Differentiation: The Magic Tool of Teaching

An article by Richard James Rogers (Author of The Quick Guide to Classroom Management)

Illustrated by Sutthiya Lertyongphati

It was an unusually hot September morning. The year was 2005, and this was the first lecture I would receive at Bangor University’s prestigious School of Education. The topic: Differentiation.

Differentiation, in the context of education, was a totally alien concept to me before I embarked on my PGCE course. My degree was in Molecular Biology, so differentiation to me meant stem cells developing into specialized cells, such as red blood cells and nerve cells. However, this background knowledge wasn’t totally obsolete on this day, as I soon realised that educational differentiation means to specialise your teaching to suit the needs of different students, so that each student learns as much as they possibly can.

Here’s the best official definition of differentiation that I could find:

Differentiation refers to a wide variety of teaching techniques and lesson adaptations that educators use to instruct a diverse group of students, with diverse learning needs, in the same course, classroom, or learning environment. The basic idea is that the primary educational objectives—making sure all students master essential knowledge, concepts, and skills—remain the same for every student, but teachers may use different instructional methods to help students meet those expectations.

 – Courtesy of Great Schools Partnership [Online]. Available at http://edglossary.org/differentiation/ (Accessed 21st April 2017)

I would like to take this opportunity now to explain some of the best “instructional methods” I have used to enable effective differentiation to take place. I also talk about my top three techniques in this UKEdChat podcast here: 

Q & ALearning Style Tables: This is such a great activity for engaging a wide variety of learners. The idea is that you produce the same information or lesson instructions via pictures, audio, in writing or in clues that need to be solved or through some some other style, such as tablet PCs linked to online simulations. Students can go to the table that best suits their learning style or you can direct them to one. This takes some preparation but its well worth it.

Delegated Responsibility: Allocate different tasks to different groups within a class, based upon ability levels. For example, when analyzing a poem a weaker group might be asked to ‘describe the meaning’, whilst a higher ability group might be asked to ‘suggest the ways in which form and structure emphasize the meaning’.

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“An AMAZING book! Essential reading for all teachers!”

Student Teachers: This is one of my all-time favourites. In this activity, you give students responsibility for teaching part of a lesson. You’ll need to give basic instructions regarding the topic, length of time and essential points to cover. Leave the structure and delivery to them – students are nearly always incredibly creative with this!

Creative Styles: This is really easy to implement, and can be done on an individual basis (so its slightly different to the Learning Styles Tables activity). Offer students a range of ways in which to complete a task. For example, a verbal essay submitted via video; a traditional written essay; picture essay; a newspaper article and so on. 

Plenary Assessment: Get students to write down on a slip of paper the areas they are still having problems with, or any questions or queries they still have. Collect these in and use the information to plan the groupings and activities for the next lesson.schematic

Peer Enabling. This isn’t very hi-tech but it’s easy to put in place, and it’s very effective. Seat the students in mixed ability groups and get the students to decide a name for their group. Hold a group competition, perhaps using some of the activities like the ‘Poster Game’ here. Peer competition can improve performance and, in a mixed-ability class, weaker students won’t feel intimidated by the more able.

Questions. Give students some control over the lesson by getting them to write any questions they need answering as part of your starter activity. Divide them up and get students to suggest answers in their groups. This works particularly well with Science, Geography, English Literature, History and Poetry, but it can be applied to any task or text.

Economical Students. In groups, give students the opportunity to ‘buy and sell’ information, tips or ideas from you by giving them tokens or vouchers to swap for resources. They can then ‘sell’ the information on to other groups in the class. In a small class, this would also work well on an individual basis.

Glossaries. Prepare different types of word glossaries to support learning in class. This is particularly useful for ESL or bilingual students. If you can produce bilingual glossaries for individual students, then that would be a major token of help. Some can be to explain difficult words, whereas others can offer ‘wow’ words that need to be included in a piece of writing (for more able students).

projector interactiveDiscussion Statements. Provide a series of generalised discussion statements to which students can apply differing levels of knowledge. For example,  ‘If Tesla was alive today, he’d be trying to generate free electricity. Discuss’. For more specific topics, such as a historical account, use the statements to frame the entire lesson, allowing students to change their views as they gain more information.

Stepped Complexity. When writing comprehension questions, make sure you place them in order of complexity, so they become more open-ended and challenging as you go along. You could try structuring these around Bloom’s Taxonomy for extra effect. 

Assigning Roles. This is a very easy and powerful differentiation technique, which I talk about at length in this video here. Allocate tasks for any group work: leader, scribe, ideas people, speaker and so on. This makes sure everyone joins in and you can assign roles according to ability or character. In fact, roles should be assigned during all investigative group work, in order to maximise efficiency. 

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Mixed Starter. Have a PowerPoint or Prezi slide divided into four tasks. One focused on numeracy, another on words, another encouraging deeper thinking skills, one that’s really challenging (for the most able) etc.

In the Frame. Have differentiated writing frames with increasing levels of support available. Highlight the level each writing frame is aiming for – students accept this more readily and are likely to challenge themselves to the level above. Take a look at these Badger Science Assessments for some ideas. 

What’s in the Box? Have a ‘help box’ at the front of the class or place one on each table. Put tips, pictures, word glossaries or advice inside. Students use the box as and when they feel they need more help.

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Traffic Lights. This is a classic. Give students red, green and amber cards. When they are completely happy with a task, they display their green cards; when less certain the amber ones and when they are absolutely stuck, the red ones. This works well if students are encouraged to do this throughout the course of the lesson.

It Belongs to Me!: Get some envelopes and give each student personal instructions about what’s required with individual support that still allows challenge. Of course many will be the same but use their names on envelopes. This engages the students straight away!

Reverse Annotations. Try giving your annotations for a text or piece of work to students. They have to decide where they would place them and why. This provides structure for weaker students, but keeps the more able challenged. This works with diagrams and charts too. 

Class Q and AQuestionnaire: Use a mini-questionnaire to find out more about your class. Students love to tell you about themselves and you can tailor lessons or worksheets to include their hobbies and even favorite football teams. I write about this extensively here, in my guest blog post about building rapport. 

Must, Should and Could: This is an old classic. Phrase lesson goals in terms of: ‘All must complete …’, ‘Most should complete …’, and ‘Some could complete …’. This works well as an aspirational tool, because all students want to be in the elite, ‘some’ category and so tend to try harder.

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Effective Feedback: The Catalyst of Student Progress

An article by Richard James Rogers

Illustrated by Sutthiya Lertyongphati

It was a mid-spring morning in 1996. I was 13 years old enjoying Science class with one of my favourite teachers up on the top-floor lab at North Wales’ prestigious St. Richard Gwyn R.C. High School. 

I loved Science. The feel of the lab, decorated with preserved samples in jars and colorful posters and periodic tables and famous Scientists on the walls, along with the cool gas taps and Bunsen burners that rested on each desk. This was my favorite part of the school.

Today’s lesson was special though, and I remember it for a very unexpected reason.

We were receiving back our Forces and Motion tests today. I loved getting my tests back, not least because I always revised really hard and was used to getting at least 75% on each one.

Q & A

I always used to do two things whenever I got my tests back:

  1. Check that the teacher had added up the scores correctly
  2. Check how to improve my answers

On this particular day I had lost marks on a question that was phrased something like this: ‘If a rocket is travelling through space, what will happen to the rocket if all of the forces on it become balanced?’

In my answer I had written: ‘The rocket will either continue travelling at a constant speed or will not move at all.’ 

Now, how do I remember this seemingly obscure moment in a sea of moments from high school, most of which I cannot recall? Well, that’s simple: My teacher came over and took the time and effort to verbally explain where I’d gone wrong.

I should have just written that the rocket will continue at a constant speed, not “or will not move at all”.

Giving feedback
A one-to-one conversation that I’ll remember forever

This moment of personal, verbal feedback from my teacher was powerful and precious. Not only did it serve to maintain my momentum in Science learning, but it left me with visual impressions of the memory itself: My friends in the Science lab, the posters on the wall and even the sunlight shining over the glistening Dee Estuary which was visible from the Science lab windows. 

This little story shows us the power of verbal feedback, and therefore the caution we should place on what we say to our students. Young girls and boys grow up to become men and women, and their teachers leave a number of impressions on them, some of which are permanent.

The trick is to ensure that the permanent impressions are useful, positive and productive: As was the case with my conversation with my teacher that day. 

And not all impressions need be verbal. Written feedback can be just as memorable.

Explaining
Do you empower your students with the feedback you give?

Let’s now explore the fundamentals of effective student feedback that are easy to implement, and useful.

Peer Assess Properly – The Traditional Method

I first learnt the power of peer assessment back in 2008, when I had just moved to Thailand. 

As a keen young teacher with two years of UK teaching experience, I found myself teaching students who were all very keen to do their best. Homework assignments and classwork seem to come my way on a real-time, live-stream basis, and I soon found myself inundated with work to mark. 

At first, I tried the traditional methods of using a green or red pen to write lengthy comments on each piece of work. I had learned from my training in Assessment for Learning in the UK, that written comments that help the student to improve were much better than a letter grade or a score followed by a ‘Well Done’. I’d learnt about the ‘two stars and wish rule’ where I’d write two positive things about the work and then one item or target for improvement.

These ideas were great in theory, but I found that my weekends became shorter and shorter as I tried to write effective comments on every piece of work that came in. I was spending less and less time doing the hobbies I enjoyed, and I became quite the old grouch.

I finally expressed my concerns in the staff room one day and a colleague of mine said “You should do more peer assessment”. She was right.

I instantly started getting my students to mark their own work, and reflect upon it, and the results were astounding: My weekends became ‘me time’ again, and students seemed to learn better than they would from receiving my comments.

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When students reflect on their work they develop a ‘growth mindset’

As I continued to develop my skills in assigning proper peer-assessment, I discovered that I was sometimes making some catastrophic errors. I refined my strategy over the years, and came up with this six-step system:

Step 1: Make sure that the work you set has an official mark scheme or set of model answers associated with it. There’s nothing worse than trying to ‘guess’ the best answers along the way as you’re trying to get the kids to assess the work. Make your own mark scheme if necessary, but make sure the answers are clear.

Step 2: When it comes time for the kids to assess the work, ask them to swap their work with someone else in the class. Alternatively, if this doesn’t work for your particular class, then collect the work in and redistribute it.

Marking work
Peer assessment saves you time and energy, and is effective

Step 3: Ask each student to get a colored pen ready to mark with. Red and green are good. You may wish to have a set of special ‘marking pens’ somewhere in class that the kids can use whenever they mark each others’ work.

Step 4: Print the official mark scheme and give a copy to each student. This has the advantage of providing a permanent copy for each student to keep, and allows you time to help students as they mark. Projecting the answers onto a screen can with-ukedchatalso work, but you may find that students cannot see and that you may have to scroll through at a pace that’s not suitable for every student. Printing a copy, or sharing it on the schools VLE so that students can access it via a tablet or laptop, is best.

Step 5: Make it very clear that students should tick the answer if it’s correct, and make full corrections if it is wrong. The mere act of writing out the model answer onto the work being marked will reinforce the concepts into the subconscious mind of the student.

Step 6: Let the students give the work back. Collect it in at the end of the lesson so that you can glance through and check that everyone has peer assessed properly. If anyone hasn’t, then make them do it again.

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Once work has been peer-assessed, you can sit down with individual students and have ‘progress conversations’ designed to pin point areas of weakness and highlight areas of strength

You have to be quite organised with this method (e.g. making sure you print the mark schemes on time). However, this will save you loads of time and will definitely help the kids to learn properly.

Experiment with automated assessment

I wrote a blog post about the effective use of ICT in lessons some weeks back, and I mentioned the first time I came across MyiMaths. 

It was back in 2013, and it totally transformed my work life. 

Why? That’s simple. Students would go into the ICT lab, or use their laptops or tablets in class, and literally be taught mathematics by the computer! The program would even assess the work immediately, and differentiation wasn’t a problem because students could work through the tasks at their own individual pace. The benefits were enormous:

  1. All of the students were focussed and engaged
  2. All of the students were challenged
  3. The teacher had more time to spend with individuals working on specific problems
  4. The content was relevant and stimulating
  5. No behavior management issues as the students were all quietly working
  6. No time was needed by the teacher for marking and assessment. The program did all that for you. All you had to do was collate the data.
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Instructional software can provide quick and comprehensive feedback to students, with little involvement from the teacher

There are numerous instructional software programs on the market today that save the teacher lots of marking time, and provide the students with engaging material to learn from, Whilst I wouldn’t advocate using instructional software every lesson, it certainly can become a big and effective part of your teaching arsenal. 

Give verbal feedback the right way

Verbal feedback is a great way to have a personal one-to-one conversation with a student. It can help you to address systemic, widespread issues (e.g. not writing down all of the steps in calculations) and it can be a great way to motivate each student.

However, many teachers are only going so far with verbal feedback and are not using it as the powerful tool it is.

Take this piece of KS3 Geography work for example:

Geography not marked
Geography work from an 11 year old, shown to me on 21st June 2016

I received this work from a parent at dinner, who knew I was an educational author, on 21st June 2016.

You’ll undoubtedly have noticed the dates on the work: 1st December and 8th December 2015. I’m sure you’ll have shuddered upon the realization that this work hadn’t been marked in seven months! No peer-assessment, no self-assessment and no comments from the teacher. There aren’t even any ticks! Add this to the fact that this boy’s entire notebook was completely unmarked, just like this, and you can begin to understand why I nearly had palpitations in front of several avid noodle and rice connoisseurs!

When I asked the boy about why it wasn’t marked, he said that this teacher never marked worked, he just gave the occasional verbal feedback. My next obvious question was to ask what verbal feedback he’d received about this work. He said he

work overload
Is this you? It needn’t be didn’t know. 

With teacher workloads increasing globally, this kind of approach is, unfortunately, not uncommon, However, verbal feedback need not be time-consuming and can be executed in a much better way than is seen here in this Geography work. Here are my tips:

  1. 1. Set your students a task to do and call each student one-by-one to have a chat about their work. Be strict with your timings – if you have a 40 minute lesson and 20 students in the class then keep each conversation to two minutes.
  2. Mention the points for improvement and use sincere praise to address the good points about the work. Ask the student to reflect on the work too.
  3. Once the conversation is over, write ‘VF’ on the work, and ask the student to make improvements to it. Agree on a time to collect it in again so that you can glance over the improvements.

As you can see, this simple three step approach to verbal feedback generates a much more productive use of time than simply having a chat with the student. Action has to be taken after the discussion, and this places the responsibility of learning solely in the hands of the student, which is where it should be.

Be specific in your comments

Sometimes it is appropriate to collect student work and scribble your comments on it with a colored pen. When you do this, make sure your comments are specific and positive, Take a look at these examples, which all serve to empower the student:

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A piece of IBDP Biology homework. Comments are designed to empower and motivate the student, and address areas of weakness
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An end of semester test. Comments refer to specific progress made, and areas that require further attention.
Krishi Classnotes 1 electricity marked
This piece of work was sent as a photograph via Skype. The teacher has added word-processed comments and an encouraging smiley. 

Peer Assess Properly – The Technological Method

A growing trend that is proving popular with teachers is to use Google forms in the peer assessment process. I wrote about this in my book, and I’ve included the extracts here:

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A good form for students will look something like this:

Using Google forms in education-page-0

Using Google forms in education-page-1

Using Google forms in education-page-2

There are many alternatives to using Google forms. For example, you may wish to create a form via your school’s VLE, or even get the students to send each other their work through e-mail or a chat application (although this will remove anonymity). Either way, peer assessment with technology will save you time and provide your students with quick, detailed feedback.

Make sure students improve their work

A common theme you may have spotted in this week’s blog post is that of improvement. Students should always improve the work that’s been marked or assessed. This serves two purposes:

  1. The student will get into the habit of giving their best effort each time. After all, a great first attempt means less effort needed in the improvement phase
  2. The process of improving a piece of work serves to firmly cement concepts in the subconscious mind of the student, aiding memory and retention

Don’t forget to use rubrics, mark schemes and comments – students can’t possibly improve their work without these. 

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Teaching EAL and ESL Students: The Essential Guide

An article by Richard James Rogers

Illustrated by Sutthiya Lertyongphati

It was a typical INSET/teacher-training day at my school, or at least it started out that way. 

I was up early at the ring of three alarm clocks, and a few snooze buttons worth of ‘sneaky sleep’ time for each (a habit which I have now, thankfully, changed. Side note: Check out a book called The Miracle Morning if you want your life to change immediately!).

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It was a long summer vacation, and now it was back to the daily momentum of the first semester. 

The morning was fairly standard: new staff introductions, receiving our timetables and talks from the principal and deputies about our school’s focus and aims for this academic year. A complimentary lunch of Pad Thai and iced tea followed. So far, so good.

And then came the afternoon slot. First session on the agenda: Supporting EAL students in mainstream classes. We all eagerly walked in, took our seats and got out our pens and notepads ready to take notes. One of our popular and friendly American colleagues was leading the session, so we were we’re all excited. 

The session began with a ‘Bonjour……, sava?” and that’s all the vocabulary I can remember from then on in. I had no idea that my American friend was a fluent French speaker, and I couldn’t speak even a string of three words in French: I dropped it at age 14. 

card gamesThis went on for about 15 minutes. The spoken language was French, the PowerPoint was in French and the handouts were in French. And then, oh no, the teacher asked me a question!

I did what all of my EAL students habitually do at this point, I turned and asked my friends for help, in my native language (English). Big mistake! My American friend turned into a ruthless foe as she launched a vicious and aggressive verbal attack on me (which I didn’t understand). Even though I knew this was a teacher-training session, and I was ‘supposed’ to make this mistake, I still felt humiliated.

I later learned that she said “Speak in French only”, in French. 

If you’ve never took part in an activity like this before, then try it. It is a very blunt and merciless reminder of the challenges our EAL and ESL students face when they are taught through the medium of English.

Over the past 11 years I have had the privilege of working with thousands of EAL and ESL students. It started when I was in the UK teaching the children of eastern European migrants, and then progressed on to a wide-spectrum of international students in the ensuing 8 years in Thailand, and my current year in China. I’ve learnt that some techniques work really well almost every time, and some can be a bit hit-and-miss (sorry for the colloquialism: that’s something you should avoid, by the way!). lab

Let me share with you the best techniques that will take your EAL and ESL teaching to the next level of excellence. 

Have sympathy and patience

Don’t forget that EAL students need time to process whatever you’ve said, or the task or information they’ve been given, in their native language before they can give you a response in English.

Allow students time to think. Pause a while, let the student discuss their answer with a friend who speaks their language if necessary. Listen carefully to the response you get. Praise the parts that were correct. Model good grammar and execution.

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Pause and allow your students time to process information. Praise them when they provide a good response. Have patience, and watch your students flourish!

Take a look at this short dialogue:

Teacher: “So, James, what does the word ‘Species’ mean?”

James: (Has a short talk with his friend in Chinese. Teacher pauses.) “Species mean when animal are like the same.’ 

Teacher: “Wow! Great answer James. A species can be a group of animals or plants that have similar characteristics. Well done for using the word ‘same’, but I think that ‘similar’ is a better word. Can anyone else tell me something about the word ‘species’?”

Focus on the long-term goals of improving your EAL students’ comprehension gradually. Don’t expect miraculous results overnight, but at the same time don’t limit your beliefs in these students’ abilities. 

Speak slowly and watch your accent

As soon as I landed in Thailand I discovered this important secret: EAL students need to hear a clear speaker when being taught through the medium of English, so that they can model good practice.

Slow your voice down, and speak loudly and clearly (but don’t shout). If you have a thick localised accent, try to make it more classical and concise. 

I come from Flint in North Wales: a small town with its very own unique accent that’s different to anywhere else in the UK! When my wife, who is Thai, comes with me to the UK to meet my family, she often cannot understand what we are all saying when we use the local dialect (including me, her husband!).

My wife has a master’s degree from the UK, so what hope would my high school kids have in understanding me if I tried Q & Aspeaking in ‘Flint’ to them?

I have learned to slow my voice down and speak in a more neutral/classical dialect when I’m teaching. You may have to do the same. Make a video recording of one of your lessons and watch yourself teach. You’ll be surprised at how many slip-ups you make, and there may even be times when you can’t understand yourself!

Elocution, elocution

Elocution simply means modelling good speech.

Speak your key words and key vocabulary clearly, and get your students to repeat them! I used this technique only three days ago in a KS3 Science class. One of the key words was ‘species’. The dialogue went something like this:

Teacher: “Say spee-shees”

Students: “spay-shees”

Teacher: One more time. Listen carefully: ‘speeeeeeee-shees”

Students: “Speeee-shees”

Teacher: “Perfect, ‘Speee-shees’ Well done.”

Class Q and A
Be vocal. Use elocution as a way to reinforce concepts, vocabulary and inflections

Don’t forget that written delineation is not enough to enable students to understand words and contexts. Visual and auditory outputs are essential too, and that’s why we must spend time on correct elocution.

Prompting

This is a classic technique that is very simple to implement. Prompting is when you say the initial sound of the word, allowing space and time for the students to complete it. Take a look at this example:

Teacher: “The force that pulls objects towards the Earth is called grr, grr, grr…….”

Students: “Gravity!”

Teacher: “Yes! Gravity. Well done!”

Use prompting often, even with written language. Point to words on your presentations, and make students say them.

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Do you prompt your students to use key vocabulary?

Use vocabulary journals

These are very powerful learning tools, but they are so underused in the teaching profession!

Take this week for example. My AS-Level Biology students had just finished their mock exams and I sat down with one young lady to provide feedback to her. She had great subject knowledge, but had used incorrect adjectives in some of her answers. For example:

Student’s answer: ‘The nuclear membrane disappears

Model answer: ‘The nuclear membrane disintegrates’

Any AS-Level examiner will tell you that this is a common way in which international students lose marks in exams. So, how can I help this student now?

discussing-homeworkThe solution is simple and effective: she’ll have a special notebook in which she writes down all of the model answers to questions she gets incorrect in the intense past-paper practice we’ll be doing for the next month and a half. She’ll be keeping a ‘vocabulary journal’, and I’ll be checking it and sitting with her to discuss it each week. 

Journals are a great way for students to constantly review their understanding and knowledge of key vocabulary. With students who have very low English proficiency, you may wish to use journals from day one. With others, such as my AS-Biology student who only needs some ‘fine-tuning’, they can be used at specific points in the academic year.

Make full use of dictionaries and translators

Many international students carry electronic or paper-based dictionaries with them to class. Personally, I think that all international schools should make this a requirement for all of their students, even native English speakers.

Why? Because they’re powerful learning tools.

Students can use dictionaries in many ways, but the most common and effective are:

  • Translating key words in their textbooks into their native language, allowing full understanding of terms and permannet record that’s all in one place
  • To support learning journals, where key words and adjectives can be written bilingually and checked regularly. Get parents and language teachers involved in this for extra credibility and scrutinizing
  • Some electronic dictionaries can ‘speak’ the word being researched, allowing good verbal modelling and repetition by the student
  • Creating bilingual displays in class (e.g. posters and infographics)

Use vocabulary games

I write about this extensively in my book, and my blog post here has some very clear instructions and ideas for using vocabulary games in class. My personal favourites are ‘splat’, ‘mystery word’, ‘corners’ and ‘bingo’ which I’ve included below. These are great fun, but they do take time to implement in class. It’s worth it though!

Never demonize the native language of the students

I had the unfortunate experience of working in a school that had an ‘English only’ policy, which was strictly and rather bizarrely enforced. As a British teacher in Thailand, I was expected by the management of my school to tell students not to speak Thai.

I thought we’d left this archaic ideology behind with the abolition of the ‘Welsh Not’ necklaces in 1888. I guess I was wrong.

out-of-control

Don’t forget: our EAL students will be using their native language to cognitively process facts and information. Try these strategies:

  • Allow students some time to discuss answers with a friend who speaks the same native language as they do
  • Pause, and allow the student to verbalise the answer in their native language before expressing it in English
  • Instead of saying “Don’t speak Thai” or “Don’t use German”, say something like “Try your best to use English please”, or ” I really want you to improve your English, so could you please try to talk in English?”. 
  • Posters and displays around school that promote English can be effective. Choose upbeat, modern graphics that show students why English is important. One school I worked at had a poster in every classroom that said “In this school, we try our best to express our ideas in English, so that we can get good grades in our exams”. 

Use groups strategically

You’ll come across two scenarios when using group work with international students:

  1. Groups where every students speaks the same native language
  2. Groups were some or many students speak different native languages
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Do you assign roles in groups?

Where possible, it’s a good idea to group together those students who do not speak the same native language, This forces them to use English in their group work (though, most probably, you’ll have clusters of two or three students per group who can speak the same native language). 

How you assign groups will depend on the age and emotional maturity of the students too. For example, you don’t want to group together students who you know will just chat aimlessly with each other, and you also don’t want to group together students of completely different nationalities who all have very poor English language proficiency – that would be a very quiet group!

Also, don’t forget to assign roles to each student in a group. Who will be the spokesperson? Who’s drawing the diagram? Who’s doing the research using the iPad? Who’s collecting the data? If you don’t assign roles, then you may find that the group work is slow, unproductive and chaotic. 

Differentiate your resources

This is a classic and vast area of pedagogy which is often made more complicated than it needs to be. 

Basically, make sure your worksheets, tasks and materials are neither too easy or schematictoo difficult for individual students. This website here provides some links to detailed strategies for this, but the most common ones that I’ve used include:

  • Breaking down prose into sentences, bullet points or ‘blanks’ to fill in.
  • Using pictures, lots of them! When student asks “What does ‘tripod’ mean”, are you going to give a lengthy explanation? Show the student! Type the word in on a search engine and show them an image of the object.
  • Writing out step-by-step instructions for any kinaesthetic task, such as doing an experiment or building a model
  • Changing your verbal questions to match the fluency of each student. Do you ask a student to ‘describe the electromagnetic spectrum’, or “Name the parts of the electromagnetic spectrum. For example, gamma rays, radio waves, and……… (prompting again)” 
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Differentiate the resources and tasks in your teaching to meet the needs and abilities of your learners

Conclusion

We all have a duty to help our EAL and ESL students in the best ways that we can. Our efforts need not be time-consuming nor difficult, just a few easy-to-implement strategies like the ones mentioned above are needed. Be consistent, have patience, never lose hope. Previous EAL and ESL students of mine have gone on to study bachelor’s and master’s degrees at UK and American universities and now have flourishing careers. 

Patience always pays dividends, so make sure you are patient with your EAL and ESL learners.

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Special Educational Needs: Supporting Our Students

An article by Richard James Rogers

Illustrated by Sutthiya Lertyongphati

Teaching is an amazing and inspirational vocation. Just think: every single day we get the opportunity to literally help, inspire, motivate, coach and train young people. All of our learners are special and unique, but I’ve found that working with students that have Additional Learning Needs (ALN) can be the most rewarding part of the job.

Here’s my take on it all:

So how do we best help those students who may face additional challenges in school?

Whether it’s dyslexia, dyspraxia, English as a Second Language, problems with motor function or even low emotional intelligence and mood swings, I’ve found that the following actions always achieve positive results:

Create and use Individual Educational Plans (IEPs)

Two things amaze me about IEPs:

  1. Many schools (especially internationals schools) don’t create IEPs for their students with ALN. Moreover, despite easily having the ability to do so, many schools still don’t embrace the idea of enabling full provision for SEN students and instead focus on raising the grades of their high flyers as much as possible.
  2. Of those schools that do create IEPs, it is alarming just how many teachers don’t read them, use them or fully contribute to them.
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Do you really know and understand the learning challenges that your SEN students face? How are you targeting those challenges?

Creating an IEP should always be the first step in providing help for any SEN student.

It’s impossible to fix a problem if you don’t know what the problem is

You don’t need a SENCO (Special Educational Needs Coordinator) or even anyone with specific training to create an IEP. Follow these steps:

  1. Speak with all of the teachers of that student who have ether worked with him or her in the past and/or those who are teaching the student now. Take a survey of all of the concerns they have. What kind of challenges are commonplace? What kind of barriers to learning seem to be ubiquitous? What actions do you all agree on? What kind of help can be put in place? If the student is new to school then contact their previous school (even if it is in another country) and gather this information.
  2. Produce a table outlining all of the actions that have been agreed on
  3. Monitor progress along the way.

Rapport is the key strategy

SEN students often require much more one-to-one attention than students in the mainstream.

Embrace the opportunity to build up a great rapport with these students. You’ll notice amazing results within a very short space of time!

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Well-planned lessons which include a variety of activities often provide rapport-building opportunities as a valuable by-product

Rapport is the one key characteristic that all successful teachers have. It’s so important, that I wrote a whole chapter about it in my book. A summary of good rapport building strategies is given in this guest blog I wrote a short while ago, and a quick list is given below:

  • Take a genuine interest in your students. Find out what their hobbies and interests, and their likes and dislikes are. Find out what’s going on in their lives. Ask them about it regularly. Remember what they’ve told you. For example: “Hi Mark! How’s
    with-ukedchat
    This is a great book for people who are struggling to get to grips with their busy teaching schedule – UKEdChat Book Review

    the violin lessons coming along? Are you ready for your concert next Tuesday?”

  • Use sincere praise as often as possible. Always encourage SEN students. Even for little steps of progress, such as using a ruler to draw a diagram. Record this progress. Remember it. Reward it with your school’s rewards system
  • Use tasteful, laid-back humour in your lessons. Plan well. Include a wide-variety of tasks that cater for as many learning styles as possible. Include cut-and-stick, model-building, ICT tasks such as movie-making and blogging. SEN students often adapt well to multiple tasks, activities and exciting learning challenges.

Personalize your resources

Are you giving all of your students the same material despite a broad ability range within the class? Do your ESL students read lengthy prose and try to decipher complex adjectives alongside their native-speaking peers?

Back in the day, we called the technique of personalizing your teaching as ‘differentiation’. It’s vital if you want your SEN students to access the curriculum.

Differentiate your worksheets, your verbal questioning, your ICT activities, your homework. It’s not ‘dumbing down’ and it’s not making life easy for some students and difficult for others. It’s called provision.

This website offers some great ideas for differentiating your resources. And don’t worry about time –  lots of differentiated material is ready made for you at places such as TES resources and ESL Gold.

If you do have to make resources from scratch, then be organized enough to keep them stored, ready to use again with future students.

Embrace the use of ICT

I write about this at length in my two previous blog posts here and here. SEN students loves using technology, and you can even use instructional software which does all the teaching, assessment and differentiation for you! Now what could be better than that?

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SEN students love using ICT (generally). Try using instructional software, games and even social media and blogging

Conclusion

Working with SEN students is rewarding and, when you get to my age, you’ll even see what happens to these kids when they leave school. Many of my former students who had incredible learning challenges in school, went on to become tradesmen and women, college graduates, business owners, artists and even teachers themselves! When you discover this, it’s brings a profound sense of satisfaction and happiness to your life.img_5938

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