This article was written for SEN Leader Magazine and first published in July 2018. If you have a subscription, you can read the full article on the SEN Leader website.
The best lessons are small pieces of a much larger jigsaw; they do not operate in isolation. Learning, after all, is a lengthy, complex process – never more so than for pupils with SEND.
Pupils with SEND tend to learn best when they can see the big picture, when they understand what they’re learning and why they’re learning it. As such, teachers and support staff need to connect the content of each lesson with the previous lesson or lessons, and with the lessons that will follow.
They need to explain how today’s lesson will consolidate and extend what was studied last lesson, and how it will be further extended and then assessed later.
One way of connecting lessons in this way – and an effective launchpad for differentiation – is to consider pupils’ starting points: what prior knowledge do they bring to this lesson? What misconceptions and unanswered questions do they have? What are their interests and talents (in as far as these may influence the way they learn and the way we teach)? And what are their difficulties or disabilities and how will these affect their learning and progress?
Once the answers to these questions have been ascertained, teachers and support staff need to use the information as rich diagnostic data in order to determine – or at least influence – the way in which they plan and teach lessons.
In this issue and the next issue of SEN Leader, I’ll share a 4-step teaching sequence for pupils with SEND that will help to guide to the lesson planning…
Step 1: the KWL chart
One common diagnostic technique and a means of acquiring data on pupils’ starting points is asking pupils at the beginning of a lesson or new topic to identify what they already know (or think they know) about what they are about to study. Their responses can then be listed in a table or on a graphic organiser. The contents of the first column provide us with a sense of pupils’ prior knowledge, while also unmasking any misconceptions that may exist and therefore may need to be addressed.
Next, we should ask pupils to identify “what I want to learn” about the topic and ask them to raise any questions they may have at this early stage. These responses can be recorded in the second column to serve as indicators of areas of interest.
As the unit unfolds, the knowledge and skills that pupils begin to acquire should be recorded in the third column of the table, providing a record for pupils of “what I have learned”.
An alternative to this is to begin a lesson or topic with an initial assessment, perhaps a low-stakes multiple-choice quiz. The results of these pre-tests can yield invaluable evidence about pupils’ prior knowledge and misconceptions and, when repeated at various stages of the teaching sequence, can provide evidence of pupils’ growing knowledge and understanding.
Regardless of the approach taken, information from diagnostic assessments can guide us in our planning so that lessons are more responsive to pupils’ needs and their existing knowledge-base – surely the very definition of differentiation.
An important practical implication, of course, is that we must remember to plan opportunities for assessments and allow sufficient ‘wriggle room’ to make adjustments based on the feedback garnered by the assessments.
In-built flexibility like this is not just advisable, it is a key aspect of effective lesson-planning and differentiation because it enables learning to be personalised to match the needs and pace of pupils’ learning – which is essential if we are to support pupils with SEND. It also ensures that gaps in pupils’ learning are identified and filled, which in turn will avoid an off-the-peg, one-size-fits-all approach to lesson-planning and enable good progress to be made by all pupils, irrespective of their additional and different needs.
…to continue reading this article, visit the SEN Leader website.
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