Monday, 2 March 2015

Now There's A Challenge - #ililc5

The quote above sums up why the #ililc conferences are so crucial for teachers. It is so important that we have access to as many ideas, pedagogies and approaches as possible to keep our methods of teaching - and the students' methods of learning - fresh and relevant. What makes being part of the #MFLTwitterati so worthwhile is that every week feels like a mini-version of the #ililc weekend - always learning, always sharing.

I chose to deliver my session on the idea of Challenge and Differentiation. I believe that if there isn't suitable challenge in your lessons, then the differentiation isn't right. And if you differentiate your tasks, then there will be challenge. I believe the two are inseparable.

Lee S Shulman, the originator of the quote above, worked with Bloom, who cropped up throughout my presentation. If you want to read more from him, go to

I started off my session, not only with this quote, but also with the reminder that I most certainly do not claim to have the answers, and that I wanted the purpose of the session to be to prompt discussion and reflection, which are crucial for continual development and improvement. I also said, although not as coherently as Lisa Stevens did in her Keynote soon after, that everyone in the room is an expert, and just because some of us have presented that day, they should not be overwhelmed or question their standing in the room.

Speaking of standing, the session started with Rachel Smith not being able to sit on a chair properly. Which ruined my opening comedy-fall-off-my-chair routine I had planned.

It is essential to remember at any CPD session that what works for others may not be the ideal solution for you, for your school, or for your class. What is equally as important, though, is that you are able to recognise ideas that may work and that can be manipulated and adapted. Never go to a CPD session with a closed mind.

So how can we challenge? Many ways: An idea of how is noted below:

While I am not going to go through each of these one by one, they all crop up and are intertwined. One of the big ideas that we are tackling at my school at the moment is the idea of the I CAN attitude - or the I CAN'T DO IT - YET approach. Students (and I know this isn't just at our school) would rather not attempt a task than run the risk of 'failing' - even though we want students to fail to be able to improve. It is ok to get it wrong.

I have retweeted the picture below on a number of occasions, because it holds so much truth in it.
But I needed to understand what that looked like in a classroom. How do we teach/train the students to have a growth mindset? If I had a penny for every time I counteracted a "I can't do it" with an "Of course you can", and went through the processes that students could adopt for the task... So imagine my joy when, during a parents' evening at school, I found a brilliant section in a fab book about how to go about this! Advancing Differentiation by Richard M Cash suddenly made it clear, in a few lines, in a sort of class pact:

With that CAN DO in mind, I then set the delegates to task on an eye-drawing mission.
1. Draw an eye (3 minutes)
2. Card sort of 5 drawings of eyes, all of which are of different skill levels
3. Match your drawing with one of the 5 eyes
4. Draw another eye, using the 'better' eyes as guidance on how to improve your eye. Prompt sheet given out, How To Draw An Eye - step by step, for those needing the extra support.

We did this at school in a mini-TeachMeet delivered by our Head of Art. It showed how to overcome the "I can't draw" attitude, as well as modelling different levels of ability, and step-by-step improvements. Students can start improving at the level they deem appropriate. Hello challenge and differentiation.

The discussion then started, and we questioned whether it would have been better for the initial drawing if the 5 eyes were on the board. But that wouldn't show the inate starting point of each student. In some instances it might be the appropriate way to start. As I said, I don't have all the answers!

I then wondered how we could apply that to MFL lessons and tasks. I trialled it with Year 9. I asked them to work in pairs to write a weather forecast, with no further input.

I then asked them to compare their report to my 4 samples (equivalent of the 5 eyes) on the board.

Once the students had worked out which one their report compared most to, they then had examples of the skills needed to be used to move up to the next example. Students understand (because of our colour group differentiation - see below!) that they do not have to stop at the next level, but they can move from red to blue, if they have the skills but just needed reminding.

Something I have developed, trialled and embedded across the department is Colour Differentiation Groups. We call them the POG groups (Purple Orange Green - high order stuff!) and the grid above shows how we use the target levels to group the and allocate the students to differentiation groups. We use these in class - not for every task, not every single lesson - and the students all know which group they are in and why. It is a really easy way to set differentiation tasks - we use the same texts for reading, the same soundfiles for listening, but set different questions for the different groups. Below is an example from a year 7 class - it was a running dictation and students were grouped in POG groups (one of each colour, where possible).

On creating this resource, I also tried to increase the complexity of the questioning (thank you, Mr Bloom) as I went through the POG groups. I am very mindful that, traditionally, when we plan lessons, we challenge fewer and fewer students with the higher order thinking skills as you go up the triangle of Bloom:

This relates to @EddieKayshun's Spaced Learning session - are we right to begin a topic with delivering individual words to the whole class - shouldn't that be the differentiated delivery for the least able? Shouldn't we allow all students the chance to rise up, instead of capping their skills/development?

Is this the way to go? This means that we are going to be adding a GOLD level for high achieving Purple students to aim for.

Continuing the idea of different levels of entry, different starting points and choice, I asked the delegates to spend 5-6 minutes designing their own versions of the "Today's Number" that was doing the rounds on twitter a few weeks ago:

I worked on an example which I have trialled - my challenge to anyone reading this is to make your own version, adapt it, and then Tweet it - let's have a #MotdeJour tag as well! (Oh, and tag me in as well!)

Time was ticking closer to the end of the session, and with thanks to Gill Ramage, MFL Advisor in Suffolk, I finished with the following slide, showing what Blooms looks like in an MFL lesson:

I love presenting, I love #ililc and I love the #MFLTwitterati.

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