Differentiation is one of the fundamental elements of modern teaching. It should be integrated into lesson planning whatever the school and range of abilities of students. This article will explore what differentiation is, why teachers should do it and a selection of methods that can be used.
Differentiated teaching recognises that students work at a range of levels with different potential and needs. It ensures that all students can access their learning and get the most out of it. Many pupils have little understanding of the level they are working at so it can be useful to coach them on what they can realistically expect to achieve and what to aim for.
For lower level students, differentiation ensures that they can make progress at an appropriate pace. Children with special education needs and disability (SEND) can particularly benefit from learning that gives particular attention to their unique situations.
In contrast, higher level students can also benefit from individualised learning. Stretch and challenge is essential to match their ability and help them reach new intellectual heights. Even students that aren’t at the highest level, but want to surpass their target grades can benefit from being stretched and challenged.
How can teachers differentiate? Of course, it would be impossible to teach lessons that cater for every single student’s individual needs. However, there are methods that can be used to improve the variety of learning.
Varying the delivery of lessons is essential to keep students engaged and is also more interesting for the teacher to deliver! Using audio or visual content can help a wider range of students access the material. An adaptive classroom environment can also be useful as different study methods including quiet, loud, group and individual tasks can bring out the best in pupils. Bronze, silver and gold tasks can help group students into level-appropriate tasks, as well as signal reward for people surpassing their targets.
The questioning style of a teacher can also be used to differentiate by difficulty. Going from shallow to higher order questions is essential, otherwise starting too hard will shut out most learners.
Just supplying a few physical aids can make a big difference to some pupils. Having help sheets available to students that need them gives them the safety net to ensure they aren’t outpaced by challenging activities. Students with dyslexia can benefit from particular attention such as coloured buff paper to help ease their difficulty with text.
Marking is another way to differentiate. Individualised feedback for each student helps them grow, especially if it is reinforced by one to one conversations with students. It also has the added benefit of making them feel like their work is more valued and has been given the attention it deserves.
The main way that teachers can improve their differentiation is by getting to know their students better. This can be achieved by paying close attention to any data or profiles you have of them, whilst keeping in mind a rounded view of their personal development. Speak to other members of staff who may know a particular student better and they may be able to offer useful or unexpected insights.
Are you interested in innovative methods of teaching? Our Education courses at CU Scarborough and CU London help build your career in the profession with high quality learning that is focused on professional skills.