Session 141: Planning for the progression of all students in a mixed ability classroom

Thursday 7th March 2013

Session Title: Planning for the progression of all students in a mixed ability classroom
Date: Thursday 7th March 2013

The discussion started with some big-picture thinking about how to achieve progress for all in the classroom. The general idea seemed to be pitching to the top and this was backed up with links to several excellent blogposts on the topic.

Ideas for differentiating by task were shared, including suggestions along the lines of open-ended projects and choice of task. It was agreed that knowing the starting points for all the students was extremely important to ensure planning effectively for progress; I like to think we all know our students’ starting points before we start the planning process but even I know I’m being over-generous!

Several people suggested rearranging seating plans to create ability pairs, where brighter students assist those who need a little extra help. Some expressed concern that this isn’t stretching the most able and isn’t particularly fair. My own view on this is that it can be very effective if used sparingly; sometimes, explaining something to someone else can really help to cement knowledge and understanding.

We discussed different types of differentiation – by outcome, by task, by marking, by questioning, by targeted support. “Differentiation by encouragement” was a new one to me but I can easily see which students I can effectively apply this to straight away. Differentiation by peer pressure might be effective but not something I would deliberately plan to orchestrate in my classroom.

Several people talked about the importance of involving the students in the planning process. This could either be through setting learning objectives, co-constructing lesson tasks, or allowing student critique/feedback on the lesson at the end to help teachers judge the effectiveness of their planning. Clearly this could be very powerful, especially when used in conjunction with effective marking to accurately assess progress.

There was some discussion about the impact labeling ability groups can have on achievement – the idea, for example, that calling the bottom set “bottom set” does nothing for their self-esteem and limits their achievement because if you plan for limited outcomes, you get limited outcomes. It seemed to be the general consensus that we should be personalising our lessons beyond ability groupings and providing bespoke lessons for all students. I completely support this but think there needs to be some realism: when some teachers are not differentiating at all, asking them to do this is a bridge too far. But – perhaps I am limiting the outcomes by expecting that 🙂

The session ended with lots of people saying they has some ideas to take back to class the next day – success!

Notable Tweets
@LearningSpy: Pitch to the top, support at the bottom. The only way. #ukedchat

@Jivespin: ‘A rising tide carries all ships’ is my mantra. Skill up not dumb down #ukedchat

@DaveStacey #ukedchat Important to include ‘open’ projects from time to time – let the lid off and let them surprise you (and themselves!)

@Teach_Stories #ukedchat You know you’ve learned it when you can effectively explain it, right?

@DaveStacey @ChrisRaynerd Strategy of using all students to support others v.valuable. Coaching / Explaining helps understanding #ukedchat

@headguruteacher #ukedchat This post Learning Arcs suggests we should allow different learners to show progress in their own time.

@DaveStacey #ukedchat Make sure learning can be shown by other things than writing. Some students explain better verbally

(There followed an excellent side conversation about assessment through interpretive dance)

@ICTEvangelist Expectation too. Very important. Expect homework in on time. Expect your standards to be met. Expect them to do their level best #ukedchat

@davidhunter #ukedchat when I was at school we completed workbooks at our own pace and sought help from the teacher when needed.That was differentiation

@LearningSpy @davidhunter When I was at school we copied off the board and tutted at the slowest writer. Was that differentiation? #ukedchat

@ChrisChivers2 @LearningSpy @davidhunter Differentiation by peer pressure? #ukedchat

@Educ_job_please #ukedchat Get all aiming high to engage the best. Peer groups of students working together to bring along all, no matter the ability

@JoeLittlewoood #ukedchat After mulling it over,think I can paraphrase my Diff thus:Plan by VAK;SC by level;Sup material by ability;personal sup by attitude

@ufasarah Expectations are so powerful. I often worry when we talk about children’s ‘ability’. A person’s potential is unknowable. #ukedchat

@frogphilp @ufasarah Unknowable is an helpful word for potential. I don’t like it when children are asked to “”exceed their potential”” #ukedchat

@Jivespin Give the students a choice of tasks. The skill is that it doesn’t matter what choice student makes so long as they make progress #ukedchat

@Mrs____F #ukedchat Top, middle and bottom? If we’re really being effective let’s ditch the jargon and just deal with the needs of the individuals.

@MrsThorne @Educ_job_please #ukedchat saw a great addition to WALT at #tmclevedon: “”We are learning to…so that..”” easy way to make links to workplace

@JiveSpin @MrsThorne @mrs___f Even in a group that has been set the ability range is wide. Poor teachers ignore this + don’t differentiate #ukedchat

@headguruteacher #ukedchat Showing what might be possible with exemplars makes ambitious goals seem real These can be differentiated.

@tmeeky practice doesn’t make perfect, it makes permanent #ukedchat

@NZ_Rod #ukedchat Differentiate by giving really specific, totally personal targets in students’ books. If they work to these tasks are irrelevant.

@ChrisChivers2 @LearningSpy Marking an essential part of developing personalised approaches, link to clear progress targets, support next steps #ukedchat

Tweet of the Week
@joelittlewood – #ukedchat speaks volumes that you can’t paraphrase all types of differentiation used in to one tweet. One heavy topic. Great ideas though

About your Host
I, @MrsThorne, teach History at an 11-18 comprehensive in Wiltshire, and live in Bristol (I use the commute entirely for reflecting on my practice, never for belting out bad 80s tunes off-key).

I’ve been teaching for nearly 10 years and have found dipping into the ever-growing online community of teachers has really helped me to keep my practice fresh. This year I am part of the Teaching & Learning team, promoting excellent practice across the staff, so this chat has been especially helpful for gleaning ideas to share. I blog sporadically at

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About @ICTmagic 751 Articles
Martin Burrett is the editor of our popular UKEdMagazine, along with curating resources in the ICTMagic section, and free resources for teachers on UKEd.Directory

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