Differentiation (one) GPS – 29th September 2016

Trainees speed-dated and got their subject thinking hats during yesterday’s GPS focused on teaching to accommodate children’s different learning needs and the importance of challenge for all! Congratulations to Fred, Heidi and Jess M for having the most popular ideas for how to differentiate brilliantly.

Setting the Bar High


One of the challenges teachers face is ensuring that they have high expectations for all of the students they teach. So often teachers fall into the trap of expecting less of low ability sets in terms of work produced or letting students complete poor quality homework because they have worn the teacher down by repeatedly not handing work in! If students see evidence of low expectations, they will live up to those low expectations and will produce work that does not reflect their abilities thus leading to lower achievement.

At the beginning of the year, I always try to set expectations high with regards to behaviour and quality and quantity of work. Sometimes, however, this takes time to take hold! In John Hattie’s Visible Learning for Teachers he compares learning to building a brick wall – it takes time to put each brick into place in order for it to hold strong. This is the same for expectations to me: every lesson should reinforce those high expectations so that students gradually get to know who you are as a teacher. You want to be the teacher with the reputation for not giving up and the one who won’t accept poor quality work or bad behaviour

Students need to have high aspirations for what they can achieve so therefore your modeling of work should reflect this. Showing a bottom set year 11 group an example of a piece of work that is poorly spelt, misses the point and doesn’t have any development of ideas may reflect their abilities before they have learnt anything but isn’t going to show them how to get better. They need to see excellent examples of writing that they can see what can be achieved with support, scaffolding and feedback. The model above highlights this idea of high expectations and challenge perfectly (Making Every Lesson Count, Allison and Tharby). With appropriate models, high expectation and challenge, time and teacher intervention in the form of frequent feedback, students can produce the type of work that we want them to.

‘All children are apprentice craftsmen. They should be encouraged to hone and refine their work with pride and diligence until it reaches excellence’ – An Ethic of Excellence: building a Culture of Craftmanship with Students, Ron Berger

Creativity in the Classroom – Observations from English

I was fortunate enough this week to take part in a learning walk and was impressed with the level of creativity – across both KS3 and KS4 English classes.

In one year seven English lesson, the group were reading Treasure Island as a class. As we walked in, the teacher was reading aloud from the text. All of a sudden, the teacher paused, crouched down at the front of the classroom and started beckoning students over to her and begun whispering ‘hide!’ Within moments, the whole group, along with the teacher, were ‘hidden’ under the desk and the teacher continued to read aloud. It was at this moment in the novel that the characters were under threat of being discovered by pirates and had to hide themselves. The excitement from the students was delightful to see and it enabled them to understand that this was a key moment of tension in the chapter. The students could empathise with the characters. It was a moment they would not forget in a hurry!

It was also helpful to notice differentiation in action. At the time of the learning walk, there were five different year eleven lessons taking place, all studying ‘Macbeth’. The majority of the classes were focusing of act two, scene two of the text in which Macbeth kills King Duncan. In the set five group, the teacher set up the whole lesson focusing on just one key question: how does Shakespeare create tension in act two, scene two? The small group clustered around one table and observed the film version of the scene and discussed the content in order for students to have a firm basis of knowledge of what happens. The teacher then asked them to think about the structure of the scene, considering key moments of tension and how these were created e.g. the mysterious knocking. The member of staff then revealed three keyboards that she had borrowed from the music department and asked the students to create the music and sound effects to accompany the scene (!) It enabled the pupils to understand the text in action (which they must do as it was originally designed to be performed) and to understand that the tension dips and peaks throughout the scene.

In the top set group, the teacher was still encouraging creativity but predominantly through allowing students to have more autonomy in how they chose to make notes and annotate the copy of the text; some students wanted to write in full sentences in their books whereas others chose to highlight sections of the text and write in note form. This approach, allowing students to have that degree of independence, will undoubtedly be of benefit to them when it comes to revising the text as their notes will reflect their preferred way of learning.


Poundland Pedagogy £!

imageEver heard of Poundland pedagogy? It’s the idea that spending just a few pounds in a pound shop can inject creativity and fun into your lessons. For example, investing in a pack of mini trophies as prizes for effort or an inflatable beach ball for your students to pass to each other to get everyone involved in contributing ideas (maybe use this one with your more sensible groups!) Google: ‘Poundland pedagogy’ to get some other ideas.

GPS, 15th September 2016 – Lesson Planning

This week, trainees had their first of two GPS sessions focusing on delivering engaging, challenging lessons that are well-matched to students’ needs.

Planning a Lesson

Without doubt, one of my favourite parts of being a teacher is the planning. I appreciate that this may be unusual but there have been times when I have enjoyed the planning more than the delivery of some topics! This is likely to be because, as a secondary school teacher, I have elected to teach a subject I love, therefore, the opportunity to read and research some topics that I haven’t touched upon myself for a while is something I genuinely enjoy doing. It’s then considering how I can make the content accessible to students which is sometimes the tricky part. As Andy Tharby and Shaun Allison say in their fantastic text, Making Every Lesson Count (2015): ‘Always look for the easiest path to learning challenging material, not the hardest’.

There have been occasions when I’ve planned lessons that have fallen flat because the content was too difficult. Worse still, I’ve planned lessons where the content has been too simple and I’ve been left trying to invent extension tasks that are not just more of the same content, trying to avoid the: ‘You’re finished, have you? He’s more of the same task. Well done’ (teacher walks off to leave the student alone who then rarely completes the work). This is why planning is so integral. If you manage to plan lessons that are engaging, challenging, well-suited to students’ needs, that have taken into account prior learning, students’ next steps, potential behavior pitfalls, literacy and numeracy across the curriculum, include plenty of opportunities for assessment and demonstrate excellent progress every lesson, you have cracked it! Most of us, however, realise that a lot of these elements are contingent and happen within lessons and therefore don’t require any pre-planning. It’s how you respond that counts. For example, in a history lesson where the students are frequently misspelling the same key words over and over again, the teacher might pause the flow of the lesson to discuss this and display the correct spellings on the whiteboard. This is something that not all teachers find easy but will be something that will happen as your training continues.

At this early stage in our trainees’ careers, planning is essential and will often take a considerable amount of time. The key things to remember are: what do students know already? Where do I want them to be by the end of the lesson? How can I check that they have learnt anything to help me plan for next lesson?

Planning a lesson well will help to lessen behaviour issues and will have students wanting to come to your lessons. Try to enjoy it!


Differentiation and the Trainee Teacher Differentiation seems to be an area that teachers, often regardless of their subject, find challenging. One of the most obvious reasons behind this, I believe, is because there is seemingly so much to consider. Mentors and sub-mentors, quite rightly, will ask to see evidence of how trainees have differentiated for their more able students, less able students, SEND and EAL students, PP students, FSM students – perhaps not all in one lesson! Some common post- lesson questions might be: – How did you stretch your most able students? – What support did you provide X and Y this lesson? – How much progress did Z make this lesson? How do you know? Often, teachers assume that the only way to provide personalised learning that caters for the individual needs of their students is by creating individualised tasks for each group of learners. In fact, I remember one lesson where I created a typed resource for each student with a target and carefully tailored tasks for them to complete by the end of the lesson. Was the lesson a success? Not particularly. I had spent hours essentially creating 29 different worksheets that demonstrated to my observer that I was great at showing evidence of differentiation but, in fact, it didn’t really help the students in the way I wanted. With the less able, I had mainly completed the task for them by taking most of the thinking and challenge out of the activities I has set. With the middle ability students, I decided that I knew exactly what each of them could and couldn’t do so allowed no scope for them to tackle anything more challenging than what they had been given. Unsurprisingly, several of these students finished their tasks quickly. With the most able, I set them tasks that were almost impossible to achieve as I had read time and time again that more able students love open- ended activities. The difficulty here is that these students were nowhere near finished their mini- Mensa type tasks when I was ready to move on, especially since 90% of the class were starting to chat about their weekend plans and who was prettier – Kendall or Kylie… I found the feedback from this lesson hard to take. Not because it wasn’t fair and totally accurate but because I had put in so much effort and it didn’t enable my students to make the progress I wanted. It was more about showing off for my observer than supporting my students to improve. It has taken me some time to understand that strong differentiation doesn’t always have to be pre-planned. To start with, differentiation often comes in the form of differentiated pre-planned learning objectives e.g. all, most, some or must, should, could but I struggle with this. What if you are a student who is always in the ‘all’ category? Plus, isn’t that implying to your students that you have already decided what they can or cannot achieve? How is the ‘could’ objective ever going to motivate already disengaged students? Some of the most impressive and successful forms of differentiation I have tried and have observed are evidenced when the teacher demonstrates their knowledge of their students’ abilities within the lesson. Examples include: 1. Time spent. Simply spend more time with the students who need you the most. 2. Verbal feedback. Provide formative feedback to students on what they have achieved in order to improve. This might seem like an impossible task to achieve throughout the lesson but sometimes it’s just a sentence or two that points them in the right direction: That’s excellent, Tom. You’ve identified that tension increases in this part of the text. Could you now explain some of the ways Miller achieves this? Consider how this line might make the audience feel. There are plenty of other ways to differentiate before the lesson too: 1. Seating plan. This only works really well when you know your students. Put them in the area of the room that you know works best for them. 2. Marking. Set targets for students that reflect their individual needs. Also, David Didau (@LearningSpy on Twitter) said ‘marking is planning’. You’ll be far better equipped to plan for the differences in your classroom after you’ve marked a set of books or an assessment! I’m still learning how to differentiate because every year I have new classes which contain students who cannot be categorised as the same ‘more able’ or ‘less able’ group the year before. It definitely seems to come down to knowing your students. Fiona #Intialteachertraining #differentiation


Hello again, September! New schools, new stationery, new classrooms, new students… new trainee teachers! Welcome to our trainee cohort 2016 – 2017. We’d like to congratulate you for wisely choosing the most rewarding and fulfilling career there is and for choosing us to help you qualify. We’ll be asking you all to contribute to this blog during the academic year so that you can share ideas and thoughts with each other. If you’re visiting this blog to find out more about becoming a teacher and training with MEITT, please feel free to visit our website too: www.MidEssexITT.com or contact Sophie.allchin@notleyhigh.com or Lisa.perkins@notleyhigh.com