Skip to main content
This is a new service – contact with any feedback


Scaffolding learning through questioning

As you explored in module 3, questioning is a powerful teacher tool. It can be used to both assess and extend pupil understanding. Very skilled teachers will develop pupil understanding by adapting questions to suit learners’ needs either by providing further prompts to help break problems down or further stretch by asking follow-up questions. In order to do this successfully, teachers will use a variety of open and closed questions to guide pupils’ thinking.

In module 3, you covered a variety of questions styles that extend pupils’ understanding but how can you adapt your questioning to support pupils who don’t give the correct answer?

If a pupil provides an incorrect answer, there are a number of things you can do to support their understanding:

  • Reframe the question to simplify it, possibly changing it from an open to a closed question
  • Break the answer/process down into smaller steps by asking more questions
  • Ensure you provide enough wait time between your question and a pupil’s response to allow them to process your question and think of their answer


Look at the two examples below. One is of a teacher’s response to a pupil who gives the correct answer and the other is of a teacher’s response to a pupil who gives an incorrect answer. Compare them to see how the teacher reframes and adapts their questioning to stretch pupil understanding or provide greater scaffold.

Response to a correct answer

Teacher: "What is 103 x 5?"

Pupil: "515."

Teacher: "How do you know that?"

Pupil: "Because 100 multiplied by 5 is 500 and 3 times 5 is 15 so you put them together and make 515."

Teacher: "Good, you don’t ‘put’ them together you…?"

Pupil: "Add them."

Teacher: "Can you put that into a full sentence?"

Pupil: "You add 500 and 15 together which totals 515."

Teacher: "Brilliant, remember, we use mathematical language."

How does the teacher stretch the pupil’s understanding?

The teacher stretches the pupil by:

  • asking them to explain how they know the answer
  • asking the pupil to correct their language to use mathematical terminology

Response to an incorrect answer:

Teacher: "What is 103 x 5?"

Pupil: "5015."

Teacher: "How did you get that?"

Pupil: "1 times 5, 0 times 5, then 3 times 5."

Teacher: "OK, look at the place value of one, what does one stand for?"

Pupil: "100."

Teacher: "So, 100 x 5 equals…"

Pupil: "500."

Teacher: "Then what’s left?"

Pupil: "3 x 5."

Teacher: "Which is...?"

Pupil: "15."

Teacher: "Then what do you do?"

Pupil: "Then you add them to get 515."

How does the teacher scaffold the pupil’s learning?

The teacher has scaffolded pupil learning by:

  • breaking the problem down into smaller parts
  • asking more closed questions to guide the pupil’s responses
  • asking some open questions to check and strengthen pupil understanding

Scaffolding questioning in practice

Scaffolding questioning is a very challenging skill to get right and comes with lots of practice.

In a moment, you will be asked to listen to Joseph Craven, Senior Director of English at the Northern Education Trust, talk through how he used scaffolded questioning to support pupils’ understanding during a lesson on Macbeth.

Before you listen, first, read the script below which he will refer to throughout.

When you listen to Joseph talk through this example, consider the following questions:

  • why does he begin with a closed question?
  • how does he support pupils when they don’t understand or don’t give a full answer?
  • how does he increase the challenge to extend pupils’ thinking?

Record your notes in your notebook.

Script: Scaffolding through questioning

Breaking down content to build pupil understanding

Teacher: When do we first find evidence of Macbeth’s dark or evil thoughts? [Pause] Nathan?

Pupil 1: When… I don’t… what do you mean?

Teacher: As in, in which scene do we first hear Macbeth saying he has a dark side he’s hiding?

Pupil 1: Oh! Um. Act 1, Scene 3 or um 4. Is that right?

Teacher: Absolutely, I’d agree, it’s basically right from when he first appears, isn’t it. But pushing that a bit, can you think of a phrase or line in which we can find evidence to back that up? [Pause] Jess?

Pupil 2: When he… when he says about his ‘black and deep desires’?

Teacher: …‘let not light see my black and deep desires’, exactly. It just works, doesn’t it? So what could Macbeth mean by that image of the ‘black and deep desires’, do you think?

Pupil 2: That he, you know, he’s got dark thoughts he wants to hide.

Teacher: The ‘black and deep desires’, sure, especially in terms of the company he’s keeping here – the public thing with this aside. Do you agree with that, Jack? What do you think about these ‘black and deep desires’?

Pupil 3: To the quotation? Um. I agree, I think, but I think it’s important that he’s… he’s keeping them deep, hiding them away. You know, in the dark.

Teacher: In the dark?

Pupil 3: Because he’s um linked to darkness – they’re bad things, so they’re black and shameful, and he wants to hide them from the… from the light because…

Teacher: …because…

Pupil 3: Because um the light is like positive? It’s got hope and heaven linked to it, and it’s also like he’s hiding from his from his fate which is the stars.

Teacher: I love that, yeah, the idea of control and directing himself. Irony! So the stars are a symbol of fate? Why?

Pupil 3: Yeah because for the audience… for the Jacobeans… they believed their um fate was in the stars?

Teacher: I like the idea – that link to the modern horoscope thing, destiny, God writing in the stars...Nathan, what would you ask about that, though? In terms of applying to Macbeth’s actions?

Pupil 1: …about…?

Teacher: About Jack’s comment… about the stars and fate.

Pupil1: Oh, well… well, why is he hiding from fate if he’s… well, doing fate?

Teacher: Go on, turn that into a question for the rest of the class. Why…

Pupil 1: Right… why is Macbeth trying to hide from his fate if it’s his fate to do it?

Video transcript

Scaffolding questioning by providing carefully considered prompts is an effective way to break problems or concepts down to support pupils’ understanding. In the example I am about to talk through, the focus of the lesson is on early impressions of Macbeth, but the conceptual focus is: to what extent can a person be judged for their thoughts as well as for their deeds?

I started by posing a closed question to the whole class:

‘When do we first find evidence of Macbeth’s dark or evil thoughts?’

The benefit of closed questions is they’re quick and unambiguous. The straightforward answer that follows can then provide a useful common foundation on which to build a more developed, more detailed and wider-ranging discussion.

Here, the closed question was directed at pupil 1 – a low- to mid-level attaining pupil who lacked confidence – to give them a sense of success at the beginning of the discussion. I was confident they would be able to answer this question because I had circulated during the previous task to check.

The pupil responded by asking for clarification. Following the pupil’s request, I rephrased the original question for him as:

‘In which scene do we first hear Macbeth saying that he has a dark side he’s hiding?’

It’s the same question but put more simply. There’s a shift from the more ambiguous ‘when’ to directing the pupil to identify a specific act or scene. I also hint that the evidence will be something Macbeth says.

He responded with the correct answer, so I increased the challenge by asking a slightly more open question to the class:

‘Can you think of a phrase or line in which we can find evidence to back that up?’

After asking the question, I paused to ensure everyone was thinking of an answer before directing it to a different pupil – pupil 2.

From this, I confirmed her response and asked her a follow-up question to develop her thinking:

‘So what _could_ Macbeth mean by that image of the ‘black and deep desires’, do you think?'

I increased the challenge in this question by asking a more open question that relied on her interpretive understanding by using the word _‘could’_rather than _‘does’._ I also included technical vocabulary – the word ‘image’.

I then increased the challenge in the question by making it more evaluative and asked a higher attaining pupil – pupil 3 - to extend their thinking:

‘Do you agree with that, Jack? What do you think about these ‘black and deep desires’?’

Jack’s response suggested there might be more he could offer, so I prompted him to say more by restating:

‘In the dark?’

I then asked him to further build on his idea with additional prompts, such as ‘because...?’and*‘...why...?’*

I then returned to pupil 1 and supported him in generating a question for the class to consider.

I find that pupils benefit from having the layered escalation from short, closed questions with markers such as ‘when’ or ‘who’ to more open questions and then to higher-order evaluation skills often beginning with ‘why’.

What does this look like in practice?

Choose one video below to watch teachers as they scaffold learning through questioning:

Scaffolding questioning - Primary If you require an audio description over the video, please watch this version: Scaffolding questioning - Primary [AD]

Scaffolding questioning - Secondary If you require an audio description over the video, please watch this version: Scaffolding questioning - Secondary [AD]

In the next lesson you teach, consider how you can reframe questions to scaffold and extend pupil understanding.

Providing scaffolds through adult support

There are many ways to scaffold pupils’ learning during practice, such as providing pupils with partially completed examples to reduce working memory overload or providing pupils with a checklist to prompt their cognitive and metacognitive processes, but this part of the session will focus on how working with adults can provide a scaffold to pupils.

When pupils are working on a task, either yourself or additional adults in the room can work with pupils to provide additional scaffold or further stretch. But how can you ensure additional adults are effectively supporting pupil learning?

Utilising adult support to best effect

Research has found that teaching assistants (TAs) can have a positive impact on pupil achievement – but that this can only happen if they are given the support and tools through which to best make an impact (EEF, 2015).

Listen as Kenny from the Driver Youth Trust talks about how you can effectively work with TAs and make notes on the five strategies he discusses.

Video transcript

Hi, my name’s Kenny Wheeler. we’re going to be looking at how to utilise TA support to enhance learning.

There has been a lot of research into the use of teaching assistants, some quite negative:

  • Howes (2003) found that teaching assistants’ support in class increased the amount of time pupils spent on task but did not necessarily result in an increased rate of learning.
  • Blatchford, Bassett et al. (2009) – ‘The more support pupils received, the less progress they made, even after controlling for other factors that might be expected to explain the relationship such as pupils’ prior attainment, SEN status and income deprivation’. And then more recently some positive research that looked at
  • ‘Making best use of Teaching Assistants’ (Sharples, Webster and Blatchford 2015) This then fed in to ‘Maximising the impact of teaching assistants’ which is a nationwide programme run in schools to help make sure TAs are able to thrive in their role and contribute to positive outcomes for pupils.

The first question really is – What is the role of the TA?

The Professional Standards for TAs defines the role of the TA as:

  • The primary role of the teaching assistant should be to work with teachers to raise the learning and attainment of pupils while also promoting their
    • independence,
    • self-esteem,
    • social inclusion.
    They give assistance to pupils so that they can access the curriculum, participate in learning and experience a sense of achievement.

So how can I make best use of a TA when one is in my class?

Talk to them – get to know their name, their interests and the subjects they feel confident in. You can then explore their experience, what they know about pupils and how you can work together.

Prepare them for the classroom – let them know what you are going to cover in lessons and (time permitting) discuss areas that pupils might find difficult and what you can both do to address these difficulties. This might involve role play where one of you introduces the topic then the other asks questions to seek clarification. This also sets and example for pupils that it is okay to not know and that asking questions is absolutely the right thing to do.

Introduce them and their role – each lesson, have the TA stand next to you when you are introducing the lesson so that you can explain what will be covered and what the pair of you will be doing during the lesson. This is a great opportunity to raise the profile of the TA so that pupils see you working in partnership and that both of you support learning.

Check in on them – when they are working with a group pf pupils check what is happening and what the TA is doing with their group. If you haven’t had time to discuss the lesson beforehand then this is a great opportunity to check the approach the TA is using and making sure it complements your own approach.

Ensure you and your TA work with a variety of pupils – the TA is not just there to support low-attaining pupils. If these pupils are struggling, then perhaps they need more time with the teacher not less. Consider swapping groups with the TA so that you can work directly with the low-attaining pupils, the TA can then work with other groups.

Gather feedback – when you have time at the end of the lesson or afterwards talk through what happened during the lesson, what worked well and what pupils might have found difficult. This can then extend into which pupils found specific parts of the lesson difficult. This knowledge can then support planning so that particular areas can be reinforced. If this can’t be done verbally, you could develop a way that your TA could record progress throughout the lesson and pass this to you when the lesson is over.

As Kenny mentions, some research has found TA support to have little or no impact on pupil progress. This is often because if adult support isn’t delivered in the right way, pupils can become reliant on adult prompts, reducing their ability to work independently.

Teaching assistants can support pupils more effectively when they are prepared for lessons by teachers, and when TAs supplement rather than replace support from teachers. For TAs to be able to add value, they should have planning time with the teacher so learning outcomes can be shared ahead of the lesson, as well as knowing which pupils to support and how. TAs should also be supported to work with pupils in a way that builds pupils’ independent learning skills.

Building pupils’ independent learning skills

Both you and your TA should aim to deliver quality additional support that builds pupils’ independent learning skills. Listen as Kenny talks through ways to build pupil independence when working with a group of pupils to scaffold learning. Make notes on the different stages of the scaffolding framework that he discusses.

Video transcript

Hi, I’m Kenny Wheeler. we’re going to be looking at working with a group.

A consideration to bear in mind when an adult works with a group is how are you or the TA developing independence in the pupils? How can you be sure that support is not given too soon and then negatively impacting on the progress pupils are making? How can you be sure that the work the pupils are producing is their own? The Education Endowment Foundation’s scaffolding framework for teaching assistants and pupil interactions provides an effective model for both teachers and TA’s to use to ensure pupil independence is developed when working with an adult. It is a framework consisting of five layers that should be followed sequentially depending on the pupil’s performance.  The framework consists of the five following stages:

  1. Self-scaffolding – this is the first stage. At the beginning of a task, adults should observe the pupils while they begin. This provides pupils with processing time
  2. Prompting – this is the second stage. If necessary, the adult should provide prompts to support the pupil if they get stuck such as, what do you need to do now? How are you going to approach this? You can do this.
  3. Clueing – this is the third stage. If prompts aren’t enough, the adult can provide clues such as, where can you find the information you need? How have you done this before?
  4. Modelling – this is the fourth stage. If clues aren’t enough, the adult can model what pupils need to do, articulating the steps clearly for the pupils to implement immediately afterwards.
  5. Correcting – this is the final stage and should only be used where absolutely necessary. This is the stage where no independent thought is being developed. This can be useful occasionally for developing confidence but, where possible, adults should only drop down as far as the modelling stage to encourage some level of pupil independence.

By using the scaffolding framework, you can support all pupils to access to a rich and inspiring curriculum, whilst demonstrating high expectations by challenging them to be more independent in their learning.

The Education Endowment Foundation has two useful documents that you may wish to read for further information about how you and your TA can effectively work with groups of pupils:

Application to practice

Choose one of the following activities to complete depending on whether you work with a TA or not.

If you work with a TA, read the video script below and consider how you are currently working with your TA and whether you could improve this in your next lesson. Record your response in your notebook.

Video script – Working with a TA, Early Years

In Early Years Foundation Stage (EYFS) I think the role of an assistant teacher (AT), which is our name for teaching assistants, is slightly different to elsewhere in the school as when we’re in free flow we are both basically doing the same thing: either supporting children in an adult-led focus group or developing their learning through play. However, during carpet sessions, I mostly lead and my AT supports with behaviour as well as providing scaffolding for children who need more support to access the curriculum. In addition to this she runs some interventions throughout the day and is generally just awesome.

How do you prepare your TA for this?

So, we reflect together at the end of each day in terms of both what went well and what wasn’t so great. Thinking about learning and any social, emotional and mental health (SEMH) things that have arisen that need addressing either that evening, perhaps a phone call home, or tomorrow by adapting plans and lessons. I try to go through the day each morning and we have about 20 minutes together before the kids arrive to go through the day and set up our activities and resources. Though I am really lucky because Muna and I get on really well, this is our second year working together now so our communication is a lot quicker and clearer than it first was.

What impact does this have on pupils?

The reflections at the end of the day are particularly impactful and important for us as a team. We both try to be honest around the progression of learning throughout the day. Due to the nature of EYFS and us often being in different rooms, and working with different children on different areas of the curriculum, Muna often sees things that I don’t and vice versa. So, sharing what we’ve observed means we can accurately adapt planning to suit the children’s needs for the next day. Also, taking the time to go through everything in the morning ensures that Muna is prepared and has any manipulatives ready that she might need to support during carpet sessions so that learning is accessible to all students, as far as possible.

How do you ensure all pupils get a similar amount of support from both you and your TA throughout the day/week?

I guess, honestly, we don’t on a daily basis. Unfortunately, because we are in a temporary site, we don’t have free flow inside and outside but we do have two rooms to make up for it. We try to ensure that we spend one of the ‘activity times’ in each room per day so we get to see a wider range of the provision but we allow children to mostly choose where they would like to play and learn so it could be that one child spends an entire day in the rooms I’m in. We alternate who does the English focus groups each week so we both see every child write once a fortnight, at least. Also, we split for phonics but adapt the groups and swap around every six weeks so we both get to work with all of them across a term. I think it’s difficult to monitor exactly how much time you both spend with each child per week let alone per day. I think that’s why it’s important that you communicate frequently and obviously we monitor through observations on Tapestry and in our Learning Journals as well.

Video script – Working with a TA, Primary. $Summary The final version of this video will be available from spring 2021, as the publication of this programme was fast-tracked in response to disruptions to this year’s initial teacher training. $EndSummary

How does your TA support in the classroom?

In Primary, the role of the TA is diverse. An average day for my TA in our Upper KS2 class would start with some well-being check-ins during registration; talking to pupils who might have had a tricky weekend or evening so they could get their worries off their chests before their learning began.

In Primary, the role of the TA is diverse. An average day for my TA in our Upper KS2 class would start with some well-being check-ins during registration: talking to pupils who might have had a tricky weekend or evening so they could get their worries off their chests before their learning began.

During my Maths input, my TA would scaffold and support an identified pair or individual. To do this, she would use a small flip chart and any practical manipulatives relevant to the lesson. During the independent work, my TA would circulate and check understanding while I worked with a focus group of pupils. During the plenary, my TA would work with an identified pupil/group to rectify any identified barriers to achieving the learning objective e.g. a misconception or a process error.

This model would be used for our English lessons too, the only change being that I would often incorporate my TA into my input for English. For example, scribing for role on the wall, being a character for our hot-seating activity or selecting pupils to feed into our group writing while I scribed on the board. During the plenary, she would do some 1:1 editing with an identified pupil.

After lunch, my TA would support any pupils who needed mediation following lunchtime – this would ensure any lunchtime disagreements were quickly addressed and pupils felt satisfied that their thoughts had been heard. This meant a much smoother start to our afternoon learning.

The approach to afternoon learning changed depending on the subject. My TA had studied Art, so one day a week we would split the class in two: she would teach Art to half of the class while I taught half the class PE and then we would swap. Children loved these afternoons as they felt they had special dedicated time with us both. For Science, my TA would support with my input, for example: helping me to model how to set up investigations. We would then have two focus groups each to assess and support. Some afternoons were identified for targeted interventions linked to pupil targets. My TA would work with individuals and groups for no more than 20 minutes at a time on pre-planned interventions and would feedback to me at the end of the day so intervention groups could be adapted and refined.

How do you prepare your TA for this? (i.e. communicating prior to the lesson what/who you would like them to work with?)

At the end of every day, we would reflect together in terms of what had gone well and what we needed to improve and adapt. We would consider wellbeing for individual children; how plans might need to be adapted for the next day; which children to target for pre-teaching and intervention work. My TA would also identify any resources she might need for the next day and set these up or ask for my support if she needed it.

Each morning, we would have about 15 minutes together to set up resources, review the plans and share any relevant information (e.g. messages from parents, messages from staff meetings etc).

Each week, I would also email my TA a copy of my plans and resources and I would review the diary with her for the forthcoming week so she knew if there was anything approaching that she might need to be aware of, such as Book week or Science week.

My TA was always welcome to attend Pupil Progress Meetings and medium-term panning meetings. This was optional but my TA always liked to be involved in these meetings and over time we both found it beneficial to have this open way of working. Her insights into progress meetings were invaluable as she had information about individual pupils that I didn’t. She also had brilliant ideas for planning: involving her in the medium-term planning meeting for the following term meant we would draw upon her experience of the year group – for example, themes that had gone well previously, links between subjects that had worked well. It would also mean she was onboard with helping me to set up the learning environment ready for our new theme or topic which was a great help!

What impact does this have on pupils?

All of our conversations were focused on moving learning forward and supporting pupil wellbeing. The reflections at the end of the day were particularly impactful and important for us. It meant that we could be far more targeted, and my TA was well prepared to run her interventions the next day.

Our open and honest relationship also meant that we could both give each other feedback on our teaching so over time we both refined and developed our practice which benefitted the class as a whole.

How do you ensure all pupils get a similar amount of support from both you and your TA throughout the day/week?

Adult support was always carefully planned around need – this sometimes meant that some children received more support than others. We did however ensure that all pupils had the chance to work with an adult in English and Maths each week. It’s difficult to monitor exactly how much time you both spend with each child per week let alone per day but by planning to work with identified pupils based upon need, you can usually ensure that everyone has been given some dedicated adult support during the week. It’s important to note that ‘need’ refers to whoever needs support to move forward to the next step – this does not always mean a lower achieving pupil or group. In changing your mindset about who needs support – everyone – you can ensure all pupils benefit from adult support throughout the week.

An additional script on working with a TA in Primary settings can be accessed here. Video script – Working with a TA, Secondary. $Summary The final version of this video will be available from spring 2021, as the publication of this programme was fast-tracked in response to disruptions to this year’s initial teacher training. $EndSummary How does your TA support in the classroom?

Teaching assistants in a secondary setting are a crucial element of a teacher’s toolkit. Larger faculties may have subject-specific teaching assistants which is fantastic for subject-specific support. In addition to this, teaching assistants may operate out of a separate department and be linked with particular classes or individuals, following that class or individual around school. Such TAs can gain insight into a range of strategies used by teachers across the school and learn what works best for that class or pupil, making them a tremendous resource for your own learning on how best to adapt your teaching.

Subject-specific teaching assistants can be a fantastic resource when deployed effectively. I regularly plan lessons alongside the TA to make the most of their valuable insights. The planning might involve the TA working with a smaller, select group of pupils who, depending on the group, either require additional challenge or require a smaller teacher:pupil ratio to provide them with adequate support to access learning. In addition to this, the role may be reversed, where the teacher works with the smaller group and the subject specialist TA leads the rest of the class. I often arrange for myself or the teaching assistant to use a neighbouring classroom when working with specific groups as it allows for greater focus and therefore more rapid progress.

Working with non-subject teaching assistants has also proven advantageous as I often seek their advice on how to achieve high engagement from the class or from specific pupils. Non-subject TA’s may have a greater appreciation for what works and what doesn’t work, as they are with classes and/or pupils across their range of subjects. This data can make the difference between a highly engaged class making good progress and a disengaged class making little to no progress.

How do you prepare your TA for this?

In secondary schools it can be a challenge to find time to meet with your TA ahead of lessons and even more so to involve them in the planning phase of your lessons.

My approach has always been to give them a copy of my planning in good time ahead of the lesson, whether it be written or slides, along with some notes on what I would like them to lead with. Typically, I send this to them via email as soon as the planning is complete to maximise the time that they have to review it ahead of the lesson. In addition, it is good practice to provide TA’s with a worked example of the desired pupil response to particular activities and the over-arching big question that the lesson intends to answer. I find this gives the clarity they need to be able to support pupils in achieving the intended learning. This is especially helpful for non-subject specialist teaching assistants when teaching tricky concepts.

What impact does this have on pupils?

Pupils benefit from either 1:1 or small group interaction, allowing them to ask more questions and access expert support easier.

For pupils who may find it difficult to access some learning, working with a TA who has a clear understanding of the intended learning outcomes and scaffolding strategies at the ready supports them in making accelerated progress in contrast to how it would be if they didn’t have TA support.

Pupils who are able to be stretched may be given more challenging work and benefit from accessing support from the TA if necessary. The TA ensures that they can be adequately challenged, but not to the extent that they become overloaded by the challenge. The TA may use guided questioning and prompts to support their progress.

How do you ensure all pupils get a similar amount of support from both you and your TA throughout the day/week?

I suppose there’s no hard and fast rule about how frequently the TA’s and I interact with each pupil or groups of pupils within a class.

It really is dependent upon the topic being taught, needs of classes and needs of individuals. Our ways of working are fluid and responsive to the unique context presented by each individual lesson.

If I were to offer any advice about the ratio of Teacher/TA interaction with different groups of pupils it would be to judge each lesson on its own merits as they can be influenced by so many factors such as attendance at the previous lesson, complexity of the concept being taught, needs of individual pupils and even the time of day the lesson occurs as just some examples. The most important decision is that the planning of deployment of teacher and TA reflects how their strengths can best support the learning in the given lesson.

Alternatively, if you do not work with a TA, think ahead to the next lesson you will teach where pupils might benefit from working with you and record at least two ways that you will develop their independence.

Using flexible grouping

How to group pupils is one of the many decisions you will need to make. Sometimes pupils may be grouped by attainment. For example, in primary schools, pupils may be grouped within class by the tables they sit on and in secondary schools, pupils may be set or streamed into different classes. This is often done so teachers can pitch the lesson to meet the needs of all pupils.

However, research shows that attainment grouping can be detrimental to learners, particularly low-attaining pupils. Some research suggests that being placed in a low-attaining group may negatively impact pupils’ confidence and attitudes towards school and learning as they may develop a belief that their attainment is fixed (EEF, 2018). Therefore, care should be taken to monitor the impact of groupings on pupil attainment, behaviour and motivation.

A flexible approach to grouping pupils within class can be used as an effective way to provide tailored support. This means grouping pupils based on their learning needs, which will be dependent on the subject-specific material being taught.

You might group pupils in advance of a topic you teach or during the lesson based on your assessment of their progress. You will most likely use both approaches to ensure you provide tailored support to pupils. In order to group pupils effectively, you should:

  • Make sure any attainment groupings are subject or topic specific. For example, one pupil may be a high attainer in the respiration system but a low attainer in animal digestion, and so should be grouped accordingly
  • Monitor the impact of groupings on pupil attainment, behaviour and motivation, especially for low-attaining pupils
  • Change groups regularly to avoid the perception that groups are fixed
  • Hold high expectations for all groups, ensuring all pupils have access to a rich curriculum by ensuring you don’t simplify content taught but instead scaffold pupils’ ability to access the content. This can be done in many ways such as providing partially completed examples or checklists to direct and prompt thinking

Choose one of the videos below to listen to a teacher talk through an example of when they used flexible grouping to provide targeted support. When listening, consider:

  • how do they assess pupils’ understanding?
  • how do they adapt their lesson as a result?
Video transcript

Flexible grouping is a great way to respond to the needs of the pupils within my class. One example of when I used flexible grouping was when I was preparing to teach different conceptsin Maths. For example, some children may thrive with the four operations, but others may struggle to understand the concept of time.

When planning the sequence of lessons, I drew upon data from termly formative assessments and attainment from the previous academic year for this specific topic to identify pupils who might struggle to understand the concept of time and may require content to be broken down into smaller steps than their peers. I identified a group of 5/6 pupils who I thought would require additional support when introducing the concept, so in the first lesson of the sequence, I planned to work with these pupils during independent practice to ensure they developed secure foundational knowledge. This gave children the opportunity to take risks with their answers and have high expectations of themselves. Fluidity within grouping enables me to provide first-hand intervention within the classroom dependent on the needs of the children.

During the lesson, throughout my explanations and modelling, I used formative assessment to check pupils’ understanding to help me identify when pupils were ready for independent practice and to refine who I would support during this. I identified one of the target pupils was really excelling whilst another pupil, who I hadn’t previously identified, was struggling to grasp the concept. This meant I needed to adjust who I had planned to work with to ensure I provided support to those pupils who required it the most.

I asked those pupils to work with me so I could provide additional explicit instruction and support pupils through guided practice. Children worked at a gradual pace meaning content coverage may not be at a greater depth as compared to their peers, but meeting their needs is the priority. Being able to remain flexible, showing children step by step what is expected of them through thorough modelling, and allowing the children to use practical equipment such as analogue clocks was key to building their confidence.

Adapting my lesson to respond to pupils’ needs helped to ensure the 5/6 target pupils I worked with developed a strong foundational understanding of time.  This meant they were able to achieve meaningful success in the lesson. I try to ensure I work with a variety of pupils through this method either to support or extend their understanding. For example, when reviewing pupils’ work following that lesson, I identified a group of pupils who had got all of their answers correct. So, next lesson I planned to work with them to extend their learning further by providing them with more reasoning and problem-solving questions. These questions included multi-steps to increase their independence and thinking skills.

I find that by working with different pupils throughout the week, I can meet the needs of all pupils in my class. This ensures all pupils get the opportunity to work with an adult, helping them to self-regulate their learning. It also helps to prevent any stigma being attached to working with the class teacher. I find this has a positive impact on pupils’ motivation and their attitudes towards learning.

Video transcript

Adaptive teaching is on-the-spot, responsive adaptation of a lesson, or parts of a lesson, in response to students – maybe students who need more support, scaffolding or modelling. Without those things, without that extra support, the students would be unable to move on to the next step of the lesson. Maybe it could be because they haven’t grasped something fully or it could be that they are making too many errors for instance. A key message here would be don’t be a slave to a lesson plan! You may have to adapt or modify your lesson based on student needs. So, for example, a plan can’t account for every eventuality in your lesson.

How you adapt the lesson will obviously be linked to your assessment that will be taking place as the lesson progresses: for example, misunderstandings may be revealed through questioning, errors may need to be corrected before moving on through the lesson. This could be for all students, it could be for individual students. If we think of learning as a stepped process of progression, then it is clear why we have to adapt our teaching if that situation occurs.

There are many assessment for learning strategies that I would use during a lesson to gauge pupil knowledge: for example, I often use question and response using mini whiteboards, they’re a really effective tool, or you can use targeted questioning, where I would question a selection of students around the room to sample responses from around the class.

So for instance, in a recent lesson, students were asked to work on mini whiteboards so I could assess the class; I wanted to assess the whole class and mini whiteboards allow me to do that. During the Q and A students were asked to use a variery of punctuation, practise that variety of punactuation accurately. The ultimate aim was I wanted them to do some descriptive writing where they would be using punctuation effectively, so I was building up towards that.

Because I could see what students had written on the mini whiteboards, I was able to identify those students that needed a bit more support, further scaffolding in order to use semicolons, particularly, more effectively. I knew they would need further support during the activity in order to avoid misconceptions or errors becoming embedded in their writing. So I wanted to nip it in the bud, I suppose, if we look at it in that way.

What I then did, once I’d spotted that there were some students who were making these errors, I brought the samll group to me, I had three students working around the desk with me, so I brought them to the front. And the rest of the class wre able to move on to the descriptive writing task independently.

It was really important for me to adapt the lesson for that group of students in order to support them to be successful in the next steps of the lesson. If I had ignored the errors, then they wouldn’t have been able to achieve the specific aim of the writing, to use a range of punctuation. Their journey through the lesson had to be modified on the spot, and that was based on the assessment evidence that I had collected during the lesson.

Through that use of flexible grouping, the identified pupils were able to successfully achieve the aim of the writing task, something that would have been impossible for them if I hadn’t provided additional support and scaffolds and that additional bit of time with me. And that was based on their specific needs that I’d assessed, and the gaps in their knowledge of how to punctuate effectively.

Video transcript

Flexible grouping uses pupil data to organise pupils into temporary groups. These groups will change regularly, based upon the needs, knowledge and skills of the individual pupils. A key factor of flexible grouping is that while all pupils are working towards the _same_learning goal, the work addresses pupils’ varying learning needs. Flexible grouping is a powerful and effective form of scaffolding, which can have a positive effect on pupil engagement and attainment.

Flexible grouping is most effective when it utilises different forms of data, such as that taken from formative and summative assessments or from teacher observation in prior lessons to create groups, with the desire to improve every pupil, regardless of the teaching task. For example, I used flexible grouping when I taught a lesson on exams skills and specifically, the benefits of using appraisal – by this I mean, giving value to a piece of evidence – in RE extended writing answers. I spent two thirds of an hour-long period looking at examples of when appraisal is applied correctly and incorrectly in model answers, whilst also giving my pupils the opportunity to practice this skill. At the end of the hour the pupils completed an exam question in which they were expected to demonstrate an understanding of how to appraise effectively. However, after marking these answers it became apparent that six pupils were still unsure of what appraisal was and how it could be applied in their answers.

So, with this in mind, in the next lesson I placed all pupils in the class in groups and gave them tasks based on their performance in the exam question attempted. The six pupils who had shown a lack of understanding with regards to appraisal and its application were placed into a group led by me. I was able to work with these pupils closely, giving them, at times, one-to-one tuition and guidance regarding how they could appraise. I was able to use flexible grouping to break down the concept and address any misconceptions that the pupils had in this area. Once I was confident that they had understood how to apply this skill, we completed an exam question together, creating a model answer which they were able to use as a point of reference in the future.

One of the real benefits of using flexible grouping regularly is that you can work closely with all pupils that you teach at different times, depending on their needs and the task you are giving them.  This helps to reduce the stigma associated with working with the teacher, as it becomes a common part of your lessons.

Intervening within lessons with individuals and small groups can sometimes be more efficient and effective than planning different lessons for different groups of pupils, but this will depend on the extent of the learning needs you are responding to. You need to carefully consider which approaches will be most beneficial for the pupils you teach. This is likely to differ for different individuals in different topics, subjects and contexts.

In the examples above, all teachers were able to respond to the needs of their pupils within the lesson using their flexible approach to grouping. However, sometimes providing additional support or practice within a lesson is not enough and pupils require additional practice after the lesson.

Providing additional practice

Sometimes, adapting your teaching before or during a lesson isn’t enough to enable all pupils to achieve success. Where this is the case, you may need to build in time for pupils to have some additional practice.

There are a variety of ways in which you could do this:

  • Incorporate the practice of a skill during a settling task
  • Recap the material the following lesson and work with the identified group of pupils to develop their understanding before progressing them onto the next task
  • Set the task for homework and ensure worked and partially completed examples are provided as a scaffold. Homework can improve pupil outcomes, particularly for older pupils, but it is likely that the quality of homework and its relevance to main class teaching is more important than the amount set
  • Recap key content before the next lesson through a pre-teaching session
  • Build in additional practice for all pupils across the curriculum by carefully planning where to use concrete and abstract examples, where to revisit key concepts and ideas and where to incorporate retrieval practice. This will be explored further in module 6

The strategies you use will depend on both the material being taught and the level of understanding that your pupil has.

In the videos below, teachers share their experiences of providing additional practice. All approaches are different but have common themes. Listen to one of the videos and make notes on the following questions in your notebook:

  • how did the teacher identify additional practice was needed?
  • what did the teacher do to provide pupils with additional practice?
Video script – Additional practice, Early Years

Name writing in Reception often needs additional practice. Individual children demonstrate their name writing in early Literacy sessions with tasks that are planned, however a few children often need that little extra support on top of this provision. To support this teachers often plan continuous provision activities that develop name writing in most areas of the classroom. For example within one classroom we have name cards to copy in the writing area, name cards near the painting easel to add names to the back of paintings, name cards in the construction area to label their models with their names, children write their names in the role play area, etc. All planned in to children’s independent play.

During Autumn One in Reception children often enter school with immature fine motor skills. This effects both pencil and scissor control. To give children additional practice staff ensure activities are planned in to develop this learning both indoors and outdoors. Children who need further support are given the opportunity to cut paper and materials in a tuft tray, take scissors outdoors to cut the grass/plants, use scissors to cut the dough and other materials within everyday provision. This builds up their muscle tone and impacts on the pupil’s fine motor progression.

Mathematics activities are often given additional practice after being introduced within a maths lesson. Children often ask staff to leave activities out to gain additional practice and at the same time staff are able to recognise the need for further practice and annotate plans to demonstrate child need and/or interest in the activity.

Video transcript

When marking books after a lesson or ‘live’ marking with pupils during a lesson, it becomes apparent which pupils have grasped a concept and can apply their knowledge of it independently, and which pupils still need some support.

While teaching a lesson on fractions, decimals and percentages, I assessed pupils’ understanding through discussions during explanations and modelling and it seemed as though all pupils had a good understanding. However, when marking their work after the lesson, it became clear that a small group of pupils needed additional practice around adding mixed number fractionsas they’d struggled to complete the task successfully when working on their own.

They were able to do the work while I was working with them in the classroom and offering prompts, but I identified they had struggled to apply this knowledge when left to work independently.

I wanted to address this as soon as possible, so I asked my classroom assistant to practice this skill with the pupils immediately after lunch the same day.  I ensured the practice activity focused on exactly the same skill that the we had been working on in class. After gathering feedback from my classroom assistant, it was clear that the pupils would require additional practice to consolidate their learning. As a result of this, I ensured that in the next maths lesson this small group would begin by working on more fluency examples before progressing to a reasoning activity, which the rest of the class were working on. I closely monitored their work so I could provide affirmative or corrective feedback immediately to ensure they didn’t learn or embed misconceptions.

To consolidate learning, I know that pupils need regular practice to build up retrieval strength of the material they are learning about. Therefore, I included a question that required pupils to add mixed number fractionsin the daily arithmetic practice for the rest of that week. In our school, daily arithmetic is something that the children complete when they come into class every morning. I found that a ‘little and often’ approach is an effective way of incorporating additional practice in any area rather than overwhelming the pupils with lots of examples that they might see as ‘extra work’.

As further additional practice, I offered short lunchtime booster sessions, usually 5-10 minutes long, which pupils could attend if they felt they needed more practice. I was able to sit with the pupils in a more informal way and go back through their work to address misunderstanding and consolidate their learning.

The variety of additional practice provided had a really positive impact on pupils’ learning. By completing the same types of questions daily, the pupils are given the chance to repeat and embed their knowledge and understanding.

Video script – Additional practice, Secondary

Plate tectonics and their associated hazards can be a very tricky concept for pupils to learn and understand. Because of this, I plan to teach the concept spaced throughout the curriculum, each time revisiting and building on what was previously covered. Sometimes re-teaching is required when assessment indicates a lack of understanding of foundational knowledge.

In the case of plate tectonics, the concept is revisited and practised using different examples, situations and contexts. This interleaving and spacing of threshold concepts is planned into the medium-term plan to ensure pupils get the opportunity to revisit and practice material they have previously covered.

In this case the pupils had already studied plate tectonics twice, looking at plate movement and the formation of the Himalayas and then at a later date looking at the destructive plate margin of Monserrat. This time the plate boundaries are covered again looking at the similarities and differences of each boundary and their resultant features; this allows additional practice of the concepts already learnt but in a different context. However, key language is kept the same to support recall of key information and to help pupils attach new information to their existing schema.

I find that retrieval practice of threshold geographical concepts helps pupils remember fundamental information. It also allows pupils to see the wider picture of how different topics in geography are connected and relevant to one another. Knowing which topics will require additional practice before a lesson is taught is vital in ensuring additional practice opportunities are planned in. As a result, good subject knowledge is paramount.

I also find that question-level analysis after key assessments is a fundamental tool when planning for additional practice as it helps to identify areas where there is a lack of understanding or misconceptions. This information is then used to plan future lessons. This could be to reteach a concept or interleave a key skill in future lessons.

The impact of this reflective system of practice is that no pupils are ‘left behind’ and therefore can continue to deepen their understanding of the key concepts.

In your next mentor meeting, you will be observed adapting your teaching to respond to pupils’ needs and subsequent practice will focus on this.