Tips for Teachers: 34. Challenge – Creating ‘The Goldilocks Effect’

May 15, 2024 | Blogs

Tips for Teachers: 34. Challenge – Creating ‘The Goldilocks Effect’

May 15, 2024 | Blogs

The ‘Goldilocks principle’ states that teachers should focus on material that is not too easy or too hard, but ‘just right’.  

The analogy is based on the story, Goldilocks and the Three Bears, in which Goldilocks tastes three different bowls of porridge and she finds that she prefers porridge which is neither too hot nor too cold but has just the right temperature.  

‘Challenge is crucial to allow pupils to develop and progress their knowledge of tasks, strategies, and of themselves as learners. However, challenge needs to be at an appropriate level. Pupils must have the motivation to accept the challenge.’ (Education Endowment Foundation: Metacognition and self-regulated learning guidance report). 

If challenge is too high it hampers learning and leads to cognitive overload, conversely if challenge is too low it can lead to boredom, disengagement, and demotivation.  

McTighe and Willis state that pupils are likely to persist when they are engaged in achievable levels of challenge and have the belief they can meet the goals. 

When lessons and tasks have the right amount of challenge they are designed with ‘deliberate difficulties’ which require a desirable amount of effort to complete and it is these difficulties that improve long-term memory and performance (Bjork, 1994; Bjork & Bjork, 2011) 

Bjork and Bjork assert desirable difficulties include spacing and interleaving, using tests and varying the conditions of learning. 

Note that desirable difficulties may initially slow the learning process and appear counterproductive, however they are worth planning carefully to ensure they are pitched according to need, ability and prior knowledge. 

EEF claim that challenge is key to developing self-regulation and metacognition. If they are not challenged, then they will not develop new and useful strategies for learning; nor will they engage with the content or reflect deeply. If pupils have to ‘struggle’ when they undertake a task, they are more likely to be able to recall information from their long-term memory in the future. 

‘A successful pupil will regularly engage in metacognitive reflection, asking questions of themselves as they learn and take on challenging tasks… motivation is one of the essential components of self-regulated learning. Pupils, and even animals, opt out of difficult trials; they avoid tests they are unlikely to answer correctly. Where learners are being challenged it is important to ensure they feel emotionally supported as well as being motivated to persevere. Metacognition, then, is of special importance when pupils make decisions about how to study and how to maintain effort and motivation until the task is complete.’ (Education Endowment Foundation: Metacognition and self-regulated learning guidance report). 

‘The value of desirable difficulties seems to lie on a continuum. When you’re new to a subject or idea, you need clear explanations, examples and immediate feedback to get the initial pattern into your head. Once in memory, however, desirable difficulties make practice more efficient.’ (Scott H Young, 2022) 

This blog was written by Bretta Townend-Jowitt, Education Consultant and Trainer. 

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