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A challenge

This is my new adventure in blogging... it may work out... it may not.  Let's wait and see.

An idea on my mind lately is challenge. Actually mostly what's been on my mind is the opposite of challenge... the lack of challenge, the dross of  'at-level', and how scared we teachers seem to be of giving our students things that genuinely challenge them.

Take reading for example... why not give kids something to read that they can actually get their teeth into, why stick to the golden rule of 90-95% accuracy? Why not let kids struggle, just a bit, just for a while - would it hurt?  Why are we so scared of  giving kids hard stuff to read? What is the benefit of so-called lateral extension (in less PC terms, making kids read 'the whole level', or in even less PC terms, just not letting them go 'up')? Why just let them go for it? Imagine what that must feel like for a keen, capable reader... knowing there's a whole world of interesting books out there that you are not allowed to touch just in case you find them a bit tricky. How else can kids learn resilience, persistance, risk-taking, trying hard, toughing things out, puzzling things out... etc?  Or discover new authors, new ideas, new worlds etc.

In my gifted classes I see two distinct groups of children - those who have been challenged, risen to the challenge, and have learnt how to embrace / tackle challenges with some skill and most importantly some gusto. Then there are those who haven't (for whatever reason) been challenged - these children generally shrink away from challenge, they are scared, unsure, uncertain, uncomfortable and they don't know how to manage those feelings. They variously dumb-down (so as not to implicitly ask for challenge), act-out (to resist challenge), shut-down (again to resist challenge), and in any way possible, don't rise to the occasion.

It annoys me profoundly, but on a personal level, I can sympathize. I can count of the fingers of one hand times when I felt challenged at school. Sometimes the challenge was simply the interest / novelty value in learning something new, but mostly it was only because the material was frightening(war, volcanoes, the holocaust, earthquakes etc) or the classroom was frightening (noisy, busy) or the kids in the classroom (too many of them) or even the teacher was scary, but actual intellectual challenge was absent.

So I remember in crystal clear detail how I felt (and what I did) when I faced what I think were my first ever intellectual challenges - in my first year at unversity. Newly turned 16, I was introduced to a more grown up world, with big words, big ideas, big opportunities and what was most exciting, a big library - all of it full of HARD STUFF!!!! I was terrified, felt sick, loved it, was obsessively excited and scared in turns, and loved all of it. What a shame I had to wait until university to experience challenge. In my second year I didn't manage the challenge that well, but managed to recover my composure soon after.

I always wonder about what my school life would have been like if I had experienced genuine challenge (not just feeling a bit interested a few times, or feeling scared quite a lot of times). Perhaps I might have learned to like school....? What a novelty THAT would have been!

So, my challenge is... be brave and add some challenge to your teaching life. You might just hit the spot with someone whose spot needs to be hit :)


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