Personalisation and differentiation is the order of the day isn’t it?
Imagine a year five classroom, where the teacher has identified the progress every child has made, and tailored the lesson for each of them. When the main input begins, some are straight off to a task, while others stay on for extra support after the teaching. In the main session some are working in small groups, others work independently but on a common task, while some have a specific task just for them to meet their needs, whether more or less able. Some form of self-assessment lets the children identify their own success, and when children struggle they can call on professional support for near-immediate personalised feedback; when work is progressing well, a new challenge is set.
Sounds almost too good to be true doesn’t it? An outstanding lesson, maybe?
It describes some of my year five maths lessons pretty well. But I don’t mean my, naturally, excellent teaching… I’m talking about me, as a second-year in middle school under the tutelage of Miss Ashworth. With the aid of Peak Maths. The form of self-assessment we used was checking the answer book. And the personalised feedback? We could line up at the desk for help when we were going wrong.
We wouldn’t countenance it, would we? It’d be lucky to scrape RI, let alone outstanding. Can you imagine offering such an experience up for your appraisal observation? Although I can’t quite put my finger on why.
Now, I’m not proposing an “it never did me any harm” line here. I was only 9 so maybe I missed some aspect that would make it unacceptable. But doesn’t it show something about where we’ve ended up? There are plenty of schools who would happily demand 5 different activities for different abilities, why not 6… Or 12? You could do that with Peak. The kids who got it could get on, those who needed more support got it. It sounds almost idyllic.
Of course, reality is that times change, and every system has its flaws. But is it just possible that there were some positives here?
Would a couple of minutes waiting for personalised help in a queue (a sight you’d never see in today’s Ofsted-ready classrooms) be a better use of time than children working on a low-level task to ensure that enough levels of differentiation were evident?
Would a bit of time working from a text book be more constructive than rolling dice to make questions, the answers to which your teacher won’t check until the next day?
Might the opportunity for immediate feedback for all help to reduce the marking workload of teachers while supporting the learning of children?
I’m not suggesting we all run every lesson like this – Miss Ashworth certainly didn’t. But might we do well to stop and question whether or not our “improvements” are quite as great as we imagine? Maybe the occasional queue at the teacher’s desk might not be such a bad thing?