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English Subject Knowledge Exchange; A Proposition.

IMG_5387In this uncertain world of recruitment crises, funding struggles, goalpost-changing new specifications and ever increasing workloads, it is hard for us to grow as readers and find time for us to develop expertise in our subjects. Most departments are working hard to welcome a larger number of non-subject specialists and a higher proportion of trainees, and this creates a huge need for CPD which is almost impossible to fulfill within one school alone.

How can we upskill ourselves in this high pressure climate, with no money and no time?!

I propose that we take control of our own futures and establish a subject knowledge exchange. EVERYONE has something they are good at. If we had a local database of people in schools near us who could offer a seminar on a topic, no matter how niche and unusual, we could have a series of knowledge swaps and create HIGH QUALITY CPD FOR FREE!!!

Example: I would happily offer a 1 hour seminar on Anglo-Saxon heroic literature to ANYONE who wants it. I am looking for someone who can support my department by offering a seminar on conventions of 20th Century drama.

This is in the initial stages of development. I am open to suggestions about how this could work! If you’re interested in being involved (even if it’s just that you know your department might want some subject knowledge support but you’re not sure what you could offer), please could you pop your details in the comments below or tweet me @funkypedagogy

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differentiation (with a small ‘d’)

This post is based on workshops I have led this summer at both the Leeds Trinity University NQT Conference, and at Teaching and Learning Leeds 2017 (hosted by The Grammar School at Leeds). If you attended either of these sessions and have questions, suggestions or comments, I would love to hear them @funkypedagogy, or write a comment below. My thanks to Anne Williams (@agwilliams9) and Charlotte Wright (@commahound) for asking me to speak at these brilliant events and providing the impetus I needed.

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differentiation: know your students and act accordingly. Anything which seeks to complicate this beautifully simple idea is missing the point.

There have been a number of heated debates in the teaching community in recent years about inclusion vs. aspiration; accessibility vs. challenge; differentiation vs. mastery. Such debates seek to set educational approaches up in opposition to each other and, in doing so, take each of those approaches to their most ridiculous extreme. differentiation does not mean that we should ‘dumb down’ the curriculum until it has no challenge at all, nor does Mastery mean that we never respond to students’ individual needs. Let’s do ourselves a favour and stop taking things so seriously!

The best practice I have ever seen, blends the best bits from a range of schools of thought like a classroom pick ‘n’ mix. differentiation is a powerful tool, but IT IS NOT THE GRAIL! It is not going to save you! It is not going to give you all the answers and solve all your problems! differentiation is just an umbrella term for a rag tag bunch of ideas which, if used judiciously, might just help your students to engage and make progress.

The following ideas are not new and they are not revolutionary but, in my experience, they work.

Why is it important?

differentiation recognises that every student is an individual. There are a huge number of factors which impact the young people in front of us, and these go beyond academic ability. We might differentiate in a lesson according to a student’s level of skill in our subject, but we might also consider: family circumstances; hobbies and interests; mental health issues (such as anxiety); confidence levels; recently assessed work; SEND needs; spontaneous needs within a lesson; whether they ate lunch today; student ambitions for the future, and even what happened in the local community the night before.

I work in a school in Bradford with very challenging circumstances; our children are faced with a huge number of barriers to their learning. Regardless of the kind of school you work in, every child has complex and significant individual needs at some time or other during their school career, and differentiation is about responding to these needs and ensuring that every child can succeed.

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Hard vs. Soft Data

When I was an NQT, I tended to use hard data (test results, target and predicted grades) as a basis for planning and differentiation. I might have had separate work sheets for levels 4, 5 and 6 letter writing, or had a grade A* extension activity. While these strategies do have some benefit, the use of hard data alone can limit us to support students only on the basis of cold numbers (which are probably weeks out of date!), and ignore all of the more flexible soft data which is available to us.

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Marking as planning…

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Soft data from marking is the most recent and therefore the most relevant information we have. If we mark regularly, we can make key observations:

  • This student doesn’t understand this process…
  • These students are way ahead in this topic…
  • These six students don’t understand the key terminology from the lesson…
  • This student doesn’t know how to embed quotations…

Here is an example of how live marking might develop into differentiated planning:

  1. Identify students…

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2. Observe skills through marking…

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3. Range of personalised solutions…

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n.b. NONE of these strategies is going to work every time – try something out, review it, change it and try again!

Seating Plans

Seating plans are a little controversial. I don’t really use them to arrange the seating in my room; I alter seating on a lesson by lesson basis depending on what activity we are doing. For me, seating plans are a way to record information about students both for my own planning, and to support people who might cover my lessons. This seating plan was first developed at my old school by a very talented AST. Since then, my department at my current school have continued to tinker with it, and this is what they look like:

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We use a colour coding system to record information according to literacy levels, engagement (including behaviour), challenge levels and personal context. Here are some examples:

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I tend not to include much hard data on seating plans, but often scribble the most recent mock grades etc. on in pen as they happen.

Seating plans should…

  • …be a live document (scribbled on and added to regularly)
  • …include information which is relevant to your school and classroom practice (SEND, EAL, LAC, PPG etc.)
  • …be used to inform planning, seating etc.
  • …be useful (don’t waste your time if you won’t use it!)

Anonymised seating plan:

Strategies and Resources

  1. Support stations

These need a bit of planning and (dare I say it…?) printing! Support stations are areas around a classroom which provide differentiated support and strategies for students. These can be dictated by the teacher, or students can choose for themselves where to go.

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In the example above, each table has a very specific target based on my marking of student writing. Each table has a range of resources and activities which will support students in a specific skill.

In the example below, students are able to choose for themselves what level of support they need, and can more up in difficulty over the course of a lesson.

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2. Multiple lessons in one

This strategy is useful when you have a clear and sizeable gap in skill within one group. I teach a mixed ability Y8 class which ranges from students who can access GCSE level content, to students who struggle to access their Y8 texts. In the lesson below, I used the same poem with the whole class (‘A Poison Tree’ by William Blake), and they all ended by completing an analytical response to the poem, but they all got there by different means. The pink group worked completely independently and had challenging success criteria and prompts to encourage more sophisticated thinking, the yellow group worked in pairs for their preparation and planning, and the orange group worked with me on a guided group discussion to support their writing.

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This kind of planning is VERY time consuming and resource heavy. I would probably only do this once per half term, per class. Any more and it loses its effectiveness.

3. Chilli questioning

This idea has been around for ages, but it works! Write differentiated questions and denote their level of difficulty using the chilli scale. Students then have the information they need in order to choose tasks which will challenge or support them.

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@TeacherToolkit has an excellent blog post on using the chilli scale for ‘takeaway homework’.

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4. Questioning

Questioning is a gold mine for differentiation strategies. I’m not going to go through every idea here, because there is enough material there for a whole book! Here is one strategy which I use a lot and which has never failed me!

I write questions on a topic based on different skills in Blooms Taxonomy. Here is an example for Animal Farm:

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One way to use these is to give a different question to every student (based on their needs), and to get them to answer the question at the start of the lesson. You can then teach your lesson as usual, and then ask students to return to the original question at the end (preferably in a different colour), and add to their answer from earlier. This has always been highly effective for me, and students enjoy seeing really clear evidence of their own progress within a lesson.

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5. Differentiated questioning in Maths

A colleague of mine in the maths department uses the names of famous mathematicians to categorise levels of questions in his lessons. Students are able to choose which questions to answer, and can move from one level to another as they gain confidence and skill.

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Another excellent strategy he uses is to draw a simple line:

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…the line indicates that the questions will suddenly get harder. This could be done in pen in 5 seconds, and can provide information to students to enable them to make choices in your lesson, but also to provide some security for students who tend to have anxiety about certain types of task; the line says, ‘this will be harder, but that’s OK because you’re expecting it.’

6. Group role cards

Again, this is an old one, but it never ceases to be useful for me! I’m enjoying playing with unusual group roles…

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7. Breaking things down

A lot of my differentiation is about taking larger, more sophisticated content, and ‘breaking it down’ to make it more accessible. This does NOT mean dumbing down or taking content out, it means giving students a route in. It is important that these strategies can then be given to students themselves so that, as they develop as learners, they are able to use them independently; a student won’t have a scaffolded text in an exam, but they can be taught how to create their own when they see the paper for themselves.

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This one uses the magnifying glass reading technique, where students are slowly introduced to a text piece by piece. This can help with student confidence levels; it is far easier to read a full A4 page of text if you have already engaged with a sentence or a paragraph in isolation.

TTLeeds17 Differentiation WEBB

8. Cutting holes in things!

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You can cut small holes (for looking at individual words) or larger holes (so students can see whole paragraphs etc.). This is a lovely, low tech, whimsical activity which my students love from Y7 up to Y13. Looking at small sections of text in isolation allows students to access detail before being faced with the whole thing.

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An analyser can be used for a range of different things. Take an A3 piece of paper and cut a roughly A4 sized hole in it. Now you have a frame you can use for:

  • A peer or self-assessment tool (key elements of the mark scheme and assessment criteria around the outside)
  • A writing scaffold (students complete a piece of extended writing, and the frame has key structural elements and reminders)
  • A reading scaffold (the frame has key question prompts and statements to help the student to read critically)

9. Chunking writing

Instead of asking students to write on a blank page in their book, get them to fill in smaller boxes. They are often tricked into writing more than they might have otherwise…

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10. Vocabulary

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The ‘Hot or Not?’ list from Amy Thompson (@Ladbroa01) is a great idea:

Create a list of vocabulary or key ideas. This is a ‘hot’ list for weaker students, and they have to try to use the content in their work. For stronger students, this is a ‘not’ list, so they have to think outside the box and find alternative ideas.

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10. Metacognition

Metacognition is an incredibly important skill for students who need to become independent, resilient and ambitious learners. Why not use students’ own observations of their learning as part of your soft data?

You may have seen the comfort/challenge/panic graphic from @teachertweaks. This is a great tool to remind us that we need the right amount of struggle in order to facilitate learning. Why not ask your students to think about what comfort, challenge and panic zones look like for them, and complete their own version? As a teacher, you can then use this student reflection to inform your planning.

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I talk about marginal gains wheels a lot. Why not use a marginal gains wheel for students to demonstrate their confidence or level of skill in a topic, and then use this to inform your planning and differentiation? I asked my Y11 class to rate their confidence in the skills for the GCSE English Language paper (see below) and then used this to differentiate homework and revision resources.

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12. Make ANY resource a differentiated resource in SECONDS…

  •  Filling a bit in for students (if there is a table or chart to complete, fill in a bit for those who you think will need it)
  •  Highlighting or drawing a box around things
  • Post-its for… Reminders, prompts, spellings, key words…
  • Go around the room with your pen and LOOK at work – write comments, prompts and challenges in books…

 

differentiation works best when you…

  1. Use soft data as well as hard data to inform planning.
  2. Base tasks and support on your observations of recent work – keep it live and flexible!
  3. Make your intentions, rationale and success criteria clear to students.
  4. Experiment, make mistakes, think creatively and don’t take ANYTHING too seriously!

 

differentiation is just an umbrella term for all the things you do to respond to the needs of individuals or groups. It isn’t rocket science, it isn’t new and it isn’t all that special. It’s just common sense. Having said that, the impact which truly thoughtful, sensitive and creative practice can have on our students is potentially huge. The best differentiated lessons are those where you can barely see it at all – students are just getting on with it because the teacher has predicted what issues might arise, and the level of challenge is there because students are being pushed and pulled along according to their needs. It’s not flashy or bold; it’s just common sense.

All the resources from this blog can be found in my One Drive here: One Drive Differentiation

Please feel free to use/adapt/share/bin as you see fit.

n.b. I have tried to credit all the ideas I’ve pinched from elsewhere, but I know I might have missed something because a lot of this stuff is well established and has been recycled a lot! If you notice any omissions along the way, PLEASE give me a shout and I’ll happily add names of original creators I’ve left out.

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Bird’s-eye View: GCSE top grade statements and evaluation…

Birds pic

This is a resource I have developed for my Y11 class. It is meant to support them in making evaluative comments about texts (looking at them from a bird’s-eye view), and exploring overall text structure. The idea is that it allows students to construct strong opening statements, and also gives them prompts to consider the more challenging structural questions, and author intentions. Only by finding a way to access the BIG ideas, can students really come into ownership of the texts they study…

Enjoy! Feel free to use/adapt or discard as you see fit! Please get in touch with pictures or comments; I’d love to see if and how people use it! Continue reading “Bird’s-eye View: GCSE top grade statements and evaluation…”

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Poetry Writing 1 – Symbolism

Getting kids to write poetry is often difficult. Some teachers, me included, think of that oasis of poetry writing as one of the only times when we can let students be totally free and expressive. However, the key to creating the best lessons on poetry is structure – if students get activities broken into bite sized chunks then they will be much more open and willing to put pen to paper. I am trying hard to avoid the ‘staring at blank page’ horror we all know, by doing just that; breaking things down. This lesson, or series of mini activities, is the first of many I hope to post over the next few months. They are all tried and tested with my own guinea pigs and mostly stolen from talented writers’ workshops…

SYMBOLISM

1. I ask students to make a list of 5 people who mean something to them (e.g. family member, friend, role model – works best if it someone they know personally, but a celebrity is a good idea for a student who doesn’t want to reveal anything too personal).

2. I get them to choose ONE of these people and come up with an object which they associate with this person (e.g. I might choose my Nana and her prized Prada handbag or my friend Lesley and the embarrassing comfort blanket she has carried around since she was 2…).

3. I ask them to describe the object in as much detail as possible (they are not writing a poem here, just s straight forward description in prose, e.g. “The handbag is made of white leather with silvery studs which reflect the light of the 60 watt bulb in the living room. It is in mint condition and the zippers and buttons all scream ‘bling’.”)

I would normally circulate and help students to expand their descriptions, the longer the better. I introduce literary devices as appropriate depending on the ability levels in the group.

4. Once they have their description, I ask them to explain how the person is connected to the object. They could comment on emotional connection with the object, physical similarities, experiences they have had which relate to it or anything else they can think of (again, the more detail the better e.g. “My Nana has a special relationship with the Prada bag; she is so proud to own one that she won’t use it for fear of ruining it. She would rather have it on display in her front room to impress visitors than use it herself. In many ways, it reflects the ways he presents herself; always pristine, proud and covered in bling!”).

They should now have two short pieces of writing, one is a description of the object, and one is an explanation of how the object is linked to the person.

NOW WE TURN IT INTO A POEM

They are going to write a two stanza poem using the text they have already created. I use these terms and explain them to the kids: Cut, Compress, Condense.

Cut: take out any unnecessary words which you don’t need – poems do NOT have to be grammatically correct…

Compress: move words or phrases around to make the meaning clearer and the piece more dynamic…

Condense: a poem is essentially a series of powerful images and ideas in close harmony. Take out anything unnecessary and stick interesting ideas together to really enhance the impact of the poem…

E.g. The handbag is made of white leather with silvery studs which reflect the light of the 60 watt bulb in the living room. It is in mint condition and the zippers and buttons all scream ‘bling’

Becomes…

The handbag, white leather
Silvery studs reflect 60 watts
Mint condition
Zippers scream
Bling

NEXT we think about some other easy ways of making the poem more sophisticated, such as putting similar words closer together…

E.g. The handbag, white leather
silvery studs reflect 60 watts

Becomes

Leather handbag, white
Silvery
studs reflect 60 watts

…so ‘white’ and ‘silvery’ are together, creating a more interesting image.

NEXT we think about how to format the poem, putting words alone or together, using enjambement is an easy way of placing emphasis on ideas…

E.g. Putting ‘scream’ on a line of its own might change the way we read the poem.

NEXT we think carefully about the first and last words/ images of the poem as these will establish a tone…

E.g. Starting with the word ‘handbag’ would add realism to the piece, whereas starting with ‘silvery’ creates more of an ethereal tone and might easily link to my Nana’s silver grey hair.

FINAL STRUCTURING: Students could begin with the stanza on the object, creating a nice twist when the reader realises it is actually about a person OR they could intersperse lines from both.

This activity works well at all ages and ability levels, but I always think carefully about how I approach it with some groups. In the past I have started the activity without mentioning the dreaded word ‘poetry’ at all until half way through – this avoids any problems with those students who have already decided they ‘can’t do’ poetry. Teachers must be prepared to model the activities throughout so that students are completely on board.

Variations on this could include writing about places, important issues/ ideas or even a literary character as part of the wider study of a novel.

I honestly believe that having a successful poetry lesson (or lessons… the editing part of this activity could potentially take a while, depending on how much time one chooses to devote to it) is a sure way to get to know a class better and to gain some trust and credibility. It’s a chance to share something of yourself with them through your own modelling, and you are creating a safe, easy platform for them to share with you and with each other.

Enjoy! I’d love to hear feedback and will happily provide clarification if anything is a little vague…

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The Beginning

I am completely new to this. As a young teacher who has quickly become involved in managing specifications, syllabuses, projects, staff training and anything else they will let me, I feel the need to splurge a little. Teaching is an incredibly creative activity, and I want to share the things which inspire me and create a platform from which to start discussions. I want to learn all I can, and having been engrossed in the blogs of other educators in recent weeks, I want to contribute to this incredible, but terrifying web of information, advice and debate which is blossoming online.