Differentiation | Webanywhere Blog

What is Differentiation?

Differentiation is making the learning appropriate to the individual needs of a learner. This can come in several forms:

  • Making an activity accessible to pupils with physical impairments
  • Amending instructions and tasks to make them understandable
  • Amending tasks to make them more challenging
  • Changing activities to suit a pupils preferred learning style
  • Providing translations or visual aids to promote an understanding of the English language
  • Asking different types of question to build and develop understanding
  • When should teachers use differentiation?

    Teachers differentiate in each and every lesson they teach. Often this is done simply through ‘common sense’ approaches such as directing difficult questions at gifted learners and providing additional support to those with learning needs. Differentiation that goes beyond this can be very time consuming as it can require different resources to be prepared, activities to be adapted, visual aids to be found, seating arrangements to be altered etc. Yet in a mixed ability class of 30 pupils it is likely that differentiation of this sort needs to happen on a regular basis.

    Are there any ‘easy’ ways of differentiating for different learning styles and needs?

    Effective differentiation is far from easy but there are a number of things that a teacher can do to make the task less time consuming in the longer term.

  • Get to know your classes as well as possible. An obvious starting point but without knowledge of what works for different pupils its hard to make the differentiation as effective as possible.
  • Use data. Utilise the information that you have at your disposal. Share it with pupils and get them involved in setting challenging but attainable targets. These can be recorded in a number of ways and reflecting on progress is a valuable part of the monitoring process.
  • ‘Self Service’ differentiation. Every teacher has a bank of resources they regularly make use of to help pupils. Create a store of writing frames, templates, visual aids, graphic organisers, dictionaries etc and encourage pupils to select support materials as and when they need assistance.
  • Provide alternatives. It isn’t always possible but at times you can provide pupils with 3 or 4 tasks that demonstrate understanding in different ways. For example if pupils are working on an interpretation of a historical event or a piece of literature they could be given the options of a formal written report; a presentation; creating a visual interpretation or something more creative such as writing a rap about the event / story.
  • Use Active Learning techniques. They cater for a number of learning styles and the level of challenge involved in different aspects of the activities can easily (and discreetly) be adapted.
  • Problems faced when differentiating.

    Some of the above suggestions can work very well – or very badly. Providing pupils with a bank of supporting resources is great, so long as the pupils know when they can and cannot use them and do not become overly reliant on the support. Providing alternative ways of demonstrating understanding also has the potential to undermine real achievement. Here it is quite easy to inadvertently remove the focus of an activity. Some pupils will scan the tasks and opt for an easy way out – “great, I can do another poster…” which means that the objectives must be very clear and the pupils monitored carefully to ensure that they are focussed on the right thing.


    How can you stretch the most able?

    It can be very challenging catering for the most able. In a classroom where the bulk of the pupils are working within a fairly narrow range of ability the gifted learner can quickly become bored and be given work that is limited in its scope to demonstrate excellence.

    Meeting the needs of these pupils will vary greatly from subject to subject and based on their personalities and particular strengths. The following are some methods that have worked successfully:

  • Ask the pupil to maintain a learning journal and encourage them to reflect on these issues and to pose questions about their learning.
  • Engage your gifted pupil(s) in discussion and debate with pupils from other classes or schools. This provides them with opportunities to work on interesting and challenging issues / topics with pupils who are at a similar level to themselves.
  • Enter them in competitions relevant to their interests and your curriculum needs. many subject associations run annual competitions and there are plenty of themed competitions available that can be used to stretch your more able pupils.
  • Use traffic lighting to illustrate to pupils where they are in relation to their own individual targets. This helps to remind you that more challenging work needs to be set and reminds the pupil that coasting won’t be tolerated.
  • Author: Pano Savvidis