Talking about Differentiation

Differentiation-“Taking the Scenic Route”

In the Handbook for the Inspection of Schools published by OFSTED, differentiation is defined as:

 “The matching of work to the differing capabilities of individuals or groups of pupils in order to extend their learning.”

Whether a class is setted or mixed ability, it will have a range of different abilities. In their published reports OFSTED have made it clear that differentiation involves recognising the variety of individual needs within a class, planning to meet those needs, providing appropriate delivery and evaluating the effectiveness of the activities in order to maximise the achievements of individual students.

1. Differentiation By Objective

The same general lesson objective but more specific targets ie

“By the end of the lesson:

ALL of you will…………

Most of you will……….

SOME of you will……..

2. Differentiation by Content

The pupils study different materials within the same topic area but do the same activities.

3. Differentiation by Activities

The pupils study the same content but do different activities.

4. Differentiation by Negotiation

The pupils study different materials within the same topic area and also do different activities. Teachers help pupils to select appropriate materials.

5. Differentiation by Support*

The pupils study the same materials, do the same activities, but receive different amounts of support from the teacher or from extra printed information.

6. Differentiation by Extension*

The pupils study the same materials and do the same activities. Extension work is given to the most able after they have finished the basic activities.

7. Differentiation by Response*

The pupils are set open-ended assignments that can be interpreted at different levels.

8. Differentiation by Group Work

The pupils work in mixed ability groups. Pupils help each other by working together and interpreting the tasks at different levels.

9. Differentiation by Gradation*

The pupils are given the same information and activities. The activities become progressively more difficult. The pupils work through the activities at different rates and therefore only the more able do the more difficult tasks.

10. Differentiation by Role

The pupils carry out different activities depending on the role they are playing in a simulation. The roles are matched to the abilities, aptitudes and needs of the pupil.

Another Viewpoint:

Four Ways to Differentiate

Differentiation can occur in the content, process, product or environment in the classroom.

1. Differentiating the Content/Topic

Content can be described as the knowledge, skills and attitudes we want children to learn. Differentiating content requires that students are pre-tested so the teacher can identify the students who do not require direct instruction. Students demonstrating understanding of the concept can skip the instruction step and proceed to apply the concepts to the task of solving a problem. This strategy is often referred to as compacting the curriculum. Another way to differentiate content is simply to permit the apt student to accelerate their rate of progress. They can work ahead independently on some projects, i.e. they cover the content faster than their peers.

2. Differentiating the Process/Activities

Differentiating the processes means varying learning activities or strategies to provide appropriate methods for students to explore the concepts. It is important to give students alternative paths to manipulate the ideas embedded within the concept. For example students may use graphic organisers (maps, diagrams or charts etc) to display their comprehension of concepts covered. Varying the complexity of the graphic organizer can very effectively facilitate differing levels of cognitive processing for students of differing ability.

3. Differentiating the Product

Differentiating the product means varying the complexity of “the product” that students create to demonstrate mastery of the concepts. Students working at a lower level may have reduced performance expectations, while students at a higher level may be asked to produce work that requires more complex or more advanced thinking.

4. Differentiating by Manipulating the Environment or Through Accommodating Individual Learning Styles

Even though this approach looks at learning styles in vastly different ways they all have merit for some children. However, an amalgamation or blending of these concepts is probably more effective than any one approach.

To include:

  • change the lighting or sound levels, to eliminate visual distracters
  • provide a more casual seating arrangement
  • Varying teaching strategies makes sure that students will occasionally learn in a manner compatible with their own learning preference


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