This is an approach to differentiated tasks or success criteria that was mentioned at a tutorial I attended, and which I then used in my class.
The general concept is that you create either tasks or success criteria that get progressively more difficult, and your pupils get to choose what level of difficulty they want to start at/aim for. The theory is that pupils will actually challenge themselves more than the teacher often will, and so letting them choose the challenge level they want to work at will be more likely to put them in that zone where they will be making progress.
I was teaching a maths lesson to Year 1 pupils looking at number ‘fact families’. For example: with the numbers 4, 3, and 7 you can make the following calculations:
After a whole-class input where the children worked in pairs to identify that these facts are related, I set them off on an individually completed task. I had 4 colour-coded envelopes, each with small pieces of paper with only ONE problem on each piece of paper inside. A mild level example looked like this:
A warm level example looked like this:
A spicy challenge looked like this:
Finally the hot hot hot challenge looked like this:
Rather than having all the children ploughing away doing the same problems again and again, I had them start on either mild or warm and complete one problem. Once completed, they would check their partner’s answer. If they thought the calculations looked right, they could then show me. I checked their work and if the answer was actually correct then they were allowed to move up the ladder to the next challenge level. If for any reason the answer wasn’t correct then I would give some immediate feedback and then have the pupils try another problem at the same challenge level.
Writing two calculations the same, like 15-8=7 and then again 15-8=7. Also with subtraction problems not putting the largest number first so I’d get a subtraction like 7-15=8. Lastly I had a couple of pupils who used any numbers to finish the calculations so you’d get: 15 8 7 8+7=15 14+1=15 15-10=5 15-2=13 All of these problems were spotted immediately either when pupils checked each others’ work or when they showed their work to me. After a quick bit of corrective feedback they’d do another problem to check they had corrected their error. I found this system worked really well, in particular because it removed any ceiling on what was expected of the pupils. I was surprised to find several pupils that really excelled at this task were children I wouldn’t thought would have done so well; given the chance though they really took off! In general the children were very excited about moving up the levels, so much so that I had perhaps five pupils who completed all the challenge levels! I set them a ‘volcano’ challenge where they received a quickly-written out version of this:
The pupils had to generate their own numbers to complete the fact family. I also used a few of the children who finished the challenges to coach other learners, which again worked surprisingly well (although with young ones you do have to teach them that simply telling someone the answers isn’t helping).
TIP: Ensure you have some kind of partner checking system going on (or utilise a TA if you have one), otherwise you will run the risk of being swamped by your class all trying to have you check their work constantly. That was the main challenge for me with this activity, and once or twice I ended up with a short queue of two or three pupils waiting to have me check their work and give them feedback. To be honest though I think giving them immediate feedback there and then after each example probably justified a minute of waiting here or there. I did consider having the answers somewhere for the children to check their work against, but I wasn’t sure if they might decide to cheat and copy answers (they’re only young) so that they could move up to the next challenge level.
My view of the self-selected challenge approach: I’ve been using the challenge approach with pupils selecting their level of challenge, and I must say it is brilliant. Children are voluntarily pushing themselves, and I love how this sends the message that learning is something learners should be choosing to do rather than being ‘tricked’ into it. The sweetest sound to my ears is when one of my pupils says ‘I’m challenging myself!’. Love it!