My learners are in a field/salon/workshop/kitchen… can I stretch and challenge them when outside a traditional classroom setting?

Recently I have delivered a series of training sessions for teachers related to practical approaches to stretch and challenge. Several teachers from Sparsholt College, who deliver learning in a non-classroom setting, have told me that many approaches to stretch and challenge don’t work outside the classroom as they tend to rely on PP, technology and the use of handouts. My feeling is that in such settings, the planning of group dynamics, the use of questioning and the consideration of follow-on tasks are all key elements of appropriate stretch and challenge. Thanks to those teachers at Sparsholt College for prompting this blog.


So here are a few ideas for stretching and challenging learners in a salon/ workshop/kitchen/outdoor setting:


A.  Group dynamics and questioning

The way you set up pair and group work can affect the amount of stretch provided. Group work tasks can include the use of roles that develop learners’ communication skills, e.g. Group leader, time keeper and turn taking monitor,  or peer reviewer. You can choose to allocate roles to stretch learners out of their comfort zone, so that they start to develop additional skills. The peer reviewer needs a clear and specific focus for the review: Are they observing quietly then giving feedback at the end of the process or task? Are they acting as a prompt to help keep the group on track with task and criteria for assessment? Both activities can help build reflection, evaluation and communication skills and can challenge learners effectively.

In many vocational settings I have seen context-specific roles used to great effect, e.g. in a Hair and Beauty course, learners taking the roles of salon manager, client, manicurist, and industry assessor. Each role had specific competencies on a checklist, allowing for self and peer assessment throughout the extended practical session. Clipboards were used for ease of note taking, in this case.

Groups can be formed to allow stronger learners to work together and challenge each other through extension tasks provided verbally or on prompt cards that can fit in your pocket (laminated or just kept in one of those zip close freezer bags from a leading supermarket, if messy hands are an issue!).

If you group by ability, your monitoring approach and use of questioning can help stretch all learners from their current point of development; planning the groupings and adding a few well-formed stretch questions to your plan can help ensure they land effectively with individuals. I saw a class recently in which the teacher had noted her stretch questions on her phone, as she found that approach more practical than having her paper plan in the fields with her.

When monitoring group tasks, bounce questioning can help you engage different learners and challenge them appropriately. You can ask a student to explain something they are doing, then ask a follow up question to another member of the group or pose a question and get that student to nominate a peer to answer. This can create an unpredictable pattern of questioning and raise participation levels, which helps you check learning too.

B. Follow on tasks v deepening learning

When students are completing practical tasks, they can take different amounts of time and you can end up with early finishers who can benefit from a well-developed extension task. One hairdressing teacher told me that she gives the early finishers a preview of the next practical skill they will be developing or a taster of something from the next level up. She said that this is perceived as an incentive for the group, who want to learn more and it creates some positive peer pressure to stay on track with tasks. She said that it came out of feeling that many extension activities feel more like a punishment than an incentive and she wanted to change that approach.

When learners finish early, I have seen people encourage them to reflect on what they have learnt and which skills they have developed (these could be practical skills, key subject terminology and also English and Maths skills) and tell the teacher their thoughts. They can also be incorporated into other groups to support the self and peer assessment process. In several colleges, I have seen people using a standard reflection process: WWW and EBI. Learners get used to self-assessing and peer reviewing What Went Well and what would have improved the performance using Even Better If…. as a prompt for reflection and identification of action points. Learners who finish early can lead that peer review for another group, with the explicit challenge of asking their peers to explain points, give examples and justify their view. In this way, learners can start to develop facilitation skills for working in groups, which link well with future study or work contexts. Thanks to the Hair and Beauty team at Epping Forest College for showing me this technique.

C. Use of technology to enhance individual learning

I am seeing some inventive and creative use of mobile phones in non-classroom settings when I observe teaching and complete learning walks as part of my consultancy work in FE. Students may not have access to notebooks and folders in these settings, but most of them seem to have a clever phone in their pockets.

This can be used for:

1. Capturing still or video photo evidence of steps in a practical skill demonstration by peers or teacher. This creates an immediate chance to refine ideas of how to achieve good performance within that skill/ task and the correct sequence of steps. Learners can use this for self-assessment or peer review, using the WWW and EBI model of evaluation.

2. Capturing evidence for e-portfolios. One teacher recently told me that he noted learners used their phone to capture distance travelled in their practical skills acquisition. The questions below encouraged many learners to review their evidence, try again and stretch themselves to improve performance, before their final portfolio submission:

Are you happy for that photo/ video to represent you in your portfolio?

Would you be proud to show a potential employer this photo or video clip?

Do you think this clip/photo would get you an interview or a job?

Thanks to North West Kent College teachers for conversations about this approach, to which other sector colleagues have responded with great interest.

D. Adapting the environment

Thanks to Epping Forest College Construction team for showing me this great idea. In the workshop, the Construction students each have a fixed flip chart attached to the wall above their individual work areas. On the chart, they can see tutor assessment of skills, peer feedback and targets to work on. It is an ongoing record of progress and goals, and allows each student to be focused on what they need to do next to stretch themselves. It means all tutors, classroom support and peers are in the loop about what each student is working on. It showed me that you don’t have to accept a non-classroom environment as a constraint for reflection on learning; you can be creative and modify the space.

In a Hair and Beauty session at the college, I saw a great lesson in the salon, in which the teacher had brought in a mobile whiteboard and could wheel it around at will. It displayed aims and objectives including stretch targets, criteria for the practical assessment, key words for embedding terminology in the lesson and quick tips for performing well in the task. It totally did the job without use of the Power Point slides that some teachers rely on and allowed learners to focus on the task and assessment in ways that permitted individual stretch and challenge.

If you have any further ideas about how to stretch learners in non-classroom settings, I would love to hear from you and my email address is:



This entry was posted in Advanced Practitioners, Coaching, CPD for Teachers, Differentiation, FE, ILT/ICT, Questioning strategies, Stretch and challenge, Teaching and learning and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to My learners are in a field/salon/workshop/kitchen… can I stretch and challenge them when outside a traditional classroom setting?

  1. Evelyn Aldous says:

    I have come across student self-evaluations before. So, thank you for the reminder. It is an excellent way to end a lesson for students to idenify their strengths and weaknesses and to challenge themselves.

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