Instruction

6. Adapting teaching

Video transcript

Presenter intro: Helena Moore

Learning involves lots of interaction between teachers and pupils. We can’t simply tell our pupil something and assume that they’ll learn it. Instead teachers need to regularly say to themselves: I’ve taught them something, but have they understood it? If pupils haven’t understood something, how can I fix it? They need to ask lots of questions to explore what their pupils know and adapt their teaching based on what they find out.

Presenter main

Adaptive teaching is where teachers identify what pupils know and can do and adapt their teaching in response. Adapting teaching helps to ensure that instruction and support are tailored to the particular needs of pupils. Pupils are likely to learn at different rates and require different levels of support.

Some pupils will have special educational needs and disabilities which may require additional support, although having SEND is neither fixed nor permanent in all instances and can vary from subject to subject. We need to think carefully about what our pupils’ differences are before we can adapt and tailor our teaching to meet their different needs. By giving the right level of stretch and support, teachers can help all pupils to meet challenging learning goals.

In order to adapt teaching effectively, teachers need to take steps both before and during a lesson. Before a lesson teachers can ask themselves three key questions:

  • What do I know about my pupils?
  • What do I know about the content I am teaching?
  • How might I adapt my teaching?

When answering the question, “what do I know about my pupils?” teachers should consider whether they have any pupils with special educational needs or disabilities in their class. Pupils with special educational needs or disabilities are likely to require additional supports. Teachers should work with colleagues, families and pupils to identify potential barriers to learning in advance. Another way of responding to the question, “what do I know about my pupils?” is to look at reliable assessment data. A task carried out at the end of the previous lesson might give teachers a useful indication of what relevant prior knowledge their pupils have. Teachers shouldn’t answer this question through guesswork or assumptions. Adaptive teaching shouldn’t lead to teachers setting lower expectations for some pupils.

To answer the question, “what do I know about the content I am teaching?” teachers can identify the key knowledge and skills that they want their pupils to get right, where their pupils might go wrong and how they will check pupil understanding during the lesson. It’s a good idea to ask a colleague who’s taught the content before about common misconceptions. As teachers get to know their subject and pupils, they will be able to make better predictions about specific content that some pupils may need support with.

Finally, teachers need to spend some time in advance thinking about how they might respond. This could involve thinking of additional examples to give to pupils if they struggle to grasp a particular idea or providing them with another practice task. It might mean planning what questions you will ask to stretch or support pupil thinking. In some instances, teachers may need to provide additional or adapted support for pupils with special educational needs or disabilities. It’s important to work with specialist colleagues in school such as the SENDCo when doing this.

Another response might be to flexibly group pupils within a class to provide more tailored support. In the early stages of learning phonics, for example, some pupils may be able to start learning more complex sounds whereas other pupils may still be learning the sounds of individual letters. When delivering phonics instruction to the class, it may be useful to split the class into groups and tailor support to where each group is in their learning, recognizing that pupils develop fluency in phonics at very different rates and that pupils should not feel that they are either good or bad readers as a result of this grouping. Flexibly grouping pupils needs to be done very carefully and teachers need to consider the impact that it has on motivation and engagement.

So far, we have thought about what teachers can do before a lesson to adapt their teaching. We also need to consider what they can do during a lesson. During the lesson adaptive teaching involves teaching, checking and responding. Adaptive teaching should occur after some teacher input. Typically this happens during the exposition. This is sometimes referred to as the “I do” part of the lesson. The teacher can then check for understanding and respond based on what they find out. This part of the lesson is sometimes referred to as the “we do” part of the lesson. One way to check for understanding is through a series of questions. They could use a well-crafted multiple choice question that brings to light key misconceptions. Once teachers have this information, they can decide how to respond. You might need to re-explain something or correct a misconception. Pupils might need another example or you might want to provide a worked example where you go through a task or problem with pupils step-by-step. If teachers find that pupils are doing well in their learning, they might want to remove scaffolding in place, ask a question to stretch their thinking or set them off on some independent work.

Responding to pupil needs shouldn’t mean creating 30 different worksheets for 30 different pupils. Re-explaining something, providing another example or asking another question are quick and effective strategies that teachers shouldn’t overlook. Working out the best way to respond on the spot isn’t easy and it’s something that teachers get better at over time as they get to know their pupils and their subject. But the more you’ve thought about how you will respond in advance, the better you’ll be able to do so in the moment.

Presenter exemplification framing

In this example you will see an Ambition coach model how to check that pupils understand a key concept within a lesson before moving on. As you watch, pay particular attention to how they do the following:

  • Structures tasks and instructions to enable the identification of knowledge gaps and misconceptions
  • Adapts the lesson to address gaps in knowledge and misconception whilst maintaining high expectations for all, so that all pupils have the opportunity to meet expectations

Exemplification: Ambition Institute coach

I want you to imagine that I’m teaching a year seven maths lesson on fractions.  Pupils have been asked to add the fractions from the board and to select the correct solution from the choices available. So this is the problem.

Calculate 3/8 plus 1/4 and select the correct answer from the options below.

A: 3/32

B: 5/8

C: 4/12

D: 5/16

Each of the incorrect solutions has been generated to uncover some common misconceptions in knowledge that pupils have around adding fractions. I want to identify whether pupils hold these misconceptions and then respond by adapting the lesson if they exist. Pupils are using mini white boards to display their solutions so when I ask pupils to show me that answers, while some pupils have the correct answer, there are some who have made each of the errors. Therefore I’m going to go through the options pointing out where they might have gone wrong.

“Okay, guys, we’re going to do a show me in five, four, lids on pens, please. Three, pens down, two, one. Show me [teacher scans the class].

Okay, hold them up nice and high please. Okay. Yeah. Yeah, keep them up. Okay super.

Alright, put those down. I can see a variety of responses around the room so what I’d like to do is I’d like to go back through the process so we can identify maybe where we went wrong and prevent you going wrong there in the future.

Okay so let’s have a look at the board. So this is our original problem. Now those of you who’ve got C, just have a look at your board now, if you’ve arrived at C, you’ve been thinking we’re adding fractions. So what you’ve done is you’ve added three plus one, you’ve added your numerators and you’ve also then added your denominators so you’ve ended up at 4/12. But in actual fact the first thing we need to think about is making the denominators the same. We want equivalent fractions. So we need a number that both eight and four go into, a multiple. Can you give me a multiple of eight and four? Lucy?

[Pupil answers]

 You got 32. Yeah. Okay so you got 32 so you’ve multiplied eight by four and you’ve ended up with 32 and you’ve got eight there on your board, haven’t you and I can see a few more around the room. How’d you then think you got three as your numerator if you’ve put A? What else do you think you did? Josh?

[Pupil answers]

Yeah, you’ve multiplied three by one because you’ve multiplied the bottom as well. So you’ve gone through the first process of wanting to get the same denominator, but in actual fact we needed to find the lowest common multiple. So what’s the smallest number eight and four go into? Jessica?

[Pupil answers]

 Yep, eight, absolutely. So the first thing that we do is if we’ve multiplied four by two to make it eight, we also do the same thing to the top so we’re going to multiply that by two. So we end up with 2/8. And what I’m going to do is I’m going to write down the rest of the problem next to it because obviously there’s a bit of a jumble of information up here. So now our question becomes 3/8 plus 2/8. At this point you might think all your work’s done. If you have ended up with your answer is D, Jamie, what do you think you might have done there?

[Pupil answers]

 So you’re thinking you’ve got 5/16. You’ve added eight and eight. Yeah, absolutely and you’ve added three and two, but in actual fact we want this to be all part of the same whole. These are all part of the same whole. So we never add the denominators. We add the numerators only. So three plus two is five, denominator stays the same so our correct answer is B. So now you’ve got that.

Wipe your boards clean and we’re going try another one together to see if we can overcome those mistakes next time around.”

I want to draw your attention to a couple of things in the model. First, I structured the problem so that I could identify misconceptions. I began by identifying the problems that I anticipated pupils would have. The incorrect responses illustrated typical mistakes pupils make. Multiplying values instead of adding, not finding a common denominator and then also adding the denominators together. I know from discussions with experienced colleagues that these are the errors that pupils commonly make so it’s really important to check for them.

Secondly, I checked for understanding across the whole class. By using multiple choice questions here, I was able to see all of my pupils answers really quickly and get a picture of what they did or didn’t understand. If I’d have just asked one or two pupils to provide their answer, it probably wouldn’t have told me enough about the whole class to adapt my teaching effectively.

Finally, I asked individual pupils questions that would require them to think through how they got to the answer that they did, supporting them to realize their error. The key to this model is the fact that I had anticipated where the pupils may go wrong and I have planned what my response would be. If I know what I’m looking for, I can spot it more quickly and then I can focus my efforts on giving a really high-quality response instead of working one out on the spot.

Presenter key ideas

In this video we have looked at some of the ways in which teachers can identify what pupils know and how they might respond. Which of the following ideas do you think that the example illustrated the best?

  • Structure tasks and instructions to enable the identification of knowledge gaps and misconceptions
  • Include a range of types of questions to extend and challenge pupils
  • Adapt the lesson to address gaps in knowledge and misconception whilst maintaining high expectations for all, so that all pupils have the opportunity to meet expectations

Presenter summary

Learning something new isn’t a linear process. It won’t look the same for all pupils. Learning requires a regular back and forth between the teacher and the pupil to check how it’s going. Teachers need to identify what pupils are thinking and adapt their teaching in response.

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Teaching challenge

Ms Garcia feels increasingly confident at identifying key content and presenting it effectively, building on pupil prior knowledge. However, she notices that sometimes pupils grasp key ideas quickly, while at other times pupils struggle to do so at all. Sometimes it is individuals or groups of pupils that struggle, at other times the whole class. How can she adapt her teaching to better meet the needs of all pupils?

Key idea

Adapting teaching requires assessment of pupil needs and appropriate teacher responses, before the lesson and within it, to enable a high pupil success rate.

Evidence summary

Adapting teaching aims to support all pupils to be successful

Effective teachers adapt their teaching to respond to the needs of the class and individual pupils (OECD, 2015). This doesn’t mean adapting lessons to different ‘learning styles’ such as ‘visual’ or ‘kinaesthetic’ as the evidence is unambiguous: while pupils have different learning preferences, they do not have distinct learning styles (Coe, 2013).

When pupils are introduced to new ideas, explicit guided teaching is more effective than pupils discovering new ideas without teacher support (Coe et al., 2014). However, pupils learn at different rates and have different levels of prior knowledge. Effective approaches to establishing pupils needs and adapting teaching are available. Teachers can check pupils’ needs through gathering information on what pupils do and don’t understand yet. Once they have, adaptations they could make include:

  • New information broken down into smaller steps.
  • Additional explanations and examples.
  • Additional forms of teacher support (Gathercole et al., 2006)
  • Additional stretch, for example through questions which extend pupil thinking, or removal of unnecessary support.

This is responsive teaching: using evidence of what pupils have understood to allow us to adapt our teaching to better meet pupils’ needs (Wiliam, in Christodoulou, 2017).

Responsive teaching does not mean creating distinct tasks for different groups of pupils or setting lower expectations for some (Pashler et al. 2007). Instead it entails identifying key content pupils might struggle with and options to support or stretch them, to make sure all pupils are successful. To make the workload of adapting teaching manageable, teachers should focus on a few key barriers and key adaptations.

Find out what pupils know, and teach them accordingly

Responsive teaching requires effective ways to monitor pupils’ learning (Deunk et al., 2018). If what pupils learnt was the same as what they were taught, there would be no need for assessment at all; however, we know that what pupils remember from a lesson can vary enormously (Wiliam, 2010).

Ms Garcia needs to collect and use assessment information to inform her key instructional decisions (Wiliam & Leahy, 2015). She can either use information to decide whether to adapt teaching between lessons, or within a lesson. To adapt effectively, she needs to prepare assessments based on key information she needs pupils to understand, to show her which pupils lack key knowledge or hold misconceptions and which pupils have a firm grasp of key material (Christodoulou, 2017). For example, teachers can use a sequence of carefully crafted questions and collect whole class responses to detect misconceptions and so more precisely target their teaching (Christodoulou, 2017).

Adapting teaching before the lesson

Some adaptations can be planned before the lesson or unit begins. It is good practice for teachers to seek support and information in advance about specific barriers to learning and specific solutions to these for individual pupils, particularly for pupils with special educational needs and disabilities. A conversation with the SENCo or parents or referring to the SEND code of practice may help. For example, a teacher may find out that a pupil’s ability to write is impaired and print resources for them. Teachers can also draw on formative assessment data collected in a previous lesson to adapt teaching to either stretch or support pupils.

Adapting teaching within the lesson: worked examples and groups

Pre-lesson preparation can also support responsive teaching within the lesson, guided by the I-We-You instructional approach to get the right balance of stretch and support (Lemov, 2015). Teachers can prepare adaptations in advance and deploy them responsively if assessment reveals pupils need them.

If in-lesson assessment reveals the majority of pupils have struggled with a specific idea or question, teachers can use worked examples to illustrate correct solutions. Worked examples reduce the cognitive burden that pupils feel when learning a new skill by breaking it down into smaller sections, allowing pupils to master the foundations before moving onto more complex parts (Deans for Impact, 2015). Ms Garcia may choose to use an additional worked example with pupils who have not yet grasped a particular skill; or break down a worked example even further for certain pupils while ensuring all work towards the same endpoint. Pupils benefit from explicit teaching and hearing many examples and questions (Rosenshine, 2012) so, if in doubt, giving a further example will often be helpful, even if assessment suggests some pupils have understood the idea.

Ms Garcia may also want to consider how to adapt groupings within her classroom to ensure that she can best tailor support to individuals’ needs. Grouping pupils within a class based on their current level of understanding could help Ms Garcia more precisely target support. Doing so relies on assessing pupils’ needs accurately, providing all groups with sufficient support and maintaining high expectations for everyone (Coe et al., 2014). For example, assessment may reveal most pupils are ready for independent practice, but a few still need teacher support, in which case Ms Garcia may create a small focus group to support once the class is practising independently – though she must be careful to make clear that this group is based on attainment and change it regularly. However, this may be tricky to achieve without embedded routines and behaviour expectations (IES, 2008).

Nuances and caveats

Grouping pupils by ability has a limited impact on pupil outcomes (Coe et al., 2014) so care should be taken to monitor the impact of groupings on pupil attainment, behaviour and motivation.

The aim of responsive teaching is to support pupil success. If pupils are practising independently and struggling, Ms Garcia should still stop the class (or intervene with particular pupils) to provide further support. Similarly, if Ms Garcia’s assessment suggests pupils need stretching, she can let pupils move on to more challenging work, while monitoring carefully to ensure they are successful, in case support is needed.

Teaching assistants can adapt teaching for assigned pupils, for example pupils with special educational needs or disabilities. However, they need to be prepared for the lesson by the teacher, and supplement not replace teacher support (EEF, 2018). For example, providing they can further break down tasks during guided practice.

Key takeaways

Ms Garcia can effectively adapt her teaching if she understands that:

  • Adapting teaching means identifying key adaptations and deploying them responsively to ensure pupils experience a high success rate.
  • Whole class questioning can expose what pupils understand to inform responsive teaching.
  • Teachers need to understand key pupil differences and potential barriers to learning, especially for pupils with special educational needs or disabilities, and prepare solutions before the lesson.
  • Worked examples and careful grouping can support pupils to fill knowledge gaps or correct misconceptions.

Further reading

Deunk, M. I., Smale-Jacobse, A. E., de Boer, H., Doolaard, S., & Bosker, R. J. (2018). Effective differentiation practices: A systematic review and meta-analysis of studies on the cognitive effects of differentiation practices in primary education. Educational Research Review, 24, 31–54. bit.ly/ecf-deu

References

Christodoulou, D. (2017). Making Good Progress: The Future of Assessment for Learning. Oxford: OUP.

Coe, R. (2013). Improving Education: A triumph of hope over experience. bit.ly/ecf-coe2

Coe, R., Aloisi, C., Higgins, S., & Major, L. E. (2014). What makes great teaching. Review of the underpinning research. Durham University. bit.ly/ecf-coe

Deans for Impact (2015). The Science of Learning. bit.ly/ecf-dea

Deunk, M. I., Smale-Jacobse, A. E., de Boer, H., Doolaard, S., & Bosker, R. J. (2018). Effective differentiation Practices: A systematic review and meta-analysis of studies on the cognitive effects of differentiation practices in primary education. Educational Research Review, 24, 31–54. bit.ly/ecf-deu

Education Endowment Foundation (2018). Teaching and learning toolkit. bit.ly/ecf-eef14

Gathercole, S., Lamont, E., & Alloway, T. (2006). Working memory in the classroom in Pickering, S. (Ed.) Educational Psychology, Working memory and education, 219-240.

IES. (2008). Reducing behavior problems in the elementary school classroom. bit.ly/ecf-ies

Lemov, D. (2015). Teach Like a Champion 2.0 (2nd ed.). San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

OECD (2015). Pisa 2015 Result: Policies and Practices for Successful Schools. bit.ly/ecf-oecd

Pashler, H., Bain, P. M., Bottge, B. A., Graesser, A., Koedinger, K., McDaniel, M., & Metcalfe, J. (2007). Organizing Instruction and Study to Improve Student Learning. US Department of Education. bit.ly/ecf-pas

Rosenshine, B. (2012) Principles of Instruction: Research-based strategies that all teachers should know. American Educator, 36, 12–20. bit.ly/ecf-ros

Wiliam, D. (2010). What Counts as Evidence of Educational Achievement? The Role of Constructs in the Pursuit of Equity in Assessment. Review of Research in Education, 34, 254-284.

Wiliam, D., & Leahy, S., (2015). Embedding Formative Assessment. Florida: Learning Sciences International.

Check

Answer the questions in the quiz to check your understanding of the evidence summary.

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Reflect

Reminder of key takeaways

Ms Garcia can effectively adapt her teaching if she understands that:

  • Adapting teaching means identifying key adaptations and deploying them responsively to ensure pupils experience a high success rate.
  • Whole class questioning can expose what pupils understand to inform responsive teaching.
  • Teachers need to understand key pupil differences and potential barriers to learning, especially for pupils with special educational needs or disabilities, and prepare solutions before the lesson.
  • Worked examples and careful grouping can support pupils to fill knowledge gaps or correct misconceptions.

Reflect on the following questions

  1. What did you see in this module that you already do or have seen in other classrooms?
  2. What do you feel is the gap between your current practice and what you have seen in this module?
  3. Which of the ‘key takeaways’ do you need to focus on? Where and when might you try to apply them to your teaching?