In this episode of The Learning Network's Community & Family Studies Podcast, I offer guidance and uncover some practical strategies around differentiating in your CAFS classroom.
Differentiating can be difficult as it is totally unique to each classroom situation. Tailoring our teaching and learning to the needs of our students sitting right in front of us is so important to their success.
Listen to hear 4 actionable strategies to help tailor your teaching & enable your students to succeed!
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Hey CAFS crew Welcome back to episode number 21. This episode is going to give you lots of practical strategies and lots of guidance around differentiating in your CAFS classroom.
Now I know this word gets thrown around a lot and it might look different for different schools, for different contexts. But really, when we're differentiating, we're tailoring our teaching and learning to the needs of the students sitting right in front of us. We really need to be doing this. Gone are the days where we teach to the middle and hope that what we're teaching our students sticks, that content gets across. We need to change what we're doing. We need to tweak, we need to make adjustments to what we're doing with our students so they can gain maximum success in what they're learning and feel super confident about what we're teaching them.
So we unpack today, four simple ways for you to differentiate in your CAFS classroom. So let's dive straight into them.
Number one is working out where our students are right now. What can they actually do? I think we make lots of assumptions about what our students know, or possibly what they don't know. And we need to work out what they actually know about our content. So doing lots of pre knowledge around that. We might do a KWL chart - ‘what you know,’ ‘what you want to learn’ and ‘what you've now learned as a result of that learning.’ You might do a checklist. I've come up with a bit of a CAN checklist which basically looks at three areas. My pre knowledge checklist involves ‘content I know,’ ‘areas I need to work on’ and ‘necessary actions to improve on these.’ So looking at maybe a concept, looking at wellbeing, you might have some sort of stimulus, a clip, a, quote, some sort of documentary that we're showing our students and they might actually think about, ‘Okay, before we actually go into the content, what do I know about what we're about to learn about? What do I need to work on?’ And maybe ‘what are some of my actions that I need to take as a student as a learner to move myself forward in my journey?’
And look, I could give you a whole plethora, a whole podcast episode about pre knowledge activities. And that's often what I start with my own CAFS classroom, and even in my PE classroom and my religion classroom when I taught religion in my first couple of years of teaching at an all girls Catholic school. In every classroom I've ever taught in, I wanted to know what my kids knew before I actually taught them. What's the point of that? Well, there's no point, regurgitating content or regurgitating information and going over stuff that the kids already know. What is the point of that? It's going to waste a lot of time and it's also going to be really boring for the kids if they've kind of learned something already. So going over something very quickly, doing a pre knowledge checklist. Some of our primary colleagues might know it as a pre launch checklist, where we look at how am I going with this? Am I okay? Am I you know, on the ground level? Am I you know in that seat in the plane or am I taking off, do I actually know where this is going? So, doing some sort of pre knowledge is really important at the beginning, working out where our students are.
The next thing around strategy number one is working out where they need to be. Okay, so I know where they are right now, where do they actually need to be at the end of this at the end of this learning? What do they need to get out of it? So if we're looking at wellbeing as a concept, our students need to know the six factors affecting wellbeing. They also need to be able to use examples demonstrating that connection, but also they need to show the interrelationships, how each of those factors affecting wellbeing are connected to each other. Because A, it’s in the syllabus, but also B, in the end, the end game in the HSC, our students need to show those clear interrelationships, interconnection points, for wellbeing in their 15 marker for the option. Again, a game changer like I've spoken about before. If you didn't catch the episode, you can head over to thelearnnet.com/20, where I talk about the game changer being the option in CAFS. But really working out where our students need to be, looking ahead in the syllabus, working out what skills that you might need to teach them and what content you might need to teach and what connections you might need to make for those students sitting in front of you so they can achieve and they can really see the results that you guys want to see in your CAFS classroom.
The next part of it, which is probably the trickiest part, is working out how you're going to help them get there in the end. So we need to be able to work out where our students are at this point where they need to be and the gaps, what are we going to do to fill the gaps between their learning? Again, there's no point in hashing over content they already know. We might quickly speed through some of that content, do a pre knowledge checklist or do some sort of pre knowledge activity, have some content happening and then work out where the gaps are. What do I need to do as the educator in my classroom, the driving force of my classroom, the coach in my classroom, to really help my students move forward in their learning.
And look, that could be done in lots of different ways. We might use some formative assessment tools, which is really about my second strategy, you might do some documentation, you might need to do some sort of student interview, like a one on one interview with the student. You could even possibly contact home, contact parents and say, ‘Look, here, there are some gaps in your child's learning, in your dependent’s learning, this is kind of what I'm going to work on with them and I’d really love you to to help out there, I'd really love to work together as a team to help your dependent really move forward.’
So I think it's also involving our students in that conversation. There's no point in us knowing where the kids need to be without us actually articulating that to them. We need to show our students exemplars, we need to show the students what it takes to get there in the end, all the little baby steps that they need to take and make along the way to success.
And success is going to look different for different students. In this episode I really hope it’s opened your eyes to the fact that when we differentiate, we're catering our teaching and learning to the needs of our students in front of us. We're not thinking about the HSC at the end. The HSC, yes, it's the end game, but we're thinking about right now, what am I going to do to make some small little tweaks to fill the gaps to really bridge that gap between what my students know right now, and what they need to know in the future. And look that really stems from having an awareness of our students, having conversations, observations, some documentation, of course. We know that admin is on our plate and it often causes some burnout, but we need to really be documenting this. It can be some formal things, through reports and parent-teacher night, that type of thing, but also through simple observation, some coding, some checklists, that type of thing.
If you'd like to see what some of these strategies look like, I have a whole PDF for you guys. If you head over to thelearnnet.com/differentiate, you'll get access to a whole booklet about the four ways I like to differentiate my CAFS classroom. They're not the be all and end all of every single way that you can differentiate, that would be a whole course. Inside Life Skills in CAFS I show you how to differentiate some of our curriculum to really suit the needs of our students to teach from that syllabus. But even if you have students sitting in front of you, if they don't really know how to write a PEEL paragraph, you need to change what you're doing. You can't just keep teaching to the middle.
Okay, let's dive into the next strategy. So strategy number two is around using formative assessment. Now formative assessment is one of my absolute favourite things. If you haven't heard me speak about formative assessment before, I absolutely love it. It really changed the way I did things in my CAFS classroom, in my PE classroom with my juniors and with my seniors, and even with my staff. I presented PL in formative assessment at Nagel and back in the day we did a project called Project for Enhancing Effective Learning by Monash University and a lot of the resources and strategies within that particular framework really connect strategically to formative assessment. Back then it wasn't called formative assessment as a coined word, but we now know it as pretty much working out where our students are, what we need to do to get them where they need to be but also providing our students in that conversation, giving meaningful feedback, questioning, all those different things that are really about Formative Assessment.
The tools inside the formative assessment banner are really effective in working out the gaps and working out where students need to move to the end game, to what they should be achieving. And look, Formative Assessment is like my second baby, my second child. My first child is CAFS. My second is formative assessment. I love formative assessment. And I have something very exciting happening this year, I am birthing a baby, another child. Our eldest actually, side note, has put on her Christmas list the last couple of years that she would like a sibling for Christmas. And last year, she said that she wanted a boy, this year she's not really fussed. Literally last night, so we're talking March 16th 2022, she wrote her Christmas list in March and her birthday list in March and item number number 10 was a sibling. She wanted another sibling for Christmas or for her birthday. And I said to her this morning, I said “Cass I love your list,” She did at some ungodly hour last night when she couldn't sleep obviously, I said “Cass I love your list, you're probably going to get some of those things but there are 2 that you've got no chance at getting, A, having another sibling, and B, moving into our downstairs spare bedroom.” Anyway, long story but she's pretty funny, but that's definitely not going to happen.
So it's really important to work out all those tools. And look, like I said, I'm bringing out a Formative Assessment tool for you guys, a resource, a book that you're going to be able to absolutely love and dive into and make it super practical for your classroom not just your CAFS classroom, it's not just a CAFS thing. PE, English, D&T, Foodtech, every single course you actually teach, you're going to be able to use it.
Anyway, back to some of these tools. So some of these tools might look like, like I said before, KWL chart could be one of them and giving some feedback to your students through WIN feedback. You know that WIN feedback is my way of giving feedback. And if you haven't seen or heard before, many of you guys who have taken Strategic Approaches to the IRP, Exploring Year 11 CAFS, Strive, you would know feedback as W, standing for WHAT was done WELL, so what the student did well, in their response, in their assessment in their question, I for IMPROVEMENTS that they need to make, improvements for the future, what they need to actually do to move forward for success and then finally, N for Necessary actions to improve on that. So it's all well and good to say, yeah, this is what you've done well, this is what you need to do to improve. But here is the actual action, I'm going to take action on this.
So again, in my PDF for you guys that I have developed, head on over to thelearnnet.com/differentiate, and you'll be able to access that PDF and see what some of these tools are. But certainly we unpack WIN feedback.
And look I made WIN feedback the go to feedback tool that I would give my students. Now I have hundreds of CAFS teachers across New South Wales doing the exact same thing working with their students to give WIN feedback. And look, I really don't believe in ticks and crosses and a mark, just a mark. WIN feedback has been something that's been evolving over time and it certainly stemmed from all of my work in formative assessment. And I think, absolute gold, I love giving my students WIN feedback. I even, sneaky note,, had a couple of stamps created, if you're willing to do that to make it a bit easier and, as I said, I put that on each of the kids assessment tasks at the bottom and then gave them some feedback.
But also, it's about the kids. It's about involving the students in that feedback as well. So for the necessary actions to improve, what am I going to do as a student? The first two are up to us as a teacher: ‘here's what you've done well, here's what you need to do to improve’ in green. Pink,
what they've done well in pink, improvements to be made in green, like that green for growth, tickled pink kind of analogy that Shelly Clark brought out. But in purple or any other colour of your choice, the kids gonna say what they can do to improve, so what do they need to do to actually do?
So that's some of my stuff in Formative Assessment, but also possibly keeping a menu board, so inside my PDF, thelearnnet.com/differentiate if you want to access that, I show what a menu board looks like. Many of your primary colleagues would know what this is, so if you have any primary teachers that are friends, ask them or just simply do a bit of a Google search or you can access my PDF. But basically it's giving the kids a choice, so you might have a different level of that activity, you might have a different Glossary of Keyword that you're using, you might have a different style of activity you might have like a Bloom's Taxonomy kind of level of activity, you might have some sort of ladder activity, it's that type of thing where the kids have a choice about how they're going to learn. They will have to learn the same thing from the syllabus, but how they're going to learn, it could look a different. So that's the menu board.
And then we have choice boards. So quite different, menu board & choice choice board. And we also have things like Tic Tac Toe. So I've provided you guys with two examples of tic tac toe. I've tried to be really generic, you guys can tweak your changes according to your own classroom, your PE classroom, your TAS classroom, but also your CAFS classroom. So Tic Tac Toe basically, like a grid, three boxes at the top three down below. I often say that the activity in the middle is mandatory, that's what they all have to do. And they have to make a line at some point. So they might go, okay, I'm gonna make a horizontal line, I might do my six point summary in the middle as my compulsory activity, then I might choose to do a set of revision cards, or I might choose to do an exam prep question, or I might choose to watch a small video clip around the idea and a list, or my post it note summary and PASA paragraph.
You get the gist, giving the kids choice, voice and choice is really important. And I think if you haven't read Kasey Belle’s ‘Shakeup Learning’ she has some really great digital versions of this on a Google slide and during lockdown COVID 2020, I actually created a number of different tic tac toes for my students. And you can create that using a Google slide and each of the Google Slides are actually connected to each other. So if the students click on like, six points summary on their Google slide, it'll then take them, using a hyperlink within that Google slide, to that six point summary, what they have to do. If they choose revision cards, they click on that and it's then hyperlinked to the revision cards activity. Absolute game changer. You guys can tweak it and use it again and again and again. Make a copy and then you just change what you're doing. So if you want to do a Google search of Kasey Belle tic tac toe, not Kelly Bell, Kasey Bell, I'm not related to her, she's a Texan American educator, who has some phenomenal resources around learning technology and using technology to enhance student's learning in the right way. So she's a great resource.
Okay, so that's what we could be doing for formative assessment.
The next strategy that I would like to unpack with you is really about teaching our students according to their needs. I first started teaching in 2004 and back then we had students who would have been on probably Life Skills, it was called Life Skills back then, but we might have had support students or special ED students, that's the word that teachers would often use, you know, “they're a special ED class,” or, you know, they've got different needs. It's really changed a lot. Now, obviously, we know that we have support classes in the Department of Education. We also have students who are sitting in many classes in the Catholic and independent system, whose learning needs to be adjusted. And look, I still believe and I would hate to kind of see this still happening. But I know that many of our students who do have individual needs are sitting in classrooms where the work is not adjusted for them. The work isn't modified according to their needs. And look, that's against the disability policy, and that definitely needs to be shaken up and a real big change needs to be made there.
So we need to be teaching our students according to their needs. If they are a student who doesn't like to interact or they might have some sort of communication disorder, we shouldn't be making our students discuss something with the class or get them to stand out the front and discuss their ideas. Our students might choose that that's okay, yes, that's fine, but we shouldn't be forcing our students to do these sorts of things. We should be modifying our work for our students and what we're preparing for our students based on their needs. If our students need some photocopying, done onto a3, we need to be doing that. It's against the law, it's against the policy (not to). We need to be modifying our students’ work. we might need to enlarge, say, a Google slide to font 24 for our students. We need to be modifying their work, we might need to photocopy their work in 18, font, dark 18 font, they might have a vision impairment. We need to be modifying their work, we are obliged legally to make these modifications for our students.
And it really disappoints me at the beginning of each school year where, you know, you might have faculty members say, ‘Oh, I have all these modifications I need to make,’ or ‘I need to create a whole big class profile’ or ‘my differentiation list is so extensive, I have all these, students on Individual Education Plans.’ Yeah, because they have individual needs. We need to be catering to them, we need to be supporting them inside our classrooms, no matter where they are in their learning, where they are on the autism spectrum, where they are just in life, where they come from, their background. So I think, I don't know why some of these teachers become teachers to be honest, but it really makes me angry and sad that they won't and can’t adjust the work for their kids. But we need to be looking at the students in front of us, the beautiful students who are sitting in front of us and going, okay, you guys are very individual, and you all have very different needs.
The types of plans our students might be on might be individual education plan, they might be an Aboriginal Student with a PLP (Personalized Learning Pathway). We might have students who are in our targeted sports programmes who are elite athletes who have a different programme that they're running on, you know, their training, so many hours a day, they might be surfing overseas, one of our beautiful girls did that. We might have some of our rugby league boys who might be training for, you know, different groups, we might have some runners who are in the under 18s, under 19s and running for the state. We have some pretty talented kids so we need to be adjusting our programme for that.
I remember in my first year on the coast, I had the target sports programme students in my class, in my year 11 PE class. So we had rugby league player playing for the roosters, we had an Australian water polo player, we had a figure skater, we had a sprinter, we had actually two sprinters, we had a shotput and a soccer player, he was playing pretty high up soccer for the Mariners. Who else was in my class? I think there might have been one or two others. Anyway, beautiful class, such great discussions with those beautiful students who were in PE, one of my favourite classes, actually. So if any of my ex students or teachers are listening to this, I absolutely love teaching that class, so shout out to you guys. But look, we had to cater to their needs.
You might have students on a health care plan where you might need to ensure that they are sitting at the front, possibly, that you have the room well ventilated if they've got asthma, they might have a vision impairment, you might need to obviously sit them at the front but you might need to enlarge some work for them, that type of thing. You might have some auditory students and you might need to wear a mic in your classroom for them to be able to hear properly. So lots of different things that we can do to make adjustments. We might also have some higher potential and gifted students in our class, again, modifying our work, having some sort of extension activity to push them. So that's the type of thing that might exist in our classrooms and we definitely to make those modifications, and what those modifications might look like, would be in accordance with their plan. So we might have some disability provisions, we might have a reader-writer, we might have specialist support teacher in our class, we might have some disability materials being used, some laptop tables or different pens, that type of thing.
We might have to modify our instruction, actually changing how we teach and what we use. We might have some entry points, so some of our students might be functioning at a different level then the majority of our students in our class. We might have to change our electronic copies or might have to email our students their work because they're only working on a device. We might have to seat them in in a certain way. We might also have to have time passes available for some of our mental health students, or some of our students who might have some sleep disorders, possibly some Peer Assistance with other students in our class. The list goes on and on and on.
But even if our students aren't on an IEP or a plan, we need to be adjusting our work. I remember having a student who wasn't on a plan, I think she said had some health care needs, but I didn't need to adjust much of my classroom because of her health care needs but because of her reading age, and she had some low literacy levels. I had to adjust what I did. I highly scaffolded all of her work, so I would set work with the kids and I just knew straight away that Jess really struggled with understanding some concepts. So I would go over with her and I would have a scaffold already available for her, or I would scaffold it right there and then to help her understand that content. So other students might need a bit of extra time. So you might give them some pre reading before they come into class, that type of thing. Even some, like vocab lists in the back of your exercise book, or you might give them a vocab list at the beginning of a unit.
Look, I could go on and on and on, as I mentioned, I could literally have a whole podcast episode about each of these four strategies because I know it's so important. We are, like I said, we are so blessed to have so many different students in our classrooms, our communities, our families, each of us have different needs, and we need to cater our teaching and learning to that.
Okay, let's go on to the last strategy and the last strategy is really a simple one, very straightforward, but you'll probably, not laugh, but it's actually teaching from the right syllabus. Now, when I talk about students having different needs, we do have many students in our classrooms who might be on an individual education plan, or they might be a student who is in a support class and they might be on a Life Skills programme.
Now, caveat here. Back in the day, when I first started teaching, I didn't realise that the work for my Life Skills students had to be highly adjusted. So I would kind of just say, Oh, just do this, this and this, but not that, that and that. Now we actually have a whole syllabus that we actually need to use. So if you have students in your classroom who you think, look, I think based on their needs, based on their IEP, they should really be on a different pattern of study, possibly. Some of our parents have our kids on ATAR patterns of study who shouldn't be, I definitely had students like that, but they might be doing mainstream, ‘mainstream’ CAFS or Community and Family Studies, stage six CAFS going towards an ATAR and many of those kids should be in Life Skills, should be in our life skills CAFS class.
Back in the day, we didn't have Life Skills CAFS, we had the life skills PE programme. I can't remember what year the PE syllabus got developed but we had to allocate outcomes from our Life Skills PDHPE syllabus and link it to our Life Skills CAFS mainstream course. And that was very difficult because they were very very different. In the Life Skills PE course, teaching some students how to toilet, hygiene concepts, that type of thing, and communication concepts. Our Life Skills syllabus was developed in 2013 as a result of some changes that NESA were having a look at, or the Board of Studies back then, to each of the KLAs, having a look at syllabuses or syllabi, and working out more supported ways to help our students. So the Life Skills course was developed in 2013 as a result of those changes, and to support the diverse needs of our students in our classes. Because our students come from a variety of different needs, we needed to have something that they were able to access, they were able to access that curriculum that sits underneath the banner of CAFS.
And look, I know I've taught a number of different students who have been on the Life Skills CAFS syllabus, and like I said at first, we didn't have the syllabus. But we are very lucky now to have a CAFS syllabus that we should be teaching from. And I know there are many students in our CAFS classes who should be taught from the life skills syllabus but we don't have the time, we don't have the resources to actually teach them from that. We also don't have the support out there and it wasn't until starting The Learning Network that I realized that there was a big lack of support for Life Skills in CAFS, hence why I develop the Life Skills in CAFS package to be able to support schools across New South Wales to teach our students from the course that they should be taught from.
Life Skills in CAFS Package Info:
Teaching our students from the Life Skills course needs to happen. And there are still schools across New South Wales who are teaching our Life Skills kids from the mainstream course and going ‘okay, well, here's where we tweaked it, here are the outcomes, yep let's match it up,’ but they're not actually teaching in the separate programme. There is a whole syllabus that is around Life Skills in CAFS and we need to be teaching our kids from that syllabus, not teaching the kids from the mainstream course.
So as I mentioned, I have developed a whole programme, a whole package for you guys to help you with that. So if you're thinking that you have some students who should really be in Life Skills for next year, or you have some kids coming from Year 10 who you think should be in Life Skills CAFS, you now have a whole package that you guys can use. And what I've been able to do with the six modules inside Life Skills CAFS, I've been able to tweak them to say here's the Life Skills CAFS syllabus, you can be teaching a mainstream class and you can also be teaching your Life Skills students along the same path at the same time. So our students inLife Skills have a different course, they have a different syllabus but the discussion, the activities, many of the activities, maybe the video clip, would stem from the mainstream course but then the actual work that kids do is from a Life Skills CAFS syllabus. So I've been able to map ourLife Skills CAFS syllabus across our mainstream course. So we have a really extensive package for our kids to be working from in our classes. So whether you teach from the mainstream CAFS syllabus or teach in a support unit, the Life Skills CAFS package has been developed for you guys to save your time, save your wellbeing, give you so many resources to be able to support your students to do the syllabus that they're actually meant to be doing and, and for us to teach from that syllabus. So again, there are lots of schools out there who are still teaching the kids from the Community and Family Study stage syllabus, who are Life Skills CAFS students. So if you are one of those beautiful teachers, obviously, I'm advocating for us to teach our kids from the Life Skills CAFS course but also, don't be afraid to reach out to me. I literally have a whole package for you guys now, to be able to feel super supported, to protect your time and wellbeing in the process with lots of ‘done for you’ activities, extensive booklets, mapping documents, outcomes and mapping documents, to really transform what you're doing your CAFS classroom, to support your students, to support your Life Skills kids.
So if you'd like to learn more about the Life Skills in CAFS package, you can head over to thelearnnet.com/lifeskillscafs to access that package. It's not onerous, there’s literally hundreds of resources in there to support your Life Skills kids, whether you're teaching the Life Skills course within a support unit, or teaching it within Community and Family Studies.
So I'd really love to hear from you guys about what resonated with you today about differentiating your CAFS classroom. If you have any other strategies to share with me, remember, we had four main strategies, 1. work out where our students are, where they need to be and how we're going to get them there. 2. We're using some form of assessment tools to really unpack how we can differentiate. 3. We can also do that through teaching our students according to their individual needs, through IEPs, that type of thing, adjustments, modifications, and then, funny enough, 4. teaching from the right syllabus.
So I'd really love to hear from you guys about what you do in your classroom to really differentiate in your CAFS classroom and to cater to the individual needs of your beautiful students sitting in front of you.
Thank you so much for joining me in today's episode, I would love to hear from you.
Thanks for joining The Learning Network, I'd love to hear what connected with you most about today's episode. Take a screenshot and tag me on Instagram and Facebook, @thelearnnet. If you'd like to know more about my courses, MasterClasses, Coaching and Mentoring and Membership, you can DM me over on Facebook or Instagram or head to thelearnnet.com. Don't forget to stay connected by subscribing to Apple Podcasts or Spotify, and if you love today's episode, I would be so honoured if you could please leave me a review. See you again next week. Let's continue to connect, grow and learn together to make a huge impact on the students we teach.
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