Is it just the children working at greater depth who are being challenged, or are you challenging everyone? In trying to show that you are providing something extra for your children working at greater depth are you accidentally neglecting to challenge all the other children? How can you tell the difference between the two?
Does everyone actually need to be challenged?
Let's first of all establish that we do want to challenge everyone. Yes, we might want to ensure that there are some aspects of the lesson that ensure pupils experience success so that they are motivated to make the effort to learn more, but during other parts of any learning opportunity we want to challenge all pupils. When we are being challenged, we are in what Vygotsky called the Zone of Proximal Development - the goldilocks zone where it's not too easy and it's not too hard but it's just the right amount of challenge to make our brains work hard.
Being challenged is pretty much how we learn. So yes, we want to ensure everyone is challenged.
Does everyone need to be challenged in the same way?
In a word, no.
This will all depend on what a child can already do, and already knows. If one child already knows how to shade using a range of pencil hardnesses, perhaps because their parents are artists, or they learned it from a youtube video, they won't be as challenged when asked to shade a cube to show where the light is shining on it as a child who has never laid their eyes on a box of artists' pencils in their life.
Depending on assessment of prior learning, you will need to challenge pupils in different ways. Remember, this isn't all about just giving an additional task, or a more difficult task, in fact it's not only about tasks at all (read my last blog post on greater depth to explore this further). Children will need challenges which are appropriately pitched to their current needs.
Providing challenge to your pupils working at greater depth is a sub-set of your provision of challenge for all. So, if you truly are providing challenge for all - and this should be a staple of your practice - you will also be providing challenge for children working at greater depth.
How can I ensure everyone is being challenged?
There are simple checks you can do as you design learning opportunities for the children you teach:
To be clear as to how everyone is being challenged complete the following sentence:
This is challenging for x because...
To be clear as to how the challenge for children working at GD is extra-challenging then complete this sentence:
This represents additional challenge because...
Children working at greater depth will need additional challenge, over and above the various levels of challenge you are providing for all children.
Focusing in on task-setting, here are some scenarios which illustrate how you might be challenging pupils working at greater depth whilst also providing challenge for all:
1. All pupils are given a challenging task, but pupils working at greater depth:
Complete it independently, and/or;
Are expected to work through it more quickly before moving to a further task, and/or;
Are subject to higher expectations with regards to the outcome
In a sequence of learning, that might look like this:
*there are plenty of other ways that a core task can be adapted so that it challenges children working at greater depth, these are just 3 examples.
2. Pupils are given a challenging task, but pupils working at GD are given a separate task which:
Requires something extra of them e.g. More independent reading
Represents a greater breadth or depth of understanding
Moves their thinking on
Requires them to use and apply in a more complex way
In a sequence of learning, that might look like this, with children working at greater depth carrying out a completely different set of differentiated tasks:
3. Pupils working at GD are challenged sooner than others, but other pupils will more slowly work towards the point of challenge
In a sequence of learning such as is depicted below, there practice tasks become progressively more challenging and therefore, as all children progress through the sequence, they are challenged:
However, despite these three potential scenarios - three potential ways to ensure that all pupils are challenged as well as children working at greater depth - the reality is probably that teachers can employ a mixture of these approaches. This could end up looking something like this:
In this example, a child working at greater depth begins working on the same task as the majority of the class - perhaps as a start-of-unit assessment to ensure that they have the relevent background knowledge in place (remember, just because a child was working at greater depth in the last unit, doesn't automatically mean they will be in the next). Once finished, and possibly whilst other children are still being challenged by it, they complete an additional task, designed with pupils working at greater depth in mind.
They then move on, perhaps in the same 1-hour lesson period, perhaps in the next, to the next practice task in the sequence but the challenge for them is that they are expected to move through it at a greater speed than the majority of the class. They don't simply skip the task because it is seen as necessary to their understanding of what comes next.
Practice task 3 is again the same task that most children will complete eventually. Our child working at greater depth may reach this task sooner than the others, and in addition, the teacher has stipulated extra expectations of their output.
Practice task 4 is another that is required for all - this one also revolves around application of knowledge and skills so represents a developing challenge across the sequence and our child working at greater depth is also set an additional task which is designed specifically for them to help them work on their accuracy, for example.
The last task in the sequence is one which, whilst challenging, is going to be scaffolded and supported for the majority. The child working a greater depth is going to tackle it independently without help from an adult and without any additional resources to help them.
The options for the journey a child working at greater depth might take through the course of a learning sequence are endless. Here's another example:
So, that might look something like this in a year 4 class working on mixed numbers and improper fractions:
Can I only challenge through the tasks I set?
Although I have focused here on providing challenge through task-setting, do remember that challenge does not come only through the task. Other ways you can challenge pupils working at greater depth are:
Expect more autonomy in AfL e.g. Self-assessment, setting own goals
Develop personal challenge e.g. pace, problem-solving, metacognitive strategies, sustained attention, better memory and retrieval processes, independence
Flexible lesson design
You can read more about this here: https://www.aidansevers.com/post/greater-depth-more-than-harder-tasks
If you'd like to think more about what you provide for children working at greater depth, the following blog posts may also be of interest:
If you would like me to work with you on your greater depth provision, use the contact details on my wesbite, or the link below to get in touch with me: