S has moved from another country recently and doesn’t know English well enough to understand concepts in any subject. D is a slow learner and takes time to internalise learning. M simply resists learning languages, so he cannot concentrate in the class. T is a very high achiever and Q is gifted!
All the students described above seem to be very different, don’t they? But there is something common among them. They are all at a risk of disengagement. This is where differentiation comes into play. Simply put, differentiation is the action of treating something differently. Extend it to teaching and learning, it means creating tiny differences in the teaching and learning practices to ensure engagement for each learner. So, these learners should ideally be taught differently in order to ensure that they learn well.
What if I tell you that the risk can be eliminated and we can use differentiation to ensure improved learner engagement. Let’s see how.
Taking the first step
The first step is to know your learners well. We analyse their assessment data (previous years summative assessments and formative assessments), study their work samples, observe them in various settings, seek feedback from their teachers (other subjects) and their parents or guardians. This will give us a fair idea of their needs.
Planning for differentiation
Mr X will help us understand this step better. Afterall, the learners that we described in the beginning are all his students.
Mr X is an English teacher. He uses differentiation at various levels in his classroom. Based on the needs, readiness, interests, and the learning profiles of his students, he differentiates four areas. He presents content to different students in different ways. For S, it’s mostly pictures and visuals; for D it’s an audio file; for T is the unabridged version of the story he’s about to teach, along with the author’s note and so on. To make the learners practise concepts, he gives tiered worksheets - easier ones to learners like S and D and more difficult ones to learners like M, T and Q. He differentiates their assessments as well. While S may get an objective assessment, T will get a subjective one. Since M gets bored easily, he gets to do a roleplay, and D may get an oral assessment. Finally, he creates an interesting environment as well. Some students work in groups while others work independently. S gets paired with T and D may get paired with M. Q may be allowed to work independently.
Mr X differentiates pretty much every area that can be differentiated. So, what are these areas?
- Content: what the students need to learn. Mr X presents the content in different ways to different learners.
- Process: how the students will learn. Mr X gives them tiered activities to work with in order to ensure that they learn according to their learning preferences.
- Product: how the students showcase their learning. Mr X uses different kinds of assessment techniques for different students to gauge their learning.
- Learning environment: physical and affective nature of the classroom. Mr X uses different grouping techniques and independent practice to make every learner comfortable.
I will let you in on a secret. Differentiation is not rocket science. Any teacher who wants their learners to take ownership of their learning and to ensure their engagement, can create differentiated instructions easily. I know you are that teacher! So, get, set and differentiate!
If you want to dive deeper into this area of teaching and learning, please feel free to check out our course on Lesson Planning.