Sunday, 29 October 2017

A question of pace and differentiation

In all my time in teaching, there are words that are bounded about in meetings, discussions and lesson observations and those are ‘pace’ and ‘differentiation’. There is, however, much more to pace than a timer on a PowerPoint and there is more to differentiation than a selection of multi-coloured sheets all will varying levels of complexity. Personally, for me, the secret to the two is questioning.

Questioning makes a lesson pacey.

Questioning is a form of differentiation.

The problem with questioning is that we get so loaded with the types of question, we simply forget the function of a question in any given context. Yes, knowing a closed and open is helpful. So too is blooming ‘Bloom’s Taxonomy’ handy. Oh and you mustn’t forget your high-order questioning. But, understanding why you are using questions is vital.

A question can be used to check, remind, push, challenge and many more things. Take these following questions.  What is their function?
Jamie, what did we say last lesson was the way to approach this question?

Polly, what are we supposed to be doing now?

Zoe, why am I asking you a question now instead of Victoria?

Liz, how does this approach used by the writer link to ‘Great Expectation’ we studied in Year 8?

Jo, how much is Mr Curtis’ expecting from you?

Sarah-Jane, what is the mistake you need to keep avoiding?

Harry, do you think there would be a better approach to answering this question?

Leela, what have you done in RE that links to this aspect?

Romana, that answer’s fine for the class, but how would you rephrase that for the exam?

Adric, what’s a more formal way of saying ‘bloke’?

Tegan, what did I say was really important for you to remember?

We all know that ‘no hands up’ approach is favoured in some circumstances, because it stops some students from being passive in lessons. It is occasionally not helpful when you are exploring existing knowledge of a topic or for quick recall of knowledge. However, the teacher has an integral role in the classroom and that is to orchestrate the learning. The delivery of the task alone is not learning alone. You have to point your baton at the wind instruments. Tell the percussion instruments to quieten it down. Ultimately, the teacher is responsible for the learning and, like music, its flow in the classroom. So, what does each of those questions do? What is its function as side for improving learning, duh?

Jamie, what did we say last lesson was the way to approach this question?

Recalling knowledge from a previous lesson.

Polly, what are we supposed to be doing now?

Putting a student back on track or making a student start the task who usually takes time to get started.

Zoe, why am I asking you a question now instead of Victoria?

Modelling go behaviour and addressing students not following expectations

Liz, how does this approach used by the writer link to ‘Great Expectation’ we studied in Year 8?

Generating links across the subject and knowledge recall over time

Jo, how much is Mr Curtis’ expecting from you?

Reminding the class of expectations and reasserting a student isn’t or hasn’t been meeting my expectations

Sarah-Jane, what is the mistake you need to keep avoiding?

Ensuring the student doesn’t forget the changes she needs to do to her work

Harry, do you think there would be a better approach to answering this question?

Getting an able student to explore alternatives and developing their thoughts

Leela, what have you done in RE that links to this aspect?

Developing cross-curricular connections and extending their thinking   

Romana, that answer’s fine for the class, but how would you rephrase that for the exam?

Identifying mistakes and errors and promoting self-correction

Adric, what’s a more formal way of saying ‘bloke’?

Exploring language choices and promoting self-correction

Tegan, what did I say was really important for you to remember?

Recalling knowledge from a previous lesson and building in differentiation

Each question is a specific level of differentiation and identifies the level of needs and intervention the teacher needs to give.

There might be Nyssa who will need some support from the TA and Turlough will need me to support him with some of the writing, but the majority of the class are addressed in terms of differentiation and needs. Of course, some students might need more differentiation, but the lesson has been tailored to the students’ needs.

Whether you see the classroom as ‘whack-a-mole’ or ‘plate spinning’, you still have to address what each and every student is doing. You can’t look at thirty students books in a short space of time, but you can select a wide spread and address some of the things about the learning.

·         Questions about expectations

·         Questions about behaviour

·         Questions about knowledge on the topic or task

·         Questions about knowledge from previous lessons / topics  

·         Questions about knowledge in other subject areas

·         Questions about feedback given

·         Questions about recurring errors



Some of these questions might be rhetorical. We both know the answer. Some of them might need an answer, so they whole class or a specific groups of students need reminding. The questions form the narrative of the lesson. All too often, our focus of questions tends to focus on the content and learning – usually what we want them to learn. Rarely, do we look at the questions to develop how they learn.

Repeat these types of questions again and again and you’ll find that the classroom environment has momentum.

Question, question and question and leave no stone unturned. We assume far too much in the classroom. That’s why a teacher should be asking lots of small questions throughout a whole lesson. A teacher that doesn’t ask questions is assuming too much.

Thanks for reading,

Xris

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