The wisdom of differentiation

It had happened again. It was time for an end of unit test and the lovely girl with dyslexia was asking me where her A3 yellow paper copy of the test was. That wasn’t sarcasm, she really was lovely and hitting her academic targets better than the rest of the class in spite of my failure to meet her educational needs. You wouldn’t have thought she had a special educational need; but she did and I should have met it.

Differentiation is a hard thing to do well.

Boys, girls, lower ability, G&T, ASD, EAL and SEN all need to be considered and catered for. As far as I can find, the research into transgender learning is focused on making students feel accepted and minimising harassment in the lesson rather than their learning needs. If you do know of any good articles on this please send them our way! According to Gardner you will have multiple intelligence levels among the individuals in your classroom, stronger in some areas but weaker in others. More than 1.25 million children with SEND were being taught in English schools in January 2017, according to the latest government statistics. The data shows that 2.9 per cent of pupils (about 250,000), have EHCPs and 11.6 per cent (about 1 million pupils) are on SEN support.

The other frustration is attending yet another in-house CPD session from one of your colleagues who’s gone a on a course to find out how to meet the needs of one of these particular groups only to hear the exact same strategies listed off as the last time for the last group: give clear expectations, give them time to think, give them routine, keep things visual, chunk your lessons, seating plans…you know the rest.

Once you’ve been to enough of these differentiation sessions, or personalisation as one school I taught at decided to call it, you realise a lot of it is just good teaching. If you are tracking behaviour and progress throughout lessons and over the course of a unit, you should be able to identify who is not performing as they should and know what the issue is that is keeping them below target. If there’s no obvious reason why that’s when it’s time to visit your school SENCO and find out if there is more to the mystery.

Vigilance in the classroom

A colleague of mine had noticed one of his students was consistently under-performing. She was well behaved and he’d tried moving her closer to the board to help but her underachievement continued. He checked her record and found out she was statemented and went to visit with the SENCO to find out how he could meet her needs better. It turned out the girl was supposed to have an overlay to help with her dyslexia that she never brought to class. A phone call home with mum to help with disorganisation, a change in PowerPoint backgrounds and the girl began making progress.

There are many strategies, particularly, for dyslexic and EAL students that you can use without negatively affecting the other students. For example, in Britannica School we have the read aloud function. For EAL students, or even English as a first language students who have low literacy levels, this can be very helpful as it helps them see the word and hear the sound. As an addition, as it reads the words aloud the words are highlighted in yellow enabling your dyslexic students to solidify their literacy. If you made this part of every lesson it would merely be part of the routine and students who didn’t necessarily need it wouldn’t be affected.

I once taught a girl from year 8 through to completing her A-levels in Chemistry here in the UK. When she joined us she spoke no English. This school had a fairly relaxed phone policy and she would have her phone out every lesson translating everything she saw and heard. By the time she finished with us she left with an offer to study pharmacology at university and speaking perfect English. Schools are much stricter on phone use these days but to get around this there are resources like Britannica School which have a quick translate function for all articles. You can print out full articles which can easily be turned into fact sheets or worksheets in nearly whatever language you want to support you EAL students. If you’re forgetful like I am you could have a printer under the desk and do it in the lesson. Don’t forget that yellow paper!

Loyalty to your students

There are so many ways you can support your classes but at the end of the day it comes down to you knowing your students. What are their targets? Where are they right now? Who is below target? What can you do to support them getting there? Give them the opportunity to excel rather than the excuse to fail. My biggest piece of advice is be careful not to turn them into numbers on a spreadsheet. They are still young minds with hopes and aspirations. I know that can be hard to remember when they yell the learning difficulty at you every time you ask them why they aren’t doing the work. In case no one else tells you this today, you are making a difference.

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Britannica & Your School – Differentiation: 28th February, 4pm GMT

NQT Survival – Explaining Without Boring, 4pm GMT

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