Jo Smith suggests practical ways of building challenge into every lesson

What makes a well-differentiated lesson that hasn’t taken you longer to prepare than it takes to deliver? Below are some practical suggestions to help you engage and challenge your able, gifted and talented pupils in a mixed-ability class.

By task
1. Use an able pupil to quickly recap on the previous lesson’s learning for the other pupils.

2. Many starter activities require pupils to find a number of examples. An able pupil can be set a higher target, eg Level 4 pupils find five synonyms for the word ‘pleased’, Level 7 pupils find 10. 3. If you are taking feedback during the lesson, enlist an able pupil to record ideas on the board while you lead the discussion. 4. Ask able pupils to model their writing or thinking, by explaining their answer/solution to a task to a neighbour. 5. The best way to prove understanding of a topic is to teach it. Get able pupils to teach the less able a key learning point. 6. Use G&T pupils to provide the plenary. Alert them at the start of the lesson to be ready to present their findings to the class at the end of the lesson. 7. Ask able pupils to come up with questions to ask during the plenary to test other pupils’ understanding of the lesson. 8. Use higher-level questioning and direct questions at particular pupils rather than waiting for the hands up approach. Be ready to probe beyond the first answer in order to make them really think: ‘Why do you think that?’ ‘How did you come to that conclusion?’ (Editor’s note: there will be a separate ‘Practical tips’ article on questioning in the October issue of G&T Update.)

By resource
1. Provide dictionaries and ask G&T pupils to look up and explain definitions of key words or technical vocabulary used throughout the lesson.

2. Produce laminated pupil-speak grade or level descriptors at the start of the year for generic assignments and reuse them for target setting and review. 3. Provide unedited or full-length versions of abridged texts you are using with the rest of the class for your most able. 4. Ask the school librarian to produce a reading list of texts and electronic resources to encourage wider reading or research around a class topic. 5. Set an independent task, such as a further investigation in maths or science, or a different class reader from a selected list and invite pupils to decide how they would like to demonstrate their learning to you or the rest of the class after an agreed length of time. 6. Use past SATs paper questions from KS2 for able Key Stage 1 pupils, KS3 questions for Key Stage 2 pupils, GCSE questions with Year 9 and so on.

By outcome 1. Use the now familiar ‘Must do’, ‘Could do’, ‘Should do’ ascribed to classroom tasks or homework to direct the type and length of activities pupils might complete.

2. Provide opportunities for pupils to respond in ways other than writing: display work, role play, short video films etc. 3. Remember that ‘less is more’ in some cases. Prescribe the number of words to be used to make G&T pupils think hard about what they write, and make every word count.  4. If you have a PC or laptop connected to an interactive whiteboard or data projector and a digital camera, take a snapshot of a pupil’s work and during the lesson, project it onto your board to use for modelling purposes. If your board is interactive you can highlight or annotate key features of successful examples and provide opportunities for self- and peer-assessment.

By support
1. While other pupils are working on a simple starter use the time to explain to able pupils how they can excel in the lesson, which lower-level tasks they can bypass and which tasks they should tackle to stretch them.

2. Ascribe the roles of chairperson or lead learner to able pupils who will then take on the mantle of responsibility and help maintain momentum and focus during tasks. 3. Plan your groups carefully. Sometimes able pupils will learn most productively together, sharing and extending their more developed thinking; sometimes it is helpful for them to advise a less-able pupil and have to work harder to successfully articulate their ideas. 4. Rather than repeating or summarising instructions yourself in front of the whole class, get an able pupil to do so. 5. Use confident older pupils (Year 6, Year 13 pupils) as teaching assistants to extend able pupils’ experience, understanding and skills.

Differentiation must not be a time-consuming chore if you are to do it regularly or sustain it as good practice across your groups. Feed the ideas into your planning, make the effort to create reuseable resources initially and soon you will find that you are differentiating by second nature rather than burning the midnight oil and wearing out the photocopier to create several resources for each lesson.