Tag Archives: #PedagooHampshire

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

Education 4-18 #PedagooHampshire

I think it is probably a truism to say that children grow up. They start from birth, entering their specific environment with their embedded genetic code, then begin the process of making sense of the world around them. Indeed, it can be some time before, as parents, we begin to understand the infant “communication”. We put the words into the child’s mouth, long before they can articulate anything for themselves, requiring only a physical acknowledgement. The child’s early education is often unstructured, (hopefully) led by very enthusiastic and encouraging amateurs (parents), opening their eyes and ears to what is around them. Some will have attempted to engender specific areas such as counting and introduction to books. Of course, there will be a significant number who will not have had those advantages.

Education, in its formal sense, can start in pre-school, or certainly from the start of the Early Years Foundation Stage, with more specified routes into learning and the what of content. This journey lasts, now, until the child is 18. There appears to be a logic appearing that every child will progress through the same journey, with many (formal) checks on the way. The language of checking and judgement can have a significant impact on subsequent attitude and effort, both essential to sustained progress.

As part of Pedagoo Local Hampshire, I have offered to run a learning conversation on the issue of education 4-18, seeking to identify potential barriers and explore how they could be overcome. I’ve come up with a few starter questions, but please feel free to add any others.

Are barriers created at transition and transfer points?

Does professional dialogue and understanding support/ease transition?

Is the expectation of “set points” at certain ages helpful to longer term effort and success? Should we have baseline expectations?

Is the same curricular route necessary for every child?

Do we have a clear definition of progress?

Do schools do enough to engage and support parents in the process of their child’s learning?

Does it matter which end of the educational telescope you look through?

I would invite comments from colleagues to help me to think on the subject over the next few months, to better inform the discussion. Please feel free to develop thoughts through the comment thread below, or tweet me on @ChrisChivers2.

Cross-posted from Chris Chivers Thinks