Differentiation and Beyond

Dragonfly Training offer practical courses designed for teachers across the world.

Teaching teachers. A piece of cake they said.

I spent a day with teachers from St. George’s English International School in Munich last week. A wide range of nationalities, skills, teaching backgrounds and experience and a whole host of previous training days under their belts. For the teachers, the new term promised a brand new school building, slightly out of the centre of Munich, but with so much to do and only so many hours in a day, the shiny windows, squeaky clean flooring and whistle-white walls would have to wait. It wasn’t ready. We were relocated to a local football club with a decent-sized function room.

Training teachers takes effort, patience, understanding and an unusual perspective. It took me a while to get over the fact that I wasn’t teaching and I wasn’t offering egg-sucking courses either. The fact that I had 22 years teaching experience didn’t really matter. What counted was my ideas, my take on teaching, knowing what works and finding the right way to connect with colleagues on many different levels. I consider myself to be emotionally intelligent. It is important to know what a bad training day looks and feels like. There have been a few. Listening to regurgitations of the ‘Haynes manual of teaching’ and wishing you were still on that beach. Painful. But a good training day can be inspirational, uplifting and fire you up for days, weeks and even years. I am fortunate enough to have attended lots of these. I have also worked with energizing colleagues and gained a great deal from them.

The teachers at St. George’s were definitely ready for a good day. Some were still figuring out where to live in their new town but all were ready to engage. After some warm up activities, we looked at three key pillars of good teaching and learning: Differentiation, Assessment for Learning and Feedback. Teachers tried some practical ways to differentiate for learners. We called it ‘personalization’. There are so many ways that learners can be challenged, stretched and engaged appropriately.

Here are some of our differentiation ideas:

  • Multi part tasks – split part one into three different tasks with different levels of complexity eg describe A) Romeo and Juliet main characters, B) family circumstances and C) the effect of family on their relationship. Then use all of these together to D) write a short summary of the main events of Romeo and Juliet and then E) write a 140 character tweet to summarize the story including spaces, hashtags, and emojis.
  • Providing roles – scribe, observer, listener, artist, designer, summarizer, timer etc. Kids love roles and respond differently to each job description. Rotate at will.
  • Scaffolding – provide support and structure in different guises. Simple skills developing into more complex skills. You can also use mind tools to help with creative thinking.
  • Framing questions – ‘from the viewpoint of ……., how did …….impact on …….’ creates opportunities for empathy and can also provide constraints within which a question can be answered.
  • Big questions – contextualizes the learning. This is important for all learners but especially EAL learners.
  • Real Issues – gets young people fired up about big issues and means they can see how learning becomes relevant to their world
  • Projects – learners can approach projects in so many different ways. Let them have an open-ended outcome and see what happens
  • Differentiation by learning needs – this could be dyslexia, EAL (English as an Additional Language), cognitive (processing), sight, hearing, behaviour, autism, Free School Meals, Gifted and Talented. Think about how you would need to differentiate for each of these.
  • By sequence – change the order of activities to suit the needs of different learners
  • By pace – change the timing of each activity to suit individuals but keep the pace up.
  • Use circus or stations – you can change the order, have certain stations for each group of learners or provide increasing complexity as you move around – this works well in science with different experiments for example.
  • By outcome – provide different levels of outcome (possibly colour them, grade them or give them different names such as ‘beginner’, ‘expert’, ‘ninja’)
  • By task – provide choices for learners eg hot, spicy, mild – better than easy, medium and difficult
  • By activity – watch something, listen to an audio file, talk to each other, write something, act out something – lots of ways to engage learners on different levels.
  • The ‘enable table’ – set up a table, space or wall display with extra, extension information.

There are many others (feel free to add yours in comments) but with a limited amount of time, we then considered how to assess pupils progress using a range of classroom techniques and strategies.

  • Asking questions (the right type of question) – these are the tools of your trade – get them right and you will find true wisdom and enlightenment!
  • Red, Orange, Green student response cards, to hold up, leave on the desk so that teachers can see who understands what.
  • Mini whiteboards – these have seen significant use in classrooms across the world. Great for checking on progress. Join them up in a line or make a ‘big picture’ with all of them on the floor or hold them up for a time lapse video.
  • Standing on a continuum – these are useful and get learners out of their seats – try ‘yes/no’, ‘agree/disagree’, ‘1-10’ or make up your own
  • Find your corner – label each corner A, B, C and D – pupils stand in each corner depending on the question
  • Hot responses – hot, spicy, mild – pupils choose an activity and difficulty, therefore, indicating their confidence
  • How many fingers – 1-10 confidence level or 1-5 depending on the question
  • Thumbs Up or Down – quick testing of confidence
  • Confidence Rating – use 1-4 rather than 1-5 as pupils will often plump for the middle one.
  • Sad face or smiley face – easy to use in books, whiteboards etc for self or peer assessment
  • Starting Point – by deciding on level of entry pupils indicate their confidence level and prior knowledge
  • No hands – means all pupils have to come up with a good answer and to help with this…
  • Random Name Generator – use http://www.classtools.net (with loads of other games and tools) or StickPick app (small cost).
  • Snowball fight – write/work on something – scrunch it up and all throw at the same time – good fun – open, add, edit, assess, scrunch and throw. Repeat. Use notes with annotations to formulate a final draft.
  • Snowballing – one person works on a task, pairs up, joins a third, a fourth and so on.
  • Pyramid – one pairs with another, two become four, become eight etc – good for class discussion

Feedback has most effect when it creates ‘cognitive conflict’ meaning that the student is puzzled they got it wrong, and starts to work out why, Hattie (2003)

We also had a play with Quizlet Live, Kahoot, Spiral, Socrative, Plickers and QR codes. Lots of digital ways to assess learning and find ways to move forwards. We also looked at how to support EAL learners in the classroom – often a significant factor in International Schools.

You can see some of the feedback on the course below. Teachers left with practical strategies that really work. Dragonfly Training pride themselves on making courses ‘hands-on’, based on current research and educational thinking and bespoke to a particular context for each school. Each course can be adapted to suit any number of teachers. They also work well for all-through schools. Get in touch if you would like more information. With huge thanks to those staff willing to share some feedback on camera. (You were great!)

This was a great team of teachers to work with. Full of enthusiasm and ready to take on new ideas and tweak some old ones. Have a look at their site here http://www.stgeorgesschool.de/munich

 

 

I also deliver courses on Google Suite – Apps for Education (Digital Pedagogy), Raising Boys’ Achievement, Active Learning, Science and STEM in Junior and Elementary Schools and Wellbeing. Just get in touch with Dragonfly HQ for more information.

Return to Ethiopia – finding your ‘ikigai’

Whilst not quite the eye-opening experience of last summer, my return to Bingham Academy in Addis Ababa, was none the less inspirational and uplifting. I was delighted to be asked back to work with an amazing group of teachers, many of whom were present last year. Retention of staff in International Schools is always an issue especially when they don’t get paid. That’s right. No pay. Teachers raise money through friends, family and their church groups in order to fund a year at Bingham Academy in Addis Ababa. The funds cover food, some of the travel costs and general living. Many teachers bring their families. Lock, stock and barrel. They often commit themselves to at least two years with many staying longer or returning at a later date.

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This is where staff are: right in the middle.

There is an undeniable feeling of warmth and welcome in the campus. It’s not the weather – it was rainy season again and just about scraped into the twenties (seventies Fahrenheit) – but the people who work there. From the drivers, security staff, cleaners and cooks to the teaching assistants and teachers, everyone plays their part and very much contributes to the unique atmosphere at Bingham Academy. Their Faith is key. They come here to help spread the word of God. It’s not overt and ‘for the sake of it’ but it is interwoven in everything they do. They are fully committed to what they do. A husband of one of the teachers works in a recording studio, translating the bible stories into many of the 80 different local languages in order to improve literacy rates. Fascinating and inspiring.

Dragonfly Training delivers an extensive range of courses for teachers. This is my third year and they have sent me to all sorts of places to deliver training. It’s a real privilege to be part of a team committed to improving standards in education and supporting teachers with practical strategies to engage and inspire young people. Bingham Academy identified some key issues that were hindering their rate of progress. Children come from diverse backgrounds, cultures and educational systems. They often dip in and out and their starting points can vary widely. Add to this the fact that ‘results’ count and teachers are under pressure to make every lesson count. Dragonfly Training approached this with some teaching and learning fundamentals: Assessment for Learning strategies and good old fashioned differentiation. Teachers explored how to assess learning in a number of practical ways. Great responses and engagement from teachers meant each of the ideas generated even more suggestions for success within this unique context. A series of differentiation ideas and some Project Based Learning followed in the last two sessions with positive outcomes for all staff.

I will apply ‘digital’ strategies to learning wherever possible but the internet in Ethiopia often hangs quite literally by a thread. I offered some use of Spiral (www.spiral.ac) which with strong internet will be a potent tool for learning and assessment. We also had a play with Kahoot and Quizlet. The Ethiopian Government often disconnects the Internet (it’s a big red switch) at the first sign of political unrest or for days on end when there is exam season. Last year, exam papers were released online (unofficially) from which widespread cheating ensued. This year, WiFi went offline for 3 weeks in June which negated the (online) cheating somewhat. The school has to cope with regular outages and it just becomes part of life. I found it rather refreshing.

I had three evenings on campus; A chance to socialise and get to know a little more about what makes Bingham Academy such a great place to be. The first night was pizza night with board games. I haven’t really played board games for decades (apart from a family game of Scrabble which I ended up winning because I was the only player left!) and it was great not to be reliant on devices electrical or otherwise for entertainment. It was social networking in its truest form. New staff joined in and I became one of the family for the evening. I loved it. The second night was dinner in a family home with friends, stories, good food and the usual warmth of welcome. Thirdly, was dinner out with twenty teachers and a bit of local grub. Njeera is the must-have and requires a good palate, a taste for spices and plenty of antibacterial hand gel. A sense of adventure helps too.

I am looking forward to another return to Addis Ababa. The people are fascinating, charming and passionate about what they do. There is a great deal of commitment to improving things in every classroom from Kindergarten right through to Year 12. I have set them some ‘Project Based Learning’ ideas – sown a few seeds – and I hope that these have created enough of a spark in each teacher to take them through the year. I am keen to develop science teaching in the elementary and junior school and thinking of ideas that fit with their unique context. You can find out more about their work here http://binghamacademy.net/ 

With best wishes for the next year and thanks to all the staff at the school.

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