Scale Up

Resources, ideas and prompts for discussion related to Challenge and Engagement

Gauging whether content of lessons is challenging

A rule of thumb is to take into account the expected knowledge, concepts and skills in your subject and attempt to teach classes just beyond that point. At GCSE, we may therefore want to occasionally dip into Y12 content; at AS level, dip into A-level and so on. Often we achieve this through the subject specific knowledge we acquire over time and then impart, for some learners it could be that we promote wider reading matched to their interest. Think about the times you have said to a class “today we are going to work on something that is GCSE standard” when they are in Key Stage 3 – it does seem to instil a sense of pride and motivation to tackle what might lay ahead, and when introduced carefully and with a level of enthusiasm from their teacher it is less likely to feel overwhelming.

Learners find it motivating to be told they are studying something intrinsically difficult – it is important that they are told this. By exposing students to concepts at a level usually considered above (or beyond) subject level expectations, learners are challenged to think. We need to remind ourselves again that we cannot change the individual starting points of our students, but we can set the desired destination, and by planning carefully what the incremental steps may be to get there we can scale up our expectations and challenge over time. That is what we mean by a Long Game discussed later.

It is important to remember that learners will need to be guided towards our challenging targets in simple, manageable stages (to avoid them becoming quickly lost and frustrated). They may not grasp tough concepts initially, but with time and patience they will be more likely to get there.

Improving our subject knowledge

If we hope and intend to stretch and challenge all our learners, we need to be mindful to not neglect our own subject knowledge. Keeping up to date with subject-specific articles, journals, websites and keeping abreast of pedagogy in your subject area (through subject specific CPD and collaboration with others for example) is all conducive to developing subject knowledge. This is actively encouraged and supported at MACS and the more we can draw on each other’s expertise the better; no one in reality has the time to read around the ‘ins-and-outs’ of everything related to a subject area, but if one colleague does read up on a particularly tricky topic and then shares their findings with others, we all become a little richer for it. Another example are those colleagues who take part in examination processes and moderation with exam boards; they can disseminate a wealth of knowledge to their subject teams.

Associated further reading and references:

  • ‘Chapter 1: Challenge’, in Allison, S. and Tharby, A., 2017. Making Every Lesson Count. Carmarthen: Crown House.