You are a teacher who wants to support all students in front of you in the classroom.
You are a teacher who wants to gain confidence and competence in your own skills and utilising them resourcefully to work within a mixed-ability setting.
You are a teacher who wants to develop a clear understanding of how to use differentiation strategies for EAL, AEN, Literacy and higher ability students.
You are a teacher who wants to teach to the best of your ability.
Does this sound like you?
If you are screaming at the screen ‘YES!!!’ then you are in the right place!
I’m here to talk a little bit about differentiation and what I’ve learned.
I love this quote from Diane Heacox, Ed.D. in “Making Differentiation a Habit”:
“When differentiation becomes a habit, it becomes the way in which we go about “school”. The teaching and learning process becomes fluid and flexible as we consider the differences in our classrooms and plan for them”.
The key word being ‘habit’.
As I researched and collaborated with other teachers on Rahoo’s CPD Course for Teachers “Differentiation” – I realised that so much of what fell into what was labelled as “differentiation” could also be labelled as “good habits” in terms of teaching and learning. Many of these methods and strategies are good practices for all learners, including those we might have in mind when we plan for differentiation.
For the CPD Course we looked at differentiating in mixed-ability classrooms, EAL, AEN, literacy support and stretching and challenging students. These tips are a snippet of what will be shared. Enjoy and I hope you find it useful!
1. Know Your Students
This might seem like an obvious statement – but how often you take the time to strategically observe and monitor individual students? How often do you ask them specific questions about their learning needs? How often do you get feedback from the class about your teaching methods and what helps them?
2. Accessibility of Resources
Is there a specific zone or space in your classroom where students can access additional resources like a tablet for research, thesaurus, objects for counting, books etc.? Is there a help-desk style table where they can safely look for additional support or resources if they are struggling with a task?
3. Success Criteria
Are you using a 3-tier approach (like All, Most, Some or even just Step 1, 2 or 3) or a graded rubric that will help guide students through lessons or activities? Without having to seek teacher help, is there a way for students to self-assess what they have done and what they need to do next? Is it visual and easy-to-follow?
4. Solo & Group Work
Do students have opportunities to collaborate with others when figuring out the learning and make learning mistakes together? Do students have opportunities to work independently and present their learning?
It is important to have opportunities for both.
When planning lessons, I use the KISS Lesson Planning Framework – it is a 4-part approach to lesson planning. Section 3 (Search for Meaning), I usually plan for collaborative learning or group or pair work when students are ‘figuring out’ a topic. Section 4 (Search for Understanding), I usually plan for independent work so children can make sense of what they have learned and gather their own thoughts.
5. Flexible Group
Do you give students the opportunity to work with different groups of students? It is important to use a blend of approaches – not just ability set groups. Using a blend of ‘specialist groups’ for students working at a higher level, mixed, choice-based groups, self-assessed groups based on in-class assessment and randomly assigned is necessary.
Allocating roles in group-work is a great way to ensure everyone is involved and on-task. Roles such as group leader, time-keeper, visual planner, digital researcher, text-book researcher and presenter, means that time is used well and children learning how to work as a team for mutual benefit. It means that all students can play their part.
7. No Hands Up Policy
This is a huge part of effective questioning and one we advocate for in our CPD Course “Assessment for Learning”. It is well-researched and improves the contribution of all students in answering teacher questions.
Simply put, the teacher asks a question of the class, pauses for 7 seconds wait-time (more on that later!) and then calls on a student to answer. The students do not raise their hands at any point to self-nominate themselves to answer. Only the teacher chooses the person to answer.
Undoubtedly, this is tough for some students at the start – however as their teacher, to ease them in, you must only target students with questions you feel that they are capable of – until they are ready for increased challenge!
8. Wait Time
Why are we so nervous with the sound of silence in a classroom? Why do we expect classroom Q&A’s to be like rapid-fire buzzer rounds on TV game shows? Seriousy?!
Research shows that by pausing, and giving students time to think, we increase the quality of student answers. Teachers typically only give 0.9 seconds wait time. To improve learning and engagement of ALL students, we should wait at least 7 seconds before calling on students to answer our questions.
There is a huge debate around homework with an increasing number of schools abandoning it due to research declaring it of limited learning value, but that is a story for another day! If your school gives homework, and you do too, then it is necessary to differentiate homework also – again by using success criteria or graded rubric approach or giving choice.
10. Growth Mindset
All of our children are capable of great things and with focused effort, ability can and will improve. It is important to encourage students to make mistakes and embrace failure. Getting things wrong must be celebrated and used as ‘teachable moments’ and never shamed or punished. I think most of us have been in classrooms like that in our lives and luckily things have changed. By having a growth mindset approach to learning, children will feel safe in your classroom – whereby positive outcomes will be more likely!
As I mentioned so many of these “good habits” for differentiation are just good habits for teaching and learning. Many of you are probably doing some or most of them!
I hope you enjoyed reading this and please feel free to check out Rahoo’s “Differentiation” CPD Course which is our February Course of the Month!
NQT Picnic is a specially designed online event for NQT’s in July 2022.
It is a daunting experience starting your very first teaching position – whether it is subbing or your own post! College seems like a long time ago now and you may be starting to feel a tad nervous.
Following the huge success of NQT Fest & Picnic in 2021, we are delighted to share this special event for NQT’s in July 2022 with you!
Free Resource for Teachers – End of School Year Activities!
What an exciting time of the year! Your main lessons and topics are complete and the pupils are getting excited for their summer holidays. It can be a challenging time to keep pupils engaged in classroom lessons due to exciting events on the horizon like school tours or sports days, so I like to keep things light and fun and still try to ensure the learning is taking place.
Ciara McGuane is the Summer Course Director for Rahoo.ie.
Her career highlights include being filmed by BBC London teaching in the classroom and guest-lecturing at the Institute of Education in London. She has worked as a teacher, school leader, teacher trainer and initial teacher training tutor prior to setting up Rahoo.
This is always a hot topic for teachers and so important to get it right.
Here are some mistakes that teachers have shared with us when they did our EPV Summer Course on Classroom Management with Niamh Byrne, Irish Primary Teacher.
We have dipped in and out of the CPD course to learn what to do instead!
Why do we remember the words of lyrics we haven’t heard in years? Why do some experiences stick in our heads more than others? Something made them memorable!
Make your lessons stick by trying to make some aspect of it different. This could be as simple as playing music (we have played classical music when students were working independently in the past) or hooking them into the lesson with mystery tasks or controversial questions that spark debate.
When planning ask yourself: What can I do to make this lesson memorable?