When ‘Stretch’ becomes too ‘Challenging’

As part of my role within the GROW Team (a team of teachers who support staff with their professional development) we facilitate in-house themed CPD sessions. My session focused upon developing differentiated strategies to promote stretch and challenge. My aim was to discuss a variety of strategies that could be used with different students/ subjects, which meant that stretching all students in a lesson was less challenging on the teacher.

I started the session with a mix and match worksheet where staff had to link the key words to the online definitions:


This opened up a lot of initial discussions over the terms and their meanings. What I found surprising when researching for this session, was that most of the definitions on a general Google search for Stretch and Challenge, focused upon the students stretching and challenging themselves not the teacher. This flipped how I saw stretch and challenge in my mind: it is not the teacher driving it but the students recognising what they want to achieve, taking ownership over their success by stretching themselves.

I then moved on to a short ppt which highlighted three main problems with differentiated tasks for stretch and challenge with possible solutions:

After discussing each one, what we would like to try/ have already tried etc. we finished  with a plan of action sheet – basically a check list of what are you going to do:


For me, I have been developing No 2. since the new spec arrived. Our college has two hour teaching periods so in order to manage the weight of the spec content but also maximising the two hour lessons, I give students extended time to work during lessons (giving them a range of activities on the board to work through – No 4). What is most important about No 2 is you must let them work. Don’t walk around the classroom or ask questions, this disrupts their independent learning. This approach has transformed how my students work, they no longer depend on me as a crutch to their learning but instead find the solutions to their problems. This is a critical skill to develop for university.

My area of development is definitely group work – I am not a fan. I find it takes time to orchestrate students into groupings, then keep students focused and then the activity always seems to take ages! I have found over the years that when I think about the purpose or aim of the activity (what I want the outcome to be) it could have been achieved a lot quicker using other methods.

So here is a summary of the top ideas taken from the session:

  • Bounce questioning (move a question around different students before settling upon an answer. Even if the first answer is right, ask another student ‘do you agree-why?’)
  • Find ways to praise beyond the classroom to boost motivation e.g. a text or postcard home
  • Use classroom walls to promote structure of essays, answers or formulas
  • Students as teachers
  • Develop independence through allowing students to work for extended periods of time without teacher interjection
  • Groupings to promote stretch and challenge (similar ability, or mixed ability with differing strengths etc.)
  • Change seating plan every ½ term so students work with different students
  • Establishing a ‘plan for progress’ – develop a timetable to help students plan their work/ revision/ targets to move forward.

All sheets can be downloaded for free from TES – just click here 🙂

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