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Wednesday / October 21

Taking on the Challenge of Learning

From the series: Developing Students’ Ownership of Learning—from a Distance, too!

Check out Posts #1 and #2.

Let’s continue our journey to developing assessment-capable, visible learners. At this point, students know what they are supposed to be learning, what success looks like, and how they can monitor their progress. The next step is to help students accept the challenge of learning. We recognize that’s hard. Learning is challenging for all of us. But if it’s too challenging, we get frustrated and quit. If it’s not challenging enough, we get bored and quit. As John Hattie notes, there is a sweet spot that he calls the Goldilocks challengenot too hard and not too boring! When we find that place, and we help students accept the challenge of learning, they are likely to learn a lot more. 

How Do You Define Challenge? 

Importantly, challenge does not simply mean difficulty. We think that there is a difference between a complex task and a difficult task. A difficult task requires additional time and work whereas complex task involves thinking, background knowledge, many steps, and perhaps action. As we like to say, nine more math problems do not automatically increase the complexity, but they do increase the difficulty. Nine strategicallychosen math problems could increase the complexity. As Russ Quaglia has noted, students are looking for more challenging tasks, but not more work. 

How Do We Get Students to Accept Challenges? 

In part, students accept the challenge for learning when they have experienced success. We believe that success is motivating. When students have experienced success, they are more likely to accept the challenge of additional learning. Think about all the video games that people play. We don’t start the game at level 50—but we don’t stay at level one either. We experience some early success and then the game makes it a bit harder. We accept the challenge and keep at it until we achieve that success again. And so it goes, and many people find video games so much fun. 

LessonsTaking on the Challenge of Learning 

In these pages, you’ll find tools that help explain the value of challenge and demonstrate how to help students accept the challenge of learning. Here are:

Looking Ahead 

In our next post in this series, we’ll explain how to select learning tools and how to give students some choice as they select the learning tools that work for them. 

Written by

Douglas Fisher, Ph.D., is Professor of Educational Leadership at San Diego State University and a teacher leader at Health Sciences High & Middle College. He is the recipient of an IRA Celebrate Literacy Award, NCTE’s Farmer Award for Excellence in Writing, as well as a Christa McAuliffe Award for Excellence in Teacher Education. He is also the author of PLC+, The PLC+ Playbook, This is Balanced Literacy, The Teacher Clarity Playbook, Grades K-12, Teaching Literacy in the Visible Learning Classroom for Grades K-5 and 6-12, Visible Learning for Mathematics, Grades K-12The Teacher Credibility and Collective Efficacy Playbook and several other Corwin books.  Nancy Frey, Ph.D., is Professor of Literacy in the Department of Educational Leadership at San Diego State University. The recipient of the 2008 Early Career Achievement Award from the National Reading Conference, she is also a teacher-leader at Health Sciences High & Middle College and a credentialed special educator, reading specialist, and administrator in California. She has been a prominent Corwin author, publishing numerous books including PLC+The PLC+ PlaybookThis is Balanced LiteracyThe Teacher Clarity Playbook, Grades K-12Engagement by DesignRigorous Reading, Texas EditionThe Teacher Credibility and Collective Efficacy Playbookand many more.  To view Doug and Nancy’s books and services, please visit Fisher and Frey Professional Learning. 

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