Children’s previous knowledge, experience and attitudes
Children’s previous knowledge, experience and attitudes towards the topic or content of what is to be learnt have a significant influence on the learning process. Talking about these at the outset enables you to understand the starting point of each child and to take into account individual needs and differences between children as learning progresses.
Different emerging learning styles and strategies
Children in Primary school are developing their own preferred learning styles and strategies. They need to be fully supported in this process as well as introduced to a range of other styles and strategies that may be helpful to them. These styles and strategies may vary according to, for example, different thinking skills (eg inductive, deductive, critical or creative), different learning styles and strategies (eg visual, auditory, kinesthetic) and different preferred ways of working (eg individually, in pairs or groups). In order to help children develop their own personal learning styles and strategies and in order to appeal to the diverse range of preferred learning styles and strategies that will be found in any group, we need to include a wide range of activities designed to appeal to all kinds of different learners.
Children’s motivation and interests
Not all children have the same interests or the same motivation to learn, and we need to be ready to respond flexibly to the particular interests of different children and groups. The most positive kind of motivation is that which comes from within the child and, through the materials and methodology we use, we need to aim to sustain motivation and promote a sense of achievement by providing a level of challenge that can be adjusted appropriately to meet the needs of individual children.
Individual differences in children’s development
Children develop in different ways (eg emotionally, socially, cognitively) at different paces and are not all capable of achieving the same objectives at the same time. This diversity needs to be taken into account when setting objectives for individual children and groups, and reflected in the system of evaluation we use. For example, with regard to writing skills, in some cases it may be appropriate to evaluate whether children can ‘copy words and label pictures’ or ‘complete sentences or simple texts’ whereas in other cases it may be more appropriate to also evaluate children’s ability to ‘produce simple, original texts’.
The development of positive attitudes
The development of attitudes that promote reflection, tolerance, social harmony and equality of opportunity help us establish a context within which diversity is valued and an environment in which we can work towards meeting the varying needs of individual children within the group.
Practical ideas for dealing with diversity
Dealing with diversity in the classroom is a constant challenge for any teacher and it would be misleading to suggest that there are easy answers. The following practical ideas will help you deal with diversity in a coherent and integrated way:
1 Initial evaluation
Before embarking on a new topic or unit of work, find out what children already know and gauge their interest. Use information you collect to help you plan your teaching but be ready to modify or add to this in order to respond to the children’s interests and needs as lessons progress.
2 Objectives and self-evaluation
Make sure that children are clear about the learning objectives and, as far as possible, involve them in helping to set these. At the end of a unit of work, encourage children to reflect on what they have learnt, eg by identifying things they can do or activities they like. Use this as an opportunity to comment on each child’s progress individually, emphasising and praising positive aspects as well as helping them to become aware of areas to improve.
3 Organising pairs and groups
Vary the way you organise pairs and groups regularly so that children with different interests, levels, skills and strengths can work together in different combinations. This not only allows children to help each other and to contribute to the class in different ways but also helps to develop attitudes of respect and tolerance within the group.
4 Helping individual children
Whenever possible, make time during lessons to give extra help and support to individual children who need it. This may be, for example, when other children are working independently on a writing activity or preparing a cut-out or game.
5 Building on strengths
Include activities which involve a wide range of multi-sensory techniques. Observe the activities that individual children seem to respond to best and try using these to help them learn in other areas. For example, it may help a child who is very visual to draw pictures of new vocabulary, whereas a child who enjoys music and rhythm may find it helpful to remember new words by saying them in a chant.
6 Correcting children
It is generally best to respond to the content of what children are trying to say and to use techniques such as expansion, rephrasing and remodelling to help them express themselves rather than to use overt correction techniques or to insist on correct forms. Focusing on grammatical accuracy is likely to be counterproductive, especially with less confident children. The most important thing is to create conditions where children feel secure in their attempts to use English at the level at which they are ready to do so and realise that mistakes are a normal part of the process and can provide opportunities for learning too.
7 Participation at children’s level
Encourage children to participate actively and provide them with the necessary support to be able to do so. Remember, however, that children can participate successfully in activities in different ways and at different levels, and it is important for us to be accepting of and sensitive towards this diversity. For example, in the retelling and acting out of a story, all the children will be able to participate successfully. However, for some children this may involve responding non verbally with actions to show comprehension of the story, for others it may involve joining in and saying some or all of their character’s part, or even involve retelling the narrative part of the story.
8 Rhythm and pace of work
All children work at a different rhythm and pace. We need to take this into account by having activities ready to extend learning for children who need a further challenge and ideas for chunking or shortening activities for children who need more time. In the former case, for example, it may be appropriate to ask children to do an additional activity or to write a short text based on what they have done. In the latter case, it may be appropriate to shorten the activity by getting children to do part of it only or to help each other complete it in pairs. It may also be necessary to provide extra support to enable them to do the activity more easily (see 9 below).
9 Extra support and grading activities
At times it may be appropriate to adjust the level of challenge by providing some children with extra support when they are doing an activity. For example: a) When children are asked to write a short text based on a model, you can:
- Prepare a text and write each sentence on a strip of card. Children arrange the cards in order and copy the text.
- Give children a text with gaps similar to the model provided, eg My name is ___ I live in ___ I go to school at ___. Children copy and complete the text or complete it, cut it out and stick it in their books.
b) When children are asked to write a previously practised dialogue, you can:
- Prepare a dialogue with the exchanges for each speaker on different coloured card. Children arrange the cards in order and copy the dialogue.
c) When children are asked to write sentences or questions, you can:
- Write words to make sentences or questions on pieces of card. Use coloured pens to help children with word order, eg red for adjectives, blue for nouns. Children order the words to make sentences using the colours as a guide, eg red words come before blue words and then copy the sentences or questions into their books.
10 Questioning techniques
Be aware of the questions you ask children, eg questions which allow them to display what they know (What colour is the apple?), to check understanding (Is Chippy happy?), to say what they think (Do you like the story?), to encourage discussion (Is exercise important?), to explore comprehension (Why is Chippy happy?) or to develop opinions (Why don’t you like the princess?). Be sensitive to the level of challenge different questions imply and try to pitch them appropriately for individual children. When you ask children questions, it is also very important to give them thinking time to reply before repeating the question or moving on to someone else.
11 Independent activities
Build up routines and ways of working that give children regular opportunities to work independently. For example, children may do extra activities to consolidate and/or extend language that has been learnt or play with cut-outs, such as card games, which can be stored and played with again by children who finish activities quickly. It is also important to encourage children to use their picture dictionaries or word banks independently for reference whenever they need to find words or check spelling. In conclusion, diversity among the children in our classrooms is the ‘spice of life’. Essentially, it is what makes teaching in a Primary school so varied, rewarding and worthwhile. However, the challenge of working with diversity should never be underestimated. We therefore believe it is vital that Primary teachers are fully supported in the work they do by classroom materials, which provide them with a range of flexible resources and ideas for dealing successfully with diversity, and a methodological approach which caters both for their own and the children’s needs.