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.

Training in Ethiopia

August 2016 Bingham Academy, Addis Ababa

A long flight from London Gatwick to Addis Ababa via Dubai brought me to Bingham Academy, a mission school in the heart of the bustling city. It was rainy season. Proper rain. Can’t see the roads kind of rain. For three months of the year, the quality of road surface gradually deteriorates and large holes are commonplace. The journey to the school was bumpy, slightly concerning but nevertheless eye-opening and entertaining.

The school is set within a busy market district of the city within a walled compound. A guarded gate provides entry. The buildings were a mixture of concrete and corrugated iron roofing with polished wooden floors and spaces in the walls for a select group of rodents, and newer buildings with offices and well-lit classrooms. The vultures flying overhead were interested in the local abattoir located just round the corner. The heavy humidity meant a variety of new smells were hanging in the air.

Brad Adams, Director of Bingham Academy showed me around. I had a little apartment within the main school building. Brad described how the teachers were sponsored by their local churches to teach children of missionaries working in the country. Most would raise tens of thousands of pounds to fulfil their calling to work in this fascinating country. Many teachers came with their families, with a long term commitment. Some were young Christians, wanting to start a lifelong career of service.   I got settled and then went to my first hosts for dinner. We chatted over spaghetti about faith and service, teaching and commitment and the Olympics.

Monday was the first of two training days for over fifty staff. We looked at differentiation and assessment for learning. Techniques for personalising learning and getting the best out of individuals. A great deal of engagement from participants helped along with some chocolate and some Haribo love. Dinner was hosted by an English couple, one a GP responsible for looking after the teachers, the other staff and the missionaries. Bizarrely, he was also my late cousin’s GP back in St.Albans in another life. Small world. Shepherd’s Pie, apple crumble and a bottle of local beer to wet the whistle was welcomed heartily. We talked about drones and how small the world was.

Tuesday was a day for Active Learning. We danced, sang and played. Lots of ideas for engaging learners. Maximum participation and excellent feedback on the day. We had a debate, we had trust games, team building skills, science experiments and lots of discussion about effective teaching. A good day.

My last evening was hosted by Shane and Naomi. An Australian couple. Both teachers, who had brought their four children with them for the long game. Strong in faith and full of hope and optimism yet painfully realistic about the challenges facing the people of the local area. Naomi had provided outreach to groups and families, supporting them to overcome poverty, prostitution, and lack of hope. A chance to refit a steel roof for a family of eight brought tears of joy to everyone and fortified links with the local community.

We sampled local food that evening washed down with local beer and the best coffee I have ever had. We were joined by three of Shane’s children who all delved into the ‘njeera’. They loved their days at school and were passionate about wanting to stay there and finish with good qualifications. We chatted that night about life, kids, fishing and the lemons that come our way occasionally. Lovely lovely people.

My route home was via an ancient monument on Entoto and a flying visit to see Lucy (Australopithecus afarensis to her friends) which was a real treat. I was fascinated by the culture, the people, the history, and how they make their living. It is undoubtedly tough out there but people seem genuinely happy even when it’s raining. The flight home was filled with Ethiopian girls looking for work in the bright lights of Dubai. Housemaids, cleaners, domestics perhaps. Very few of them had been on a plane before. They struggled to familiarise themselves with airline toilets, food and drink choices and general etiquette on a plane but who could blame them.

On reflection, I would love to work with Bingham Academy again, if only to be in a place where character, commitment and faith are valued above all else. It was a collection of motivated teachers wanting to give their very best. I was inspired.

The building and surrounding walls have taken a battering in the last week as a result of torrential downpours. The school is funded by charity donations. If you have read this far and would like to help they can be found on Facebook (here) and a link to a fundraising page is here https://rceinternational.webconnex.com/43000

Training was provided by Dragonfly Training Ltd who bring hands-on practical courses to schools across the planet.

 

Raising boys achievement

There are many barriers to learning for young lads. I have been digging a little deeper only to satisfy my own curiosity and remind myself that a classroom teacher has often got the odds stacked against them if they want achievement for all. Gary Wilson is a heavily-cited educationalist, known for his work on boys achievement. He reckons there are at least 30 different barriers to success for boys. These include early experiences, role models (or lack of strong male role models), poor emotional intelligence, reading without talking first, choice of teacher language and the way teachers interact with boys as opposed to girls. There is no quick fix. Boy-girl seating plans are a short term remedy often inappropriately deployed with little explanation. Single gender work has limited impact mainly because it is not sustainable. Gary Wilson talks about improving chances and preparedness for boys at the earliest opportunity. The work must begin in primary schools and a cross-phase approach is essential.

This sentiment was echoed when I spoke with a Primary Headteacher recently. He suggested something which he described as a little controversial. Put the best teachers with the most difficult boys. Outstanding teachers will ensure the gender gap does not widen. Once they reach secondary school, any gap can’t be closed. The damage has already been done. He then suggested greater sustainable links between primary and secondary schools. Not just taster days or special events but something that is regular, significant and appropriate.

“Boys need challenge; they need structure. They like to solve problems and need tasks to be active and engaging. Create opportunities to talk before writing, create time for reflection and make the work relevant.” – Gary Wilson – Oxford University Press – Project X

In my classroom, I have been using IntoScience (www.intoscience.com). I have noticed increased motivation and engagement from the boys in my Year 8 group (a tough boy-dominated group). This is not just the ‘lads’ but the quieter boys who respond well to working in pairs on some of the challenges and activities. Each task is clearly defined. There are ‘inquiry points’ on offer at each stage and plenty of challenge. They are also keen to follow up at home. The girls love it too!

My work with Primary schools has also meant I have been able to see Empiribox (www.empiribox.org) in action. This is great for boys achievement. Hands-on practical science with plenty of pops, whizzes, bubbles and smells. They get to use scientific language, ask questions and investigate their own ideas. It’s the perfect mix of purpose, autonomy, and mastery.

Useful starting point with some good ideas. Happy to hear more!

Music4Learning #4

“All men dream, but not equally. Those who dream by night in the dusty recesses of their minds, wake in the day to find that it was vanity: but the dreamers of the day are dangerous men, for they may act on their dreams with open eyes, to make them possible.” – T.E. Lawrence

Ever seen a bunch of 16 year olds dragging their knuckles, bringing last Wednesday’s clothes and smell with them, complaining of bright lights and too many things to do before sunset? Ever opened your classroom door to a sideways glance from a teenage girl who has scrunched the last bit of chew from a stick of gum and just about managed to string the words together: ‘Hope we’re doing something fun today!’? The joys of high school or secondary school bring tears to most teachers eyes – and for so many reasons. It is the age of consolidation. The voyage of self-discovery and the trials of adolescence.

My learners enter the classroom knowing there’s going to be some music at some point. Here’s how I use the Wake Up section on I Can Teach. The chemistry has to be right. Imbalance between the two hormones melatonin and serotonin can cause a delay in waking and difficulty getting to sleep. So there are times when music can help. He’s a Pirate by Klaus Badelt (from Pirates of The Caribbean) is a rousing bit of music. Use it to introduce a topic, a speaker or get people started on an activity.Can’t Stop Movin’ by Sonny J is just the ticket for a ‘moving’ activity but at the right volume sits just underneath constructive conversation. Choose carefully between tracks with lyrics and without. The temptation is to ‘hook’ into the lyrics and this can work to improve productivity, focus and concentration. The beats per minute is also important. Too fast and you lose the effect. Our brain is too busy interpreting and following. Watch this from Jessica Grahn (she’s a hip neurologist who knows her beats) to give you an idea of how it works….

The William Tell Overture by Rossini is a classic piece of music. Throw it into the classroom and watch students become productive, busy, sociable bees. Tidy up time never happened more efficiently. Use it as part of a routine and Pavlov’s bells start ringing – students will tidy up without even asking! There’s a good selection of beats, sounds and styles in Wake Up and they all work in different ways to achieve the same effect. Whether it’s early morning or early afternoon, there’s a place for some upbeat ‘wake up’ music. The results will speak for themselves…..