Slow but Steady… Differentiating Practical Work Using Pace

‘Differentiation does not mean that you must have tiered resources and tasks in every lesson’ – HeadGuruTeacher

Throughout my training year, differentiating practical tasks baffled me. I often found myself stressed over managing my classes as they make and then being disappointed at pupils’ superficial learning, finding that they were learning how to make something specific rather than transferable skills. I started my NQT year determined to start afresh, and to try something new to combat this.

As part of my NQT Induction program two of my schools Lead teachers and Development coordinator’s ran a session on differentiation, and one particular quote jumped out for me:

(Differentiation has to be) ‘Ensuring work is accessible… Ensuring enough challenge’

This stuck with me in particular as I was about to begin ‘making’ with my KS3 textiles groups (we operate on a two year rotation) and I often find it difficult to keep all the pupils at the same stage of making and often accepted lesser quality work from a ‘less able’ pupil because of the pressure to move along. I then had to think about why I did this. After all, I wouldn’t accept shoddy, rushed written work from my pupils so why was it suddenly acceptable within their practical work? Why was I focusing on completing the outcome and not the learning?

I quickly realised that when I was talking about ‘less able’ they are not necessarily less able to complete the task to a high standard  but slower or in need of more support, but rarely is this consistent across all the different practical skills-I’ve found its very common for the pupil who tries to use scissors upside down to be a whizz at threading up the sewing machine or able to intricately pin their work within seconds. The simplest way to differentiate the project was to differentiate the pace – simply allowing some pupils some more time could rapidly increase the depth of their learning, whilst letting other pupils move on faster would allow them to progress further.

The method I experimented with was using ‘stations’ – my starter of each lesson asks  the pupils in their planned seats to put the steps listed on the board in order 1-6 (or 7, depending on the class!) and then to  raise their hand depending on which stage they are at. They then move their work to the coordinating numbered table and come and stand around a desk to see me demonstrate the stages as I would normally, referencing the numbered steps as I go. Pupils then collect the equipment needed and get on with their steps as shown. I found then I was able to easily target my support to the pupils who were further behind and identify why that was. In the smaller groups I was able to demonstrate according to their specific questions and needs, and tailor the use of my bank of resources to help them progress, whilst allowing my higher achieving pupils to progress at their own rate. They were all working at the correct pace for themselves and the whole class was progressing at their own pace rather than rushing or being held back.  It also had the added benefit that the pupils who were further ahead could assist their fellow pupils who were behind. I marked particularly strong or far ahead pupils with ‘expert’ badges on lanyards so that they were easily visible to other pupils, which had the unexpected benefit of boosting their sense of self belief in their skills – I was surprised to see them so proudly showing off their badges!

Whilst implementing this method I saw a significant increase in my pupils’ engagement as well as an improvement in the quality of their outcomes; they were all developing a mastery of the skills they were learning rather than just being able to ‘do’ it to get by and make their product. They were thinking consciously about their task and discussing how they could improve it with others doing the same task, which really helped to consolidate their learning. Sometimes it takes (what feels like!) chaos to make progress!


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