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Education Reading Group 26th May 2017 - Differentiation

This week we looked at readings from the following websites, all based around the theme of ‘Differentiation’:

A very interesting discussion resulted, which also incorporated lots of elements of previous reading group meetings, such as classroom climate and feedback and marking.

Some key issues considered were:

  1. What makes effective feedback? There were lots of ideas in the readings about what works and what doesn’t, some of which we agreed with and some we didn’t. The usefulness of marking to inform planning was seen as vital – it is amazing what you can learn just by looking in a student exercise book! Questioning was also seen as an effective way to differentiate, and is a strategy that involves minimal planning but can be embedded into the fabric of a lesson. Mini-whiteboards were suggested as being particularly useful for getting all students involved. Self-selecting tasks were also seen as useful, with students being able to select their own task from those presented. Blended learning approaches, such as using Nearpod, would support students in moving at their own pace through lesson resources.
  2. Tiered learning outcomes elicited a mixed response from the group – are they useful or a dangerous way of fixing the mindset of our students? Certainly the reading from regards this way of differentiating as ‘lazy and ineffective’ and this definitely received support from many in the group with it being suggested that this approach creates low expectations of some students and sets a ceiling on what we expect certain students to achieve.
  3. Self-esteem. The way that differentiation can impact on the self-esteem of students and how this can then affect performance was also touched on. It was felt that using differentiated sheets needed to be subtle, as this can lead to students being labelled. This lead to a discussion about mixed ability and set classrooms, as one of the readings from suggested that differentiation might have a chance of working if we moved to all teaching classes containing students of similar abilities. However, it was felt that differentiation was as necessary in a set classroom as a mixed classroom, although the range of abilities might be smaller. This also resulted in an interesting conversation about the labelling of sets and the impact this too has on self-esteem.
  4. It all comes back to classroom climate! Differentiation should be the culture of a room not a thing you do and knowing your students is essential to getting it right.