Today I was observing lesson which made me think about the Graduation Stages I've spoken about. The session was good and on the whole there was good learning taking place. However there was one student in the class who was not coping (not with the level of difficulty, but in terms of concentration and motivation), along with a couple of other students who weren't really switched on. The teacher spent a disproportionate amount of time with these students, leaving so many others in the class to sit around and wait, or learn at the slower pace of these students. This included students who were less able than the demotivated students.
OFSTED's answer would be to improve the quality of learning and teaching (the emphasis being on teaching), however the teacher in my opinion had produced an excellent lesson, with excellent resources, accessible to all. The lesson was good, but it wouldn't have been good in OFSTEDs eyes, because the students weren't learning at an appropriate pace, and not all were engaged.
How can a teacher be expected to produce an all singing and dancing lesson to address the needs of all students in every lesson within the current school structure? How many of us can honestly say that they are able to differentiate for every student in every session? And for the few who do manage this, how many are sure they are getting the level of differentiation right? Are we providing too much scaffolding, to the extent that we inhibit growth and development?
I think we've looked at differentiation in the wrong way. If this had been a PBL session I had observed, the teacher would have focused firstly on the expectations of the students rather than the needs. In other words, if we focus on what we expect students to realistically aim for and attain and start at the highest levels, we then prepare resources and pointers towards resources (including scaffolding for the motivated low achievers), which allow these students to fly independently. This creates space and time to focus on the demotivated.
The teacher today had spent lots of time creating differentiated resources, but they were given to demotivated students, as well as low attaining students (it's important to draw attention to the distinction). The time spent on creating these resources could have been spent on freeing up the teacher to legitimately spend more effective time with these students rather than feeling guilty that the rest of the class were being held up.
PBL when it is launched in September will go a long way to supporting teachers in avoiding scenarios such as this, but it is essential that the Graduation Stages I have mentioned before are incorporated into the PBL structure, in order to allow real personalisation to take place and provide a system which allow students of the leash.
Next Blog I'll talk about the model for PBL I intend to introduce at KS3 from September.