HOW WAS I GOING TO GET THERE? Having identified where I was going, I set about deciding how best to get there, or to put it another way, I set about finding the answer to my question "How can I differentiate my year 8 and year 9 classes to make them accessible to low ability pupils?"
The first stage in solving this was to reduce the 'problem' as I saw it to six main points.
i) Planning - how do I build differentiation into my lesson plans?
ii) Worksheets - how do I make my worksheets accessible to all the pupils in my class? So many Humanities lessons are based around worksheets, I felt that if I could produce a worksheet that was accessible to everyone half the battle would be won.
iii)Instructions- how do I ensure that every child in my class can understands both verbal and written instructions?
iv) Rewards - how do you reward low ability children who have worked well without appearing unfair or patronising?
v) Homework - how do I set homework fairly? One piece of homework might be very easy and require very little time for a bright child, but might be viewed as impossible to a child of lower ability. And, how do I avoid the problem of 'finishing class work at home', which in reality means that the brighter child who was able to work very quickly is left with little or no homework while the less able child is left with an impossible volume of work?
vi) Support - how can I use available support more effectively and efficiently?
These were the main areas that I had been battling with unsuccessfully for four weeks. (You say that you started out covering a small area. Isn’t it amazing how fast a small area grows? )
The next stage was to seek help. While I could imagine various solutions and answers, I felt that at this stage in my 'career' I could benefit from the experience of others.
The first person I turned to was Jonathan. Discussing my project with him helped me to clarify my ideas and aims. (I would like to see evidence of these conversations, perhaps excerpts from transcriptions, which would substantiate this stage of development. I know that you have had these discussions, and there is no reason not to include extracts, Jayne. This would also give us more to go on in making judgements about what you offer in the Report. ) And he agreed to act as my Critical Friend. As a student teacher, he did not feel able or qualified to offer very much concrete advice, however.
I then decided to approach Rachel, a teacher in the Humanities Faculty at the School who specialises in special needs provision. She was very helpful and gave me a lot of useful advice as regards planning, the production of worksheets, instructions, rewards and the effective use of support staff in the classroom. She also lent me her 'file' on the subject which comprised various pieces of information that she had gathered from various sources. This proved invaluable, giving practical help as regards the production of worksheets and language/board work. (For example? )
I also approached the I.L. Faculty and asked if they had any advice. They suggested that I spend some time with them in order to pick up some tips as regards working with children with special needs. I therefore spent a day in the I.L. faculty, watching them work, talking to the staff and pupils and examining the resources that they had.
Finally, I approached a teacher in the Humanities Faculty who is known to have a lot of success with children of lower ability. She suggested I observe some of her lessons and see how she went about dealing with a mixed ability class. She also warned me that I was dealing with a difficult area and should not expect miracles. I learnt a lot from watching her, especially as regards her use of language, the way in which she simplified concepts, making them accessible to all, and the way in which she involved all children at all times. I noticed also how she used effective classroom management to make the above possible. (Perhaps a comment from your diary about these insights would again offer us the dimension of evidence that seems at times so far to be lacking. Do you see my point? )
At this stage I felt able to formulate strategies for dealing with the six points raised above. They were as follows:
i) Lesson Planning - it was pointed out to me (by Rachel) that the most effective way of differentiating a lesson was to build the differentiation in at the planning stage. I therefore decided to re-design my basic lesson plan format by adding a special needs section. In this way I ensured that every lesson was planned with this mind.
ii) Worksheets - it seemed that there were two alternatives a) to give out separate worksheets according to ability or b) to build the differentiation into one worksheet, by ensuring that the basic concept/fact/skill was contained in the first few questions and that the subsequent questions acted as extensions, allowing the brighter children a chance to expand (there are of course many other, more complicated methods; for my purposes as a student, I decided to limit my options) I decided to adopt the second method as a matter of personal preference. Had I had more time I might have experimented with both. (This point is well-justified. It is perfectly in order to limit the scope of your activity as long as you justify it. ) Apart from this, I would now try to ensure that the presentation was as clear as possible and the vocabulary was as simple as possible; where possible I would use visual illustrations either as well as or instead of the written word.
iii) Instructions - as far as instructions were concerned, I decided to attempt to plan them as far as possible so that I could ensure that my vocabulary was not too complicated and that I was to the point. I would also try to ensure that I used visual back up wherever possible, and that all vital information was written somewhere and not simply delivered orally. Having acted as Jonathan's Critical Friend (his Action Research had dealt more specifically with this problem) I felt able to employ some of what he had learnt to my own work. (Again I would like substantiation of this point. It is an integral part of your understanding of your own development - another point of Action Research itself. )
iv) Rewards - I found this a difficult one to deal with and nobody seemed to have the answer. In the end I decided to try to reward children through my attitude, making it clear that I was appreciating the effort that they personally had put in: that I was rewarding their personal achievement. (Give us examples so that we can better understand your intentions. )
v) Homework - I never fully solved this problem either. I decided that the best way was to avoid giving homework which involved finishing off class work at home. Instead, to set something separately. And, to try to make it open ended, so that all children could do the task in their own way, making as much of it as they were capable. I did not, however, feel satisfied with this approach and would like maybe to deal with this point at a later stage, maybe through another, separate Action Research. (I like the way you make us aware of the processes going on. Should you decide to take up this point on T.P.2, you can point back to this idea as constituting a valid starting point as it has arisen out of an informed need. )
vi) Using Support - I decided to be sure that I was aware of the support that would be available in each lesson at the planning stage. I therefore added another section to my lesson plan format entitled "available support". I would then include the role of the support in the lesson plan. In this way I hoped to make full use of the support teacher.
I now felt ready to put some of these ideas into practice.