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Hodder History Expert Blog

Help in challenging times (or How Carol’s Challenge Wall helped me with differentiation)
By Tony Fox
07 Nov
When asked to blog again for Hodder, I intended to write positively. I am conscious that my first four blogs have not matched my intention. With that in mind I would like to devote this blog to thanking my online colleague Steph for doing a term’s worth of work for me. This is how she helped me.
The CPD at my current school is truly positive. I was asked what I would like to develop this year, the Head of Faculty and I sat down, discussed options, and I felt I was given an achievable task. The faculty focus was on differentiation. I felt that I was successfully helping the lower ability and those struggling, but did not have the time or resources to stretch the higher ability. I had also been worried about how I present extension work. I felt that I was simply asking students to do more work, which gave them no incentive to finish classwork tasks early. I needed to develop some better practice.
I had been working on an initial idea - the Extension Box. I would have a box in the classroom, which would contain short extension tasks, which students could select and be rewarded for completing them. Luckily I had the summer break to develop this idea. I posted it on the History Teachers’ Discussion Forum under the title Extension Box knowing that the people on this excellent site would help me develop it.
(In passing let me praise this forum. I have been a member of the discussion forum since 2006 and it has been a constant source of inspiration and support. I encourage every History teacher I come across to use it. It is a virtual staffroom, and like all staffrooms it is only as good as how you use it. Andrew Field (@andyfield) should be commended for his effort, and commitment in creating and maintaining the forum.)
In August, during the holiday break, Steph posted an idea on the discussion forum ‘The Challenge Wall’ which she attributes to Carol Stobbs, who I follow on Twitter (@littlestobbsy).  
(Once again, in passing, let me praise Twitter – this is also a superb source of resources, ideas, CPD and support for history teaching, as well as offering the odd moments of entertainment. I have a large number of great ideas that I have gathered from Twitter, all taken from people I follow, although I lack the time to implement them all.)
But this idea - Carol’s Challenge Wall - was just the idea I was looking for. Steph used the forum to share what she had produced. In effect one could simply print off her resources and have a fully operational challenge wall. I ditched my ‘Extension box’, and instead took up the idea of a challenge wall. I have kept Steph’s corporate identity - the fish jumping out of the bowl. I have added one or two cards of my own. So I now have an area of my class, which students who finish their classwork can enter.

On entering, they automatically receive 5 house points, which is part of the school rewards system. They select a laminated A5 card, which explains a short activity, then they get a further 5 house points for every task they complete to a high standard. Many are short plenary type activities. I have had students take the challenge work home, and hand it in later completed. Students want to do these challenges. Many are enthusiastically working hard to get to the challenge wall.

I mentioned the idea to the Head of Department who immediately copied my cards and set up a challenge wall in her own classroom. Within days it was the talk of the school, and was standard for the faculty, which includes Food Technology, as well as RE and Geography. I have been asked to present the idea at the next CPD day, with a view to implementing this idea throughout the school.  

I have already seen some positive benefits.

·         The major one is that I now get more varied and detailed feedback from the students. Since a number have completed the challenges in their exercise books I can see, in their summary of their lesson, what they have taken from it.

·         I have seen low level disruption decrease, and feel that the challenge wall is a factor, as the brighter kids are no longer waiting for me to finish dealing with a question or helping someone struggling.

·         I have even seen two girls explaining their challenge activity to another student, summarizing the major aspects of the lesson.

This idea emerged from the collaborative ethos of the History Teachers Discussion Forum and Twitter, and this is what, I feel, CPD should be about. We are a collaborative profession - we have to work as a team, be it discipline in school, curriculum development or simple lesson execution. We work best when we share ideas, not only because this enables us to elaborate on ideas and strategies, but also it gives us the confidence to take the risks needed to develop.

If you only have time for one thing, then please consider joining the History Teachers’ Discussion Forum . If you have time for two, then also join us on Twitter. To decide who to follow a good starting point for would be Russell Tarr’s list (that is unless you agree with Mr Gove’s  views on using Mr Men in History Lessons. As Mr Gove comments, ‘opinion is divided’ – however it is Mr Gove himself on one side, everybody else on the other side, sharing ideas and collaborating to produce high quality engaging activities.

Thanks go to Carol and Steph for having the confidence to share their ideas and resources so that we can think differently and challenge our students to think differently.




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