Challenge Based Personalisation

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The majority of teachers I have observed in countries all over the world regularly sharing an objective with their class at the start of each lesson and then check which students have achieved this objective by the end of the lesson. For example, if you are teaching a lesson about the human eye then by the end of the lesson you may want students to be able to label a diagram and name at least three parts correctly.

Once teachers have developed such practice, it is easier for them to extend this by having two or three objectives. Schools often call this 'differentiation' and encourage teachers to have an easier objective that ALL the class should learn, a slightly harder one that MOST should learn and a challenging one that SOME should learn.

Anything beyond these models is generally referred to as personalisation and, as discussed in earlier posts, it is possible to either add more objectives of different levels to the class, or begin to use the skills of the students more creatively such as with larger projects and peer learning.

Challenge based personalisation is a technique that rapidly builds the skills of students provided that the challenges chosen are achievable and expectations are managed.

The challenge has to be hard enough to convince the students that it would be incredibly impressive if they even achieved half of it. .

As an example, A few years ago I was asked to work with a primary school in which students had not been taught ICT at all, because the teachers did not posses the skills and the leadership had not given the subject any importance! I needed to find a way to rapidly accelerate the skills base of the students and inspire each other into action.

I set the students a challenge which I called 'stupidly hard'. At a presentation to parents I announced that we would be leaving a camera, a tripod and a laptop with a class of ten year old students. They had to work out how to create an animated movie in time for the next parents meeting in three weeks time. I explained to parents that this challenge was so hard it was impossible because the children would have no training and no help at all. I told the parents that the students would do a presentation in three weeks in which they would explain the difficulties they encountered and how they tried to solve problems. They would show their work, but I warned the parents that no group could really achieve an animated movie in that time.

The challenge inspired students because it had no risk attached to it at all. They were completely expected to fail and so anything they achieved would not only be better than expected, but it would prove me wrong and it would mean they had to talk for less time in their presentation.

The only rule was that they shared the equipment well, took care of it and under no circumstances were they allowed to get help from any adult. No parent was allowed to see any of the work before the presentation evening.

Three weeks later the work that was revealed to the parents was truly incredible.

The rules

  1. It must be made really clear to the students and to their audience that the challenge is impossible and they are going to publically fail. This removes all risk beforehand.
  2. It must be safe - the challenge is purely educational and there is no chance of physical or emotional harm.
  3. The challenge must be only just achievable.
  4. Team work must be an essential element so that the challenge cannot be completed without it.
  5. The final presentation of the work must be high status and/or public.
  6. The teams must receive no adult help at all.
  7. Convince yourself they will entirely fail and so plan the presentation around this assumption.
  8. Reserve time in the presentation to allow the students to talk about what skills they felt they picked up during the challenge and how they think these skills may be important ones they will need in later life.

Your challenge

I am now setting you a 'stupidly hard challenge'. Try such an idea out in your school and let us know how it went. We all expect you to fail completely and in reality most of you will, but follow the rules and try it anyway. I dare you!

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