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Teaching Issues

Cooking up decent differentiation

You know one of the things that really annoys me?

It is watching a lesson where so called less able students are given low level work to do (a gap fill maybe), while those the teacher perceives as bright are given more challenging and harder work. Often the so called bright are not necessarily bright, but just more literate.

The other thing that really annoys me, is being in a fantastically stretching lesson for all, when the dumb arse observer tells me that there is no differentiation going on. This is because they cannot see 17 different path-ways for the different groups and sub groups and flippin sub groups of sub groups. They can’t see the differentiation because they wouldn’t  know what good teaching looked like if it crept up behind them and bit them on the …

So what is decent ?

Well clearly I have my views. Firstly, I don’t like using the ‘d ‘word at all. I would rather talk in terms of  access and challenge. Put simply, the work that the teacher sets needs to be accessible to all and challenging to all.  That is basically it.

This morning I was having a chat with our RE teacher, who is not only incredibly talented, but incredibly wise. We were discussing how Come Dine With Me is an awful lot like planning the perfect lesson. I totally agree. Neil and I ran some sessions a couple of years ago at the SHP conference called just this.

Anyway, a contestant on a repeated episode of  Come Dine With Me apparently ended up cooking 3 different meals for 4 guests. One was a vegetarian, one was just fussy and the others were happy with her original menu. Now if, as teachers we ended up having to make 3 or 4, or 17 different lesson plans and resources for every lesson we would soon burn out, give up, die, leave teaching etc.

Instead my view (and the view of our wise RE teacher) is that instead of cooking / teaching in this way, we should think harder about cooking up decent differentiation in the history classroom. We should prepare lessons like the perfect curry. What do I mean by this? Well, when it comes to cooking curry, I am pretty sure that the basic curry paste / curry soup is created. This is the basis of all main curry dishes. Then, when some one orders a Madras, or dhansak, the main food is taken from the curry paste and a few subtle spices are added to subtly change the flavour at the last and hey presto you have your madras, or your vindaloo, or your korma. But everyone is eating curry!

Now this may be a poor analogy, but let me continue. In our teaching, we should plan the lesson for all – the curry soup. Then, when it comes to the so called weak, or the bright, we should be prepared to subtly help or challenge them but from the same curry, not by making beans on toast too.

So if we were teaching the causes of the English Civil War, we would use cards to sort. The big question would be the same, What caused the English Civil War? When we gave out the cleverly worded  cards we would add the twist, the flavour.  The weaker could have slightly fewer cards, the bright could have a couple of extra written sources that the teacher subtly gives out just to them if and when she thinks it is appropriate. They could then all sort them under Power, Religion and Money – and on a Venn diagram, you know the drill. All eating the same diet as it were.  No one in the room would really know that any one was treated differently, but the challenge and support is clearly there.

Now these little inputs from the teacher can be difficult to spot to by the idiot with the clip board and the tick list,  but this is to me is one very good example of how  to cook up decent differentiation.

Right, all that talk of curry is making me peckish…

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