More differentiation – or access and challenge for all.

I’ve just published a second page about differentiation, or ways to enable all students to access the learning in your classroom, whilst offering support and challenge at the same time.  I’ll follow it with a third, a long (and probably growing) list of ways to ‘differentiate’.

thinking about differences shouldn't drive learning…

I’m still thinking about my second page on differentiation. In the meantime, something I saw on twitter has inspired me on the same topic. I’ve already posted on the blog about how much damage is done by ability labeling (and perhaps even more by ability thinking). By way of example I’d like to point out this web page, which I’ve been directed to a couple of times now by a twitterer (and someone I respect a lot actually).

Here’s the top of the page:

as you can see, this page is designed to help you ‘differentiate’ between the bright and the gifted child.

I have loads of problems with this.

  • Firstly, bright at what – maths, language, music, sports, all of these, some of them, all the time?
  • Secondly, look carefully at the list – don’t all children exhibit some of these characteristics. Aren’t all of them capable, on different days, of doing some or all of the things on these lists?
  • Thirdly are these children condemned to be merely ‘bright’ for ever? Can’t they achieve giftedness, or should we pat them on the back and say – toddle off bright child, learn something technical by heart and prepare for those tests you work so hard for. Meanwhile do we let the gifted child run about discovery learning, stopping only to ace the odd test without stopping to sit down?
  • Take another look at that ‘gifted’ list – hmm, what would be condemning a student to if we expected him or her always to ‘prefer adults’, to always ‘already know’?
  • Finally, what I really really have a problem with is the sense that we can do nothing for either of these kids, that the gifted, the bright, (presumably also the not quite as bright, the fairly dim and the dunderheads beneath these two) have their courses plotted in the stars, inescapably fixed. Oh, wait, there is something we can do – we can get the gifted one to do it a couple of times for ‘mastery’ whilst leaving a bit more time for the bright one to do it a few more times, we can ask the bright one to copy things really really neatly whilst the gifted one floats about intensely inferring things. What if, one day, the bright one makes a brilliant inference? We might not notice because we’d be helping the ‘gifted’ one through an existential crisis caused by him or her finding something too hard for them to do intuitively.

The Difference Engine

We’re about to start the last term of my time as a tutor on Oxford Uni’s History PGCE. It’s been quite an experience, and although I’m looking forward to congratulating the interns at the end of the course, and I’m excited about the new responsibilities I’m picking up in September, I will be sad to loose such close contact with a really incredible bunch of people.

During the first part of the year, whilst the interns were on their “J” or joint weeks, I had to re-examine (and in many cases re-discover or redress) my thinking about lots of different aspects of history teaching. I’m a relatively inexperienced teacher, having started teaching in september of 2003, but even in that time I picked up may practices that I just ‘did’. Some of these things worked really well (others perhaps less so), but I didn’t really examine why I was doing them.

In writing sessions for the OUDE interns I therefore had a chance to think again, and to learn lots from them, and from Anna Pendry, the lead tutor on the course. I hope in the next weeks to record some of the results of these thoughts, and when I do I’ll post them here.

I’m starting with an article about differentiation. In the past I’ve often conflated thinking about differentiation with whole host of other things, making things easy, helping weaker students to achieve, making different worksheets for different ‘types’ of student, dealing with students with individual education plans, special needs, or specific learning difficulties. Often differentiation has been about ‘bottom sets’ in my mind. These ideas led me to a heady mix of guilt, aversion and ignorance when it comes to thinking about ‘differentiation’. You’ll know from an earlier post that I have been convinced that talking about ‘ability’ is misleading. So, the article is called ‘the difference engine’ and it’s about driving learning without labeling.

The history department as professional learning community?

As you might be aware from the twitter feed, I had an interview a little over a month ago for the HOD post at Little Heath. Great jobs like that don’t come up everyday, so I grabbed the opportunity and applied. To cut a long story short, I got the job (yay, er, gulp). In the hiatus between getting it and next September when I’ll actually start work, I thought I’d do some thinking. The first thing I would like to think about is what the department is for. I’ve long heard of HODs being labelled ‘lead learner for history’ and other such esoteric titles, and been aware from my reading on CPD last year that collaborative development and teaching are en vogue.  My thoughts on the topic are here.