Appropriate Challenge

Learners engage with appropriately challenging activities that meet them at their developmental level, stretching them just beyond their comfort zone.

Tier 1: This Look For is one of seven that represent Quality First Instruction for all learners.


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Engage with appropriately challenging activities

Evidence of Learner Behaviors

  • Engage learning in a variance of challenge (skills) to address the same strategy, skill, or task

Questions to Ask Learners

  • Is everyone working on the same thing right now?

  • How is what you are doing different from others and why?

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Work within their Zone of Proximal Development (ZPD)

Evidence of Learner Behaviors

  • Articulate how they are working on a differentiated or personalized task and the connection between that task and a piece of data (e.g. reading level or skill, content mastery, completion of previous tasks, etc.)

Questions to Ask Learners

  • How did you pick what to work on? Did you have a choice?

  • How did you do last time this was assessed?

  • How is that impacting how you’re doing this now?

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Feel instructionally stretched beyond their comfort zone

Evidence of Learner Behaviors

  • Articulate the meaning and purpose of a task and how it engages them

  • Demonstrate focus and engagement rather than bored or disengaged behaviors because they are done early or not challenged enough

Questions to Ask Learners

  • Is this task easy or hard for you to complete without assistance?

  • What else would you need to support you if this is too hard?

  • How much work will it take for you to feel comfortable that you have mastered this material?


Due to individual variability, learners need content and learning tasks that continually respond to their readiness, prior knowledge, and skill level. Facilitating access to content and curriculum at different Zones of Proximal Development (ZPDs) makes learning experiences more effective, engaging, and motivating.


Learning facilitators can design for appropriate challenge by setting challenging goals, creating feedback loops, and using data to support customization. Such insights can be used to scaffold instruction and engage learners in their upper ZPD limits.

Educator Actions

Learning facilitators incorporate the fewest number of scaffolds needed for learners to be met at their developmental level and ensure appropriate challenge.

CSTPs: 1.1, 1.4, 1.6, 2.4, 3.1, 3.3, 3.5, 4.4, 4.5, 5.2, 5.3, 6.1

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During centers or station rotation, create leveled learning experiences to respond to the needs of the learners. This can be done through Empower playlists or other online resources such as iReady and Reading Plus.


  • Review a balance of quantitative and qualitative data on learners’ current levels of understanding and skill to modify activities appropriately for different individuals and groups (P)

  • Include multiple access points into a learning activity that are aligned to learner ability through cues or prompts such as sentence starters, lists of steps for solving a problem, or models (P)

  • Anticipate possible areas of learner misunderstanding and develop interventions to help learners meet the timelines they set for their goals (P/F)

  • Incorporate opportunities for small group instruction and individual conferencing (P)

  • Reduce group size and/or create mixed ability collaborative learning groups to support learner processing when appropriate (P/F)

  • Incorporate both planned and unplanned checks to understand and assess learner progress (P/F)

  • Provide ongoing support aligned to the amount of challenge individual learners or groups of learners are experiencing through reteaching, questioning, modeling, or discussion (F)

  • Review a balance of quantitative and qualitative data on learners’ progress toward mastery to appropriately modify sequence and speed of learning activities for both individuals and groups (P)

  • Based on learners’ readiness levels, provide them with the minimum amount of educator guidance necessary to efficiently execute the learning tasks (P/F)

  • Decide when to use a quick check-in group for activities like norming on the rubric, looking at an exemplar, explanation of a resource, checking for understanding, and group/partner feedback (P/F)

  • Try a skill together as a group and then move to monitored independent practice (P/F)

  • Provide scaffolds based on initial content knowledge, cognitive skill, and literacy / numeracy levels (P/F)

  • Use a balance of quantitative and qualitative data to determine the appropriate supports (P/F)

  • Over time, teach learners how to look at their own data and make purposeful decisions about what access point is right for them (P/F)

  • Provide access points that engage different types of learning styles (P/F)

P = planned F = facilitated spontaneously