I like to use variable-challenge assignments, or as some like to call them, "Goldilocks" assignments, to help align student confidence and motivation with the work to be done. When designed properly, the student can maintain interest and forward motion through the use of these "Goldilocks" assignments without falling into boredom or panic. Not too hard, and not too easy. Just right.
In teaching jazz improvisation, for example, I might create an assignment with five layers of challenge to it. It might look like this:
• Find the 3rds and 7ths - the "goal tones" - of each chord given.
Part A, for one point: Name the notes that make up the goal tones of each chord.
Part B, add another point: Submit a recording of your performance of the goal tones of each chord on any instrument.
Part C, add another point: Submit a recording of yourself singing the goal tones as a backing audio track plays the chords.
Part D, add another point: Submit a recording of yourself performing a prepared melodic line that uses goal tones over the backing audio track.
Part E, add another point: Submit a recording of yourself performing an improvised melodic line that uses goal tones over the backing audio track.
Every student in the class would required to engage the assignment at some level, but those engaging the level at which they are stretched without being overwhelmed find additional rewards in accomplishment, learning, and equipping for new challenges. For high-achieving students, I can also offer an optional certification or endorsement for those consistently completing assignments at the most challenging level.
Student-directed learning like this can optimize anyone's progress, while still providing accountability. - c