As discussed in Strategy Two: Scaffold and Stretch, fitting differentiation and challenge tasks in to lessons can often risk being tokenistic or losing meaning, especially if it’s done ‘because that’s what you’re supposed to do’. Before even looking at how we differentiate, we need to look at why.
Differentiation is a key area for teachers at any level of their practice. For trainees and NQTs, it is clearly listed in the Teacher Standards that you will be assessed against. For those more advanced in their careers, differentiation is not only part of the Teacher Standards but also a crucial part of Ofsted inspections, falling in under Quality of Teaching: Learning and Assessment. Like all elements of good teaching, differentiation is something that underpins lessons and is built in to the very framework of the classroom. It isn’t something that happens overnight and anyone who walks in to a classroom will know if it’s something you’ve just tried to throw in for the sake of show.
So why does it matter? In an ideal world, every student in every classroom would have a personally tailored and individually suited education experience. Every child is different and every one of them has strengths and weaknesses that will differ to the child next to them. In reality, it is impossible to provide every student with such an individual experience. There is not the time or the resources within the classroom. However there will be trends in your classroom. Some students are stronger at grammar, at mental Maths, at understanding cause and effect. Some students will be quicker than others, more able, no matter how streamlined your setting system might be. This is where differentiation becomes important. Getting it right can not only save you time and energy, often lost seeing to those few students who are struggling or are already finished, but it can also ensure maximum progress for maximum students with minimum input.
At Meopham School, differentiation works in two different ways. The first is via the learning outcomes of the lesson. On every Powerpoint, in every room, there are three different ways for students to meet the learning objective. For example:
Then, within the lesson, students are presented with different opportunities to choose a task that will guide them to a particular pathway. Students in every class should be aware of what level they should be working at, allowing them to choose appropriately from the options. These guided choices allow students to choose to challenge themselves in lessons, motivating them to progress.
Here is how these tasks might be applied to an example lesson:
Differentiation in this way allows for as tailored an experience as is possible in the mainstream classroom. While this obviously will not cover all of the necessary differentiation for a lesson, it provides enough coverage for you then, as a classroom teacher, to target the individual students that you know may need finer, more detailed differentiation.
This can also be applied to group work settings. There are several different ways that the differentiated pathways, leading to different levels of outcome, can be used within group settings.
Again, this is not an exhaustive list of strategies in order to make differentiation easier. However, it is considerably simpler than producing different worksheets for different students. When embedded in to the classroom culture, the different pathways leading to different outcomes allow students to make educated choices on what they should be attempting in the lesson. It also provides them with indication of what they should be aiming for in order to improve up from red to amber, or amber to green.
- Differentiated outcomes allow for all students to meet the learning objective in some way.
- Differentiated tasks and pathways in lessons allow for students to make educated choices on what tasks they should complete in order to challenge themselves and progress.