Don’t Steal the Struggle – (T&L Group)

Setting the scene:

Since September the Teaching and Learning Group have been focusing on risk taking and were inspired by Allison, S. and Tharby, A. Making Every Lesson Count (2015). We interpreted some of their risk taking ideas and applied them to our own classrooms. To achieve considerable risk taking the teacher stepped back during key parts of the lesson and put the onus on the students to lead their own learning. Students were then invited to talk about these strategies at our Festival of Learning Inset.img_1481

What follows is a series of notes from students and staff on the techniques used by the T&L group to encourage independence.

PROJECT 1: Student Led Teaching

A student was chosen to lead plenary with no warning. Plenary had been modelled in previous lessons. Student asked other pupils why work was good and why- how they had made their work successful.

On the day:

Student presented staff with images of work created by pupils and conducted the same type of plenary, asking teachers to identify areas of strength and areas in need of improvement.


Lead students gain confidence and pupils are encouraged to listen to peers. The novelty sparks interest for the group easily and instigates looking at work from a student perspective.


PROJECT 2: Flipped learning

Teacher response:

This was publicised to the pupils in all its glory! The teacher made it clear that they would not know how to answer or compete the work. But that was the challenge… presentation of work was down to the individuals. This really sparked their creatively and through regular peer review they ‘upped their game’ in quality, quantity and depth of learning. No one missed deadlines, as they were so excited to show their work

Code Buddies

Pupils had to bring an object to the lesson and explain each line of code to them when an error occurred. This enabled them to code with purpose… understanding each statement. This taught independent problem solving which is relevant in a whole range of subjects. They thought I was mad originally, as I described me sitting in a lab during my degree talking to my pencil case. However, they were quickly converted! It is a very high impact strategy.

Student response to challenge:

An essential aspect of creatively is not being afraid to fail. When you take risks you learn there will be times you succeed and times you will fail and both are equally important. Great people do things before they are ready. They do things before they know they can do it. Doing what you are afraid of, stepping out of your comfort zone, taking risks like that- that is what life is. Now take this and use it in class.

DIRT time is a key part of the lesson. It helps us improve, learn more and get more ideas on how to present our work. It is always a fun idea, when marking each other’s work as part of peer assessment, to collect all of the class’s books and distribute them randomly. Therefore, we do not know whose book we are marking. This gives us a more open mind about work.

As a group, setting expectations for what the homework should include is important. Such as: if you are completing independent research it should include information from at least 2 different sources and quotations made clear. Setting expectations helps us see our mistakes and know how to improve next time.

Revising for a test can be tricky with a book full of exercises and work. Our class has a piece of card at the end of our lesson and we write all of our keywords and facts we learned that lesson. Also, highlighting key working points is helpful for us. The cards are collected together and then when the time comes to revise we have all of the cards and the highlighted work to revise from. Take the risk and use one of these revision methods in your class.


PROJECT 3: Flipped Learning Research and Presenting Task

During the INSET three Year 10 students presented their research task to teachers. The students researched a new practitioner and their task was to come up with an activity which taught the class the key points at the start of the next lesson. They could present the information in whichever way they wanted.

What the students did:

During the session at the Festival of Learning, the students explained the task to the teachers verbally. They then demonstrated what practical activity they did with the class. They then explained that their activity helped the class to learn the key points of the practitioner.


As a result, students have grown in confidence and gained more independence in the class. They feel like it was a great opportunity to be able to explain what they did to other teachers and hope they will implement more challenge and risk in other lessons.


PROJECT 4: Student Lead Teaching

Student response to the challenge:

In year 9, we have started to cover the content for our GCSE. We have just begun covering the key abstract concepts.. Our key learning point was to explain 3 key concepts to the rest of the group.
What I did:
The teacher divided the class into two groups. I led the learning of the second group. I had to manage the others in the group in order for us to complete all the stages of the learning within the time allowed. We read an information sheet and highlighted information we understood in green, were not sure of in amber and did not know in red. We then used dictionaries to help us understand the text. Next, we summarised our learning on to a cue card,  in at least 5 sentences. I used this to teach other members of the class about my topic.
How I felt about it:
I challenged myself by leading a group of students which meant I made sure that they were focused, problem solved through our discussions, completed the tasks set, managed our time and taught other students about our area. We used literacy and research skills.


PROJECT 5: Student Observation Sheet.



Student response:

In our P.E lessons we were studying the topic Health and Fitness. During this topic we completed a feedback sheet that informed the teacher about what she could do to reflect and improve her lessons. We took a risk by being honest with the teacher by pointing out areas that they could improve. This challenged us as well as it meant that we had to be actively engaged in our lessons. By being honest with the teacher about their teaching we were also more aware of ourselves and were more motivated in our lessons. This made me learn more effectively because I felt I couldn’t coast in my lessons and that I was responsible for my own learning. This can be evidenced in my classwork.


PROJECT 6: Hinge Questions and Direct Challenge

Classroom based action research around hinge questions and direct challenge. The research was conducted with a student member of the class who helped to distribute questions, suggest challenges and monitor output of less confident classmates. The project has informed my teaching as I now have more direct ways to involve greater students learning and engage more confident students in a way that empowers them and teaches them new skills.



THE INSET: Challenge for all

Don’t steal the struggle!

Take a risk – push students outside of their comfort zones.

Encouraging struggle may need careful scaffolding, we have included some suggestions for you to consider:

  1. Learning Objectives – make them single and challenging
  2. Knowing the subject – read 5 books, journals or articles a year to enhance subject knowledge.
  3. Share excellence – display excellent written responses to challenging questions
  4. Layer their writing – use the Literacy Group’s quick checklist for students to peer assess and redraft work
  5. Plan for progression – hinge questions to ascertain whether students have the key knowledge before processing to the deeper learning
  6. Direct challenge – individually challenge pupils by reading their work and asking them to ‘Now try…’
  7. Read for breadth – introduce students to specific websites and encourage them to borrow specific books from the library
  8. Frame challenge – use phrases such as: ‘yet’, ‘If it’s not excellent, it’s not finished’, ‘Working harder makes you smarter’, ‘What would you do if you were stuck?’, ‘If you are not struggling, you are not learning’, ‘ In this classroom we say…’
  9. Challenge outside the lesson – through flipping the learning and being explicit about the process, you can cultivate pupil responsibility and celebrate with competition.
  10. Teach HOW to Problem Solve – create space for them to practice and celebrate the process not the outcome whenever appropriate.



The INSET developed the confidence of a number of individual students involved in presenting;  they were stretched and challenged to step out of their comfort zone, whilst being supported by their classroom teachers. It also benefitted all of the students involved in the lessons described, as the students really began to take an active role in their learning,  It encouraged students to think about why teachers do the things that they do.  They have carried this approach through to other lessons where they have  become more actively involved in their learning and take on more responsibility.

Teachers, too, have been more willing to take risks, stand back and let students a more active role in their own learning.


Reference and further reading:

Allison, S. and Tharby, A. (2015) Making every lesson count: Six principles to support great teaching and learning. London, United Kingdom: Crown House Publishing.

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