Challenge in Continuous Provision can be a tricky old thing. It is hard to get that balance between 'encouraging' children to take on a challenge whilst maintaining a high level of engagement and 'telling' them they have to do something and risking low levels of engagement and low levels of attainment.
There are two main types of challenge in CP – Implicit and Explicit
Implicit challenge is what underpins how your environment is structured and resourced. Your environment should be linked directly to summative assessment and the areas of provision that you put in it should be levelled to reflect children's ability in that area.
Implicit challenge also comes from a large 'dollop' of ambiguity. You need lots of open ended resources and experiences that encourage children to explore, investigate, think, ask and answer. When it comes to challenge, ambiguity is always your friend!
Explicit Challenge usually comes through direction or request. It can be very informal where adults in provision will prompt or ask children to carry out a particular task on an adhoc basis, depending on who they are working with. Or, it can be more formal and apply to all children.
Two of the settings that I have been working with have been experimenting with explicit challenge in Continuous Provision through the use of a Challenge Book or Challenge Passport.
Both are still at the 'tweaking' stage, but are experiencing very positive responses from the children and positive results.
Although neither is yet the finished model, I thought it might be useful to share their ideas so far.
St Andrew's C of E Primary have introduced a Challenge Card for their Nursery and Reception children.
The children have been split into groups. Each group has it's own symbol. Each child has their own card which shows their group's symbol and their name.
The idea is that new challenge sheets can be inserted inside the Challenge Card every week, thus keeping a record of the challenges that the children have completed across the year.
This is what one of the prototype inserts looked like:
Staff chose the areas that would have a challenge in them based on assessment, observation and need. There was NOT a challenge in every area (that would be completely unmanageable).
There is also a space for any member of staff to create any extra challenges.
In the areas that had been chosen for challenge the team created a talking postcard on which they wrote the challenge and also recorded it.
You knew which was your challenge because it had your group's symbol on it.
During sessions of Continuous Provision, children could choose to take their Challenge Card into play, find their challenges and complete them.
When they had completed a challenge and adult 'signed it off' and/or gave them a sticker for their book.
On the day I was there it was very popular with all groups.
Points worth considering….
As the children are in 'broad' groupings for all subjects it means that differentiation between areas isn't possible on the Challenge Card, so the adult would need to take on that role.
If you put all of the challenges in all of the areas on Monday morning , not only is that a lot of work, but also some children will just motor through them all at the exclusion of everything else.
It might be worth considering putting challenge in 3 areas on Monday, 3 on Wednesday and so on. This way you stagger your week and your workload.
The Friars Primary are also having a go at using a Challenge Card in Reception and Nursery.
In Nursery, the children are grouped by their Key Person , so at this stage their challenges are very generic. This is to get the children used to the idea and the system. Nursery are going to try a more differentiated system after Christmas.
Each Key Group in Nursery has a 'mascot'. It is these mascots that Emma has linked to specific challenges. The challenges are recorded onto talking tins and written.
The Friars has grown to be a two form entry Reception for the first time this year. They are running their Continuous Provision sessions together so they are devising a challenge system that will work with up to 60 children over 2 classroom spaces.
Sarah has given the children 3 challenge groups each, one for Literacy, one for Mathematics and one for more general challenges.
For the Literacy and Mathematics challenges, the children have a book for each
Like St Andrew's, the challenges are linked to the symbol on the front of their book. They are also written in the appropriate area and recorded onto a talking tin (or similar).
The challenges are differentiated according to ability.
So, Spot's group have to fill the bottle with the correct number of peas – all numbers are below 5. (You can see a visual reminder of groups in the background).
Owls on the other hand have numbers beyond 10. In the photo you can see and adult checking the challenge before the Challenge Book is signed.
For more general challenges Sarah doesn't use a book, she uses Mini Me's. She has created a challenged area. In this area every child has a Mini Me stuck to the wall.
Each week the type of challenge in that area changes and staff just move the Mini Me's around to create differentiated groups depending on what the new challenge is.
You complete the challenge below your Mini Me. This time when you have completed your challenge, your Mini Me gets a sticker! It is very easy to see who isn't visiting the challenge areas.
Once again, on my visit, the children were very enthusiastic about getting their challenge books out and completing their challenges. There was lots of evidence of adults asking the children to do a 'bit extra' if they achieved their challenge too easily.
If a child completes all of their challenges, they get an extra 'Star Slip' which is part of the school's reward system.
Although this system was working extremely well and it was making challenge in CP very visible, my only concern was around the amount of preparation that Sarah and the team were putting in on a weekly basis.
After some discussion, Sarah is going to try giving the children a Challenge Book or Challenge Passport each. (Just the one)!
The outside of their book will be laminated and folded with holes punched for treasury tags.
Each child will get a weekly insert sheet with a new set of challenges on it.
The challenges that go into the areas will be differentiated by colour. (They could have been differentiated by images like Spot, but this is much more fiddly to produce)
So in my Challenge Book, next to Mathematics, I might have a red dot or sticker. Next to Mark Making, I might have a purple dot or sticker. As I go into each area I look for my colour, making differentiation a much less time consuming task.
I will let you know how it goes!
Explicit Challenge should always remain FIRMLY FIXED in the ethos of good Early Years practice. It should be activity based, dressed around children's interests and FUN. If it is dull then children will not do it. Their Challenge Books should be a choice, not a requirement. If children don't want to do them it says more about the type of challenge you have set up than it does about the child!
Make sure that Explicit Challenge is an enhancement to your Implicit Challenge, where your areas have been structured and levelled based on accurate assessment with a large dollop of open ended ambiguity….
How could you free Power Rangers from ice?
Enjoy the challenge of a challenge!