This week during a discussion, I was referred to as the “Queen of Differentiation”. In response I replied “well it beats the PMT Queen as l was formerly named’. AWKWARD.
However it got me thinking about differentiation and how I embed the practice into each and every lesson. These days it is something I just DO, I reflect on it and improve it but I find it hard to explain it and since a NQT might join me come September I thought I ought to start considering how I share the concept and ideas.
Throughout the last 3 years of teaching I’ve developed a wide range of strategies which include task based, support based and outcome based differentiation. However throughout my training and NQT year it was always reiterated that differentiation by outcome was not acceptable and that we should always differentiate by task. But how true is that?
Since passing my induction I’ve started to realise that their is a lot more to differentiation than you are taught in the first few years of teaching. It might not always be one of the 3 approaches named above.
Sometimes it can take the form of changing the language you use with certain pupils, for instance I might use 3 different words to give the same meaning to 3 individual students of different abilities. The questions you ask may vary, they still provide the same outcome but the way it is worded changes. The pace of a lesson may vary between classes, groups and individuals. All of these could be seen in my lessons along side task, support and outcome based differentiation.
I thought I’d outline here some of my favourite ways to differentiate to give inspiration.
1 // My favourite method has to be differentiation through choice. There are two ways in which I approach this, sometimes it is levelled based task other times is it linked to their preferred learning styles.
Levelled Based Choice
I will set up a range of tasks that develop the skills, knowledge and understanding for a particular level. I usually set 3 tasks per class. Those with the lower level range select from the first two options whilst those within the higher level range select from the second and third options meaning they either complete work that enables them to reach or exceed their targets.
A recent example was in an observed lesson with a year 7 class. You can see below that I set up 3 tasks and the students had to choose the level of spice they would attempt.
1 chilli = a level 3 task with a level up task to take them into level 4
2 chillies = level 3a & 4c tasks with a level up task to take them into a confident level 4
3 chillies = level 4a and 5c tasks with a level up task to ensure they achieved a confident level 5
On occasions I will give the class a range of options for the format in which they present their work such as through a presentation, a leaflet, a poster, an extended piece of writing, a model or story board to name a few.
For instance last term year 7 completed projects on a variety of natural hazards as part of our Dangerous World topic. Firstly pupils were put into ‘levelled’ groups, for instance those with a higher target grade were grouped together and given a hazard that would create more challenge in researching, understanding and explaining.
The groups were then given the levelled criteria and suitable guidance for their ability. They then set about creating their projects for presentation in which ever format they choose from the selection of ‘previews’.
Learning styles became very clear through the activity, those with a kinaesthetic preference made models that demonstrated their knowledge of the hazards, whilst the more visual learns seemed to create projects with lots of text and pictures. There were clear differences within groups as well, for instance one group half of them created a model of a volcano whilst the other half created a large poster for display with images and text.
2 // Questioning
Now this one is hard to evidence when you are questioning the class unless you prepare your questions and who they will be aimed at in advance, which was actually something I was made to do during my PGCE. Although annoying at the time, it was useful to get me thinking about students abilities, targets and progress.
Nowadays I ask a question before I say any names, I then quickly consider who that question would be suitable for whilst also providing the whole class with thinking time. Then I pounce on the unsuspecting victim and wait for the response.If appropriate I’ll then try to get a higher level student to extend, correct or develop the answer or ask a lower ability student whether they agree or not and why before moving on.
3 // Third and final idea for today is by resource/task.
This is the most time consuming if I’m honest. In a single lesson I can be known to have created 3 levelled tasks then further differentiated them through the support given as well as the resources they are provided with. I may go OTT sometimes. I try not to do that to often however it doesn’t always work out.
Anyway differentiation by resource can take many forms.
For instance in one year 8 lesson, I wanted a number of pupils to achieve the same level of outcome but through different approaches that were suitable to their needs and learning styles.
The level 4 aim was to describe adventures in more than one location. In order to do this a few students were locating places on a map with different adventure possibilities and describing the potential adventures to be had whilst another group were given two adventurer profiles and using a Role on the Wall sheet they had to decide on a location for each and describe they type of adventure to be had there. They both achieved the level 4 objective just in didn’t ways.
Another example would be with my GCSE group when defining key words, a small group receive a number of choices to choose from whilst others have to write their own definition.
Another examples is from a recent observation lesson I gave level 3 and 4 students a very basic colour shading map of population density whilst the level 5 students were given a choropleth map to interpret (not that the observer noticed the different).