, but is simply tailoring something that every teacher does already to make it more effective. Even the renaming of ‘extension’ to ‘challenge’ motivates the student. After all, who doesn’t want praise from the teacher for pushing themselves?

The sheet shown here, and available on its original website, scaffolds students via boxes which are far less intimidating than a list of tasks. Students can choose a box to complete first and complete the sheet out of order if this helps them. If you remove the numbering altogether, then the students become even more active in choosing the order of their activities and may choose the harder tasks without even realising it.

How does this apply to other subjects? Any scaffolded task can be formatted in boxes. A quote to be analyse in English can have boxes around the edge with prompt questions – using Blooms Taxonomy if that is your school’s preference. A History source can do the same. A Science lesson on equations can build up to the more difficult tasks in a similar format, beginning with information retrieval and ending with simplifying equations if necessary.

Making your classroom Challenge friendly begins with the teacher though. If a student is not confident enough to try, is so worried about failing and ‘breaking’ that they will not push themselves, then that dialogue begins with the teacher. To end, consider these few Meopham tips:

  • Remind students, particularly younger ones, that mistakes are learning experiences and something to be welcomed in the classroom.
  • Give them a task that is challenging but not intimidating to look at. The little boxes is a handy presentation tool here.
  • Finally, making sure those Challenge tasks are a way of rethinking the topic, rather than simply regurgitating, will make our learners more confident and able to tackle new problems.