Differentiating FIRST things first


Mike Gershon states that “differentiation is simple. It involves planning and teaching in a way that takes account of all learners in a class.”

Differentiation encompasses a whole range of strategies, activities and techniques.

We hope this Blog post will help you make differentiating lessons that little less stressful and increase the productivity and pupil progress in every lesson.

First things FIRST

Whilst searching twitter for inspirational CPD ideas- I came across a wonderful acronym created by Caroline Spalding @MrsSpalding and it worked perfectly for our weekly T&L briefing on ‘differentiation made easy.’

Think FIRST for Differentiation

First marked?

Identified on context sheet?

Relentlessly challenged?

Seated strategically?

Talked to and questioned? 

We found this such an easy but though-provoking question to ask ourselves.

First marked– a lot of teachers admitted (including myself) that we have markinga tendency to put the most messy books to the bottom of the pile. However- are they not really the books we should be spending the most time on? Should we always go to the brightest pupil who is finished first to mark, or the pupil who has fulfilled their best potential and could do with constructive feedback?

Identified– We use G04S and it has an array of go4sinformation for teachers about FSM/ PP/ SEN/ Religion/ G&T- but are we using this information in the right way? are  we using this information to base our lessons? to provide scaffolding? To include challenging stretch? Are we using our amazing SENCO and asking for advice?

Relentlessly challenged– and we are not always talking behaviour here. What we mean is- is your questioning on point?questioning Are you using a variety of higher vs lower order questions? Are you ensuring that every pupil has understood the objective and is on the path to make progress? Are you phoning home for pupils who aren’t working hard enough? are you constantly praising the hard work and efforts? but most importantly, is this a consistent habit?

Seated strategically– have you used your best strategy when placing pupils in your room? Are the weaker students appropriately placed near you? or beside a stronger pupil? Have you grouped them according to ability? seating planDoes this work? if it isn’t, are you adapting? Have you talked to teachers of the same class- how do they seat them?

Talked to and questioned– sometimes this can be as simple as asking thtraffic lightsem how their day is, showing that you care about them as well as their grades. If you are using AFL strategies and they are confused- are you asking them how you can help them? Are you allowing them to vocalise their misunderstandings or concerns? Are you enabling them to be independent? Do you try and question every pupil in a lesson? How is this working for you?

By using FIRST as a daily go-to practice, teachers can simply but very effectively, ensure all pupils are appropriately differentiated and supported.

Simple and effective differentiation strategies:wagoll wall

  1. Modelling best work- Model EVERYTHING- especially when it is exam-style questions
  2. Providing stretch & challenge to all pupils- Extension work should be explicit and not optional! It should never be an addition PEEL or Qs- make it more CHALLENGING!
  3. Sentence starters or key word banks every lesson (consistently)
  4. Using min whiteboards to help pupils’ confidencemini whiteboards
  5. Asking purposeful and stimulating questions
  6. Moving around the room- marking or questioning on the go.
  7. Aware of the needs of all learners in your class (using the class context sheet)
  8. Checking understanding at every given opportunity and adapting where necessary (killer questioning)
  9. Create classroom displays with model work and examples

These FIRST principles are the foundation stones for what we what to embed in all Westfield classrooms this year.

From this we really can achieve Accessible Learning, 

‘The best classrooms are those where nobody feels anonymous, unsupported or undervalued- and that includes the teachers & teaching assistants.’


How we can improve T&L within your department:

  • Make T&L a weekly talking point
  • Share ideas and teach each other segments of your lesson- feedback on different strategies you could use
  • SHARE resources and team plansharing is caring
  • Carry out  informal coaching and informal observations- where you can see differentiation happen there and then
  • Create a twitter account- it is the best place for free CPD ideastwitter
  • reflect on best and worst lessons- talk about what you would do differently
  • Do not judge each other- support one another to be the best- teaching is not a competition.

I have attached an audit we have used in our departments to help see where we can improve our differentiation- please feel free to use and adapt.

Differentiation audit 

Emma Keys

Lead practitioner of T&L Westfield Academy

Many thanks to Caroline Spalding and TeamEnglish.

The Power of WHY?

As teachers we often give students the answers without ever getting them to ask the question first. As children and young people they are born inquisitive but somehow they lose some of this as they get older. Are we playing a part?


So lets think for a minute….. Have you ever thought about the following…

Why Everest is getting higher every year?

Or why Africa only contributes about 3% to world finance

Or why 50% of the world’s population live on 1% of the world’s surface.

Or why the earth’s magnetic field changes every million years

Or why the Middle East is called the Middle East.

(Middle of what and East of what?)

Or why the earth is round or why there is oil under deserts,

or whats the average age of a seagull, or..or..or.. ?


As a Geography Department here in Westfield Academy we have turned our focus towards getting our students to ask the questions before they receive the answers. We want them to be in awe of the world we live in and question what surrounds them on a daily basis.




Below are the strategies we use and implement on a daily basis. Though these strategies are simple they are extremely effective and go a long way towards the development of a growth mindset both in and outside the classroom.

  1. Video clips to promote awe and wonder – also a key learning tool for the visual learner.
  2. Home is where the heart is – Geography in context – We aim to provide UK based examples to give students the opportunity to relate to subject content and then broaden their horizons.
  3. Geography Cartoons – Unlock the meaning of the Geography cartoon – Encourages students to think outside the box and make links between key topics.
  4. It is all about me – for students not born in the UK giving them the opportunity to provide examples that are relevant to course content along with areas that they too can relate to.



Promoting an environment where students feel confident enough to ask questions and dig deeper into the areas they are studying is where we aim to be.


As teachers we can play our part in this and allow students time and space for enquiry and investigation. The general approach to how we speak in the classroom needs to focus on a positive mindset. It’s not how many times you fall down but how many times you get up and keep going.


As the year draws to a close let’s enjoy what has been an amazing year. Enjoy the summer and roll on 2017-2018.

A little awe and wonder…

The John Wayne legend lives on:

[T]hat at the rehearsal for “The Greatest Story Ever Told’, The Duke, playing the Roman soldier who speared Jesus on the cross, said rather flatly: “Truly he was the son of God”. the director said: “Not like that, say it with awe!”

Obligingly Wayne repeated his line: “Aw, truly he was the son of God.”

Lena and Graham




How to be the Best Form Tutor!

The Role of a Form Tutor

This week we looked at the specific roles of a form tutor. We identified different strategies on how to be a successful influence on student welfare.


Why is this role important?

The form tutor is the first member of staff students come into contact with on a daily basis. The small time period that the students share with their form tutor is arguably the most important period of the day. This is because this time will set the tone for the days outcomes. It also allows tutors to identify any immediate issues or problems before the working day has begun. Preparation is key in this time as it allows students to make a successful transition from home to school.


What do the students believe make an excellent and effective form tutor?

form tutor.png


We have identified the following 8 strategies as being the most important & effective ways to manage your form time:

Praise the positives

form tutor 2

  • Praise students who have either got lots of positives or students who have improved.
  • Compare your forms positives/negatives to other forms in the year group, create positive competition

Question the negatives

form tutor 1

  • Once a week, get your forms Go4Schools up and identify people that have accumulated negative points.
  • It shows the students you know exactly what is going on when you are not there


Be tough over the specifics

form tutor 3

  • Has your form got their equipment?
  • Is there planner signed?
  • Are they wearing make up?
  • Do they have shoes, correct trousers?
  • Lining up perfectly for assembly
  • You form represent you – make sure they know it!

See your form do something positive

form yutor 5

  • Once a half term try and find time to drop into a lesson for 10 minutes, especially if it’s a lesson they do well in.
  • It will allow you to see them excel at something and share a positive learning experience you don’t usually get as a form tutor.
  • It also reminds them you are watching them!

Email teachers about problems


  • As a form tutor students are more likely to come to you with problems (at home, with homework, classwork, peer issues)
  • Providing class teachers with this information is crucial to avoiding problems escalating during lesson time and allowing lessons to run smoothly.

Teachers communicating with form tutor


  • The form tutor is not in lessons. Their only way of knowing what is going on is checking Go4Schools.
  • If you overhear something, experience behaviour/peer issues or have any concerns, the form tutor should be the first port of call.
  • Make sure the form tutor has all the facts. They will often be the ones that have the best relationship with students/parents to provide support if necessary.


Call/Email Home



  • You will often find yourself calling home for FT report, attendance, behaviour
  • Try and find something positive to call/email home about for each student every half term. That works out approximately 1 phone call per day.
  • Parents really appreciate this and it forms a relationship which makes it more likely they will be understanding when you have to call for a negative reason.
  • Students also really respond to this


Set targets


  • Set your form a target for each half term. Offer them a prize/reward if they hit it.
  • This data can easily be accessed/downloaded from Go4Schools in seconds and is easy to keep track of.
  • My target
  • At least 100 positives
  • No more than 20 negative points
  • No more than 1 day missed

Thank you to Chris and Harry, for their fantastic butterfly session and blog post! 🙂

To turn your households’ rancour to pure love.

On Saturday, Romeo and Juliet was being performed at The Globe, just down the road from London Bridge and Borough Market. Shakespeare’s language can be a struggle, keeping up with the words and devices. Watching from above, however, whilst Romeo and Juliet professed their anguish and love in the Balcony scene, what I really noticed was the raptness of the audience. They surrounded Romeo – that’s him with the face paint, on a ladder below on the left. People were just looking and listening so intently, carried away by the words and their message of love. It was magical.

She speaks.
O, speak again, bright angel! For thou art
As glorious to this night, being o’er my head,
As is a wingèd messenger of heaven
Unto the white, upturnèd, wondering eyes
Of mortals that fall back to gaze on him
When he bestrides the lazy-puffing clouds
And sails upon the bosom of the air.

Context and culture: It’s what we do here…

Every now and then this turns up on social media, and I remember how important it is:

Previous posts have set out the Westfield Way – see March post.

These are our expectations, our non-negotiables and our culture for both staff and students – this is the way we do it at Westfield Academy.


Because we have seen over time that this works for our students and staff.

So next question is what conditions are needed here to make them work?

  • Collegiality – the power of the team and creating alignment
  • Creativity – working with these foundations and making them part of our own day-to-day professional practice in our classroom. As subject teachers embedding them in how we teach our subject and mesh with our own personalities and practice.
  • Forward-looking – using all that we offer with regards CPD and developing this practice, especially subject-wise. This next half term there will be a real focus on moving onwards from the foundations now in place and embedding key next steps:

New specs



Assessment for Learning

Differentiation/ Scaffolding/ Extension

Broadening subject knowledge through use of twitter / social media

  • Modelling, always modelling – we never know when students and staff need us to hold the line and tough it out. Believe the culture, and trust the system.
  • Habit –  “We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.” — Aristotle
  • Relationships – these will come with the emdedding of the systems and expectations. The context, and quality of any school is based on the human relationships within, and these relationships are the glue for our Academy, and get us out of the bed come November
  • Be open – do I need support on this, as well as…
  • Who can I help?
Elvis helps Johnny Cash


The text below comes from Andy Buck’s Leadership Matters:

He writes of leaders at all levels helping to create great schools, and with it great learning. And that is the context for all of us.