by Julia Gardos
Following on from Elizabeth’s post earlier this month, here are some practical ideas on differentiation in the EAP classroom. It is clear to us as all that learners can benefit from it, but how can we cater for a range of needs effectively on a course as busy as the pre-sessional?
I have been teaching Exploring British Academic Culture (EBAC) – otherwise known as the ‘Content Strand’ (the sociology-based unit using Browne’s course book and the weekly lectures) on the International Graduate Programme and will share some ideas that could be put into practice on pre-sessional courses, too.
Firstly, task design is a key element of differentiation. The weekly reading input can be processed in the form of students preparing mini-presentations. These can be set for homework over the weekend for lower groups, or prepared on the spot by higher ones.
Jigsaw reading is another useful way for students to engage with the texts. In preparing comprehension questions for both the reading and lectures, Bloom’s taxonomy can be applied to progress from checking basic understanding to go on to application and analysis, and finally to evaluation and creation.
I have prepared some questions categorised this way which you may use depending on the needs of your group. Certain students / groups may not be ready to tackle the higher level questions. Lowering affective barriers by playing games such as back to the board with sociological concepts can also be a fun way of engaging learners with the content.
In seminars, more confident leaders can be given free rein in choosing topics and even an extra reading text for stronger groups. My class has been using the Blackboard online discussion board to engage with some of the questions before the seminar.
This gives shyer learners, and those more comfortable expressing themselves in writing, a chance to participate more effectively. In addition, the class requested the seminar questions to be posted online the night before, to give them a chance to prepare and find evidence for their points. This is also a way to scaffold learning, as well as stretching ambitious students further to support all their ideas.
Stronger groups can be challenged further by increasing learner independence: for example, analysing assessment criteria in groups (e.g. Content / Language / Organisation) and turning it into useful advice, then sharing with peers; or timed writing feedback conducted in the form of peer review using a checklist, with or without the teacher’s comments. Learners of different abilities can learn from each other in this way, too.
If you wish to read Geoff Petty’s ideas on differentiation and using Bloom’s taxonomy in task design, follow this link and check ‘diff 2 task design’.