Challenge by Choice

What is Challenge by Choice?

Plainly put, challlenge by choice is allowing students to work within a region of their understanding that pushes them to achieve. An early child psychologist by the name of Vygotsky coined the term "zone of proximal development" what this translated to was that learning was best achieved if a person worked just within a realm of understanding that was just outside their reach. If work was too easy, people would become bored and if it was to difficult, students would not learn. Stress in learning is a good thing if it's managed well and you can see how performance and stress are related by the picture below:
As students abilities are very spread out, it's good teaching practice that allows for different levels of challenge for each student to target their zone of proximal development. This translates to having different levels of difficulty for students to develop understandings towards targeted learning standards. My philosophy has been shaped greatly by Bill and Ochen Powell, Carol Ann Tomlinson and David Suarez.  

What does "Challenge by Choice" Look Like?

What it looks like in the classroom is that assignments, quizzes and tests are all tiered to offer different levels of "challenge" based on prior background knowledge, current stress levels, and general understanding. This is different than "streaming" where students are "put" into groups usually decided by the teacher. With differentiation, students choose their level challenge. A sample of what a differentiated task might look like is as follows: It is no different for math or science. As the learning standard is targeted, there is a broad spectrum of how students can arrive at that understanding through individual practice. To make it easy, I've taken some of David Suarez's lessons on "color coding" learning activities so students may have choice in their learning. The are:

Green (Standard Level)-This is the most basic level of understanding that all students should be able to attain. It is commonly mistaken for "easy" although it what all students should be able to do at grade level. At this level, students should be adept at remembering and understanding lessons of learned topics. Typically, 80% of the class favors working at this level.  

Blue (Advanced Level)-This is an advanced level of understanding. The learning activities move into more cognitively complex texts such as application and analysis.Typically, 10-20% of the class favors working at this level.

Black (Highly Advanced Level)-This is the highest level of understanding. The learning activities move into the highest levels of cognitive abilities such as interpretation and evaluation. Typically, 5-10% of the class favors working at this level.

Here is what different levels of assignments look like in math:

9.2-Organizing Data Blue (Advanced Level)
9.2-Organizing Data Green (Standard Level)

Here are some examples of tiered challenge for science labs:

Example Differentiated Summative Lab Questions Unit 3 Summative Lab STUDENT VERSION

Finally, here are some examples of differentiated tests:

Unit 6 Black PRACTICE
Unit 6 Blue PRACTICE
Unit 6 Green PRACTICE

What do students say about Challenge by Choice Instruction?

"The strength of offering two levels of instructional practice are for green, it helps us becomes better at the skills that we are not good at and blue is for students who want to take a risk of higher level skills"

"To let each individual student choose what level they would prefer to be in, instead of the whole class doing the same thing (which would be kind of boring)."

"Nothing, I think its easier for the teacher to teach the whole class and spend more time teaching it."

"You can try a advanced level to strengthen your math skills. Maybe, you can start practicing with green, but after a while, you might be skilled enough to try different levels. Then you can try black, if you think you improved that much."

 "It's so people that are less gifted in math can choose their level of mathematics to better adapt."

"I think it is very useful because some students aren't as good as others and can use the green to still learn a lot. While others who exceed in math can do a higher level test and learn more too than keep doing things that they already know."

"It allows students the freedom of making their own choices and deciding how they would like to help themselves learn. There are more possibilities, and students get the chance to choose one that suites them."

 "It allows the weaker students to take the test level that is suitable for them and the advanced students challenge themselves more."

Readings on Differentiated Learning and Instruction

Differentiation in practice in the curriculum
Research findings in differentiation
Advocates say that differentiation can raise the bar for all learners
Challenge by choice with tiered instruction and assessment-David Suarez
Differentiation: Content, Process, Products, Learning Environment-Carol Ann Tomlinson
Teaching gifted learners
Meeting the needs of gifted learners:Differentiating mathematics and science instruction