Differentiating Your Lessons

When I started teaching (22 years ago) differentiation was the buzz word. We had extensive lectures on it in my teacher training qualification, and the schools I carried out my teaching practice in were ensuring that all of their lessons were ‘fully differentiated’.

Invariably, this meant having three worksheets up your sleeve, an easy, medium, and difficult one. You would then give students a worksheet according to their ability (this was labelled differentiation by task).

There was also differentiation by outcome, where you gave the students an open ended task which they worked through to the best of your ability.

Fast forwards 22 years. Yesterday, we had a whole school training day and one of these sessions focussed on differentiation.

It turns out that there are now thought to be 10 different ways in which you differentiate in your lessons; however, you will be pleased to write that you probably differentiate in nearly all of these ways (if not all of these ways) anyway.

The 10 are differentiation by:

1. Task (covered above)

2. Resource (covered above)

3. Assessment (forms of assessment: oral, non verbal, presentations; levelled mark schemes)

4. Pace (different starting points; different routes through the same task)

5. Support (scaffolding, amount of time spent with individuals, combinations of students)

6. Extension (different objectives / task ceilings)

7. Research (level of independence to complete tasks, sources of information, method of choice)

8. Dialogue (level of interaction between students, use of modelling / scaffolding, complexity of language, feedback depth)

Mosborne01, via Wikimedia Commons

9. Grouping (combination of students, roles in co-operative tasks such as expert, instructor, peer teaching)

10. Self direction / negotiation (self assessment so students can find their own level, students set their own learning objective / target, student generated questions)

At first I was a little overwhelmed by the list, but then when I went through it, I was mildly satisfied that I covered most of these points. What it did make me think about was the types of differentiation that I do not carry out really well and therefore gave me some targets to work on.  Personally, I felt I was good at differentiation by task, support and dialogue but could do with working more of differentiation by research, grouping and self direction / negotiation.

Some of my colleagues felt they were good at differentiation by grouping so I do intent to watch them teach at some point this term to see how this can be improved upon.

What are your strengths and weaknesses with regards to differentiation? Do you have any examples of good practice that you could share with us below? I’d love to read about your ideas.

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