Using Differentiation while teaching English in a supportive classroom

Learning English is a challenge for students. The English language is so much more complex than Romanian, with the same set of letters producing different sounding words or equally confusing, different sets of letters, producing the same sounding words. This is comparison to Romanian, where what you write is what you say.

I thought I would list some of the different ways that teachers are able to help their students when they are experiencing difficulty in English.

Why we need to use differentiation:

There are two different groups of students that a teacher needs to focus on in the lessons. There are those who need support and lifting to make sure they gain something from every lesson they attend. There is also a second, normally quieter, overlooked group, who excel at the subject and these students need to be stretched and challenged to make sure that they too are also gaining something important from each and every lesson they attend.

The gifted and challenged group need to be encouraged to think deeper and try to complete the essential 4Cs of modern day learnings. The 21st century skills will be the 4Cs.

Communication: They need to be able to express their ideas clearly.
Collaboration: They need to work effectively as a team.
Creative Thinking: They need to develop new ways of approaching a problem.
Critical Thinking: They need to be able to assess and identify risks and problems with ideas.

Planning for differentiation:

Within every class there are students who have reached different attainment levels. Some students will have a gift for your subject, some will be reasonable and then you have those who are lost at sea and have long since given up trying to achieve their best. In these classes, it is important to have differentiation so that every child in the class feels that they are gaining something from being in your lessons. In particular, you need to be able to throw a life raft to those who are really struggling and help them feel like they are making progress as it is well known that confidence breeds confidence while, failure breeds failure.

The 10 key points to focus on:

1) Profiling your cohort: What is the classes strengths and weaknesses?
2) Selecting a study topic: How engaged will they be with the topic?
3) Defining the key objectives: What do you want them to be able to do at the end of it?
4) Establishing key outcomes: What will students have produced by the end of it?
5) Main classroom activities and resources: What is the main class learning style?
6) Recap and consolidation activities: What ‘over learning’ activities have been included?
7) Extension and enrichment activities: What additional challenges have been included?
8) Homework activities: What is the focus of this additional learning and why?
9) Assessment procedures: How will the work be assessed? Can it be self assessed?
10) Celebrating achievement: How will students know if they have achieved a task? Do the students know where they will go next?

Here is a diagram explaining some of the different ways of differentiating a lesson.
(Reference: Supportive Classrooms, Support for Learning, Matt Grant, March 2011)

What are some of the different ways of successfully differentiating a class?

The simplest method, used by most teachers is the simple differentiating by outcome. What you expect from your top students is something completely different from what you expect from the less high achieving children.

There are a few of different approaches a teacher can try, along with a rating on how easy or time consuming it is for the teacher.

Spider map: You write out the different keywords on a big piece of paper and then ask the students to think about the different links they can make between the different words. This has a 2 star rating – very quick and simple and you are able to use it either at the start of a topic to see how much students know, or at the end of the topic, when you want to assess how much new information the students have gained.

Placemats: This has a 1 star rating. This is really simple to do. You create simple partially filled in details of the topic you want to cover. Your skeleton will then be given to the students and shared. The students work on filling out all the details and sharing with the rest of the class.

Post-it note Question: After explaining the aims and objectives, students write down questions they would like to know in the lesson and then these will be answered by other students at the end of the lesson. This is great as then everyone has a stake in the lesson and will try to get enough information to answer some of the questions. This has a rating of 1 for ease.

Connect 5: This is another fun lesson to try. You give the students two words which are vaguely linked together. They then have to think of an easier, harder and really hard link between the two different objects. This is a great way of getting them talking and explaining ideas. This is a simple 1 star for ease.

Differentiating by work: This is one of the toughest ways of doing things as you need to provide three different levels of worksheets, three different inputs and three different outcomes. The students then need to explain their ideas and discoveries at the end. This is a level 4 in effort. I have found that these separate activities tend to split a class. It has been shown this can actually demotivate a class as the lower two groups know they are being given less challenging work. Ironically the top group is never happy either, as they are always worried that they might fail and be moved into a less challenged group…

Let the students become a class teacher: This has between a 1 to 3 for effort. The teacher sets out the task and what needs to be covered. The students then have the challenge of creating a lesson, or part of a lesson to teach to the rest of the class. The great points it that as well a boosting any child’s confidence, the students now have a real reason for focusing on the tasks you have set them.

Power of three: What are the three most important things you learnt today. Compare the answers with a partner and justify your answers. This is a 1 star super simple way of consolidating learning and helping students to review their own learning and the learning of others.\

Question Time: Write a statement on the board and ask the students if this is always correct. Get the students to discuss the statement and justify their own ideas with evidence. This helps students to both talk more, increase their vocabulary and think more deeply.

Split the students into different groups:
Try these different groups:
• Able and mixed ability groups
• Single gender and mixed gender groups
• Friendship group
• Expert group
• Age group
To change the dynamics of a lesson. Getting the students to get up to move around will help them develop different views and encourage deeper thinking and expressing themselves to others. This again is a simple 1 star level activity.

Make students more responsible for a task:

Give different students different roles in a group i.e.
 Spokes person
 Team Leader
 Scribe
 Intelligent professor

Rotate these roles in different lessons and activities and ask the students to think about which role they found easier, which are more challenging and how could they improve the performance of their different roles?

Anonymous marking: This requires a little preparation and so is a 3 star activity. The class an extract from an anonymous student’s work – class identify 2 strengths and 2 weaknesses. Ideally this would be from another class, or another school to ensure some student was not going to get demotivated from the comments made by their peers.

Predict this: A 1 star activity. Give the students the start of a story, newstory or perhaps half a YouTube clip and ask the students to think about what will happen next. Viewing experiments online is particularly effective. This is a great activity as it supports both visual and auditory learners. It also helps students by promoting discussion and consolidating their vocabulary.

This is a few different activities which will prmote better learning in the class and support and motivate students. Try them to see if they are effective for you.