Why challenge your students more (and six ways to start)
Coasting along is wonderful while on vacation; in a great car, with an awesome soundtrack and friends to accompany you. But it’s not so great in the classroom – not for you, nor for your students. In fact, the opposite is true: the call of a challenge can incite, enliven, and add to the act of learning and teaching. Now, we’re not calling for teachers to complicate classes well beyond their students’ level or ask for the impossible. Just up the ante a little. How? These six ideas are good places to start.
1. Practice “Demand High” teaching
Have you ever steered students towards the correct answers or found yourself just covering material? Enter Demand High techniques. Demand High teaching practices are used by educators to “swim around” the right answers, shift the focus of an exercise slightly, explore how students arrive at an answer, and invite as many of the students as possible into the exploration. For example, its creators suggest that when a student gives the correct answer to a question, the teacher may ask “Could you try saying that faster so it sounds more fluent?” or asking the class to comment on the answer, rather than simply confirming it was right. There are a wealth of strategies to read about on the creators’ website as well as answers to common queries teachers may have.
2. Use student goal-setting
Show your students how to set and monitor their own goals and progress. This encourages autonomous learning, responsibility, and asks students to ask and confront the questions “What am I struggling with now?” and “How can I improve my learning?” You can revisit their goals with them at the semester’s end, or incorporate a weekly personal or small group check in during class.
3. Foster student self-evaluation
Continuing along the same road, self-evaluations also maximize student autonomy and responsibility. There are a number of ways students can assess their progress. You may employ essays, diary entries, voice memos, short videos, blog posts, recorded conversations, or short-form written response. To direct their personal inquiries, pose set questions to your students (such as “If you were starting the semester again, what would you change?” “What are your current challenges?” “What are your current strengths?”) to be explored through the chosen medium. The information gleaned from their self-assessments will help you find new ways to challenge your students in the future.
4. Incorporate public speaking
The ability to speak in public and clearly articulate ideas is perhaps one of the original challenges we face at school, college, and work. Like any other challenge, practice and hard work reap rewards – and a little competition doesn’t hurt at all! Polish and ignite your students’ public speaking skills by entering speakers in the EF Challenge; an international speech competition for high schoolers. This year’s topic is “What does sustainable development mean to you?” (Did we mention there are prizes for both teachers and students?)
5. Encourage a growth mindset
Our mindsets are theories or beliefs that we tell ourselves about our abilities, such as “I’m smart,” or “I’m not good at math.” According to psychologist Carol Dweck, a fixed mindset dictates that our successes and failures are based on talent alone, whereas a growth mindset is the belief that we can learn more and improve through hard work and persistence. Interested teachers will find this is a wide area of research with plenty to read – though some simple starting points for educators wanting to encourage growth mindsets are to praise effort over results or intelligence, to develop a classroom culture of high expectations, and to provide concrete, quality feedback.
6. Experiment with technology
Younger learners are especially comfortable with using and accessing technology. Challenge their natural skills by incorporating classroom projects such as podcasts, website creation, and documentary making. The good news? Though these activities require significant set-up, they repay teachers afterwards with their limitless scope. Take podcasts, for example. Using this form, students can: interview classmates and other subjects, discuss world issues, extrapolate upon classroom topics such as science, travel, or history, give movie and book reviews, discuss grammar points, research and present new vocabulary, document a field trip, round up the topics covered that week in class, and so much more.
With the right support, students who are expected to achieve more very often can. Increasing the challenges your students face – whether they be incremental classroom changes or semester-long projects – are an important part of helping students realize their potential at school.