L/Os, plenaries, differentiation and keywords

I have over the past year explored various ways of using plenaries and differentiation. Being an English teacher, this is a somewhat epic task. My inclination, therefore, is to be clear about what I want to achieve.

My L/O is the focus of the lesson. It also contains the higher-level ambitions of its thinking. The plenary encourages the students to see if they:

a) Understand what was required.
b) Can identify if they achieved.
c) Analyse the extent to which they did, or not.
d) Evaluate the purpose of their achievement.

For a time I encouraged my students to rearrange a simple L/O using an anagram tool. One possible criticism of this is that ‘the students are just pushing words around’. This is because the students often push the words back into order. However, its intention is to focus on the keywords of the L/O with one of three main tasks:

a) List most important 1-3 words to allow us to understand how/what we are going to do.
b) Define a word.
c) Do you agree or disagree with a statement? 1-5 and reason.

I think that keeping everything in this practice, but replacing the actual pushing of words back into order with writing it on the board with fulfil its purpose.

So how can this lead to differentiation? This year I have been experimenting with using rubrics. This was too arduous to complete each lesson. Instead my students are now using them once in a sequence of lessons (2-4 lessons) to reflect on their work. Often, homework fulfils this function, and the homework of my students have become increasingly impressive. This also seeks to fulfil the lofty ambition (of which I agree!) that students should have some kind of target set once every week or so. For example, my Year 11 students recently explored the difference skills needed on the reading and writing sections of the English language GCSE exam. They create a resource that explored alongside this rubric:

1 2 3 4
Can evaluate difference between skills needed in reading section, and writing section. Indicates the skills needed in reading section and writing section. Some skills identified in each section of the exam. Skills not identified, or are unclear.


After articulating the purpose of the task, and allowing them to brainstorm the skills and differences needed (which were judiciously limited), I presented them with exemplar responses which they attempted to emulate.

Three students were able to evaluate the difference between the skills needed in both the reading and writing sections of the exam. One said how advanced punctuation is used to create variety in creative writing, whereas it intended to create clarity in analytical writing. I was impressed by this, and pleased with how other D/C students were able to cement this awareness of when to use writing skills (and not!)

In regards to plenaries, I have found that after my experiments last year I have a solid set of five plenaries. For receptiveness I might include others, but these are for just that: receptiveness. Some might be useful (such as the ‘what would be different if we didn’t do this lesson’ one for evaluating the difference between the reading and writing aspects of the exam’ in order that the students might say ‘we would use the right skills in the wrong places’).

One plenary, though, is to have the students create a learning objective based upon what they have learned in the lesson. This is useful because it allows an occasionally more expansive lesson than usual (where a too-rigid focus would be limiting). Normally I find the learning objectives themselves limiting, such ‘How can we analyse a poem’. However, the addition of keywords increases the specific analysis of the learning objective exponentially. For example, adding ‘metaphor’ ‘effect’ and ‘echo’ created the following L/O plenary for one B-grade student:

How does the central metaphor of ‘leaves’ echo current feelings about soldiers in war?

Wonderful and individualised learning is evidenced by that learning objective. To implement this in your teaching can be, with prior effort, be effortlessly effective.