In my book, School and College Curriculum Design 1: Intent, I articulated a six-step process for curriculum planning…
You can read about each step here.
In the second book in the series, School and College Curriculum Design 2: Implementation, I have also set out a six-step process as follows…
Read summaries of Step 1, and Steps 2, 3 and 4 (coming soon).
In this blog, I will summarise Step 5…
When we talk about differentiation, we often have in mind ways of scaffolding learning for our ‘less able’ pupils. But pupils – like learning – are complex and no pupil is uniformly ‘less able’ than another. Rather, some pupils have acquired more knowledge and skills in one area than another pupil or have practised a task more often. Of course, some pupils have additional and different needs – such as those young people with learning difficulties or disabilities – and they require a different approach. But to say they are ‘less able’ is, I think, an unhelpful misnomer.
What’s more, the term “less able” infers an immovable position – if you are ‘less able’ you are destined to remain so ad infinitum, living your life languishing in the left-hand shadow of the bell-curve.
I’m not suggesting that every pupil performs the same – or has the same capacity to do so. We are not all born equal. But defining someone as less able as a result of a test – whether that be Key Stage 2 SATs, Year 7 CATs or GCSE outcomes – means we are in danger of arbitrarily writing off some pupils by means of a snapshot taken through a pinhole lens.
When approaching differentiation, therefore, we would be wise to remember that all pupils – like all human beings – are different, unique, individual. Differentiation, therefore, should not be about treating ‘less able’ pupils – or indeed those with SEND or eligible for Pupil Premium funding – as a homogenous group. Rather, we should treat each pupil on an individual basis.
Nor should we assume that what works with one pupil will work with all and that what was proven to work with ‘less able’ pupils in another school, in another district, in another country, (according to research evidence and meta-analyses) will work in our classroom.
To promote challenge in the classroom for all pupils, we need to reduce the threat level, we need to ensure no one feels humiliated if they fall short of a challenge. Rather, they need to know that they will learn from the experience and perform better next time.
Once we’ve created a positive learning environment in which pupils willingly accept challenge, we need to model high expectations of all.
Having high expectations of pupils is not only a nice thing to do, it actually leads to improved performance.
It’s common practice to talk about three waves of intervention for disadvantaged pupils and those with SEND.
According to the now-defunct National Strategies, Wave 1 is “quality inclusive teaching which takes into account the learning needs of all the pupils in the classroom”. As such, if we do not first provide pupils with quality classroom teaching, then no amount of additional intervention and support will help them to catch up.
But even with the provision of ‘quality first teaching’, some pupils will require more – and more tailored – support in the guise of Wave 2 in-class differentiations and Wave 3 additional interventions which take place outside the classroom and off the taught timetable.
Such intervention strategies may take the form of one-to-one support from a teaching assistant (TA) or additional learning support (ALS), small group targeted teaching by a SEND or High Needs specialist, or support from external agencies such as speech and language therapists.
The ultimate aim of such additional support, in most cases, is for it to become redundant over time. In other words, we want pupils with SEND to become increasingly independent and for the scaffolds to fall away. Indeed, this is the stated aim of Education Health and Care Plans (EHCPs) and High Needs funding: over time, discrete funding should be reduced as its impact is felt and pupils require less and less support.
With this aim in mind, it is important to ensure that all strategic interventions aimed at pupils with SEND are monitored whilst they are happening and are:
• Brief (20– 50mins),
• Regular (3–5 times per week),
• Sustained (running for 8–20 weeks),
• Carefully timetabled,
• Staffed by well-trained TAs (5–30 hours’ training per intervention),
• Well-planned with structured resources and clear objectives,
• Assessed to identify appropriate pupils, guide areas for focus and track pupil progress, and
• Linked to classroom teaching.
Motivating pupils to learn
As well as supporting pupils to access our curriculum we need to motivate them so that they want to learn. Motivation requires:
1. A destination to aim for – knowing what the outcome looks like and not giving up until you reach it.
2. A model to follow – an exemplar on which to base your technique provided by someone who is regarded as an expert and who sets high expectations.
3. Regular checkpoints to show what progress has been made and what’s still to do, coupled with regular celebrations of ongoing achievements and timely messages about upcoming milestones.
4. Personalisation – the ability to make choices about how to carry out tasks in order to increase enjoyment and engagement
In the classroom, there are two types of motivation that matter most: intrinsic and extrinsic.
1. Intrinsic motivation – this is the self-desire to seek out new things and new challenges, in order to gain new knowledge. Often, intrinsic motivation is driven by an inherent interest or enjoyment in the task itself. Pupils are likely to be intrinsically motivated if they attribute their educational results to factors under their own control, also known as autonomy, they believe in their own ability to succeed in specific situations or to accomplish a task – also known as a sense of self-efficacy, and they are genuinely interested in accomplishing something to a high level of proficiency, knowledge and skill, not just in achieving good grades – also known as mastery.
2. Extrinsic motivation – this is the performance of an activity in order to attain a desired outcome. Extrinsic motivation comes from influences outside an individual’s control; a rationale, a necessity, a need. Common forms of extrinsic motivation are rewards (for example, money or prizes), or – conversely – the threat of punishment. We can provide pupils with a rationale for learning by sharing the ‘big picture’ with them. In other words, we can continually explain how their learning fits in to the module, the course, the qualification, their careers and to success in work and life.
We can also motivate pupils to learn if we engender a culture of excellence in our classrooms…
The first step towards motivating pupils to produce high-quality work is to set tasks which inspire and challenge them, and which are predicated on the idea that every pupil will succeed, not just finish the task but produce work which represents personal excellence.
Second, we can make ensure classwork is personally meaningful – for example by triggering pupils’ curiosity and by posing a big question that captures the heart of a topic in clear, compelling language, and we can give pupils some choice about how to conduct the work and present their findings. We can also ensure that classwork fulfils an educational purpose – for example by providing opportunities to build metacognition and character skills such as collaboration, communication, and critical thinking, and by emphasising the need to create high-quality products and performances through the formal use of feedback and drafting.
Supporting disadvantaged pupils
In order to help disadvantaged pupils to learn, we can follow a three-point plan:
1. Identify the barriers
2. Plan the solutions
3. Agree the success criteria
Identify the barriers
Before we can put in place intervention strategies aimed at supporting disadvantaged pupils, we must first understand why a gap exists between the attainment of disadvantaged pupils and non-disadvantaged pupils. In short, we need to ask ourselves: What are the barriers to learning faced by my disadvantaged pupils? Are these barriers always in place or only for certain subjects, skills, etc?
Plan the solutions
Once we have identified the barriers our disadvantaged pupils face towards learning, we need to plan the solutions. And one of the most effective solutions, though by no means the only one, is to focus on developing pupils’ cultural capital…
Cultural capital takes myriad forms and is highly complex. There is not one single solution, but we have to start somewhere, and I would suggest we start with vocabulary because we know that a lack of early language and literacy skills is a major cause of disadvantage. The explicit instructions of tier 2 and 3 vocabulary is therefore advisable but this must be done in domain-specific ways and only when relevant to disciplinary learning.
In addition, I would suggest that strategies aimed to helping disadvantaged pupils work best when they focus on the following:
1. Improving pupils’ transitions between the key stages and phases of education
2. Developing pupils’ cross curricular literacy skills
3. Developing pupils’ cross curricular numeracy skills
Agree the success criteria
The third and final action on our three-point plan is to agree the success criteria. Once we’ve identified the barriers to learning faced by our disadvantaged pupils and have planned the best solutions to help them overcome those barriers, we need to be clear about what success will look like. We need to ask ourselves: What is my aim here? For example, is it to: raise attainment; expedite progress; improve attendance; improve behaviour; reduce exclusions; improve parental engagement; or expand upon the number of opportunities afforded to disadvantaged pupils?
Whatever our immediate goal is, ultimately we should be seeking to diminish the difference between the attainment of disadvantaged pupils in our school and non-disadvantaged pupils nationally, as well as narrowing our within-school gap. As such, if our initial aim is pastoral in nature, for example to improve behaviour and attendance, or reduce exclusions, then we must take it a step further and peg it to an academic outcome.