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EDUC 4206 Professional Experience 4: Teacher as Inquirer

Professional Inquiry Project Proposal


Pre-service Teacher: Amy Sugars ID no.: 110170898

Context

I will be undertaking my placement in a category 6 DECD primary school in the North-Eastern suburbs of Adelaide
(Department for Education and Child Development 2015). The school consists of 228 students and has a strong
community focus, which emphasises the importance of parental involvement. The school community values the
importance of differentiated curriculum and there are two specialised classes that support students with disabilities.
My placement class is made up of 17 receptions and 6 year one students with three students who have negotiated
education plans (NEP) and another three with individual learning plans (ILP). There is an SSO in the class for 16 hours
per week to support one student who exhibits challenging behaviours and there are two students who are currently
being assessed because they have speech and language difficulties.

Plan

My inquiry project will be focused around using formative assessment in mathematics lessons to enhance
my ability to differentiate my teaching to suit the needs of my students. Through reflecting upon my past
placement experiences and my journey as a pre-service teacher I realised that although differentiation is a
skill that I have learnt about it is still an area where I lack confidence, therefore I decided that this would be
an important area to centre my inquiry project around. During my past placements I have ensured that I
understand the needs of the students I am teaching however, I feel that I need to develop my ability to
apply this understanding in order to benefit their learning. Differentiation is particularly relevant in my
placement context because I have number of students with disabilities and difficulties including speech and
language disorders and Autism Spectrum Disorder in my class, therefore it is imperative that my teaching
takes their needs into consideration. Additionally, I recognise that I have had limited experience in
assessing students’ learning, which is a key part of the teaching practice therefore I feel as though this
inquiry project is an effective way to seek out opportunities to develop this skill. I decided that in order to
make my inquiry project more manageable I needed to choose a subject area to focus on. Based on my
experiences I decided that mathematics would be a suitable focus because I have not seen many
examples of effective differentiation in this learning area.

This focus links to the Australian Institute for Teaching and School Leadership (AITSL) standard 1.5, which
emphasises the significance of educators being able to ‘differentiate teaching to meet the specific learning
needs of students across a full range of abilities’ (2017). Konstantinou-Katzi and colleagues (2013, p. 333)
state that differentiation provides a range of means for all students to access curriculum content and
achieve the desired learning goals in a way that suits their needs, rather than expecting all students to
follow the same pathway to achieve the same outcomes. Kristina Doubet (2011, p. 1) emphasises the
importance of differentiation as a proactive means for meeting the needs of learners and a way to demystify
the assumptions that many teachers make which inform their pedagogy. It is clear that each student brings
their own unique needs, interests, experiences and abilities with them into the learning environment, which
will inevitably impact the way in which they learn, therefore as a teacher it is my role to provide learning
experiences that take into account these factors (Konstantinou-Katzi et al. 2013, p. 332). Literature
suggests that differentiating teaching to suit the diverse needs of students is a significant challenge for
teachers, however when implemented effectively there are significant positive impacts on student learning
outcomes and levels of engagement (Konstantinou-Katzi et al. 2013, p. 332; Kerry & Kerry 1997). In
addition Kyriacou (2001, p. 59) declares that differentiation is an essential element of successful teaching,
furthermore highlighting the significance of my chosen focus area. Meeting my placement class has further
emphasised the need for me to develop my ability to differentiate my teaching due to the diverse range of
needs and abilities amongst the students that I will be teaching. Vygotsky theorised that learning is most
effective when the task’s level of difficulty is within the individual’s Zone of Proximal Development (ZPD),
meaning it is marginally more challenging than what they can achieve without support, which brings further
attention to the importance of differentiated curriculum and pedagogy because the ZPD of each student will
vary (Konstantinou-Katzi et al. 2013, p. 333; Prast & de Weijer-Bergsma 2015, p. 91-92).
As previously discussed, the focus of my inquiry project is the ways in which formative assessment can
enhance my ability differentiate my teaching in mathematics. The formative assessment aspect of my
project relates to AITSL standard 5.1, which highlights the need for teachers to ‘assess student learning’
(AITSL 2017). Formative assessment is centred around offering students feedback which will enable them
to cultivate their understanding and skills further, whilst also giving teachers an insight into their students’
development and needs in order to refine and inform their future practice (Brady & Kennedy 2012, p.4).
Ultimately the aim of formative assessment is to provide teachers with opportunities to improve and
critically reflect on their practice therefore, this is a highly suitable focus for my inquiry (Doubet 2011, p. 3;
Brady & Kennedy 2012, p. 16). In addition literature suggests that assessment informs the ways in which
teaching can be differentiated in order to suit the needs of students and teachers can use the insights
gained from such assessment in order to inform their planning and can make alterations to planned
experiences in order to more effectively cater to the needs of each individual (Veldhuis & van den Heuvel-
Panhuizen 2014, p.1). According to Doubet (2011, p. 1) an essential element of formative assessment is
ensuring that teachers have a clear image of the skills and understandings that they want students to
develop and the key indicators that show that the student has met the criteria. I will need to take this point
into consideration when planning my lessons in order to effectively determine students’ progress and the
ways that I can support their learning more effectively to ensure that they are achieving the desired
outcomes (Doubet 2011, p.1). As previously discussed Vygotsky’s theory of the ZPD highlights how
effective learning takes place and formative assessment will allow me to gain a greater understanding of
each students’ ZPD in order to extend their learning (Konstantinou-Katzi et al. 2013, p. 333).

Overall I believe that literature supports the importance of my inquiry focus and highlights some key factors
for me to consider throughout the process of undertaking my inquiry project. An additional consideration is
the importance of my focus not being placed solely on supporting the students who are struggling, it is vital
that I extend the learning of other students who may need more of a challenge in order to ensure that all
students are achieving to the best of their ability (Kronborg & Plunkett 2008,p. 19).

Action

During my inquiry I will be utilising ongoing formative assessment in order to more effectively differentiate my
teaching to suit the needs of each individual. This assessment will involve observation and analysis of each student’s
work and will be used to assist my reflection on whether my teaching gave students the opportunities to succeed,
whilst also being challenging enough to extend their learning. Additionally I will be asking all students to provide
anonymous feedback using the template in appendix 1 so that I am able to determine whether future tasks need to
be more or less challenging. I may also need to plan numerous activities and use my assessment to group students
according to their prior knowledge and skills in order to more effectively differentiate teaching and give students a
greater chance to achieve the desired learning outcomes (Tomlinson et al. 2003, p.132).

Observation

I have chosen numerous data collection techniques to incorporate into the inquiry process in order to not only self-
reflect but to also gain the opinions and insights of my mentor teacher and students.

Action research conducted by Kane and Chimwayange (2014, p. 66) highlights the importance of ‘student voice’ in
improving teaching pedagogies because it encourages collaboration and values both the students and the teachers
as learners. With this in mind I decided to ask students to give anonymous feedback back in regards to how difficult
they thought the task was using the template in appendix 1. I decided to link this to a familiar text, Goldilocks and
The Tree Bears to explain the concept of the task being too easy, too hard or just right for them in order to increase
engagement levels. After each lesson students will colour in the bowl that describes how they feel about the task
difficulty to help me to reflect on whether I need to make tasks more or less challenging to suit the students’ needs.

In addition I will collect students’ work and observe them during the lessons and record my formative assessment on
the table in appendix 2 so that I can gain a deeper understanding of whether my planned learning experiences are
suitable for the students. I chose this technique so that I was able to gage each student’s level of understanding and
my analysis will allow me to reflect upon whether I am differentiating my teaching effectively.

I will also ask my mentor teacher to take anecdotal notes and use the template in appendix 3 as a guide, based on
her observations and opinion on whether the lesson catered to the range of needs amongst the class. I believe that
gaining feedback from a more experienced teacher will allow me to consider other perspectives and as previously
discussed this is very important in order for me to become a reflective teacher (Killen 2016, p. 105).

Finally I will reflect upon the effectiveness of the task, my ability to differentiate my teaching and how my
assessment impacted my ability to differentiate. The data will be recorded in the form of a reflective journal, using
the template in appendix 4 will be used as a guide. I will reflect after each learning experience to ensure that I am
continuously considering ways to improve my practice and think critically about effective strategies that I can put in
place in order to do so.

Reflection

Once the data has been collected I will then analyse and interpret it and reflect upon the implications that it has on
my practice going forward. I hope to set regular times throughout my placement block for my mentor and I to
discuss the data that I have collected and I will seek her advice as to how I could use this data to improve my
practice. Additionally I will meet with my critical friend, Emma de Cure after my placement block concludes to see if
she is able to provide additional insights and determine whether she believes the data illustrates an improvement in
my ability to differentiate my teaching. I believe that involving both my mentor teacher and my critical friend will
allow me consider alternative points of view in order to make informed decisions in regards to my practice (Killen
2016, p. 105).

When analysing the students’ feedback I will be taking note of the number of responses in each category after each
lesson and I hope to see that the amount of students stating that the task was ‘just right’ would increase while the
number of students in the other two categories would hopefully decrease. The student feedback in combination
with formative assessment will also give me a greater insight into their ZPD, which will enable me to more effectively
differentiate my teaching (Konstantinou-Katzi et al. 2013, p. 333). I could use graphs to provide an illustration of
the students’ feedback data, which enable me to visually see whether my ability to differentiate has improved.

By observing students and collecting their work, as a means of formative assessment I hope to see that they are
engaged and challenged by the activities but are able complete them successfully however, I recognise that this may
not always be the case. I want to see an improvement in the engagement and achievement of students throughout
the inquiry process because this will indicate that I am more effectively differentiating my teaching. By combining my
observation and assessment of student work I will be able to interpret the data and identify ways that I can more
effectively support and challenge students.

Finally my mentor teacher’s feedback and my reflection will be interpreted by determining whether each lesson
resulted in successful differentiation which will lead to further opportunities for reflection. I hope that throughout
this project the feedback and reflection will become more positive which will indicate my improvement.

In conclusion, I hope that by reflecting after each learning experience I will see an improvement in my confidence in
regards to both formative assessment and differentiation. I also hope that my reflection on the data and the inquiry
process will enhance my ability to be mindful of the implications that my pedagogical decisions have on students’
learning, which Killen (2016, p. 104) indicates to be a key element of reflective teaching.

References

Australian Institute for Teaching and School Leadership (AITSL) 2017, Australian professional standards for teachers,
aitsl, viewed 23 July 2018, <https://www.aitsl.edu.au/teach/standards>.

Brady, L, Kennedy, KJ & Kennedy, KJ 2012, Assessment and reporting: celebrating student achievement, 4th edn,
Pearson Australia, Frenchs Forest, N.S.W.

Department for Education and Child Development 2015, Index of educational disadvantage by school, South
Australia Department for Education, Government of South Australia, 23 July 2018,
<https://www.education.sa.gov.au/sites/g/files/net691/f/index_of_educational_disadvantage_by_school_2012.pdf
>.

Doubet, K 2011, 'Formative Assessment: The Driving Force Behind Differentiation', Middle Ground, vol. 14, no. 3, pp.
10-12.

Kane, RG & Chimwayange, C 2014, 'Teacher action research and student voice: Making sense of learning in
secondary school', Action Research, vol. 12, no. 1, pp. 52-77.

Kerry, T & Kerry, CA 1997, 'Differentiation: teachers’ views of the usefulness of recommended strategies in helping
the more able pupils in primary and secondary classrooms', Educational Studies, vol. 23, no. 3, pp. 439-457.

Killen, R 2016, ‘Becoming a reflective teacher’, in Effective teaching strategies: lessons from research and practice,
7th edn, Cengage Learning, South Melbourne, Victoria, pp.103-121.

Konstantinou-Katzi, P, Tsolaki, E, Meletiou-Mavrotheris, M & Koutselini, M 2013, 'Differentiation of teaching and
learning mathematics: an action research study in tertiary education', International Journal of Mathematical
Education in Science and Technology, vol. 44, no. 3, pp. 332-349.

Kronborg, L & Plunkett, M 2008, 'Curriculum Differentiation: An Innovative Australian Secondary School Program to
Extend Academic Talent', Australasian Journal of Gifted Education, vol. 17, no. 1, pp. 19-29.

Kyriacou, C 2001, ‘Taking account of pupil differences’, Effective teaching in schools: Theory and practice, 2nd edn,
Nelson Thornes, Cheltenham, UK, pp. 56-76.

Prast, EJ & de Weijer-Bergsma, V 2015, ‘Readiness-based differentiation in primary school mathematics: expert
recommendations and teacher self-assessment, Frontline Learning Research, vol.3, no. 2, pp. 90-116.

Tomlinson, CA, Brighton, C, Hertberg, H, Callahan, CM, Moon, TR & Brimijoin, K 2003, 'Differentiating Instruction in
Response to Student Readiness, Interest, and Learning Profile in Academically Diverse Classrooms: A Review of
Literature', Journal for the Education of the Gifted, vol. 27, no. 2-3, pp. 119-145.

Veldhuis, M & van den Heuvel-Panhuizen, M 2014, 'Primary School Teachers’ Assessment Profiles in Mathematics
Education', PLoS One, vol. 9, no. 1, pp. 1-11.

Appendix 1: Student feedback template

Was it too easy, too hard or just right?

Too easy! Just right! Too hard!


Appendix 2: Observations of students template

[William] [Olivia] [Marko] [jack]

[Briana] [Montana] [ruby|t] [Ruby|W]

[Aaliyah] [George] [Violet] [Mason]

[Zoe] [Samantha] [Zara] [Christopher]

[Amelia] [KALEB] [Maycee] [Ally]

[Blake] [tOBY] [Clayton]


Appendix 3: Mentor teacher feedback template
Date of lesson:

Was differentiation evident in the learning In your opinion was the learning experience too
experience? If so, how? challenging or too simple for any students in the
class?

Was differentiation more effective for certain Were any students at a disadvantage due to the
students than it was for others? If so, how? differentiation seen in the lesson?

How could the preservice teacher improve the Do you believe that the learning experience
learning experience in order to more effectively effectively built upon the students’ prior
suit the needs of the students? knowledge and skills?
Appendix 4: Reflective journal template

Brief description of lesson:


_____________________________________________________________________________________
_____________________________________________________________________________________
_____________________________________________________________________________________

What did you observe? Were the students What did you learn about the students’ learning
engaged or did they appear to be finding the needs and abilities?
task too easy or difficult? Were there students
who seemed to not understand?

What do you think worked well? How has your assessment informed what you
would do next time?

What did the students’ feedback show you and What did you learn from the anecdotal notes/
what will you do based on this feedback? feedback that your mentor gave you?