Mind Tricks: Playing games with Differentiation

Intrinsic motivation is a difficult thing to manufacture in the classroom.

In a bid to improve independent reading comprehension, I’ve been playing with a means of developing motivation while offering adequate support for those less able, via some fairly simple differentiation.

After reading a text, I offer a ‘Can you find?’ grid, as in the following two examples:

grid1 grid2

Now, the design of this grid is what I want to focus on. Key features are:

  • There are three (supposed) difficulty tiers, clearly labelled, without euphemism
  • There is very little difference in difficulty between the NOVICE and DEVELOPING tasks
  • There is usually a new, untaught concept introduced in the EXPERT bank
  • There are far fewer examples to find in the EXPERT bank
  • Pre-taught concepts feature in the DEVELOPING bank
  • Some of the more difficult tasks are in the DEVELOPING bank


What’s interesting, from a psychological perspective, is how students respond to this type of grid:

Autonomous exploration

Many students strive instantly for the most difficult task, and quickly seek out the knowledge necessary. An example is where I introduced the concept of ‘superlative’ in an EXPERT bank, which I had not yet raised with the class at all. A number of students managed to not only work out what it meant, but also identified examples successfully.


Everyone’s ‘Developing’

Because the NOVICE and DEVELOPING tasks are relatively similar, it’s a very small leap from the former to the latter. This gives everyone a sense of competence, which makes for a smoother transition into subsequent inference and language analysis.


Competence and confidence

Because pre-taught concepts feature mainly in the DEVELOPING bank, the entire class feels able to access this middle tier. By then including some difficult concepts in the DEVELOPING bank, there is a natural elision into EXPERT territory. I have seen ‘weaker’ students comfortably access more difficult textual features.


Focussed annotation

An easy win here. Students can be steered into focused analysis and annotation of text, rather than just wading around in the hope of finding something of not that they recognise.


Over to you.

Yours, in teaching,

-Unseen Flirtations


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