Reflecting on Stretch and Challenge

Caroline Winstone, Prep Stretch and Challenge Co-ordinator

As I approach the end of my twentieth year in teaching, I have to pinch myself to confirm it is real life. I cannot emphasise how much I genuinely enjoy getting up and going to work everyday; how lucky am I? My experience prior to Headington touches both ends of the spectrum; from a three-month stint in a very deprived township in South Africa to the more affluent Magdalen College School, just down the road.  Particularly here at the Headington Prep School, not a day goes by when I don’t get the giggles about something; from the girls’ innocent humour, to one of our infinite dressing up days, when we don’t bat an eyelid if a colleague is gently stirring a cup of tea in the staff room, dressed as a duck. 

I am lucky to have quite a unique strand to my job, where I lead the Stretch and Challenge programme in the Prep School. I closely examine assessment data across the school to identify more able pupils from Year 1 to Year 6 and invite them to one of the three Stretch and Challenge clubs which I run. I make sure Form Tutors and Subject Leaders know who the girls are to ensure they reach for the ‘Diving’ and ‘Think Pink’ challenges in their lessons. 

Providing challenges for the more able is well and truly embedded in the school curriculum, so the clubs are here as an added extra to encourage girls to think and reflect above and beyond their classwork. Just as importantly, we provide ‘challenge for all’. Teaching to the top has been a long-standing principle of effective teaching; classwork throughout the School is clearly adaptive and girls can choose their level and reach higher. Adaptive tasks within lessons, across the curriculum, fall into three categories: paddling, snorkelling and diving. The girls are encouraged to independently choose their own suitable challenge level while teachers sometimes intervene, suggesting individuals reach further where appropriate. The Think Pink is an extended challenge task, where the girls dive even deeper within a lesson. Identified Stretch and Challenge pupils are encouraged to take these opportunities, but it is open to all.  

We’ve recently had a Stretch and Challenge Pop Up Gallery for the Key Stage 2 pupils in the Upper Atrium. Work was displayed throughout June, demonstrating what we see daily in our classrooms, but what the ISI Inspectors saw during their recent visit too: “…a thirst for knowledge and an ambition to achieve at the highest possible level”. It showcased how the School uses digital technology to enhance the learning of the more able. The Key Stage 1 Stretch and Challenge girls are preparing for an assembly this week, to showcase their learning this term. With the younger ones, I focus on metacognition, encouraging them to have a growth mindset when solving problems. I use ‘Roger Sutcliffe’s A-Z of Thinking Moves’ to help the girls choose the right tool for the job in hand. It’s a framework for developing metacognition. He designed workable ‘moves’ for each letter of the alphabet, such as thinking Ahead or Back, rather than longer-term dispositions or character traits, such as resilience or empathy.

I am a true believer that the Prep School’s sixth learning habit bear, Reflective Ruby, is not only a key teaching and learning strategy for children, but for us adults too.  With our lives being faster paced in 2023 than when I first started teaching 20 years ago, people of all ages have less and less down time. Being a full-time working mother (and wife!), I have to carve out time alone, to reflect on my work and home life. As soon as I pass my own children to their respective schools, I acquire 19 more! Finding and valuing precious me-time in the week, to reflect, reminds me how important it is to allow time for our children to reflect on what they are learning and their various experiences. I run often, but challenge myself with a half marathon once a year. I swim around Berinsfield lake every Sunday, on my own, my time to escape and reflect. I bake bread, trying new recipes and repeatedly getting it wrong before getting it right. Our recent ISI Inspectors wrote, “Pupils are not afraid to make mistakes…” and neither is Mrs Winstone!

So, I think two of my hobbies, sport and baking, provide a welcome reminder to put myself in the girls’ shoes, dive into something challenging and be out of my comfort zone. My hobbies remind me to ensure my class reflects; albeit at the end of the lesson or the start of the next, the end of a term or a unit of work, after a trip or at the end of a match. There has been huge pressure on teachers and parents to make up for lost time, post covid and lockdowns. Not every hour of the day and not every day of the week needs to be used productively and to be grinding. The value of down time, getting bored and finding time to explore alone, to simply think and make sense of things, cannot be undervalued.