Teacher to teacher observation - 'literacy and differentiation'

If you can recall, four of the teachers from three different schools decided to have teacher to teacher observations in the school-year 2016/2017. The details can be found in the post Teacher to teacher observation - the tryout.

And so it has started.

November's observation

The topic was 'literacy'. We observed different levels of how to teach 3rd graders to read.

Children worked in groups. The levels of the activities were stretched from focusing on the first sound of the word through playing with syllables, reading words, reading sentences, and lastly reading a dialogue.

The activities were brilliantly organised and judging by their involvement, children enjoyed them. However, I had mixed thoughts about what 'reading' actually means. Is focusing so much time on details (first sound, syllables ...) really the first step towards reading? 

Advocating the so called 'global approach', I believe supporting children's global thinking through context related activities should be the basis of their learning (the approach from a big picture to smaller bits of a puzzle within the same topic). 

Regarding reading, I believe children should have clear purpose of the reading. Is it only for the sake of reading? Is it, maybe, finding some information? Filling in the form? Enjoying the language/plot?

I am aware of (at least) one argument against it. Children cannot read, if they don't now how to read, or if they don't know the letters.

True. But I ask myself this:
Can learning letters, syllables, vocabulary ... be part of a context-based project? Like, learning the aforementioned through stories, descriptions, texts, poems, songs?

Having had enough time to contemplate on my thoughts, I decided to create a lesson, trying to incorporate literacy the way I advocate it, together with a challenge - differentiation among students. 

I invited my colleagues to observe the lesson, the 3rd graders.

February's observation

Pensive, I drafted thoughts prior to organising the lesson:
  • The context is 'At My School' - project that gives children the big picture and from which we take out some vocabulary.
  • All of the activities we did in this project so far were school-related, so the context should be clear to them.
  • The aim of the activities - describing the school, the classroom and the schoolbag.
  • The activities are the preparation for the reading.
  • The purpose of the activities for children is 'playing a game'. 
  • The follow up activity - reading a text. Hypothesis: Being familiar with the sentence formation, knowing the vocabulary and the use of the basic grammatical number in nouns, children should be able to find the information in a text easier.

The groups: There were three levels according to their level of experience. The levels were divided among five groups and some children working individually.

The most experienced level: practiced sentence formation. Discussing the pictures on a given topic, they needed to form a sentence starting with THERE IS  or THERE ARE, adding the WHAT and ending with WHERE.  
The game: Groups collected points for a correct description. 

Some examples of the sentences:

  • There are classrooms in my school.
  • There is a board in my classroom.
  • There is glue in my schoolbag.

VISUAL SUPPORT: We had a colour code displayed on the board. GREEN - plural, no article, -s at the end, RED - singular, an article and no -s at the end. 

The middle level: was practicing vocabulary and forming sentences up to the level they were capable of via playing 'Memory Game' (a pair was a picture with a word and a picture with no word - level 2), and 'The Black Witch' (Črni Peter), where the pair was a picture with a word and a word.

Some examples of the sentences:
  • There are scissors.
    Memory - level 4
  • There is a locker.
  • There are notebooks.
If, however, some of the children knew how to answer the WHERE question, they added it in the sentence.

The Black Witch, level 3

The struggling level: some of the children in this group are still finding hard to memorise the words, whereas some were struggling with singular/plural forms. 

For them, I have made a working sheet with pictures and one with the words. The objective was to find  the correct English word to the picture and mark the grammar number in our colour coding.

On the sheet with the words only, they needed to colour code the words in order to distinguish whether it was written in singular or in plural. The children also had an option to write a sentence, if they felt they were up to the job. There were examples written for them.

The presentation: At the end, every group presented their work by giving some descriptions, the rest of the class contributed.

While organising the lesson, focusing on differentiation, I was struggling most how to address the weaker children. 

The discussion: 
After the lesson the four of us teachers had a sit-down to discuss what was presented.

What I found most enlightening was the fact, that some questions from my colleagues, addressing my chosen activity for the 'weak group', opened a new perspective on my teaching approach. Up until now, I was positive that global approach, advocated and taught via my study on convergent pedagogy, works for every level of children's knowledge. After the discussion, a shadow of a doubt was cast upon my notion.

Additionally, my colleagues well observed that the weak-level's activity was not really a game. 

Furthermore, it was discussed how to monitor every pupil's contribution (to see if they have completed every sentence correctly, if their pronunciation was correct etc.)


The global approach  works very well with the talented group as well as the middle level.

It works magnificently with the talented students, because it allows them to go as far as they can comprehend and does not limit them with (curriculum's) boundaries. 

Unfortunately, it does not address the weaker students the way it should. Contemplating on that, I returned back to what I had seen at the November's observation. I now believe, focusing more on syllable-practice activities with the weaker pupils could help them both with reading and memorising. 

This activity, however, can be rather boring for those who can already read

Differentiation, which of course undoubtedly leads to group work, is therefore essential.

Despite of the effort to prepare group activities in order for the children to practice in smaller groups, it is impossible for the teacher to monitor every pupil within the same lesson. Both teachers and pupils should be aware of that. That is why I believe is important to focus the first few schooling years' programme on developing social skills and teach children to take responsibility for their own learning. And that can be done via cooperative game-like activities, not only in a foreign language, but also (essential!) at other subjects.


Teacher to teacher observation ... a big YES. I believe this is how one's profession improves. I cannot wait to share my experience at our next Saturday meeting. I might get even more challenging questions then.

My mind is now working on creating some group play-games on syllables for our 'school' topic, for the weaker pupils, ENTWINED IN A PROJECT AND CONTEXT RELATED, of course.