This week I’ve worked with a very experienced senior teacher to jointly plan and deliver a maths lesson as part of our school’s peer to peer lesson monitoring. I have also just read a blog post by @nancygedge about differentiation and inclusion (here). The two are linked by the notion of pigeon holing children in the classroom.
When I completed my MA a few years ago, I chose to research and write about children’s perceptions of formative assessment, and ended up getting a little bit sidetracked by learning objectives and sorting children into ability groups. the two ideas have stayed with me as bugbears ever since. At the time, I worked in a school which had very prescriptive “non-negotiables” for every lesson which included children copying out differentiated learning objectives into their books at the very beginning of the lesson, a 3-way differentiated learning objective being practically the first words the teacher spoke in every lesson, and children being grouped into colour-coded ability groups. Their books even had to be stickered with coloured stickers to show which group they were in.
I am now in a school where teachers are trusted to teach and use their professional judgement about how to best do that. One of the first things I did when I left my previous school was to scrap the idea of ability groups and give children some ownership of their learning by allowing them choice. I still sometimes pull together a little focus group who all have similar next steps or who share a misconception, but for the most part, children in my class are taught together and then presented with a series of challenges from which they can choose.
I teach in a mixed year group class, years 4, 5 and 6 all together. This has its drawbacks, but one of the great things about it is that “stage not age” teaching is more easily achieved. However, that’s not without it’s difficulties, too. One very sensitive but self-motivated year 4 pupil in my class loves to push themselves and always wants to achieve the very best. This means that they can sometimes choose work aimed at level 5 or 6, rather than the high level 3 that they are. Sometimes that means that they need a little extra support to succeed, but succeed they usually do. However, the ethos in my classroom also means that sometimes, they decide that the most challenging of the choices is a little tricky for them and they lower their sights a little. But they have ownership. They have choice. They are not pigeon-holed.
It doesn’t take a child long to work out that if they are in the “circles” maths group then their teacher has lower expectations of their potential than if they were in the “octagons” group. It doesn’t take a “full stop” long to work out that they don’t need to work as hard as an “inverted comma”.
Glass ceiling, anyone?