Differentiation (3) – Activities that Differentiate

There are lots of things that you can do, but I think a good place to start is to ditch the word ‘differentiation’, in my opinion it raises the unrealistic expectation that you can teach 25 different lessons, one for each of the students in the room. Helping students who attain at different levels of success is about planning, teaching, resource and classroom management and, importantly, about attitude.

So, I prefer the words ‘support’ or ‘access’, and also ‘challenge’ and ‘develop’ because I think they more closely hit what we do as teachers, and what helps students to learn, to progress. When you use words like ‘support’ there’s a much more natural link to practical tactics like

  • ISM – great hooks at the start of lessons which engage and enthuse, helping students to do things slightly beyond their comfort zone, because they’ve emotionally bought into the lesson;
  • Pictures – are really powerful, especially if used consistently, to help students remember and to start to understand difficult concepts;
  • Clear learning goals and routes through a lesson – if students know what they’re supposed to be learning, and are reminded by the teacher selling activities by reference to the learning goals, they’re much less likely to get confused, and disheartened;
  • Sharing success criteria – and asking students to reflect on their learning and what they need to do to move on;
  • Collaboration – working with others;
  • Modelling; showing students what to do, how you do something;
  • being really really really positive – never saying ‘I think this is dull, but we’ve got to learn it’;
  • being really really optimistic – ‘I know that you’re finding this hard, but I really think you can do it”
  • planning for and congratulating success – start with things they can do and praise them for doing this, then stretch them over the time that you’re together – giving warm congratulations every time a pupil gains success;
  • random prizes and presents – apparently the human brain is encouraged more by frequent but random rewards than by winning a prize every lesson;
  • bringing the outside world in, using analogies (carefully!) and news stories;
  • getting different forms of feedback, marking, grades, feelings and discussions;
  • having secure and firm classroom management techniques – they’ve got to be confident that you can teach them, and that they’re here to learn;
  • listening when something IS too hard or too easy – being flexible when you’ve set the bar too high, or too low;
  • ask them to explain their thinking – this is a way of stretching everyone, the high or the low attainer.
  • forget and forgive arguments when the lesson is over – make this clear to the student concerned, so that they know that you don’t hate them (this matters A LOT);
  • plan different lessons – with pictures, words, music, out of chairs, out of doors, sitting down, in pairs, in groups, with maps, with words, with scissors, with glue, with ICT, with string, with maths, with balls, with silly hats, with books, with videos, with worksheets, in silence (for bits), with noise, you get the idea.
  • Don’t mark every word they write – tell them which bits you’re going to mark, and what you’ll be looking for – don’t give them a grade when you give them their work back.

Another way to think about this might be to consider the type of support or challenge you’re bringing to a lesson:

Enthusing – videos, pictures, questions,

Seeing – what can you see?

Drawing – but not just, follow it up with some…

Talking – think, pair, share – spoken essays

Acting – Role play, simulations, Tableaux,

Moving – timelines, distances ,maps

Showing – pictures, videos, maps.

Playing – games, quizzing, computers games,

Reading – engaging, challenging, helping

Writing – guiding, lending words!

Choosing – empowering

Assessing – sharing criteria, re-visiting

Encouraging – small steps, big leaps

Translating – metaphors, lateral thinking

Changing – mixing it up.

Finally – here’s a video from the ‘gifted and talented’ section of Teacher’s TV – I think it illustrates the point that challenge can be support at the same time, and the other way around.

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