The hour that we collectively spent pouring over exams and remembering classroom interaction worked well for differentiation. Whereas before there had emerged a leader from each group and some very bored individuals, we saw a marked improvement in group cohesiveness and cooperation.
There was a two fold difference; the grouping of the students and the work that they were set within their groups. Every child must take the same exam at the end of the year, but it is natural that some will do better than others and that people learn at different speeds and in different ways.
The highest level group liked that they had harder work to do and felt challenged that they were being trusted to skip over the beginner steps, while the lowest level group seemed pleased to be given work that they could do themselves without relying on a smarter group member.
We do have one student who is a stand out star in the group. She is far higher than anyone else in terms of ability and memory and recall. However, due to our enforced differentiation, she was able to sit back a little and let someone else take over. In her previous group, she had assumed the role of teacher. It was almost as though we could see her rolling her eyes at the inadequacy while internally reminding herself that if you want something doing well, you must do it yourself. However, when grouped with the other higher level students; people with whom she doesn’t usually work with, we could see a level of respect coming from her which was very pleasing to us to see.
In the lower levels we found that the students were more focused and hard working, with a small group of boys even staying after class to finish copying down what they didn’t have time for during class time. There was only one girl who seemed bored and disinterested; a new girl who had only just arrived in the village. In the higher levels it seemed as though the main change was in the attitude of the students towards their peers. While no-one is ever openly hostile, there can be an undercurrent of negative feelings.
For now our differentiation is working well. Both academically and socially it would seem.
NEH Director of Studies and Teacher Trainer
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