The growing chasm

Ok, so maybe the title of this post is a slight exaggeration, but take it as representing my initial feelings as I marked the assessment I’d given at the end of the last unit – equations. Rather remarkably, there was no ‘middle ground’ at all: 15 A or A* (upwards of 23 out of 37) and the rest Cs or less! I started off by telling myself (and the class) that I’d deliberately set the test hard (the hardest GCSE questions get on the topics covered), and some students even recognised that they’d made a poor attempt and hadn’t revised what was necessary, but there’s no getting away from it – while not entirely the disaster I first thought, our approach so far is clearly only successful with about half of the group.

The challenge now is what to do about it. One student even went so far as to write on her test paper words to the effect of “I couldn’t do this and I don’t feel like you’ve taught me any of this stuff”. Hmmm… ouch.

While I could beat myself up about it and feel like I’ve let this particular young person down, I think more interesting is to take that one opinion as an indicator and look at who else didn’t do so well. I might have expected there to be some correlation with learning style (a greater academic than myself would have been over the moon, I suppose, with such clear-cut findings) but there isn’t. My own knowledge of the students gives me a bit more insight though – it seems the learners who might be feeling a bit ‘let down’ by my approach are some who tend to take the more independent learning options in lessons, sometimes against my suggestions. So actually they’re right: no I haven’t taught them this stuff. That I might trust them to make sensible choices about their own learning was part of the deal we hammered out at the start, but perhaps I’ve assumed that these 32 16-year-olds hold my values of what is and is not sensible, rather than their own. Clearly we need a plan to move this forward.

I’m not going to try to fix what isn’t broken – students for whom the system is clearly working as it is will still have the full range of learning options to choose from in any given lesson, subject to input from me and ‘whole-class’ time booked on the learning plan.

Some of you need better guidance – I’m now going to add a permanent ‘teaching table’ to every lesson, by invitation, so that those who haven’t done as well as they/I might have thought so far can be given clearer guidance on how to progress and more rigid modelling of examples from me.

So, there we go. I think my colleagues call it ‘differentiation’…