Every teacher in the land strives to ensure that each child in their care is challenged to reach their full potential; it is the very premise upon which schools exist. To do this, schools must ensure that the education they provide challenges and encourages children at all levels.
Stretch and challenge; this is what one would expect to see in an evaluation of a highly effective lesson, a lesson where each child’s learning is maximised. As positive as these words may seem, what does stretch and challenge mean, and, more importantly, what does it look like in practice for children here at Wandsworth Prep?
Stretch and challenge can mean different things to different people. Take, for example, a History lesson, where children are asked to sift through a variety of sources to find out information; is this challenging? Possibly not, if the focus was solely on selection of materials. If, however, on closer inspection children were asked to think and, furthermore, give reasons, for their selection of information, what they are doing, is, in fact, thinking like Historians and this, is where the challenge lies.
Stretch and challenge is not about doing more, it is about planning learning a little differently for each child. Stretch and challenge involves knowing children really, really well, how they learn, where they are in their learning and where they are going next; something which is naturally facilitated by our small class sizes. We are able to identify what makes each child tick and plan learning according to each individual’s needs.
The growth mindset attitude towards learning that we endeavour to foster in each child is crucial. Successfully implementing stretch and challenge in a classroom requires teachers and children to recognise that learning should be difficult. Our aim is to ensure that our children view challenge as something to be welcomed; a learning opportunity. We want children to see failure as something which can be learnt from.
Children at Wandsworth Prep do not mind making mistakes. When things go wrong they are encouraged to analyse what happened and think about how they might avoid such situations in the future. When teachers make suggestions, or present them with challenges, they are taught to reflect, to enjoy having to change and adapt and take pleasure from the experience of problem-solving. Only by giving children work that makes them struggle, and having the highest expectations of them, will we be able to move them beyond what they know and can do now. Side by side with stretch and challenge in the classroom, our focus this year is to maximise each child’s potential.
Stretch (noun): to be capable of being made longer or wider without tearing or breaking.
Challenge (noun): a task or situation that tests someone's abilities.
Bridget Saul - Headteacher