Helping all children become happy learners
Having the necessary knowledge to do the task
Many lessons follow a simple plan of teacher explanation of concept and knowledge delivery; a verbal discussion to test whether students have understood what the teacher has communicated and finally a task requiring students to demonstrate that knowledge has been transferred to them. All very straightforward except that lessons build on prior learning and there is a limit to the recapping that can be done or the extent of topic that can be covered by the teacher in a lesson. Assumptions inevitably have to made about students pre-requisite knowledge and teachers are generally good at pitching this about right for the class. However, there are always some students where gaps in their knowledge mean that they struggle with the task. This is not exclusively students with learning difficulties or delay but could also include students who have moved schools and depending on the nature of the lesson could also include those with different cultural backgrounds and experiences.
Consider what the core purpose of the task is and how closely it links to the overall lesson objective. Can the objective be achieved if the task is differentiated or adapted to make it more accessible to students with knowledge gaps?
Do any additional adults understand how the task may be modified without compromising the learning intention? And do these adults have the authority, confidence or competence to do this? What would empower them?
Some students with knowledge gaps will be likely to be known to the teacher already. What additional scaffolding of the task will help? For example additional scaffolding for a writing task could include writing frames, vocabulary lists, writing mats, questions and other prompts.
Consider how to identify other students with knowledge gaps during the lesson so that differentiation of support can be targetted during the task phase.
Stay supportive and positive with these children to maintain good self-esteem and develop learning resilience.
Having the necessary skills to do the task
Early in my career I moved to a year group where it was a tradition to make Tudor houses as part of the history topic. They made a great classroom display ready for parents evenings. However, they took a number of lessons to build and required the children to have a number fine-motor skills such as drawing accurately, cutting and sticking. After the children had gone home we would go around 'improving' some of the less presentable offerings to ensure that every child had completed a Tudor house worthy of display. When I reviewed the history curriculum I realised that the task didn't justify the time spent on it. I wondered then whether we were also covering some part of the design and technology curriculum - not in the planning. Thus this activity required skills that some children struggled with and was only tenuously linked to the curriculum.
This is similar to having the necessary knowledge in that success of the task often depends on the teacher pitching the level right. One of the main difficulties with this is that lessons often demand a whole range of essential skills that are nothing to do with the learning content and objectives. For example, students who have language and literacy difficulties often receive a lot of differentiation and support during their English or maths lessons. These same students are then expected to complete tasks in other subjects with similar levels of language and literacy demands without this high level of support. Consequently, these students often struggle to complete the task.
It is also essential to hold in mind the overall learning intention when considering the task phase and the skills required to avoid a mismatch between them.
Consider whether a task places demands for skills that are better developed in other subject areas or require dedicated teaching time.
Can the learning intention be achieved with an alternative task that does not require these pre-requisite skills? And if so, could this form part of the lesson differentiation?
Do you plan lessons to specifically teach learning skills? For example, activities involving group work require social cooperation skills that need to be taught.
How do you ensure that all students have equal opportunities and that groups are not dominated by the same individuals?
Back to list of School Articles