I remember when I used to think that differentiation was a dirty word. It just meant lots of extra work for me with no real results for my students.
I’ve seen some pretty awful examples of it too. There are two that spring to mind. The first is the “colour-coded worksheets”. Yes, I have witnessed a student being given a worksheet printed on red paper, while his peers sitting on either side of him were given green ones. Can you IMAGINE his inner dialogue here? You may as well stick a flashing “I’m failing” light to his head! An trust me, even if you are cunning enough to use cerise, taupe and bitter chocolate instead of red, amber and green, it’ll take your students about thirty seconds to figure out your secret differentiation code.
The other example was a lesson plan where the teacher had written down a differentiated question that she was going to ask each individual student in her lesson plan. I’m assuming that took her about two hours to prepare and took up most of the lesson. But what did the students get out of it? They answered one question (and a closed one at that) all lesson. I would dare to suggest that this is not effective teaching or learning.
I have now come to regard differentiation as a friend. Well, that might be taking it a bit far but it is certainly a classroom tool that I wouldn’t be without. Here are five simple techniques you can use to differentiate the learning for your students.
- If you know your class, it is simple to differentiate by grouping. All it takes is the avoidance of the generic “get into groups of four” instruction and a little thought. Do you have a really shy student who always needs plenty of support? Put them in a group with the student who wants to be a teacher. It’s all about knowing your students and thinking about ways to make them work at their best.
- Open ended questioning. This also takes a little planning but is worth it for the results. Try to plan and ask questions which don’t have a pre-determined right answer. These types of questions can stimulate further thinking and development.
- Freedom of choice. Of course, this can’t be done all of the time but if you are asking your class to write an article, allow them to make the choice of topic.
- Presentation of material. With the best will in the world, I sometimes get stuck in a presentational rut. A few years ago I learnt how to create a Prezi, so my poor classes were subjected to them lesson after lesson. Some even got a little seasick but I carried on regardless. I still used them now and again but I mix them up with a variety of presentations. It is easy to forget that all students do not learn in the same way.
- By outcome. Early in my teaching career I used to put “by outcome” in the differentiation box when I didn’t know what else to put. As a method it has got a bit of a bad reputation now but for no good reason if it is used properly. It simply means giving students the same task, but seeing a variety of results. I personally think this is a good thing. A task such as “Create a piece of drama that reveals something about the character’s home life” can create some exciting and varied responses. The key to using this technique productively is to plan a task which is open enough to work on several levels.
Do you have a differentiation technique you’d like to share? Please feel free to do so below!