Stretching without punishing! Tips for challenging learners in engaging ways

Stretch and challenge is a hot topic for debate at the moment, triggered in part by its prominence within the 2012 Common Inspection Framework. Inspectors will evaluate: “How well teaching and learning methods- including training, coaching and mentoring- inspire and challenge all learners and enable them to extend their knowledge skills and understanding”  (Common Inspection Framework, 2012)

I deliver training sessions for teachers on practical classroom approaches that stretch learners and in many of them the conversation comes round to ways of challenging learners that don’t feel like a punishment for doing well! Many teachers comment that it can be de-motivating for some learners to receive written extension tasks once they have completed the main task for the class. They get the niggling feeling that some learners are slowing up or keeping quiet, to avoid yet more “work.”

So, here are some tips for stretching learners without it seeming like such a punishment for them:

1. Incentivise learners in selected activities by saying that the early finishers who complete work to a good standard can access quizzes and games online. This means that you need to source and prepare links for this purpose. Some teachers I know have a physical box of games that are learning related and use them in this way. More ideas for recycling games here:

The Vocabulary Box: 6 easy activities for revising language

2. Involve early finishers with helping you prepare a quiz for the group, to check learning. Good performers often miss out on the teacher’s attention, as they get bogged down monitoring students requiring support. A little time with the teacher can be a good way to engage strong learners, pitch your questions and comments at a challenging level and touch base with them.

3. One teacher told me that she sometimes says to the group, “If you work well and complete this task, you will have 15 minutes to get ahead with your homework.” For some learners, this goes down well as it saves them time later on at home. She then gives them a reflection question or fun extension activity on a card to take home, which is optional. She has been surprised how often it is completed.

4. Try to give an element of choice in your follow up task, so they can express a preference. Some tasks could involve something practical in the classroom or something creative, e.g. Working with another student to display others’ written work or make a poster summary of the unit. You can include communications skills work in this, e.g. Negotiating, delegating, collaborating etc. I think stretch can be about developing skills- communication, social and analytical- and not just about loading on more content.

5. What about giving the student a little time to flick through notes and come up with any queries for you, to see if they can catch you out? Then sit down and do a quick Q&A slot with them, giving some personalised attention.

6. Beat the teacher is also good for motivating some students. Give them a little time to come up with any questions related to recently covered content and then have a full class Q&A slot with the teacher in the hot seat. Other students can then be involved in additional question formation as well. The challenge here is to find something the teacher can’t answer or gets wrong!

7. One Hair and Beauty teacher said to me recently that she motivates level 2 strong learners by introducing elements of level 3 criteria to them, in terms of practical skills. She has noted that this creates a positive peer pressure dynamic, as the other learners get interested and want to get involved too. She told me the learners like this as they feel they are getting ahead for them, not being held back by the slower pace of others.

8. Have you tried a personalised one-minute feedback task with a follow up chat with the teacher? Ask the learner to note down on a post it note two things they have learnt in the session or topic, one query they have and one thing they need to practise further. Then take the time to chat it through, deepening reflection on how to improve. Strong learners need some personalised feedback and attention too and sometimes they can get neglected as we focus on pulling up struggling students.

It would also be really interesting to hear how you stretch and challenge your stronger learners, while keeping them engaged in the extension tasks.

Additional reading

More related blogs on this topic here:

Planning for stretch and challenge: 12 practical ways to enhance your scheme of work

Managing pace in lessons: some reflections and suggestions

This entry was posted in Common Inspection Framework, CPD for Teachers, Differentiation, FE, High grades for learners, Stretch and challenge, Teaching and learning, Uncategorized and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to Stretching without punishing! Tips for challenging learners in engaging ways

  1. Evelyn Aldous says:

    Love the vocabulary box.

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