Differentiated Instruction

Differentiated groups are identified by
signs hung from the ceiling.

Teacher post coming your way! One aspect of education that I have gained so much perspective on during my time here in England has been differentiated instruction. In layman’s terms, this basically means creating lessons and assessments that meet each student where he or she is in a way that appeals to his or her learning style and personal interests. You can probably see how difficult this can be in a class of twenty students! Planning for diverse learners is always a welcome challenge for me, and prior to my trip, I really hoped to gain insight into some methods and strategies I can apply to my own class.

To put it simply, the Brits really know how to accommodate every child in a way that doesn’t “dumb down” content. There are a few major strategies I have seen used to differentiate instruction here. The first is that student grouping isn’t static across the subject areas. Students work at cooperative tables of four to six students for morning work, maths, and literacy. The groups change for each time and are posted on a sign that hangs above each table. These student groupings for morning work are heterogenous, or including students of diverse learning styles and needs. This is helpful as morning work is a busy time in which student talk and collaboration is welcomed. Student groupings for maths and literacy are homogenous, or including students with similar ability levels. This allows a teacher, teaching assistant, or learning specialist to work with groups of students that need extra support. It also pushes students with higher background knowledge to think more critically and abstractly in an independent way.

In addition to allowing students requiring extra support to work with an adult, having these differentiated groups makes it easy to give each table a learning task that is suited to their needs. For example, some students may work to draw pictures and label each to retell a familiar story. Other students may work to retell a familiar story using vivid details in a narrative format. Still others may work to write a new ending to the same familiar story. Having each table of students working on the same task allows students to consult with each other and not be over- or underwhelmed by what those around them are doing, which could happen in heterogenous groupings.

Another interesting way I have observed differentiated instruction is what I call “must, could, should”. When the teacher explains a task that the students are to complete, they tell the students the criteria off success by explicitly stating what every student must include in their work, what they should include, and what they could include if they are able to. This gives the students a clear baseline for success and also pushes ALL students to think more critically, not just “higher-level learners.” This is a strategy I plan go integrate into my lessons as soon as I begin teaching again. I love this idea because it is also developmentally appropriate for the students. The expectations are clearly and concisely laid out in a way that is easier to understand than a complicated rubric, which some students may focus more on than the actual task.

Students create repeating patterns using
plastic forks dipped in different paint colors.

Finally, instruction here is extremely hands-on and exploratory: the students are constantly interacting with materials of an infinite amount of materials, from paint to bottles, computers, toys, live animals, and their own bodies. This is wagging for all learners, but it is especially effective for learners who are nog able to think abstractly just yet. It’s developmentally appropriate for this age as well (ages 5, 6, and 7), as children at this age needs hands-on manipulatives to allow them to form schemas–this is in keeping with Piaget’s theory of stages of development, specifically the concrete operational stage. 

I could write an entire blog devoted to the strategies for differentiated instruction I’ve seen in my placement here, but these are the ideas and strategies that have impact me the most as a young educator. I can’t wait to start teaching again so I can put these methods to use!


Friday in Derbyshire

On Friday, our host schools arranged for a field trip for just us student teachers to Derbyshire. Our trip consisted of a visit to the Peak District National Park, a village called Bakewell, and Chatsworth Estate. It was a beautiful day of sightseeing and taking in British culture!

The reservoir’s wall
The reservoir’s wall up close

Our morning started at about 9 A.M. with coffee and breakfast at Nosh, our favorite cafe that is just one block away from our apartment. Then, our hosts picked the twelve of us up and drove first to the Peak District National Park. This was my first time riding in a car over here; it took some getting used to seeing everything in reverse! Peak District was absolutely breathtaking and looked like something from a postcard. We spent about an hour exploring the property and hiking up to the top of a reservoir at the park. We all joked around that the huge wall looked like the Night’s Watch (Game of Thrones, anyone?!). 

The landscape consisted of rolling green hills dotted with adorable sheep!

After we had our fill of sightseeing at the Peak District, we headed out to our next stop: Bakewell, home of the famous Bakewell Pudding and Tart. We stayed at Bakewell for about an hour for some shopping and lunch. Three of the other girls and I went to a traditional English pub called the Red Lion. I ordered fish and chips with mushy peas. So British! After walking around the idyllic village, it was time for us to head to our last stop of the field trip: Chatsworth. 

Chatsworth: the main house and some of the grounds

The main path that led us
through the beautiful gardens

Chatsworth is a famous estate located in Derbyshire, and has been home to the Cavendish family, the Dukes of Devonshire, for sixteen generations! It’s a popular place for filming; in fact, Pride and Prejudice was filmed at the estate! It’s impossible to put into words how breathtaking the grounds and the house itself are. Visitors can pay to see the gardens, tour the house, or do both. Due to our travel plans to visit London, we opted to just see the gardens. It was well worth the cost and time! The grounds were absolutely pristine, and featured a huge rock garden with moss-covered boulders and rock formations, a garden maze, a gravity-powered fountain, and many statues. 

From the bottom of the hill…

Probably my favorite part of Chatsworth’s grounds was the waterfall-powered fountain. The waterfall begins at the very top of a massive hill, and flowed down over stone steps. Due to gravity, the flow of the water powered a huge fountain at the bottom of the hill. It was very interesting to learn about! We each took turns making a wish at the top of the waterfall after a very slippery and muddy hike to the top. 

To the top of the hill!


Just as we were finishing seeing all the gardens had to offer, the rain started to pour down. We finished our tour at the estate’s gift shop, and then it was time to continue on to our next adventure: London! My three roommates and I were dropped off at the Sheffield train station just in time to grab some comfort food at Burger King (ha-ha) and make the 5:30 PM train. 

Soon to come: our adventure in London! 

I was able to visit with my pal, Bilbo, at the rock garden!
Hopefully my wish will come true!

Hands-On Math

Last week, I observed the most interesting “maths” lesson with my Year 1 and 2 class. The students are beginning to learn about multiplication and division, and this was an introductory lesson to division. 

The lesson began with the teacher taking out different selections of math counters, and the students worked as a whole group to decide how they could best count each set of counters (by 2s, 5s, 10s, or less uniform numbers). Instead of telling the students the answer, the teacher allowed the students to make their hypotheses and test them. For example, one student said it would be best to count by 11s. However, when he attempted to do so, he couldn’t skip-count past 11. It was in this way that the students were led to draw their own conclusions about skip-counting with different amounts of math counters. Then, the teacher took out a selection of “mini-beasts”, which is used here to refer to insects or bugs. The students then worked to share the mini-beasts into groups of different sizes. 

Cooperative groups are differentiated for
the two major subject areas. 

After this practice, the students divided into homogeneous, skill-level based groups to visit a series of math centers. The students work in color-coded groups for morning work, literacy, and maths; literacy and maths groups are based on the students’ skill levels. At each center, the students were presented with two word problems and a visual aid. They used plasticine (play-doh) at each center to model the problems and solve them. It was amazing to see how engaged the students were with the activity, and many students that typically struggle were able to excel and explain their reasoning to their peers. This is so important for these students’ self-esteem and also helps cement learning more fully. 

Students work together to solve problems. 

After each group visited each center, the class reconvened as a whole group on the rug to discuss their findings. Then, using their experience at the centers and earlier in the lesson, the class worked with the guidance of the teacher to develop the division algorithm. I was in awe by how effectively the lesson led the students to naturally develop the algorithm. In my classes back at home, we have learned that the best practice with math is to allow students to explore a math concept, then develop an algorithm using what they have learned. However, in actual practice, this typically doesn’t happen, which causes many students to struggle with foundational skills; that, in turn, can cause problems later when solving more complex, multi-step problems. 

Experimenting with solutions leads to stronger schemas. 

All in all, it was a fantastic lesson to observe and assist with. I definitely plan to utilize this hands-on, exploratory lesson structure in my own classroom. 


A Day Trip to York

Getting our morning started at the train station!
Excited to be in York with Brittany and Liz!
What started out as a failure in planning turned out to be a wonderful adventure this weekend! We originally wanted to go to London this weekend, but what little plans we had ended up falling through. However, this was probably for the better! 
We woke up early on Saturday morning and caught a train to York, England for the day. Several of us had been told by our teachers that York is an amazing place to visit, so we decided we’d wing it and check it out. Altogether, there were six of us girls on the trip. The train ride was about an hour and we spent it talking with some locals about our trip to the UK. When we arrived in York, we were astounded by how beautiful it was. The city is exactly how I pictured British cities before this trip! We spent the better part of our day simply wandering the streets, popping into cute local stores. There were many live bands playing on the streets, so we really enjoyed listening to them. We also posed with a human statue to raise money for cancer research. The most impressive sights to see, however, were the beautiful churches located around the city. The most notable of these was York Minster, which is the largest Gothic-style cathedral in Northern Europe. It was first begun building in 627 AD, and developed over the years into the stunning cathedral it is today. Before leaving, I made sure to light a candle in memory of my Dad, which I always do when visiting a new church. 
York Minster
After spending the morning and early afternoon exploring, we had “linner” at an adorable Italian restaurant called Jamie’s, which specializes in making fresh pasta each day. We had to wait about an hour for a table, but it was well worth it! 
After lunch, we managed to find what we thought was an actual, ancient dungeon, but the joke was on us when we realized it was a fake dungeon and total tourist gimmick. Oops. However, then we found the Castle Museum, which did have an actual dungeon used for 2,000 years! We had a great time exploring the dungeons and the other exhibits in the museum. We also learned about the history of Clifford’s Tower, which was part of the prison complex that contained the dungeons we toured. 
York Castle Prison
Clifford’s Tower (Can you see me?!)
After that, it started getting dark and chilly, so we decided to call it a day and head home. Our perfect day was topped off with a view of a vivid rainbow that we could see through the train window. What started out as a disappointing flop in plans turned out to be a fantastic and free-spirited day trip, and I am so thankful! 


Meeting the Lord Mayor!

Today, we had a very special opportunity that our amazing trip planners, Abi and Andrew set up for us. After going out to our respective schools for a bit, we headed back into Sheffield for our appointment. We had the chance to “take tea” in the Lord Mayor of Sheffield’s parlour at City Hall! 

Inside the Lord Mayor’s parlour
Outside City Hall
The Lord Mayor’s Parlour! 
Inside the City Hall lobby
The lobby of City Hall
City Hall
Inside the Lord Mayor’s Parlour

We all met and walked downtown to City Hall, which had absolutely gorgeous architecture. We learned more about the history and government of the city while we waited to meet the Lord Mayor. We were all a bit surprised to learn that the current Lord Mayor is actually a woman. Each Lord Mayor serves a one-year term, and is known as the “premier citizen” of the city. This means that the Lord Mayor takes precedence over all other citizens besides the Queen. The political party of the Lord Mayor changes from year to year. Before serving as Lord Mayor, the person will serve as Deputy Lord Mayor. Finally, if the Lord Mayor is a female, her husband is called the Lord Mayor Consul, and if the Lord Mayor is a male, his wife is called the Lady Mayoress. 

The Lord Mayor was so welcoming and down to earth, which helped us relax. We spent our breakfast practicing our curtsies, but luckily we didn’t need to make fools of ourselves! 

Posing with the Queen!
Inside the Lord Mayor’s Parlour!
Inside the lobby of City Hall
Signing the Lord Mayor’s guest book
All of us with the Lord Mayor!
Hanging out in City Hall’s council chambers

After having tea, learning more about the history of Sheffield, and chatting with the Lord Mayor, we went to another function that was happening in another party of City Hall. There was a Saint Patrick’s day celebration happening with live music. We listened to the music and speeches for a bit, then joined in dancing with the locals! I am constantly amazed by how friendly the people are here; we were immediately welcomed into the dancing by complete strangers. 

We spent the rest of the afternoon visiting some thrift stores benefiting cancer research and Poundland, which is the British version of Dollar Tree. 

Tonight, we are celebrating Saint Patrick’s Day and our friend, Tamra’s 21st birthday! It is sure to be a fun night! 

I will be posting later in the week with more about my AMAZING field placement!