By Kate Roberts
There are many myths about differentiation – it takes hours, it involves hundreds of different worksheets, it’s impossible to differentiate for everyone in your class… so how can teachers differentiate and still have a life.
At Bradley Stoke Community School, we have taken a pragmatic approach to differentiation and focused on developing low energy teaching strategies. We have discovered that it’s about getting the students to work independently, assess and monitor their own progress and decide their own route through their learning.
For the first time this year, our classes in Science are mixed ability in year 7, 8 and 9. At KS4 we also have completely mixed ability Double Science groups that run alongside Triple Science and BTEC classes. Arranging the groups like this has brought differentiation to the fore-front of our minds and made it a hot-topic of conversation during team meetings. We’ve taken a gamble with the groupings and encountered both successes and failures in our attempts to provide individualised learning opportunities. However, as a forward looking department, we are prepared to take risks, learn from our mistakes and think creatively in the classroom.
Sharing best practice and working together to stimulate and challenge each other’s perceptions has been key. We aren’t all perfect and not everyone is fully on-board, yet, but the shift towards creating personalised learning experiences for all students is definitely heading in the right direction.
The approach we have taken is not one of creating loads of new resources, but of using the existing resources we have in a more creative fashion. We have experimented with setting up learning encounters that last for two or three lessons, using teaching assistants and technicians more effectively, integrating ‘thunks’, using role cards, setting up help desks, training students as classroom consultants and using Bloom’s taxonomy to quickly and easily differentiate our questions. Most importantly, we are attempting to hand over choices about learning to the students.
In more and more science lessons, students are expected to assess the level they are currently working at and make the right choice about which tasks to engage with to ensure that they are making progress and continually improving their understanding. This leaves us, as teachers, free to have learning conversations with small groups, stretch the more able students and support the weaker ones.
Students are getting better at knowing who to go to or what to do when they need help (i.e. not just ask their teacher!). They are also becoming more able to discuss their progress and clearly articulate what they need to do to move forward. Following our recent Ofsted inspection in April, a science lesson was highlighted as an area where excellent use was made of peer and self-assessment to personalise learning during a revision lesson.
Whilst reading this I do not want you to think that every lesson we deliver is perfectly differentiated or that we get it right every time. The path we have chosen to take is a rocky one; some students have pushed back against the change and others have failed to engage with choices they are given or make poor choices. However, little by little we are convincing our fairly determined and opinionated students that they can trust us to guide them through their learning, rather than “teach” them.
Walk into our science office at break time and you are sure to hear anecdotes about year 11s who want their teacher to ‘just tell us the answer, sir’ or discussions between teachers about the latest advancements in ‘flow-chart learning’.
As part of the Science Teaching and Learning Conference on the 1st and 2nd of July 2013, I will share some of the more effective individualised learning strategies we have trialled and hopefully encourage you to focus on what individuals of all abilities are learning, rather than being taught.
Filed under: continuing professional development, Science teaching | Tagged: continuing professional development, differentiation, learning conference, science cpd, Science Learning Centres, science teaching conference, teaching and learning, teaching conference, teaching strategies | 1 Comment »