From a biology perspective, differentiation is a process that cells undergo prior to maturing and becoming distinct, in structure and function.
In terms of education, the children we teach are certainly distinct and display great variation in maturity levels. Our role, as teachers, is to enable all our children, access the curriculum, enjoy learning, and achieve good outcomes whichever form these may take.
The question should not be about differentiation but about how we use differentiation strategies within an already differentiated classroom to enable all our pupils to make progress.
When observing lessons, I have witnessed teachers, regardless of experience, giving more of the same work or just simply switching from one worksheet to the next.
If biological systems followed the same principles, they would simply become chaotic and unsustainable.
Differentiation is effective when it covers content, process, and outcome in a manageable and time-efficient manner for the teacher.
Adjusting content involves carefully planned and delivered curriculum areas that meet each pupil at their starting point as well as the teacher’s expectations of each individual. This means dealing with foundation areas for some and stretching others to achieve deeper knowledge and understanding.
Process is all about adjusting our teaching methods. This could take the form of collaboration for some pupils, and modelling or following simple instructions for others. When teachers adjust the process, it enables pupils to meet the learning outcomes and feel supported in their learning.
Finally, differentiation by outcome refers to adjusting success criteria for our pupils in the classes we teach. Pupils can ultimately demonstrate what they have learned. This could take the form of peer feedback, when answering exam practice questions, modelling or even peer teaching.
December is a good month to trial differentiation strategies in your classroom. If you choose to use educational videos, follow them with differentiated questions, get pupils to work in mixed teams, and test them using festive quizzes. We are very close to the end of a busy term. To avoid missing any valuable learning time we need to use creative ways to teach and differentiate.
Differentiation does not have to be complex. It could incorporate questioning using Bloom’s taxonomy or differentiated homework tasks that pupils can select.
Providing we know and understand all our pupils well, differentiation can happen effortlessly and efficiently in a similar manner to that in biological systems.
By Marilena Pevreall
Head of Secondary School Teacher Training, University of Buckingham