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Challenge: always a good thing?

Curtis, F. (2015) Challenge: always a good thing? In: BSRLM conference, June 2015, Durham University, pp. 7-12.

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The importance of providing students with challenge has become entrenched in our understanding of learning, set down as the first teaching standard and sought by Ofsted. But what do we mean by challenge? Challenge implies a testing task, a result of struggle. While struggle may be a path to learning for some, reproducing Piaget’s idea of cognitive conflict as the precursor of change, I would argue that for many children mathematical struggle is not stimulating but threatening, and leads to the phenomenon of mathematics anxiety. This paper uses my doctoral research of six intervention sessions with each of four small groups to illustrate the reaction of low-attaining students to challenge. I find that the learning of algebraic concepts is hampered by feelings of panic and low self-esteem, and that the more challenging the material, the less appropriate the response. Improved results were achieved by reinforcing and developing students’ understanding of unchallenging material, corresponding to Bryant’s belief that confirming evidence is better for learning. The significance of this for teachers is to recognize that challenge is not universally positive, but developing unchallenging material by stealth can be preferable.

Item Type:Conference or Workshop Item (Paper)
Divisions:Arts, Humanities and Social Science > Institute of Education > Improving Equity and Inclusion through Education
ID Code:65913

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