6 Signs Your Teacher Friend is Back to School

Considering all the teachers in Australia are heading back to school this week we probably all need a bit of a giggle.  Check out this blog post at A Great Title to see the 6 Signs your Teacher Friend is Back to School.  There are some free printable labels, recipes and posters linked to this post as well, so besides the humour you could find a helpful resource too.

All the best if you are starting a new school year this week.  If you are dealing with the mid-winter wriggles that students seem to get this time of year, good luck with that too.

See you next week with more about literacy and differentiation.

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Cult of Pedagogy has a website, blog, Pinterest boards, and probably more social media accounts that you can follow and visit.  I was introduced to Cult of Pedagogy through Pinterest, so here is the Cult of Pedagogy Pinterest Profile for you to check out.

Cult of Pedagogy is worth a look for any teacher or pedagogy coach.  I am certain that you will find something useful for you and your classroom.  Get going: learn something new, think about your teaching practice, discover new strategies and read some real life stories from teachers just like you.

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Differentiation Must-Haves: check out these reources!

Differentiation is difficult.

So far we know that differentiation involves knowing our students learning needs so that we can work out how to accommodate those needs.  Sometimes knowing that you have 8 students in your class with specific learning disabilities and another 6 with social emotional needs and 3 with behavioural issues, doesn’t mean you will know the next step towards supporting each of the students in your class.  While one or two small changes can help a class full of diverse needs, it is important to know the specific ways to support various disabilities/ learning difficulties.  Therefore, we all need to know more about learning difficulties and disabilities: or at the very least, have some go to resources where you can find the information you need.

School Based Resources

You will have learning support staff at your school whose job is to help you differentiate.  The job title will be different based on the country, state or even district, but the goal is basically the same.  They will have knowledge and experience of learning disabilities/ difficulties as well as information about specific students in your classes and how to support them.  Use the expertise of your colleagues.  Ask them for help.  They want to see your students succeed which means they want to help you.

Resource Folder

Secondly, get yourself a resource folder.   Include information about disabilities as well as adjustments and tips from other teachers.  Follow some great Pinterest Boards, join a facebook group, keep a list of webpages or links (there are plenty of ways to do this online, with the cloud, apps on your phone etc), follow some blogs.  I would suggest keeping a hard copy folder as well.  There will be handouts and resources you will create or receive in hard copy form and it will be good to know you can photocopy these at a moment’s notice.

Getting Started

Here is a short list of websites, textbooks and Pinterest Boards to get your resource folder started.  Remember to tap into the resources at your school as well.

This book is a good one to have in your library. https://www.pinterest.com/pin/268104984043975771/

Click here for a printable list of strategies for supporting special learning needs.

A board from Clutter-Free Classroom, remember that differentiation is more than just ‘low level’ students. https://www.pinterest.com/cfclassroom/stem/

The SEN teacher is still my “go to” online resource for information about every disability you can think of – including fact sheets, strategies, printable organisers and links to other online resources- and it is so helpful.

Stay tuned for more resources.  Please share your own ideas and resources in the comments.  The best way to build these resources is to share with each other.  If you have questions about resources or specific disabilities/ learning needs, please ask in the comments and I will endeavour to help you out.

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Differentiation First Steps: Know your Students!

Differentiated Instruction is a teacher’s response to the learning needs of his/her students.

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Question: How can teachers respond to the needs of their students if they don’t know anything about them?

Answer: They can’t.


What it means to KNOW your Students

Knowing your students is more than just learning their name. It’s about knowing their strengths and weaknesses, interests, least/most favourite subjects, past academic successes and failures, family situations and hopes for the future.


How to KNOW your Students

You won’t get all this information from sitting down for 3 minutes to talk to each student. Finding the time to sit with each student for 3 minutes is practically impossible! Obviously, no one expects you to even try. Truly knowing your students will not happen overnight, but there are plenty of steps you can take towards knowing plenty about your students, as soon as possible.

Step 1: Data

Access as much data about your students as you can. In Queensland, Australia, we have a State Database that has a profile for every student. When a student enrols in a school, that school (and all its teachers) can then access this profile. Each student profile has everything from parent contact details and medical conditions to report cards, behaviour records and standardized testing results. There is an application in our database so that we can also see graphs and tables that help us to analyse the data more easily. Most schools, I imagine, would have access to information like this and hopefully they have ways of helping you analyse it too. If the data is not available in this form, you can enter it into Microsoft Excel and create tables and graphs yourself. It takes more time, but it is certainly worth the effort.

Step 2: Diagnostic Testing

Tell your students why you are doing the testing – to get to know them. I usually say something to my class like: “Today you are going to answer a few questions so I can work out what you know which, will help me plan lessons that won’t be too boring for you. If I see that you are all good at long division then I won’t worry about making you all do a week of long division activities, we will move on to something else.” This usually makes sense to my students and they know they have to do their best so I have the best information I can have. If creating more tests is making you cringe, ask your colleagues in the same school to help you out. Alternatively, Google the basic skills your students need to start your subject and see what comes up. One or two simple questions that require each skill is plenty. Remember it’s informal and just giving you a general idea of what your students can do.

Step 3: Games

We all know the curriculum is crowded and we are always feeling pressed for time, however if it’s important, it’s worth taking the time to do. Playing games can bring out a different side of students’ personalities and can often release some of that tension that is often present in the early days of the school year. Games could be curriculum based – it will give you more insight into their knowledge and skills – or it could be just a game. Take the opportunity to have some fun with your students, it will also have a positive impact on the relationships you are building in the classroom.

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 Step 4: Student Surveys

This could be a simple homework task or starter activity. You can learn so much from a quick ‘getting to know you’ survey. Not only do you learn about what TV shows your students are watching or if they love cats, you can check out their spelling and handwriting.

Step 5: Talk to Past Teachers

This is the last step because it should be a last resort. Don’t go questioning teachers about their past students unless you have done all four steps and you need more information. This is a last resort because if you rely on the opinion of other teachers, you will walk in to the classroom with a preconceived idea of the student and you might have formed the wrong one.


If you are at a complete loss with a student and you don’t know what to do next, then conversations with several colleagues can be very helpful. It depends on the situation, so only take this step if you feel it is absolutely necessary.


There you go, 5 steps towards KNOWING your Students as individuals and working out their specific learning needs. Remember: Differentiation is responding to student needs and you have to KNOW those needs before you can respond to them.

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Defining Differentiation

Differentiation is a teacher’s response to a student’s learning needs.



Differentiation is adapting the teaching and learning process and environment to suit student needs. (Mel, The Literacy Coach)

 A Controversial Topic

Among teachers, Differentiation can be a controversial topic.  The word, Differentiation, itself causes angst for many educators.  Regardless of what teachers may think about it, the fact is; education departments, all over the world, have mandated differentiation from kindergarten to senior secondary schooling. There is a clear expectation that all teachers, newly qualified or highly experienced, will differentiate their instruction to respond to the needs of the students in their class/es.

Some teachers feel that this is an unfair expectation.

“I can’t possibly teach the same concept 28 different ways just to suit every student in my class. There simply isn’t time when the curriculum is already so crowded”

Many teachers believe in the concept of differentiation in principle and want to meet the expectations of their administration while feeling overwhelmed and underprepared.

“I know that some of my students aren’t keeping up, but I don’t know what else I can do to help them!”

A great many teachers have also taken on the enormous task of differentiation and are reaping some of the benefits for their students.

“It was really overwhelming to see that I had so many students who were not coping in the traditional classroom setting, however a few small changes have helped most of them make progress.” 

Which one of these teachers are you?

This year, at MTLC we are going to explore differentiation in the context of literacy and how both of these are important in every year level and every subject. We will also discuss strategies, ideas, resources and professional development opportunities, because theory is useless without practice.

Want to Learn More?  Check out these links.

Differentiation Starter Kit (from Cult of Pedagogy)

Dare to Differentiate Wiki Space

What Differentiated Instruction Is – and Is Not (on Teach Thought)

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