Sara Bubb shares her advice on how to build differentiation into your planning and teaching
Differentiation is hard. Speak to any teacher and they'll agree. So how should you go about this aspect of your planning and teaching? Take a look at what I call a ladder of learning.
You want to avoid giving children work that is too hard or too easy (the pink bits) because not only will they not learn anything but they will probably start messing around and causing you behaviour management issues.
The Holy Grail is to get pupils working within what Vygotsky called the Zone of Proximal Development, which is the difference between what a learner can do without help and what he or she can do with help. This hard to do bearing in mind the range of pupils in a class, which is why having some working in the 'I can do this' area makes life more manageable.
But all this requires you to know what individuals can and cannot do. Instead of aiming to find that out for each child first find out what the highest and lowest attainers can and cannot do, and then plan to allow all to make progress.
Often problems with basic skills like writing and reading inhibit progress so think creatively. Pupils don’t always have to write - they can speak or act. But their books will be empty, you cry! Digital voice recorders and cameras can capture their work. If the learning objective is to make up a story, some can write it and others can tell it. Working with others can help learning but you’ll need to experiment with pairings and groupings to find people that work well together.
Techniques for differentiation
Different needs can be met in a range of ways, such as:
- Same task that pupils do with varying degrees of success
- Same task but with different expectations for different pupils
- Same task but with different time allocations
- Same task with an extension activity for the more able
- Same task with adult support to enable low attainers to succeed
- Same task with different resources to help or make the task harder
- Working in pairs or groups
- Different tasks, but same objective
- Different objectives entirely
The acronym WILF (what I'm looking for) can help you have different realistic but challenging expectations for pupils. These can also be your assessment criteria - what you and they judge themselves against. The plenary is an excellent opportunity for you and the pupils to see how the objective of the lesson has been met.Watch the Teachers TV video Differentiation. How does Tracey plan her science lesson to make sure all her pupils can take an active role? In a French class where grades range from A+ to G, how does Clare make sure she caters for all the class?
You can also meet different needs by exploiting different learning styles. People learn through visual, auditory and kinaesthetic (physical interaction) stimuli. Some pupils learn better through one more than another, so aim for a mixture of them.
Differentiation through questions
Questioning can help differentiation when you are teaching the whole class. Research shows that teachers mainly ask procedural or housekeeping questions, and of the questions relating to learning, most are at a low level.
Getting to grips with Bloom's Taxonomy can help you think of different questions. He breaks them down into this classification:
- Knowledge – describe, identify, who, when, where
- Comprehension – translate, predict, why
- Application – demonstrate how, solve, try it in a new context
- Analysis – explain, infer, analysis
- Synthesis – design, create, compose
- Evaluation – assess, compare/contrast, judge
You can think of different questions that would just about get a group of students aged from 5-15 working in their zone of proximal development with the story of The Three Little Pigs:
- What would you have done? (Application)
- Can you think of a different ending? (Synthesis)
- What happened in the story? (Knowledge)
- What would you have built your home from? (Application)
- How did the third pig show his cunning? (Analysis)
- How did the wolf blow down the two homes? (Comprehension)
- Why did the three little pigs have to leave home? (Knowledge)
- How would you defend the wolf's action? (Evaluation)
- Which part of the story did you like best? (Analysis)
Remember: the better you plan, the better the lesson will go!