One size does not fit all – differentiation

Dos and don’ts of differentiation – how to do it well.

What is differentiation?

Why do we need to be creative when differentiating?

Are we using too many worksheets?

How can we make sure we do not put a ceiling limit on learning?


What is differentiation?

The education dictionary defines it as this:-
Differentiated instruction is the way in which a teacher anticipates and responds to a variety of students’ needs in the classroom. To meet students’ needs, teachers differentiate by modifying the content (what is being taught), the process (how it is taught) and the product (how students demonstrate their learning).

The national archives of DfE state the following:-
Differentiation requires teachers to recognise that:
– Knowing individual pupils well is essential to good differentiation
– Children with SEN like their peers are all on a ‘continuum of learning’. This fact makes formative assessment even more important as we cannot assume pupils will always be operating at the same level.

Sean Harford, Ofsted, has blogged about the myths regarding differentiation.

He writes, “Inspectors don’t expect work and tasks in all lessons to be tailored to meet each student’s individual abilities. This is an unrealistic expectation. However, teachers should make sure that all students have opportunities to fulfil their potential, regardless of their starting points or abilities. Inspectors will expect to see evidence of this throughout the course as a whole.”

To summarise:-
Curriculum adaptation – Changing what is taught
Instructional modifications – Changing how we teach
Environmental considerations – Changing where we teach
People resources – Looking at who teaches or supports teaching and learning?

The place of worksheets?
If they can do the worksheet, they don’t need it.
If they can’t it won’t help.

I always say to student teachers, established teachers and TAs when they are working with groups – what difference are you going to make to these children’s learning because of your input working with them. If the adult is simply keeping children on task or under control – is the learning right for these kids?

I like to associate differentiation with shoes.
If we walk around in ill fitting shoes that are uncomfortable, too big or too small we will struggle to learn.

When our shoes are too big we have not yet secured the foundations of prior learning to be able to take the giant leap – there are too many gaps.

When our shoes are too small we are lacking any challenge because we can simply achieve the task without any thinking – this can lead to disengagement and switching off to learning just as much as when our shoes are too big.

We need comfortable shoes that enable us to be excited about learning, engage, explore, investigate and dive in. However, we need to recognise when our feet have grown and our shoes are becoming a little tight and we need to go shopping for the next size.

We do need to celebrate the differences as they bring different dynamics to the classroom.

We need to ensure we don’t put children and students into categories – encourage them to be unique and not try to be like someone else. Children very quickly work out where they stand in a class depending on the table they are on, especially if it never changes. If you set according to ability are you putting a ceiling limit on the learning because of the smaller range of ability, especially in a lower ability set? Children need sparks. They bounce off each other.

Make sure you are not capping the learning for children simply because you think they can’t manage it. Ensure all children are able to access the learning at their level but with great challenge. A lot of differentiation is done well through outcome. The biggest difference is simply not accepting a pupil’s first response. Careful questioning and guiding is key to making them responsible and taking charge of their own learning.

Pupils can raise their own bar where there is a can do and inclusive culture.

Aim high. Be the best you can be.

Good, better, best. Never let it rest until your good is better and your better, best.

There aren’t any limits.