From ladders to mountains – cutting Demand High down to size

10 06 2013

This is a talk that I first did at the Macmillan Annual Conference at the Anglo on Saturday May 11th 2013.  I then repeated it as a workshop at International House in Buenos Aires on Friday 31st May 2013 at our weekly interschool teacher development meeting.


IH Facebook photo

They were two very different and very worthwhile experiences and they both showed different ways in which using the ‘Demand High’ meme (as Adrian and Jim suggest we call it) can be a very powerful reflection tool for teachers of all experiences in all contexts.

A meme example

A little meme example for you – is this what A&J meme?


First of all, in Montevideo, Hitting the Heights was much more of a talk, since there were around 300 people present and we were in an auditorium at a conference, so the set up was very talk-oriented.  Hence the use of the following slides, which you can access here: Hitting the Heights

But let me talk you through them a little, in case you’d like to join us on our reflection journey up the mountain, or would even like to  give a similar workshop yourself.

I started by explaining where my mountain metaphor came from – my wife wanting to climb Aconcagua while I wanted to go to the IH Dos conference in London.  Since I ended up not being able to go, I ended up enjoying the videos of the talks on the IH World website.

Jim's ladder of teacher stages

Jim’s ladder of teacher stages

First of all Jim Scrivener takes us through the reasons for Demand High and uses a ladder to explain why teachers can use Demand High as a way to continue developing their higher skill sets.

and then Adrian gives us some practical examples of putting Demand High into practice.


What I did in the talk was summarise these two talks and blend them together with another by Steve Brown, the slides for which he makes available on his blog for others to use – and so I did!   Here are the aims for Steve’s session (click on the slide for a link to his blog) – he nicely splits them into Low Demand and High Demand.  The aim of my talks (and this blog post) were very much to allow the audience to reflect on their teaching…

One main tenet of Demand High is the focus on three areas of teaching and the teacher – our attitude towards our students, where we focus our energy and whether we are continuing to improve our techniques.


The attitude shift they call for is key to the whole concept of Demand High – are we really pushing our students to do the best they can?  Are we demanding enough of them?  Or is our attitude more lax than that – ‘They’re doing enough’, ‘I doubt they can do much better’, ‘That’ll do’.  Most of my audience agreed that we do fall into this trap too often and we do need to keep ourselves focused more on pushing our students (and also getting them to push themselves).
Slide14In order to do this, we also need to focus our energies on high demand teaching and this is another key point that Jim & Adrian ask us – are we actually running away from the real teaching that needs to be going on in our classrooms?  Are we afraid to get our hands dirty? Learning a language is a messy, difficult job and we need to be putting in the detailed ‘grimy’ work to get it done.  The Communicative Approach in particular has led us (allowed us) to facilitate the students communicating, doing things (mechanically?), but are we getting involved enough in teaching forms and giving constructive feedback that ensures they are really making progress and improving step by step?


And finally, in order to do this, are we using the best, most effective techniques to do so?  Are we armed with ways of helping our learners learn?  Are we equipping them with the best techniques for learning by themselves away from the classroom?  Are we continually striving to explore new ways of doing and reflecting on the most effective ways of teaching in the different contexts we find ourselves?  Are there enough ‘nudging interventions’ in our classes?

Most of us seem prepared to answer No! to most of these questions, which is why I find this session such an excellent reflective tool.  It makes us ask the questions of ourselves, and hopefully as we now move into the detail, provides some possible answers too.    Jim goes on to compare received contemporary ideas with their suggestions for Demand High teaching.  In the workshop we tried to match these up ourselves, but here you have them in their full glory.

First of all consider the left hand column – do you agree with Jim that these are part of the status quo?  Do they happen in your classroom?


In the talks, we had a mix of yes and nos, which shows that most of us are a little further up the mountain than Jim and Adrian give us credit for (or perhaps they felt the need to start below sea level in order to include everyone and not lose some less able / experienced climbers along the way).  And when we compared them with the right hand column, there were lots of knowing nods and ‘yes that happens in my class’ and ‘yes that’s always my aim’, but it was good to see some ‘I’d like it to happen even more’ ‘I don;t always achieve this’ and ‘I hadn’t thought of that’ or ‘I’ve forgotten about that one recently’ in there as well. So wherever your starting point, be it base camp, halfway up the mountain or even below sea level, there’s definitely something in here for you and this task opens us up and prepares us for some more detailed reflection on our teaching.  Which brings us back to Steve Brown…

Steve suggests some areas which we might already consider as Demand High teaching :


but then asks if they really are such good ideas after all.  This is where things get rather controversial, since Steve takes a very ambitious view of Demand High teaching.  In fact, he gave me some…

so I had to talk to the mountain to see where I stood on these matters.  So in the slides you have the original wisdom, Steve’s Demand High turn around, and then my middle ground.  One example here to show you how to interpret this section of the slides…


Steve suggests and we probably mostly agree that it’s received wisdom to plan your lesson.  But Steve asks us to consider what the Demand High results of not doing this might be, listed in the above slide. I then take these to the wisdom of the mountain, and come up with the responses in the slide below.  Sometimes I completely agree with Steve, sometimes I think he goes a little too far to elicit a reaction and sometimes I think he’s missed a point.  As you work through the slides and compare the two views, you can make up your own mind, but the idea of the activity is to help you see where you stand on some fundamental concepts of classroom practice.


Plenty of theory to be getitng on with then.  But what about putting it into practice?  Jim and Adrian don’t suggest too many ways of actually Demanding High in the classroom.  Adrian has a pronunciation suggestion (of course!) which is an excellent drilling technique I’d never come across before and it does work really well.  It simply involves getting the studnets to hear your model of the language before they repeat it themselves, to hold on to their mind’s recording of your voice and repeat it as many times as they can before they lose it (normally after around five seconds) – try it out in class, it’s quite a powerful technique.

To finish up I suggest a few ideas of ways I’m going to try and Demand High in my own classes, which you can enjoy below…



Differentiation is an area I’ve not thought about too much since I tend to teach monolingual classes which are pretty well levelled, but I know it’s an area I should be considering more even within this context.  I found a helpful self-reflection task on how differentiated your teaching is, which also gives some practical ideas about how to go about doing it.  Are you more to the left or the right of the differentiation clines?  As with all these ideas I could blog a separate post on them, so keeping it brief here.



Early finisher exercises are another area I’d like to widen my repartee in.  I give one simple example here, but want to spend time and perhaps a blog post leading to a workshop on how to engage and push the fast finishers.  I obviously need a lot more time to Demand High of myself…



And as a teacher trainer, I always like to encourage observation, since I consider it the most effective development tool.  So here are a couple of Demand High peer observation tasks for you to try out when watching and being watched.

Hitting the heights observation

Student peaks

And finally, giving the learners more motivating, realistic/authentic and Demand High homework tasks is an area I feel I can improve in.  Again I share just one simple idea here, but hopefully more will be on the way someday.  Learners had to go and watch youtube videos and find examples of unreal past conditions and results to share with their classmates.  Then they brought them into class and their friends had to guess where they were from.  We ended up showing them in context on mobiles to check their predictions.  The blank one is because some didn’t find any – but they had lots of intense listening practice anyway as they tried to find them…



It’s a very simple idea with very little teacher preparation, but really engaging and personalised for the students. One I’m going to use again and again, tweeking here and there of course. So we’ve reached the summit of the mountain and the view looks pretty spectacular.  We’ve had some tough times on the journey and had to look inside ourselves to find the attitude, energy and techniques to get to the top, but with a little help along the way from Jim, Adrian and Steve we made it!

Now all that’s left is to share the tale of your journey with friends and family once you get back home.  How are you Demanding High of yourself and your students?  Which areas are you going to choose to work on?  What Demand High techniques and activities are you adding to your teaching?  Please do share with us here, we’d love to hear from you.

Congratulations on Demanding High, enjoy the view, and remember by Demanding High, you’ll Hit the Heights!




7 responses

10 06 2013

Fantastic stuff Neil, thanks for sharing. I really must come and see you talk some time!

16 06 2013

Thanks Damian. I would love to come and see you sometime too. Maybe we should organize a joint conference!

12 06 2013
12 06 2013

Great stuff, Neil – this is exactly the sort of thing I was hoping people would do with my workshop materials. Good to see you showing where your views differ from mine as well. This is definitely not a method, so there’s loads of scope for different views and interpretations.
Thanks for sharing!

16 06 2013

Thanks Steve I’m glad you like it your slides and ideas were really helpful and I enjoyed taking them on a little bit further

12 06 2013

Reblogged this on stevebrown70's Blog.

16 06 2013
Conference presentations index | A Muse Amuses

[…] Hitting the Heights – Demanding Teachers for Demanding Students […]

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