Teaching as Inquiry - How might Claire better differentiate tasks to meet the needs of diverse learners?

Over the course of Semester One, all teaching staff at Hobsonville Point Secondary School have undertaken a personal Teaching as Inquiry project, which enables teachers to focus on the specific needs of their learners but also provides a focus for the teacher's personalised professional learning plan.

I taught one Small Learning Module this semester, which was co-taught with Sarah Wakeford (our Learning Partnership Leader and Social Scientist extraordinaire). Our module was called Freedom Writers to Freedom Fighters - an English and Social Science integrated module looking at human rights and the literature that surrounds it, with a particular focus on black civil rights in Term One and the Treaty of Waitangi in Term Two. Our class was made up of 60 Year 10 students who range from curriculum level three to beyond curriculum level six plus. To add to the complexity there was the fact that I was often away with the NZTC so needed to ensure that any resources I created were scaffolded and supported high levels of self-directed learning.

Focusing Inquiry
In terms of learning outcomes, from an English perspective, I was looking at students being able to:

Term One
Make sense by analysing ideas, purpose and audience in extended written and visual texts. (L4/5)
generate by communicating understanding of ideas through a visual text. (L4/5)

Term Two
Make sense by comparing ideas, purpose and audience in connected texts (L4/5)
Generate by communicating understanding of connections across texts through PEEL paragraphs (L4)
Generate by communicating understanding of connections across texts through formal writing (L5)

AsTTle data was used to get a sense of where learners were at with their Reading and Writing and this was then cross referenced with samples of writing completed early within the module (and from my prior knowledge of learners as I had taught many of the students last year). 

Teaching Inquiry
From this I ascertained there was a need to develop not just flexible tasks, but different tasks that specifically prepared learners for different tasks that reflected where the students were at. To be fair I have never done this well in the past, I have really just got away with highly scaffolded tasks for all learners and of course supplementing this with targeted support for the students that needed it. And for the most part this has worked. 

Over the last year and a half, at HPSS, we have been working at developing very specific curriculum levelled learning objectives (that also reflected our learning design model) and a series of very specific assessment rubrics which break down each learning outcome into a curriculum level rubric broken down into SOLO sub levels that provide students with cognitive steps and descriptors that help them to get to the next level. Again, I am ashamed to say this is really the first time I have drilled down (in this much detail) into very specific curriculum levels at the junior level - this work alone has been incredible. Never before have I been so confident that an entire school staff understand the very nitty gritty of the curriculum document, and conceptualised what this means for all of our students. Once the rubrics were developed it became clear that a single task was not going to be appropriate for all, and for this reason I decided to develop two separate tasks - one designed for students working at Levels 3-4 and another for those working at Levels 5-6.

Teaching and Learning
Throughout the module both Sarah and I looked at ways we could cater for the diverse range of students in our module, ensuring we provided a range of texts that spanned genre, style, curriculum levels and modes. For the final task I was keen to get the students to demonstrate their ability to identify connections between texts and begin to relate their similarities and difference to the text purpose and audience. Usually I would give students a choice of modes (visual, verbal or written) to demonstrate their learning, however this time I did dictate the mode, simply because I also wanted them hone their essay writing skills. I was also aware that I was going to be away during the time they were writing their essay (or paragraphs) and wanted to ensure the task design enabled the students to be as self managing as possible.

So here are the two different tasks I designed:

Connected Reading Essay (Curriculum Level 5-6)
Connected Reading Paragraphs - Supported Version (Curriculum Level 3-4)

Learning Inquiry
Anecdotal feedback from a range of students is that the highly scaffolded instructions were super helpful. Their level of peer feedback has been impressive, resulting in me me feeling sublimely superfluous when I returned from my travels. The essays and paragraphs were due in on Tuesday and every student present completed the task. What was really pleasing is that a number of the students that completed the Level three-four task approached me when they completed that task and asked if they could have a go at building their paragraphs up to the essay task, the fact that they had an initial task that felt achievable definitely seemed to help build both their confidence and their ability to self manage to a far greater extent than I had seen in past modules. I am marking all of the essays and paragraphs over the holiday, but from what I have seen from a quick scan of all of their work, I have actually been blown away at the standard of writing and the depth of the understanding of issues within the texts - undoubtedly deepened by the integrated nature of the module with students exploring human rights from genuinely social science perspective.
Next Steps
To be honest I am little embarrassed I haven't been doing this as explicitly as this for years. My next step is to make this my normal/default practice. Beyond that I also want to make far better use of our slew of online platforms and ensure that my task instructions are not only differentiated explicitly for student readiness and curriculum level, but that they also adhere to the principles of universal design for learning by making the task instructions genuinely multi-modal.

I look forward to making this the focus of my Semester Two inquiry!


  1. For all the great stuff that I see going on at Hobsonville, that is the one thing I am unsure you have fully harnessed - developing a strong online aspect to the learning that enables a truly ubiquitous learning environment. Not saying you haven't - I just haven't seen much reference to it in blogs I read.

    1. Hi Darren,
      Whilst there is always room for improvement, the absence of posts about elearning is probably more of a sign of how normalised it's become. We are completely one to one and students use Google Drive as their folders and everything is cloud based. It's an absolute expectation that every module is online and that tasks are differentiated. But you are right we could share this more! Will make it a bit of a focus this term - there is some great stuff happening ;).

      Cheers Claire


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