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Credit where credit is due on #PedagooFriday

You’re probably aware of our end-of-the-week hashtag #PedagooFriday.  The idea is to create a space on Twitter where teachers can share a positive experience from their classroom and, perhaps, develop a happier tone at the end of the week.  It’s been quite a week.  Nuff said.

As this week’s Duty Moderator, I noticed that several tweachers posting links to blogs about their practice in their #PedagooFriday tweets and I’ve taken the liberty of producing a summary here.

If you’re interested in tech, you’ll be interested in @stirdigilearn’s post. The EduTechScot2017 conference took place in Glasgow and the event focused on STEM learning through digital technology and how it can be harnessed by educators to equip themselves and children with the tools to succeed. Sounds interesting, right? See the Stirling Digital Learning blog post for a concise review of some of the cool resources encountered at the event. See the #EduTechScot hashtag on Twitter for even more information about the conference.

Tech in the form of visualisers seemed to be flavour of the week, appearing in posts from two teachers at schools in different parts of the UK.

Firstly, @MrMarsham tagged a post on @BedfordAcademy’s ‘Teaching and Learning Showcase’ blog which contains a collection of shared teaching and learning ideas contributed by staff from Bedford Academy in Milton Keynes.  In his post ‘My best friend, the visualiser’ Dave Marsham explains how he makes use of this piece of tech to model and to give feedback on answers in Maths and History lessons.

Secondly, @mrsjmasters tagged a tweet from @HuntResearchSch about a post by Dr Susan Smith, Science TA at Huntingdon School and Biology Tutor at York College.

Huntingdon School is one of Education Endowment Foundation’s (EEF) Research Schools Network.  Work funded in schools by EEF claims that metacognition and one-to-one teaching are cost effective, high impact means of raising attainment.  A focus group recently held at Huntingdon School tried to define metacognition and what it looks like in practice. It became clear that teachers wanted examples of what metacognition means in practice. In her post called ‘Becoming a (Metacognitive) Teacher Part 1’ Susan outlines how she uses visualisers in combination with a virtual learning environment (VLE) with her students. Part 2 is also available on the school blog.

A piece of practice-based enquiry was referenced in a tweet from @TeacherBS14, twitter handle for the web page for teaching and learning at St. Bernadette Catholic Secondary School in Bristol.  In this case, the blog post outlined an action research project into scaffolding and differentiation in Art with Year 8, Year 9 and SEND nurture students undertaken by Art teacher Teresa Hove.  This is Teresa’s first year in the secondary sector after a move from primary.

Last, but by no means least, our very dear friend and inventor of the #PedagooFriday hashtag @kennypieper  published ‘What’s Grown Ups Going to Think?’.  Here Kenny eloquently explains why social media should be welcoming space for all teachers.  Hear, hear Kenny!

In terms of this particular collaborative blog, if it’s about your teaching practice, we’d like to help share it.  You can cross post.  Yes, we’re more than happy to accept posts that appear on other blogs. Otherwise, you can write something just for us. There’s certainly a big Pedagoo audience out there, with currently over 32 thousand followers on social media.

It’s good to share, and it’s the entire raison d’être of the Pedagoo community. Come blog with us! http://www.pedagoo.org/newpost/

Sport Education Model

I got the idea to try out the Sport Education from my departmental PT as he wanted to see how it worked, so I thought why not a give it a go? What can go wrong? I can can only learn more and take it forwards!!

What is Sport Education, and why use it?

Sport Education has shown to provide the possibility for better learning and social experiences for all learners through a learner-centred approach of teaching. Sport Education was produced to provide learners with an inclusive, encouraging and entertaining experience within sport. This is created because Sport Education allows teachers to assist and guide students to construct their own learning experience, rather than simply telling students what to do. Furthermore it helps to develop students into experienced, knowledgeable and keen sports people.

The development of responsibilities directly links into the health and wellbeing experience and outcomes, HWB 3-11a, HWB 3-19a, HWB 3-23a regarding social and physical wellbeing. These experiences and outcomes within the Curriculum for Excellence progress and expand student’s capability to undertake diverse roles and responsibilities within sport rather than simply performing. For example coaching, or refereeing. Also considering the significant aspects for learning there are numerous personal qualities that Sport Education targets such as confidence, responsibilities, leadership and communication.

It is suggested that Sport Education is producing situations in which the students benefit from continuing reflective development. Consequently inspiring students to contemplate their own learning and the learning happening around them. Sport Education contains a lot of self-management encouraging students to problem solve and make decisions for themselves. Most of the students responded well to this pedagogical model settling well into the sessions, with the team leader taking charge of the group also resolving issues. However in one particular group the students were not responding to the team leader and causing a problem which is where I had to step in to resolve the issue myself. In this situation I could have changed the groups around to split up the students causing issues. If I had spent more time with the students beforehand I would have had a better relationship and known who would work well together.

What did I do?

I chose to implement the Sport Education model to my S1 mixed gender, mixed ability badminton class. This group have many different behavioural and classroom management issues which can become a hindrance sometimes. However I still thought that these students could learn a variety of life skills and sport knowledge from this teaching pedagogy.

When planning I decided each team would be chosen by the class themselves; selecting their own team name and team captain. The team captain is overall in charge of the whole team and is responsible for making sure all team members carry out their responsibilities and stay on task. Other responsibilities within the team are coaches, reporter, referee, equipment manager, and score keeper. This gave the students the opportunity to be involved whether they are physically capable or not. I created badminton pack’s for each group which were labelled with the team name and included; – to do sheet, register, task cards, observation sheet, score cards, twitter sheets, reporter book, board pen and eraser. This allowed the students to pick up the pack, watch the demonstration and then have everything that they need to complete the lesson effectively.  Consequently allowing students to be more independent and self-manage their own learning.

 

image1

My badminton pack for the students

image2 (2)

The roles and responsibilities for each group

Within the lesson I had planned and built in routines which were the same every week so that the students were completely aware of what was expected of them. Students were to organise themselves when they come into the games hall with the courts, registers and sit ready for the demonstrations. Each week there was a different focus for the students; week 1 – serve, week 2 – overhead clear, week 3 – drop shot, week 4 – net shot, week 5 – underarm lift. Each of these different badminton shots follow on from one another in order to build up a sequence as the student’s progress. This allowed students to gain more than just a bank of badminton shots and when to effectively use them. Students would gain a more in-depth knowledge of all aspects of the sport.

Students had to sit around a badminton court were I would run through all of the tasks that are within their badminton pack for the lesson. When completing the demonstrations I would give students the key teaching points, and observations to look for of the shot. The students were to look at their observation cards during the demonstration to make sure they understood the task. I planned to add in demonstrations to ensure students gained some content knowledge from me and the observation cards as a reference point for help.

Most of the roles are self explanatory and you do as it says on the tin! If you are a coach you use the observation cards and tell someone where they need to improve their technique. If you’re a scorekeeper you keep the score.If you’re a referee you have to make sure that everyone is aware of the rules and adhering to them. If you’re the equipment manager you have to ensure that your group has the court set up correctly and the right equipment needed for the lesson. However the reporter is more complicated. Reporters were to comment on the different elements of the lesson such as; – learning, enjoyment, sportsmanship. Reporters commented upon something they felt necessary and important throughout the lesson for example:- sportsmanship, ability, leadership, behaviour. However they must include the significant aspects of learning. This was getting them to start considering skills they were achieving. Furthermore students are linking learning with the significant aspects of learning, making individuals more familiar with the correct terminology. Subsequently including literacy within each lesson which is a responsibility for all teachers to consider within every lesson within the Scotland educational system.

image1 (2)  An example of the coaching observation card that I used

2

The front of the reporters sheet and example of an answer given by students

image2The back of the reporters sheet to remind them of the SALs 

What I hoped pupils would learn from this experience?

I hoped that through Sport Education that the students would gain a greater understanding of badminton. Rather than just the skills and some rules, by the end they would understand how to coach, referee, report, organise their own activities and keep the score. This helps students to gain more experiences within badminton and help others to learn with them along the way.

Students are also expected to take responsibility for their own learning. This helps students to be more independent and confident in their own ability; giving students a sense of belonging within the classroom (Hastie, 2012). Consequently Sport Education includes co-operative learning within PE which enhances physical performance and cognitive understanding supporting students, therefore increasing their motivation and self-esteem (Metzler, 2011).

Sport Education places students are at the heart of the learning process within small groups (Slavin, 2014). Students’ working co-operatively gives individuals the opportunity to work together effectively and energetically in small groups to enhance their own learning and others (Darnis and Lafont, 2015). Alexander et al (2014) approves and expands to propose that this style of learning assists both student’s accomplishments and social wellbeing. It also helps to facilitate learners to integrate their own knowledge and apply this within other situations. Subsequently allowing them to find as area that they excel in and creating a sense of success (Perlman, 2014). For example students who are good and confident at the serve can go and assist another member of the team to improve.

 

Evaluation of how successful the learning was in the series of lessons

Positives of the Sport Education model

There are many positives and advantages to implementing the Sport Education model with a secondary PE setting.  Overall many of the students responded and engaged well with this style of teaching and learning.

Sport Education gives students more responsibility to take ownership of their own learning. It proves to be very effective to hand the responsibility over so that students are responsible for organisation and helping one another. It gives students the opportunity to learn from one another, which is building upon student’s social wellbeing. Sport Education provides a social environment that examines relationship between students, overall assisting with student’s social wellbeing. Subsequently individuals within the class who have previously been disregarded have now become affiliated with peers in higher social groups. This is apparent when you look at the grouping registers and know the personalities of the students.

Sport Education provides structure to the lesson ensuring that students are always aware of where they should be and what is expected of them. Consequently this makes the lessons run smoother and quicker as it is the same structure and arrangement each week, which means they should be completely aware of what is happening. Within this structure the team leader is responsible for their own team ensuring that everyone is correctly and effectively fulfilling their role within the group. Students were to record which individual is carrying out what role so that everyone is clear and knows exactly what they are responsible for. It was evident from the lessons as the students always knew what I was expecting of them and if they were unsure I had the instructions written out in their team packs.

Giving each student a different responsibility offers each student to be appropriately challenged so everyone is always learning. For example if the students are physically capable and can perform an overhead clear they should be transferring their knowledge as a coach to help other students. Responsibilities can help to motivate students and provide individuals with numerous diverse opportunities to experience success within an inclusive environment focused upon team work and contribution. However some students can then hide behind their responsibility or referee or coach and not physically participate within the lesson. Therefore as previously mentioned I ensured they rotated roles each week.

 

Challenges of the Sport Education model

Sometimes the pace of the lesson can be compromised at the start of the block as the students have to take time to get acquainted with the system.  Students were in S1 and the principle teacher wanted the Sport Education model to be implemented from first year and then followed through each year. However this model was implemented in badminton which is a sport that most students had not played in primary school therefore they have no prior knowledge. This made is difficult to complete some of the tasks and effectively peer assess one another as they didn’t have the correct depth of knowledge to coach one another. Students must teach one another the different badminton shots but will find it difficult as they do not have the background knowledge to support this. Consequently I created reciprocal cards and observation sheets for the students to follow so the teaching points where available.

Bad behaviour can present challenging situations when implementing the Sport Education model. For example it is difficult to give students the responsibility to organise themselves if they are distracting one another and misbehaving. Student centred teaching and learning requires a certain amount of trust between pupils and the teacher, if this trust is broken and students misbehave learning does not occur.

Finally the Sport Education resources take a lot of time to prepare and get everything in order for the lesson to run smoothly. I had to prepare individual observation sheets for each shot, registers for each group, task cards for each individual activity and shot, score sheets, and twitter sheets. However once the resources are created they are completed and only need slightly altering in the future.

 

Hope this has been useful and let me know if anyone wants a copy of the resources!!

 

Thanks

Blendspace

As one of our digital leaders at school, responsible for raising our digital prowess and use of technology to enhance learning (rather than just a bolt on), I am often asked what are my most recommended apps/tools to use in the classroom. I am by no means an expert – in fact, quite late to the technological game when it comes to it being integrated into the classroom. I have learnt a great deal from experts in the field, such as Mr P ICT and Rob Smith (founder of Literacy Shed). As an avid fan of all things technological, I spend my CPD time learning from them and gleaning whatever I can from the trail they, and others, have carved out. So, with all that in mind, I apologise now if anything I share might be ‘old news’ for you.

My favourite at the moment is ‘Blendspace’, which does exactly as it says on the tin – blend the ‘digital’ space with that of your classroom. I have found this tool invaluable with any children I teach (KS1 – KS2). It allows me to create a digital pinboard, for the children to access online content that I have chosen and selected beforehand. I have used QR codes for a while (another post to come) to allow children to quickly access a website, without having to enter in the inordinately long address. When I have needed them to access multiple websites, I have given them multiple QR codes, which in its essence, is fine. Except there is something better. Blendspace.

You can access this website (soon to be an app also, I hear) through your TES account. If you don’t have one of those….you’d be the first teacher I’ve met who doesn’t. Go get one! It’s free and is a whole remarkable resource all of its own. I don’t have time to unpack the genius of this place here and now. Alternatively, you can just sign up for Blendspace.

Blendspace allows me to compile any digital content that I want in one central place for the children to access. I can upload directly from TES, Google, Youtube, images….etc.

Here is a screen grab of a lesson I delivered a few weeks back to Year 6 on Charles Darwin. I wanted them to research, using the questions they had generated. By ‘googling’ Charles Darwin, they would have spent too much time sifting through to find relevant KS2 appropriate information. Here, I provided it for them.

Untitled

Here you can see that I found a PDF, links to websites and a video, through the search function on the right. I then just clicked and dragged into the available boxes on the left. Here, all the research resources they need are in one location. Now, for them to access this ‘digital lesson’ I have done one of two things. Either:

1 – Used the link above as a hyperlink on our class blog. I tend to do this if I want them to access this outside of school.

2 – Clicked on the green ‘share’ button at the top and then copied and pasted the QR code onto a document. I usually display this on the board, or print off for tables. All our children have access to ipads and so can scan the QR code, which will take them to what you can see above.

Saying that – it isn’t the longer address and they could type it into the address bar. Not my first choice, but not a problem either.

Once created, I named my lesson and it became forever in my library of lessons. Others can access it too, if they search for ‘Charles Darwin’. On that note, if you click on ‘blendspace’ at the top, it will take you back to your dashboard – your homepage, if you will. From here, you can search for lessons that already exist, that others have made. Super useful.

You could differentiate the ‘lesson’ by creating a different pinboard for each group. I have also used it in a carousel activity, when I needed multiple stations, each with different research. My students have also used this to create ‘lessons’ on a topic they researched for Home Learning, to make the websites/resources they used available to all. After we have finished, the QR codes are added to the display board, for anyone to continue to research in their own time. A number do.

I was using this before we purchased iPads. Whilst I believe they do make it smoother, they are not essential to using this excellent tool.

I used this weekly in some capacity or another, in a range of lessons throughout the curriculum. Sometimes, it has just been set up as a station for those who are ready for challenge/early morning work, with websites to SPAG revision, phonics games etc. We have even used it to upload the children’s actual work, be it writing, calculations or art work, so that it can be seen by others (parents, children, teacher) all in one place – a gallery of learning.

If you are already using it, I would love to hear about other ways you have used it, whatever your setting. If you haven’t, please let me know if you started using it and what you thought of it. My staff were really excited to discover this and have found it invaluable already. I hope it is for you too.  Happy blending!

Peer and self assessment

I have seen students self and peer assessing with no guidance, structure or success criteria. In my opinion it doesn’t work. If the students knew what to do well and how to improve they would have done it in their own work in the first instance.

Comparatively, I have seen some fantastic peer and self-assessment with the students creating their own criteria and really setting the task, so who better to evaluate progress than them. In some instances using a more able student to offer guidance has been a nice touch to peer assessment.

My department have settled on the examples included. This simple criteria that can focus them in on a narrow aspect of their writing and then make them have to think about their performance overall, has had great success in the department. Although, I would say it doesn’t work as well with lower ability groups as they tend to go for a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answer. One of my colleagues’ @historyteach91 developed a tick box for LA but it doesn’t allow for the same focused thinking and improvement – something for us to work on.

The idea was first presented to me, by an educational consultant I was working with when I first took over the department, as a way for students to assess any piece of writing in its planning stage. We use it for assessing plans but also for a stop and think tool when the students are writing and not thinking about it. As my Mum used to say: they open their mouths and let their bellies rumble!

The impact can range from neater handwriting as they are more focused when they start writing again, better paragraph structure (see my WEL structure), more accurate and relevant detail and analysis.

The students have done this often enough and been given feedback on their feedback so they know what is expected. Some students have even given their sheet back and asked for more meaningful comments!

Let me know if you would like any other examples and if you think it could be improved please get in touch, I’d love to develop it further.

Lindsay Bruce
@historyteach0

Peer assessmentCU2ATBwWoAAeclw

Differentiated CPD – It’s The Future! I’ve Tasted It!

Have you ever been forced to sit through a whole day training session on an area of teaching you consider to be one of your strengths? Has a trainer visited your school to say that you should be teaching in a style that really wouldn’t work for you? Did you go to the same Teachmeet as me last year where an ‘Educational Consultant’ stood up and spent ten minutes telling a room full of qualified teachers what the difference is between formative and summative assessment? (She gave me her business card if anyone’s interested.) How about a death by Powerpoint experience? An evangelist with an annoying amount of enthusiasm for an idea that’s a tiny bit rubbish? If you are like me, the answer will be yes to all of these questions.

It’s funny how we are all busy differentiating our lessons for the benefit of the children we teach. But what about our learning? How can we make sure that we are getting the CPD we need to be the best we can be? The answer is something like Pedagoo Hampshire.

A menu selection of 40 mini seminars, each delivered by different speakers who ranged from primary, secondary and further education teachers from across the south east of England, was available to choose from before arrival. After a talk by @graham_irisc which set the tone superbly, it was off to the starter course – Telescopic Education by @chrischivers2 and Collaboration by @hayleymc2222. Hayley bought to the table a plethora of suggestions on who to follow in the Twitter world as well as some wise words on how to organise a Teachmeet – something I would recommend to anyone looking to develop their own, as well as their school’s teaching and learning philosophy and delivery. I love the fact that Hayley organised one in her NQT year – amazing! It was nice to get a mention on one of Hayley’s slides (they say everyone is famous for 5 minutes don’t they?) but I didn’t let this go to my head. Instead, I concentrated on the importance of learning from each other. Next, Chris Chivers stimulated a discussion between a group of primary teachers on the barriers faced when trying to implement a bottom-up teaching model to secure progress. Admittedly, the group digressed into a sharing of ideas on curriculum enrichment and CPD opportunities and what the barriers to these are instead. The message was loud and clear – lots of teachers feel scared to digress from the core subjects – a terrible shame in my opinion, and that of my peers in the group.

The sorbet course to cleanse the pallet came in the guise of @basnettj on giving pupils feedback and @lizbpattison on how differentiation might just be counter-productive. There were some great discussions generated around the importance of involving students in feedback. I raised the question of peer feedback in mixed ability groups and whether this can work for the higher attainer – I haven’t yet found my answer. Then my clever (sorry I mean able/gifted/talented *delete as applicable) friend Liz stepped up with some fascinating thoughts on the effectiveness of differentiation on the growth mindset we are all looking to expand. What did I take away from her talk? Well, it reinforced my view that differentiation is brilliant when done properly but can be disastrous when done badly – as it was for Liz during her school days when she was labelled ‘middle ability.’ (You wouldn’t know it to hear her now!) Unfortunately for Liz, but fortunately for us, she still can’t let it go, which means I am very much looking forward to hearing about the research she continues to do into the subject.

The main course was a corned beef and pickle sandwich (me) paired with a fillet steak and triple cooked chips (@graham_irisc). Graham invited a discussion on what is important to focus on – is it inspection? Is it budgets? Is it the standard of biscuits in the staffroom? No, the room came to the conclusion it was teaching & learning. Although, in my opinion, biscuits definitely feed into this. (Pardon the very accidental pun) Then it was my turn to evangelise on the benefits of empowering middle leaders along with some tips on how these vital members of staff can empower themselves to deliver brilliant learning experiences for their pupils. Thank you to everyone who turned up – I hadn’t slept for a week wondering if I still would have delivered my presentation to an empty room! I think I would have – it would have been a terrible waste to have not given it an airing.

And then, just when the full-up sleepy feeling started to take over, there was @natalielovemath to wake us up from our slumber with a very inspiring talk on using objects bought from Poundland to enrich Maths lessons. I don’t teach Maths anymore and this session only served to make me sad about this fact. Although, the idea of pasta graphs, children writing on disposable table cloths and sticking numbers on fly-swatters have been enthusiastically received by the Maths teachers at my school! Then, just when I thought things couldn’t get any more surreal (in a brilliant and inspiring way!) @haslemeremuseum extracted woolen brains from a poor Egyptian rag doll. Learning through objects is very under-rated and can be the key to unlock the door of learners who struggle to take an interest.

Before departing, the classy port and cheese board came in the form of @lcll_director who pressed home the need for using days like this to actually make changes in our practice. “All of these brilliant ideas are no good just stored in our heads,” murmured the rag doll from session 4.

So there we have it – a day of differentiated CPD just for me. Imagine if groups of schools got together to do this at the start of every school year – giving teachers a choice of CPD suited just to them through the sharing of strengths and passions of their peers. Would that be better than a whole-school INSET day which doesn’t differentiate for the needs of every learner; in this case, teachers? I think so. How about you?

What’s the point of differentiation? #PedagooHampshire

Everyone assumes that differentiation is the right approach to mixed ability teaching, but does it actually work? Do students necessarily maximise their learning and what is the psychological effect on students of differentiating tasks and resources?

It was with these concerns in mind that I researched the merits of differentiation by task. I do it in my teaching, but am not always convinced it’s the right thing to do. I often feel quite uncomfortable differentiating resources and tasks and even more so when I group students by ability.

The first theory I explored was the Pygmalion effect. The self-fulfilling prophecy and labelling theory by Rosenthal and Jacobson (1968) was a study of one elementary school where all children were tested for IQ in order to predict academic potential. The teachers were told that 20% of (randomly selected) pupils could be expected to show rapid intellectual growth within a year. The children were re-tested at the end of the period and it was found that the sample population did indeed show greater gains in IQ, despite them having been selected at random. The implication is, of course, that teachers’ expectations significantly affect their pupils’ performance. Rosenthal and Jacobson speculated that the teachers’ manner, facial expressions, degree of friendliness and encouragement conveyed their pre-formed impression, which produced a self-fulfilling prophecy.

The Pygmalion effect is what I fear from differentiating resources and tasks. I worry that by grouping students by ability in a seating plan or allocating students targeted worksheets serves merely to reinforce feelings of superiority or inadequacy. I next turned to Vygotsky’s (1997) sociocultural perspective on learning. He tied cognitive development to social interaction and makes several pivotal observations about how we learn:

  1. The Zone of Proximal Development (ZPD) is the area of learning between the child’s current development level and the level of development which could be achieved through adult guidance or in collaboration with more capable peers (who are already operating in the child’s ZPD).
  2. Pupils learn best when they choose their own activities with encouragement from their teacher to tackle challenges.
  3. Pupils construct meaning (and therefore understanding) through interactions with others. This is known as social constructivism.

So in our teaching, we should:

  • direct pupils to work in their ZPD (and therefore differentiate the resources, tasks and outcomes)
  • give pupils a choice in their learning activities
  • place pupils in mixed ability groupings so that they can co-construct knowledge (the more able pupil learns through explaining and elaborating and the less able pupil learns through questioning and enquiring)

What does this mean for differentiation?

I teach in a sixth form college and have carried out a survey of all the students I teach: 70 Year 12 and 13 mixed-ability students in Geography and also 20 Gifted and Talented students in one of my Target A* groups. All students come from a large number of partner schools in the area and have target grades of A to E.

Question 1: Have you ever had lessons where resources or tasks were different for different ability students?

  • Most students reported being put in sets from primary school. The most common subjects were Maths, English, Science and MFL.
  • Many reported differentiated worksheets in lessons according to target grade (or Higher/Foundation level GCSEs).
  • The G&T students said they were usually given an extra task or more difficult homework in addition to higher level worksheets.

Question 2: Have you ever been put in a seating plan by ability, that you are aware?

  • The majority of students said they weren’t aware of ever having been put in a seating plan apart from the G&T students who were either regularly seated together or deliberately in mixed ability groupings.
  • Some students did, however, mention being seated by table in some subjects ‘named’ the A*/A table; the B table; the C/D table.

Question 3: How did either of these activities affect your learning?

Positive  Negative
(having different worksheets)

  • were more suited to my ability
  • made me feel like the smart kid
  • let me go for harder activities because I want to push myself
  • pushed me further than I otherwise would
  • I felt more motivated
  • It allowed me to work at the difficulty I was comfortable with

(mixed ability groupings)

  • I felt teaching others helped me to understand the work
  • I was pushed to do better (by my peers)

(students given a choice of activities)

  • This had a positive effect on my learning as I was able to challenge myself further
  • We were given sheets without being asked what level we wanted and this was unfair
  • I would always prefer to be asked which worksheet I wanted
  • If I was given easier work, I wasn’t challenged and didn’t learn anything
  • Sometimes (being given a worksheet) it made you feel thick
  • In English and Maths it made me feel like I was incapable of higher grades because of what my teacher gave me

 

 

I think there are obvious links here between the survey responses and Vygotsky’s theory. It certainly does appear that students like working in their ZPD, rather than in their ‘comfort zone’, and that they want to be able to choose which level they work at. This makes perfect sense to me. How can I possibly know what prior knowledge each student in my class has of a topic? How can I possibly know what they want to achieve at A level?

The other message that clearly comes from the responses is the Pygmalion effect of labelling students by ability. Some said that the tables were openly labelled the A*/A table, the C/D table, etc., while others said that while the teacher never explicitly named each table, everyone “knew their place”. The fact that a student is placed on the ‘D table’ and then given a ‘D grade’ worksheet surely ensures that they will never achieve higher?

The G&T students had a particularly insightful response to the survey. They had identical responses to the other students about the first 2 questions (they come from the same schools), but their experience of differentiation as higher ability pupils was quite different:

  • It’s helpful if you’re higher ability and put with higher ability students but not helpful if with lower ability because you’re not challenged
  • Being higher ability meant I was often left to get on with my work alone – I felt neglected
  • Putting higher ability learners at the back of the classroom only isolates them from discussion with the teacher
  • I enjoyed being put with similar ability pupils because it enabled me to be challenged in lessons and bounce ideas off other people
  • Being grouped together was good because it allowed for a more challenging environment
  • Being grouped by mixed ability was just disruptive because we either had to entertain the others or wait for them to catch up
  • Additional harder tasks are very useful, but follow up would be even better

So, again, what does this mean for differentiation?

I think that Vygotsky was right in his first two proposals: namely, that all students should be working in their ZPD and should be given the choice as to what level they work at (albeit with guidance from the teacher). All students, regardless of their target grade, need to be challenged and stretched but they must be given autonomy over their learning decisions. Perhaps the D grade pupil might not be able to tackle the ‘explain’ or ‘justify’ task just yet, but give them support to scaffold their response, and they’ll surely get there.

Vygotsky’s third proposal is less clear. On the whole, the G&T students did not have positive learning experiences of working in mixed ability groups, although many of the other cohort did. The G&T students’ reports of feeling “neglected” and “isolated” reveal a classroom truth which I suspect we are all guilty of: namely, letting the high ability students get on with the work while the teacher supports less able students. I don’t profess to know the solution to this – I suspect it lies somewhere in well-designed carousel activities, project work or even in extra-curricular clubs – but it is something we must all be mindful of.

To conclude, my anxieties about differentiating tasks and resources appear unfounded. Both Vygotsky and my students say that it’s the most effective way to promote learning and while I still have not solved seating plans, I am much more comfortable in my approach to differentiation in the classroom.

Liz Bentley-Pattison

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