In her third installment discussing differentiation, Linda Evans looks at how different types of outcome can translate into effective differentiationpdf-6870719

SENCO Week – Helpsheet 24.pdf

This is more than a teacher setting an ‘open ended’ task and waiting to see what each learner produces; it involves careful planning of objectives, consideration of learning styles and providing opportunities for pupils to respond to tasks in a variety of ways.

Support for SENCOs
If you can contribute to phase/subject planning meetings, you will make a big difference to the effectiveness of colleagues’ differentiation strategies. Use your knowledge of pupils’ interests, strengths and weaknesses to suggest a range of activities that will be accessible to pupils with SEN. (See Helpsheet 24 – adding to it or amending it to make a useful ‘aide-memoire’ for teachers when planning lessons). Asking learners to provide feedback at the end of a lesson can tell you a lot about what works for them (a TA can be involved in this, reporting back to the class/subject teacher):

  • What did you learn?
  • What did you enjoy?
  • What was difficult?
  • What helped you?

Support for teachers
Planning for different types of responses from pupils can result in a more interesting lesson (certainly when it comes to the plenary) and enables all pupils to achieve. For many pupils with SEN, their limitations are most acute when tasked with a writing activity. Good preparation helps a lot – plenty of talking to help organise their thoughts and sort out appropriate vocabulary; reminders about punctuation and setting out; making a rough plan of beginning, middle, end. But a piece of writing is only one of many ways in which knowledge and understanding can be demonstrated; think also about using drama, drawings and DARTs. ‘Directed activities related to text’ encompass a range of meaningful activities that engage pupils with text in ways that are not intimidating. Ideas include:

  • Sequencing – where you provide a set of instructions or a story told chronologically, cut up into sections so that pupils have to arrange them in the correct order (this is a good way to ensure they read to the end of a set of instructions, for example). Used as a paired activity, it can provide practice in reading and encourage discussion and logical thinking.
  • Text marking – pupils use a highlighter pen (perhaps on tracing paper over a page – or use a copy) to identify key themes and ideas; adjective/adverbs etc.
  • Text completion – sometimes known as ‘cloze’ activities, where you provide a piece of text with words/phrases missing. Good for revision. (See Cloze-pro software from Crick Software).
  • Table completion – requires pupils to consider information provided, sort it into categories and insert it into the correct column or cell.
  • Diagrams, flow charts – good ways of learning vocabulary and useful for revision – the number of labels/stages to be inserted can vary according to different abilities.
  • Image/photo displays – labelled to record practical work completed, field trips etc.
  • Mind maps – lots of information in few words (use colour).
  • Posters and comic strips – great for pupils with artistic talent.

An issue that can arise when using lots of different activities in a class is the amount of time it takes to explain everything. I’ve observed lessons where, by the time the last group had received their instructions, there was hardly any time left to actually set to work! If you use this approach, consider writing clear instructions for different groups and nominate one pupil in each group to read them out; a TA can work with those who need most support, or you might start with this group yourself, moving around to others as soon as work is under way. Mini plenaries are useful to check that everyone has understood and is making progress with their respective tasks. Examples of outcomes from children in the previous year group can also be useful.

Be sure to share clear learning objectives with the class – they need to know what you expect and how they will be assessed. Be wary of the situation where pupils with SEN are always working with the TA, or are always deployed on a DARTS activity rather than on a straightforward piece of writing. Ring the changes, swap round the groupings and avoid ‘glass ceilings’ – allow everyone to choose, from time to time, the sort of task they would like to complete.

A lesson I saw recently required children in Y6 to learn about the slave trade and develop an understanding of why and how it grew; where it was prevalent and how it affected both masters and slaves. After an introduction by the teacher and a short film showing the arrival in port of a slave ship, the children were split into four groups:

  1. Read simple, illustrated book with TA – picking out some key words and main ideas. Discussed what made a good master. Practised how they would report this back in the plenary.
  2. Devised a short drama showing one slave with cruel master, and another with kind master. Discussed the sort of language (verbal and non-verbal) to portray the two different scenes.
  3. Made a pictorial frieze, with dateline and maps.
  4. Devised a KWL list (what we Know, Want to find out, have Learned), researched from books and laptops. Listed positive and negative aspects of the slave trade. Fed back in plenary.

This was planned by a trainee teacher – it wasn’t perfect (what lesson is?) but there was a real buzz in the room, every child enjoyed and achieved and the learning was tangible.

Differentiation 1 – input

Differentiation 2 – support

This e-bulletin issue was first published in September 2009

About the author: Linda Evans is the author of SENCO Week. She was a teacher/SENCO/adviser/inspector, before joining the publishing world. She now works as a freelance writer, editor and part-time college tutor.