Comfort – Stretch – Panic

When Ronnie Heath (Managing Director of Create Development) came to Culverhay School to discuss our partnership as a beacon school, he introduced me to a simple concept that is having a profound impact on learning in my lessons – the comfort – stretch – panic curve.

It is similar to that of the ‘inverted U theory’, which has been a regular feature in many a skill acquisition syllabus over the years. Each of the three zones on the curve refers to how much challenge is being offered to the pupil, how well the pupil is equipped to deal with that challenge and subsequently how much learning occurs.

Comfort Zone – little challenge – low levels of learning
Stretch Zone – Appropriate challenge – maximised learning
Panic Zone – Too much challenge – decreased levels of learning

I have spent many lessons this academic year making reference to the personal cog of learning, and have encouraged pupils to adapt tasks to ensure they are being stretched (taking a greater responsibility for their own learning). In a short space of time, an ethos has been created where pupils are seeking to differentiate every task in their own way to give them appropriate stretch, and maximise their progress (this ties in nicely to the creative cog – adapting tasks to make activities more fun / challenging).

The ‘Man Down’ post from a week or so ago makes reference to a situation where a boy was complaining of unfair teams (as they had one less player). Following a chat about the curve, I offered a change of teams, but he opted to keep teams unchanged to allow himself and his team to be stretched. The team with one extra player felt cheated!

Now, rather than differentiating when I set my tasks, I ask the pupils to think of  their own extensions or simplifications to suit their own needs. They are incredibly honest about their own limits and feel much happier to challenge themselves. The age old culture of cutting corners in a task to get the best score in the class has disappeared – as the boys know it’s pointless if you want to maximise learning.


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