Simple and Challenging

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

What is this and how does it work?

Over the years various ways of expressing learning objectives in a ‘differentiated’ format have become trendy (such as ‘All’, ‘Most’, ‘Some’). The big problem with approaches like this is that they can send the wrong message and perpetuate low expectations. There is a real risk of further fixing student beliefs about ability and ensuring that they are too risk averse or frightened to try anything that appears ‘hard’ because it would lead to sure failure.

Beyond this and perhaps of more concern it could signal that a teacher is prepared to accept below par work from some.

A single, ambitious and challenging learning objective can carry far more aspiration. The true differentiation is the support, feedback and guidance along the way to reach (and perhaps even go beyond) this point.

For example take the ‘traditional’ differentiated approach to objectives linked to a science lesson on Photosynthesis (using All, Most Some, but this could apply to other approaches):

  • All will describe the factors required for photosynthesis
  • Most will be able to write a word equation for photosynthesis
  • Some will be able to write a balanced formula equation for photosynthesis

What are the risks here? That some students will feel they have done enough if they just achieve the ‘All’. That the “‘Some’ is not for me, I could never do that”. That it probably takes more teacher work forcing the key diet and what matters of a lesson or topic into multiple objectives?

Instead then consider how one single, challenging learning objective sets the tone and aspiration for all and keeps our expectations high for all:

  • Describe and explain the process and chemical nature of photosynthesis

Of course not all students will get to ‘there’ right away, our job as teachers and educators is to consider and work out the approaches and level of classroom intervention and support that is needed to help them.

Associated further reading and references:

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