Differentiation is a process that involves the adaptation of teaching-learning strategies to the needs of all learners: ‘The purpose of education for all children is the same; the goals are the same. But the help that individual children need in progressing towards them will be different’ (Warnock Report, in Dickinson and Wright, 1993, p. 2). Differentiation is therefore a process whereby teachers recognise the individual pupils’ needs in their classroom, and plan accordingly to meet those needs, to give each pupil access to learning according to his/her own capability and to account for differences in comprehension, abilities, current knowledge and what he/she can achieve.
This process does not happen automatically: it has to be well planned. Differentiation means that the teacher(s) will do something intentionally. This is related to lesson planning to meet the individual needs of each learner. It is based on understanding individual differences, as well as the value placed on the learning of each pupil.
You should be aware that children acquire new knowledge, skills and understanding in different ways and at a different pace. The class lesson should be presented in such a way that the learner has access to the new teaching aids in order to progress.
Activity 27: Which aspects of the preparation and teaching can we adjust to ensure differentiation?
This activity will allow teachers to identify the components of lesson planning and teaching that contribute to differentiation.
- Read this chapter again quickly and make a list of the components of your lesson plan that can be modified to meet everyone’s needs.
- Next to each component that can be differentiated, indicate how they can be modified and how this will help meet the pupils’ needs.
According to Dickinson and Wright (1993, p. 3), the teacher can differentiate in a number of ways. The diagram below considers the aspects of a lesson:
Generally, the content is set to meet National Curricula and cannot be modified. Differentiation by content is therefore not usually possible.
The outcomes are those produced by pupils, and thus are variable. Outcomes are not an aspect that can be differentiated by teachers when they plan and prepare the lessons. Differentiation by outcomes is not something teachers can control and plan for.
To reduce the gap between the pupils’ current understanding, skills and knowledge and those they are capable of achieving, teachers will have to consider which resources and activities to select. Two dimensions, the support to student and the role of feedback after evaluation and assessment, are not covered in this chapter. They are addressed in subsequent chapters: ‘An appropriate support for all’ and ‘Assessment and feedback for learning’