The idea of differentiation can be overwhelming and often seems too much to tackle for every lesson with a full teaching schedule. I went to an after school professional development session about differentiation with a view to coming away with simple techniques which are easy to implement, without too much extra work.
Differentiation is the process whereby teachers meet the need for progress through the curriculum by selecting appropriate teaching methods to match the individual student’s learning strategies, within a group situation (Visser, 1993).
Put simply, differentiation is looking at different students’ needs in the same classroom. With that aim, we watched videos of different students and their level of enjoyment and learning from different styles of teaching activity. This really showed that by only catering for a single learning style, individuals can quickly become isolated which is a major cause of disruption in most classrooms.
In order to prevent this and appropriately cater for the diverse range of needs, you really have to understand those needs. A simple class context sheet, showing those in the class with SEN, EAL and FSM was suggested. Having this for every class that you teach will equip you to easily plan differentiation into any lesson as those students who particularly need considering are already highlighted before you start any planning.
As far as strategies go, the speaker covered tens of suggestions, but here are my top 3 which I think might be the most immediately simple and effective to implement:
1. Choice of task
Let the students choose what format they would like to present their information in. For a clear task with success criteria, it doesn’t matter whether they make a poster, write a story or produce a drama as long as the content is what you want from them. This will allow students to feel an element of choice and control over their own learning and help them to better remember the information as they have participated in a style of learning they find the most helpful.
2. Assigned groups for mixed and similar ability
This may take a bit of work to start with, but once the systems are in place then this gives you as the teacher ease of control over group activities. Break down the class into same and mixed ability groups, assigning a system such a number and colour groups. (You can make this specific to your classroom – a colleague of mine has given his year 8 class NFL teams and countries.) This way, whenever you suggest group work, it is quick and easy to get pupils into position and on task. It also enables you to choose which group type is most appropriate for the activity.
3. Speaking frames
Many of us use writing frames to scaffold activities but how about speaking frames? For those group discussions or think, pair, share activities I often find my students struggling with how to articulate their answers so this suggestion struck a chord with me.
Just by having some of the questions below in front of them or stuck on the classroom wall to refer to, learners can improve the communication of their ideas, which will in turn also help their writing.
Since attending this training I am finding differentiation much less daunting and just trying small, simple ideas definitely seems like the way forward, so why not give it a go?