Sunday, 18 November 2012

ITP Session 5: Differentiation

The post-session task from session 4 was to plan a lesson in pairs and deliver it within school. I teamed up with the science teacher who I attend the sessions with and offered my Year 11 class as guinea pigs. They had an exam on the day of the session, so we delivered a lesson last period of that Wednesday. Since we'd recently covered the use of success criteria, we decided to focus on that part of the exam and not any teaching of mathematics. The exam includes a few 4/5/6 mark questions and the pupils in my class (20, lower end D/E grades) tend to switch off from these questions and score 0 marks. Our lesson highlighted where the marks were available in these questions and how they could get them.

First, they marked a question that looked like it would be all there. I made a simple error when multiplying 15 x 4, just to make sure that they were checking everything and many of them changed their '5 marks' to '3' because of this error ("well, that's wrong and now the answer's wrong") and we discussed that the final answer mark would still be given because the method was right. We allowed them to create their own mark scheme for a question about the Macmillan Coffee Morning before setting them off on 5 questions in groups. At parent's evening the day after many kids said "I did well on that 6 mark question, Sir. Maybe not all of them, but I definitely got some marks...".

The second part was to bring some differentiation work for a part of the upcoming session.

Anyway, on with the session...

1. Feedback on Post-Session Task
We first of all given a chance to discuss how our post-session task had gone and discussed this with out partners and the course leaders. We discussed 'what went well's (the pupils who had engaged fully doing so well) and 'even better if's (pupils able to engage fully...) and were encouraged to share a 'feeling', a 'question' or a 'learning', where I informed the rest of the course that I felt more confident about the pupils sitting their exam that afternoon.

2. What is Differentiation?
For this part of the session we were asked to write down a sentence beginning with 'Differentiation is...' (making allowances for differences  in ability/understanding and taking steps to make up for this), 'Differentiation benefits students by...' (giving them a level starting point and by allowing others to progress further) and 'A specific example of differentiation is...' ('Connect Thoughts').

After a short discussion in groups, we crowd-sourced our ideas and wrote that 'Differentiation is stretching the top and supporting the bottom, meeting the needs of all individuals or groups' and 'Differentiation benefits students by allowing students to access work and reach their potential by meeting their specific learning needs'.

3. What Makes Differentiation Effective?
...and what are potential issues?
We had a short discussion about what makes differentiation effective and what might prevent effective differentiation from taking place.
My main ideas about effective differentiation are that it allows pupils to access work at an appropriate level of challenge, but also sets them an achievable level of challenge too. There is no point differentiating your work for L3 pupils and setting L1 work or stretching your L4 pupils by setting L7 work (but I do appreciate that higher level work may be used as a motivational tool and reward - I recently took my L2 and L3 pupils onto calculating the surface area of cuboids after calculating the area of rectangles. I know they won't retain it, but them knowing that they can do it in lesson, and the more practise they get on areas of rectangles tells me that that lesson was worth it).

I feel that the main blockers to differentiation is the amount of time available to plan the differentiated activities as well as the dynamic of the class (and some pupils feeling as though they are less able...).

4. Differentiation Tasks Audit
At this point we worked in groups to assess the tasks that each of us had brought in. I took my percentages 'Connect Thoughts' activity. We thought that it was a good way to allow students to show progress from grade to grade and that it can be extended to allow students to show proficiency at different GCSE grades. The main improvements that were mentioned were the use of colours and pictures, to entice lower ability students to have a go at more difficult questions.

5. How Could We...
...differentiate a list of key words?

Suppose you have a list of 10 key words or a 20-pupil mixed ability class. The idea is that the pupils can describe what each key word means by the end of the unit.
What ideas do you have?

Maybe split the class into groups and have them act out a story for each key word? Perhaps you have pupils play charades to decide which word their class mate is acting out and discuss what each word could mean afterwards?

What about splitting the pupils into pairs and having each pair develop a 5-minute/10-minute starter or short activity where they describe the words to the class? Ask the class if they know what the words mean by showing hands, and choose them this way.

6. Observations
The observations which I took part in this week could not have been different. We saw an RE lesson in which there were 5 pupils, targeting Es to Bs, followed by an ICT lesson in which every pupil did the exact same teacher-led thing whilst we were in there.
The RE class was good in that we had time to sit and discuss the learning experience with the pupils. They were pupils who were at college on Fridays and as such did RE at different times to everyone else. Their books were a sea of different colours, peer assessments (including assessment codes - 'EU' meaning excellent understanding, 'ATQ' meaning answer the question), cutting and sticking, post-it notes, annotations of diagrams, self-chosen learning objectives and medium/long-term targets and our discussions highlighted that there was a lot of whiteboard work ongoing, pupils teaching the class and experiences such as visiting churches and places of worship. The pupils said that they felt able to request things be done in a certain way and also that their learning needs were being met.

7. Finishing Up
We returned to the room, discussed our findings and filled in our audits. I felt, going in, that my differentiation wasn't great, but having discussed what is considered to be differentiation, I think I'm alright at it!

8. Post-session Task
This week's task is to plan and deliver a 20-minute PHSCE/Maths/English lesson in pairs to 12 Year 7 pupils at the school. Having trialled the lesson that we have planned with my current Year 8 form in PHSCE, there's a strong chance that this might over run 20 minutes. So worthwhile, but so draining.

The last session (of six) is tomorrow (Monday November 19), so expect another blog sometime soon.

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