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As a mentor, you dream about engaging your student’s attention. And probably ruminate on all possible solutions that could help you derail their train of thoughts toward curricular objectives. That is… Until you give up to frustration and ultimately stop trying.

If that is the case, the activities you are expecting your students to do might fall under a Skills-needed/Challenge-facing imbalance.
When skills and challenge are imbalanced, you might expect the following results.

Low skill/Low challenge= This combination develops Apathy which manifests as a lack of motivation and engagement. The students under participate even if called to do so.

Medium skill/Low challenge= This combination develops Boredom. The skills the class has acquired are superior to the challenge they are facing. The activity has no novelty to it and it feels redundant thus giving the chance to students to get easily distracted or look for more appealing stimuli.

Low skill/Medium challenge: This generates Worry. Students feel they have not been thought the instruments necessary to deal with the activity. This results in not investing enough in the task for fear of failure. Students look inhibited and hesitant.

Low skill/High challenge: In this case anxiety is extensively encouraged. Having your pupils in such state of mind will produce uneven engagement and conflict. Being the learners in a fight or flight experience, what you will notice is some of them stressing out about getting the activity done and some others avoiding it all together!

Medium skill/High challenge: In this case Arousal is manifested. Aroused students are attentive, curious and participating, yet still somewhat stressed about the activity.

High skill/High challenge: This combination drives the mind state of Flow! It needs you to hit that sweet spot between High skill and High challenge with just about the right amount of novelty and specific interest. When in Flow, students are highly focused and engaged on the activity, stress levels are low and knowledge retention maximized. The learners feel they have developed all the skills they need to face the task thus not worrying about failure. And the activity is challenging enough to have them use all their acquired skills!

So, when planning your activities, always assess your student’s skills and confront them with the activity challenge. When skills are too low, work on them by assigning less-challenging tasks that figure at least one component of the ultimate activity you would like to administer. Work on the smaller activities before engaging them in the final one and watch for your student’s feedback.

Written by
Giuseppe Perrotti – JUMP Trainer