Challenging students in the Classroom

By Michael Hilkemeijer


If there is ever to be a more challenging learning area to teach in schools today then it either has to be about using technology in the classroom (elementary). As an experienced ICT teacher, I can honestly tell you that there has never been a dull moment in my classes. 

My experiences is partly due to the many great conversations I have had with students but also as a result of working within an industry that has a tremendous influence and impact on our lives. 

What makes it interesting is the continual changes that are occurring within society and the need for teachers to integrate ICT effectively so that students meet the requirements of their future professions and be ICT capable/literate.


The ability of teachers to challenge students with ICT in the classroom is crucial if this goal is to be achieved. Children today are fluent with technology even more than the generations before them. 

As a teacher, you need to set challenges for students with ICT that will help them progress further in their capabilities. Studies conducted in the UK have indicated the lack of challenge presented to students in lessons can have a negative impact on a student’s learning.


How to challenge high achieving students

Challenging students when using Tech in Subject Learning

Gauging the level of challenge for ICT activities can be difficult particularly as the children progress in their capabilities. Some children may be highly proficient when using one piece of software but inexperienced with another.

The difference between confident users of ICT and inexperienced ones is that confident users have a greater repertoire of knowledge from which to draw. They will continue to try things out until eventually something happens; either the computer carries out the required task or it does not.

His is how to challenge high achieving students:

  1. Provide them with content-free software - Research shows that you will not only be able to challenge students intellectually by giving opportunities to use programs such word processors, spreadsheets and drawing and painting in meaningful and context driven tasks, but you will also develop their ICT capabilities alongside the subject learning. The computer for one, must always be used as a tool for learning and the student must be in control at all times.
  1. Give them more sophisticated programs when the curriculum context asks for it - This is the best way to ensure that progression occurs for the student. Don’t just give them sophisticated software just because you can. If this type of software is required by the curriculum activity then it is essential that you provide them with it.
  1. Challenge naïve ideas about handling ICT tools - This is following on from being able to develop their ICT capabilities and focusing on the concepts behind the ICT skills in the primary classroom. It can occur in whole-class teaching, where appropriate, and when monitoring the progress of individuals or groups.


For example:

When students use spaces to spread out text on a line or page – show the effect of adding extra text so that the spaces move to a different position on the line.

If they use the backspace key to delete back to an earlier mistake and retype – set a task the editing of previously composed text to achieve a different goal.

When type calculations in a spreadsheet using values directly instead of formulae in the cell references – change the values in the cells and point out the incorrect result from the calculations based the previous values.


  1. Track their progression in ICT capability - If you devise a system that will accurately assess and record their progress in learning it will enable you to avoid not only teaching them ICT skills which they may already know but also to determine what they don’t know and therefore, set them challenges to accomplish these capabilities in ICT.
  1. Set them challenges in the subject content or the style and mode of presentation - One example which research gives (Bennett, Hamill, & Pickford, 2007, p. 60) is “if a pair of children is working on a slide for a presentation, you could ask them whether they have thought about changing the size of the text, including another picture or modifying the content of the text so that it makes more sense.” To help them make progress in their ICT capabilities it will be important for you to intervene in order to show them more advanced ICT techniques or to show them a feature of the software which could enable them to be more productive in their use of time.
  1. Let them plan, or at least negotiate, what they might try - Students are bound to have their own idea about what they want to do, so you might want to encourage this. It is a good idea to have a model or plan they can follow.
  1. Let them teach - Give the students the chance to act as experts and allow peer tutoring.
  1. Set them a challenge in a drill and practice program - If you have one of these in the classroom, crank up the level and set them a challenge to do this. 
  1. Keep the software handbook handy - If a bright student needs answers then provide them the handbook.
  1. Draw further support from the following resources - for example:
  • the manual for the software — it has usually been written with the ‘average’ teacher in mind
  • the on-screen help menu — most programs include on-screen help, either designed for the pupil or the teacher
  • experimentation — computers are quite happy to provide you with feedback if you make a mistake; keep trying things until something happens; if in doubt, close the program; as a last resort, turn off the computer (hold in the power button for five seconds on most computers)
  • the children — if you get stuck, ask if any children have found a way of solving the problem; if they have not, they might be able to suggest a strategy that they have developed for tackling similar problems and might be able to find a solution or interpret the manual if you are finding it particularly unhelpful
  • the internet — visit the software company's website to see if there are any help files. If it is a problem to which you can find no solution, send them an e-mail asking for advice. They are usually very responsive; most educational software suppliers rely on recommendations by teachers to other teachers to spread the word about their products.
  • a colleague — others on the staff may have experienced the same problem and found a solution; the ICT coordinator might know what to do, or might know a colleague in another school who could help
  • a friend — one of your friends might be quite a confident user of computers and might be able to find a solution or interpret the manual if you are finding it particularly unhelpful.


Generally speaking, other strategies such as those that follow can be used to further show you how to challenge high achieving students:

Offer the most difficult first

Successful teachers have used this strategy for all students. Those students who have successfully completed problems can be excused from doing homework that night.

Pre-test for volunteers

Prepare to Take it up

Speak to student interests

Enable gifted students to work together

Plan for Tiered learning

Encourage self-assessment

Ok independent learning projects

Teach creativity



My advice is to choose a program that has many applications for students to use across the learning areas and is one that you are already familiar with. Try to master these programs, so that when the children come to use them you have rehearsed their tasks to an extent whereby you are able to cope with most problems and issues that might arise. You can never be prepared for the unexpected, but gaining confidence with the software will help.



How to deal with difficult students in the classroom

What about difficult students?

When learning how to deal with difficult students in the classroom there are a number of rules that you should remember as a teacher.

I know, it isn’t easy to apply them but remember that you are the adult and that they need to learn from you both academically and behaviourally.


According to SmartClassroomManagement, these rules will help you avoid the most common pitfalls. You can learn more about them from them. So I have summarised what they are below to give you an idea.


  • Don’t ask questions;
  • Don’t argue;
  • Don’t give false praise;
  • Don’t hold a grudge;
  • Don’t scold, lecture or yell;
  • Don’t lose your cool and;
  • Don’t ignore misbehaviour.


Other strategies that will help you learn how to deal with difficult students in the classroom come from TeachThought and include:



It is important that you build trust so that you can have a working student-teacher relationship. You can achieve this by becoming a cheerleader for your students particularly for those students whose actions make others want to ignore the behaviour going on. You can thank them for their cooperation and be sure to make time to ask them how they managed to look after themselves.



If you’re learning content is to be compelling then it is important that you DO establish a starting point for their learning by assessing their capabilities and knowledge – in technology and non-technology use – so that you can help them plot their course for learning. You can also make it a goal to begin each class with something that grabs their attention. From this you can try to connect the lesson content you are teaching.



As mentioned earlier, assessing their capabilities and knowledge is useful but it can be your plan of attack to ensure that you personalise learning for all students. Personalisation also means that you can personalise what you emphasise. For example, cultivate responsibility on a student-by-student basis.



Momentum is important too in success. It is true that nobody starts school expecting to fail! You need to create and modify assignments, quizzes, tests etc. along with behavioural expectations



Set your expectations early in the lesson and ensure that all students follow the safety rules.


So I hope that this helps you learn more about how to deal with difficult students in the classroom.



The top strategies will enable you to learn how to challenge high achieving students as well as being able to do the same for difficult students. As a teacher, it is important that you understand that each strategy will be different for the students in your classroom both individually and as a whole class. So make the best choices in terms of what to use and adjust them accordingly so that students will be more engaged and motivated in your lessons today.