Assessment in a Differentiated Classroom

14 December 2017

Author: Dan Clark-Frew, Science teacher, Huntington

‘An effective teacher makes the curriculum (the “what” of teaching) accessible through appropriate teaching practices (the “how” of teaching).’

I am attempting to use research to inform and shape my practice. I teach Science in a mixed-ability KS4 classroom to pupils from range of backgrounds and with a range of abilities. A differentiated classroom is a challenging environment to maintain order. If pitched too high, lower ability students won’t even start. Similarly, if pitched too low, higher ability students will switch off.

I try to start each lesson with clear objectives of where I think my students are; and a plan of what I want them to Know, Understand and Do (KUD) as we progress. In Assessment and Student Success in a Differentiated Classroom, Tomlinson discusses three stages of assessment in the differentiated classroom (pre, formative, summative) but with the emphasis on these being accessible to all. The main idea is summarised below:

ass. in diff class 1

In a mixed-ability classroom there are a range of factors affecting a pupil’s starting point:

  • Motivation and self-regulated learning: By KS4 many students have disengaged with Science so it is difficult to stretch the top and cajole the bottom along with the class.
  • Readiness to learn: Structured entry questions allow time to ensure all students have the necessary equipment (e.g. books and pens) to learn.
  • Language: Ensuring the starting questions involve simpler language and concrete answers.

The following is an anecdotal example of a mid-topic Chemistry lesson on electrolysis, to a mixed-ability Year 11 class, where I am trying to incorporate this approach into my practice. I want my students to…

Know: Metal ions go to the negative electrode

Understand: Positively charged metal ions gain electrons at the negative electrode

Do: Apply this when given an ionic compound in solution, to work out what happens at each electrode, stretching to oxidation and reduction of the ions involved

Pre-assessment begins straight away with a structured bell work task to get all pupils in, equipped and on task. It takes the form of tiered questions, but importantly starts with something all students should be able to do. I try to hook the lower ability students with a ‘confidence booster’ to get them thinking, rather than switching off.

Example of a Pre-Assessment Bell Task accessible to all abilities

ass. in diff class 2

Strategies for scaffolding student work include:

  • Providing texts and direction at an appropriate reading level
  • Design texts that are concrete with fewer components
  • Using graphic organisers or templates to guide student thinking

Strategies for extending student work include:

  • Introducing complex vocabulary
  • Designing tasks that require depth and breadth of knowledge
  • Calling on students to use multiple concepts and skills

Formative assessment is then used to judge whether students have understood the material. During this process, I try to circulate and provide teacher feedback as much as possible, making sure my interactions with students identify specific and ‘doable’ actions for all. I also try to go through the answers so the students correct their own work. Using a visualiser is a good way of modelling these answers and demonstrating metacognitive thinking.

Example of Tiered Formative assessment task

ass. in diff class 3

In Summary

Be specific about the KUDs (what you want students to Know, Understand and Do)

Stage 1: Plan for teaching with pre-assessments: Use pre-assessment to probe students’ prior knowledge of appropriate formative assessment techniques (e.g. Frayer models, concept maps).

Stage 2: Assessing the impact with Formative Assessment: The teacher role is to provide ungraded, specific feedback. This could be discussions with pupils or whole class feedback.

Stage 3: Evaluation of learning with summative assessment: In a differentiated classroom, these must be tightly related to the KUDs and accessible to students of all abilities to demonstrate their learning.






Posted on 14 December 2017
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