When you have 28 children in your class, it goes without saying that not every child will be able to access every learning objective.
Differentiation is a key skill for all teachers to have.
During Initial Teacher Training, a lot of emphasis is put on lower, middle and higher group differentiation, but what about your children with Special Educational Needs?
After being told how to differentiate for the three main groups in their class, I remember being told during my training, “And then you need to think individually about the children who are above or below these groups.”
And I think that was the sum total of my differentiation training for children with Special Educational Needs.
In reality, the vast majority of your class will fall into your higher, middle and lower groups when you plan.
But some children won’t and these are the children who are vulnerable to being failed by the education system.
Because most teachers don’t know how to teach them.
As a Special Educational Needs & Disabilities Coordinator (SENDCO), the number one discussion I have with teachers of all levels of experience is when someone comes to me and says,
“I just don’t know what to do with Jonathon”
And actually what they’re saying is,
“Jonathon doesn’t fit into any of the groups I have planned for”
There are some children in your class who will need much more of your planning energy than others.
That’s just the way it is.
And I don’t mean that you’ll need to spend hours typing plans and finding individual activities for them or spending a huge amount of one-on-one time with them in class.
I mean that you will need to complete a thought process for them for each lesson and scribble some notes down about where they are in their learning and what barriers are standing in the way of them making progress.
I remember when I was an NQT, there was a little boy in my Year 4 class with a severe hearing impairment that had only just been picked up. (It’s a long story about why it hadn’t been picked up…)
One day, I was teaching a World War Two lesson about what an evacuee might pack in their suitcase when an Educational Psychologist popped in to observe him.
I had been working on the basis that, as he was able to read lips, he could access enough of the lesson to meet the lower end success criteria and I was happy with that.
I thought that he was ‘included’.
After the lesson, the Educational Psychologist ran me through some of the many ways I could have differentiated the lesson to help him make better progress.
It was a pivotal moment for me.
I suddenly realised that he could have potentially reached the higher level success criteria if I had spent some time on a little thought and planning.
I had effectively written off a child from learning and I felt awful.
Although differentiation is absolutely key to enabling all children to make progress, it remains one of the hardest things for teachers to do.
Because there’s no universal way to teach someone how to do it.
Nobody can create a tick list and say that if you’re doing all these things, you’re differentiating properly.
People have tried but it doesn’t work because every single lesson will be differentiated differently.
Even two teachers in the same school, teaching the same learning objectives and using the same activities shouldn’t have exactly the same plans. They should be differentiating their lessons based on the individual children in their classes.
So, in order to help someone else differentiate a lesson, you really need to
(a) watch someone plan and teach a lesson
(b) know the children in their class as well as they do
This makes it almost impossible to tell someone else how to differentiate their lesson plans.