Tag Archives: differentiation

Verdict on Whole Class Guided Reading by @Mroberts90Matt

So, just over 4 months ago, I set on a new journey in Guided Reading – Whole Class Guided Reading. I shared my initial thoughts back then on what I considered the pros and cons of this, and other approaches I had experiences that can be seen here. As I have gone along with this approach, I have noticed a few things which have really added to this method:

1. Keep the Groups but Keep them Mixed

At the start, I reflected a lot on what would be best. Should I completely disband Guided Reading groups? If not, do I keep them differentiated to be able to focus certain levels of questions or mix them up? As I continued I decided to keep the previous groups we had for Guided Reading which were differentiated – mainly so that the groups didn’t feel a complete change. In hindsight however I think that was the wrong choice. I think it is important to keep GR groups so that you can focus discussion and questioning in a smaller group setting but making them mixed ability is the way forward. This enables support for the lower attainers by accessing higher levels of questioning and discussion with their peers. Also, those with a greater depth of understanding can develop this through explanation and discussion of their thoughts with their peers as they coach them.

2. Vary the Activities

So when we were presented with the idea of Whole Class Guided Reading, I was given the idea that a lot of the Whole Class model could focus on discussing questions focusing on different strands in Reading (such as prediction, summary and comparison) and children should be able to model answers. As such, this was pretty much all I did. It was great to start with and it definitely had an impact – however, it did become stale after a couple of weeks. So I began to realise that Whole Class Guided Reading should be seen as engaging as any other session (duh – I know right) and whilst a lot of the engagement should come from a stellar text (we used Wonder – the kids LOVED it) you do need to put in some variety of activities. I probably won’t make it every other session – but maybe once a week or so throw in something to make the text come even more alive. Some examples can be found in this document (which I didn’t create) List of Possible Whole Class GR Activities

Some others are below:

In the back of your books, write three open questions you would like to ask any of August’s guides (Charlotte, Julian and Jack) about their first impressions of August.1

3. Go with the Flow

I think Whole Class Guided Reading has such a potential to unlock thoughts and imagination across the class. However, as we have gone through discussion and drawn ideas from all the class, a number of answers have been given that have taken things in a different direction. We have gone into in-depth comparisons between August/Summer and Beauty and the Beast, we have also delved into the genetics behind colour-blindness (one of my party tricks) as a result of the discussions going in their flow. One thing that I would take away for Whole Class Guided Reading is be ready for the discussion to take a different direction – I find it exhilarating and the children find it engaging when the discussion is at a high-level but has evolved over questions and thoughts from the children…and because it is ‘Whole-Class’, these ideas can come from anyone about the same text.

Back in February I said I would not change my effective, well-planned carousel – Guided Reading, I had it cracked. However, I am of the opinion that I will not be changing my Whole Class Guided Reading – unless something else comes along that looks better/is forced upon me but hey – that’s teaching!

 

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Differentiation – Support or Barrier? by @Mroberts90Matt

Context
Differentiation is expected in today’s Initial Teacher Training. Simply you are not an ‘Outstanding’ teacher unless you differentiate learning in the classroom. You’re not even a ‘Good’ teacher unless you begin to deploy differentiation techniques. On top of that, differentiation is cited as a necessary skill in the most recent Teachers’ Standards in the UK.

What does your differentiation look like?
What does your differentiation look like?

So, when I read a recent blog post by the well read blog Webs of Substance entitled The Burden of Differentiation I was intrigued to see how this skill, which I thought was necessary to be an effective teacher, could be considered a burden. It turns out, it can.

I strongly recommend you read the post, it raises some excellent points to ponder. I will attempt to express some of my doubts but also support for differentiation.

 

Discussion
I suppose my biggest doubts around the focus on differentiation had arisen from my supply teaching. Obviously, as a supply teacher I do not have access to data on children’s ‘ability’ in subject areas or even experience of working with them so I can differentiate accordingly. So, am I expected to have differentiation in my lessons if I’m called upon to provide my own learning experiences? Some would argue yes. I would argue that is counter-productive and impossible. It would require dozens of versions of the activity in order to cover for every possible need in the classroom.

Now, it is possible I’m being a little pedantic – no, obviously I cannot plan for every eventuality but a three tiered differentiated task would be possible. In any of my supply posts, has it been necessary? In a word, no. In every class I have gone in every child has been included and involved. Admittedly the occasional child has struggled but with assistance they have, according to the evidence, made progress toward the learning objective. Each child has been able to participate and learn without personalised learning as I did not know their personal learning needs.

It has not only been my experience whilst supply teaching that has raised my doubts about the necessity of differentiation, but also an experience in my final placement. I was teaching a Year 3/4 ‘lower ability’ Maths class and had taught them a series of lessons on metres. It was time for me to try and convert that knowledge to kilometres, including that 1000m=1km. I decided, from a certain group’s previous assessments on metres, that it would be necessary to initially reinforce their knowledge of metres before moving on to kilometres. However, I had them sit in on the introduction to kilometres. In the discussion, one child from the group who had struggled wanted to answer. I had an initial reluctance as I felt that I needed to make sure they were sure on metres but decided to have him share an answer as I always try to create an ethos in the classroom where all ideas are valued, even when they might not be ‘correct’. That child showed excellent understanding of kilometres and converting that unit into metres! Not only that but so did a number of the group!! This could have been down to a misinterpretation of assessment, or that the introduction of the kilometres helped put metres more into context for the children.

Whatever the reason for the children’s ability to work with kilometres and metres, what was clear to me was that the differentiated activity I had planned would have held back the children from the learning potential they had in that lesson. That led me to question – how often have I inhibited the learning potential of children by trying to differentiate learning when it may have not been appropriate, just to show my mentor that I could indeed differentiate learning activities?

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Now, of course, it would be foolish to suggest that learning should never be differentiated. This statement is not validated by evidence that I have but by the need to provide inclusive activites for all. This is applicable to children who need support and extending. In fact, if a teacher does not differentiate an activity for a child who needs extending then they are inhibiting the learning potential of that child by their lack of differentiation.

 

Conclusion

I think, as with most issues in education I’m finding, there is not a clear cut answer to whether differentiation is a support or barrier. Most likely, it depends on the context of the learning and all those involved. I would suggest that to say every lesson should have evidence of differentiation would make it a barrier, for the learners and the teacher. However, differentiation is a necessary tool that all teachers should be effective at implementing and the best teachers will know when and to what degree each task should be differentiated.

 

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