The fine line: Challenge and Failure

When does challenge turn into setting someone up for failure?


In my role as a LSA, or more commonly used term TA, I am all for challenging the SEN students I work with because they will become adults and life don’t sugar coat! I have incredibly high expectations no matter what their need is. I have worked with students who will refuse to interact but they are able to, so I will get them to respond to me (whether verbal or gesturally). I used to be a selective mute a very long time ago once upon a time though I don’t have any memory of that time I’ve heard stories about it. I have a very very vague understanding of it because I find myself going through small patches of mutism at a much less severe level. One student I worked with who was autistic didn’t not like to talk and had a communication book to use, however they didn’t really use that either. Eventually over a bit of time I kept just talking at this student until they must have realised talking/responding to me was better than not. But I stress when I say talking to me I don’t mean forcing them to have deep conversations with me. All they need to do is answer simple questions that they can cognitively understand like ‘do you have homework?’ ‘Can you tell em the answer to this maths problem?’ Stuff like that. This student needs to learn to communicate in some way even when they don’t feel like it because it is healthy to.
REAL LIFE EXAMPLE: So one day this autistic student had worked with a LSA in a previous lesson. The SEN teacher couldn’t remember which one so I said ‘do you want me to ask him?’ The SEN teacher replied ‘you can try’ because the student doesn’t really communicate with them at all. So I asked the student a series of yes or no questions ‘was it a she or a he?’ ‘Was she tall or short?’ Etc. The student gave an appropriate response to each question and then I figured out that the LSA’s name was. The SEN teacher asked ‘how did you do that?’ I replied ‘I asked him the questions’. Now I continually challenged this autistic student into something that wasn’t comfortable for them but I wasn’t going to tip-toe around them because their autistic. Heck no! It was a challenge that was possible and so every time I used to work with them they knew my expectation. Just because something is difficult doesn’t mean you avoid it.


However, there is a fine line between challenging someone and setting them up for a fail. The difference between the two is that whatever you are challenging them to do it actually has to be possible for them to do. I wouldn’t have pushed that autistic student to talk if they couldn’t physically or even mentally and they had never spoken that would be ridiculous. Setting a challenge a student cannot do can be and is usually damaging to the student. Getting a student with severe dyslexia to read aloud to the class that is setting them up for a fail. They will likely make mistakes and become more wary and less confident. Also reading aloud to the class is not necessary for a student like this to do they’ll benefit more from listening to others read while following along.
REAL LIFE EXAMPLE: In a drama lesson student who is autistic had to along with the rest of the class stay still which in drama is called staying in neutral. I am all for challenging someone out there comfort zone but this student couldn’t do the task because they couldn’t stop moving. Darting eyes, fidgeting, swaying, loosing balance. These are all struggles that some autistics are very familiar with. I know I am for sure with all of them! So children find it hard to stay still a lot these days because of the world they are going up in etc, and it is important for them to understand how to exhibit this control. However, sometimes you have got to use your judgement. This autistic student was not in control it was clear because there was not a moment when they could stay still even the teacher said ‘you weren’t really still for even a second’. Now this is where the line is fine because it took numerous times pointing out and the student could not rectify their behaviour. I could see the student trying but time after time the teacher was telling them again and again. I think it is important though to recognise that the teacher is not a bad teacher. I’d seen this student on quite a few occasions but this teacher has only seem the student once before. So the teacher is just setting a challenge to this student. Though I do think the teacher should have recognised more quickly that this was something the student wouldn’t succeed in. It is almost impossible due to the amount of sensory input that this child was probably experiencing. That was the only mistake the teacher made.

The reason I love my job is I like seeing the students be challenged but when working with students but especially SEN because they have different needs it is so important to remember that challenge needs to be possible. A challenge can be something as small as logging on a computer independently (another real life situation took the student almost a year to log in without looking at me for support but they did it). So don’t think it always needs to be big because most of the time that is when challenge turns into failure.

Thanks for reading. Hope you liked it. Peace out!

2 thoughts on “The fine line: Challenge and Failure

  1. It’s so hard to get my son’s teachers to accept the fact that there are some things where they are setting him up to fail. They keep insisting he has to learn. But I know in some cases the challenges really are out of his reach, at least right now. It can be such a fine line, and it’s so frustrating when they don’t agree with me or my son.

    Liked by 1 person

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