Primary Pedagogy

Differentiation and other animals…

“Well if you want to say yes, say yes
And if you want to say no, say no
‘Cause there’s a million ways to go
You know that there are…”

Cat Stevens – If You Want To Sing Out, Sing Out.

I’m in the middle of a conversation with someone who’s authority on EAL I respect immensely on the subject of differentiation.

When I trained as a teacher, some saw differentiation as having a million (well 3) different versions of the work, all set out differently, for all the children in your class to access (I also got asked to show planning for VAK and we know how that all turns out…).  But, as a 45 year old latecomer to the teaching profession, I cannot buy this as a suitable model.

You see, the problem with this is labelling.  Put growth mindset aside for a moment but the instant we start labelling children by ability and giving them “easier” work then we are encouraging them not to aim high.  What we should be doing (and I’m sure @harfordsean would possibly agree) is be supporting these children in other ways to succeed.

So how does this work in my classroom?  I teach a mixed ability class of 30 Year 4 children in a rural school.  I have TA support 2 mornings a week but have to work on my own the rest of the time.  My approach is to teach to the top – all tasks are aimed at the “working beyond” area of the curriculum (I’m certain there is something in the Teaching Standards about high expectations) and children are supported, either by me, my TA or peers to achieve the task.

What has happened is I’m able to take the whole class on the journey.  Differentiation is no longer by groups (I don’t ability group in my classroom) and my class layout enables those who need support to access it quickly.  It also saves me time in planning because I’m not thinking about creating 3 versions of the same resource.

My differentiation is by support needed or by expectation.  I have high standards for my own class but I can differentiate in my marking or how I work with a group of children.  My HT commented last year how nice it was to see a permissive environment where children were encouraged to “have a go” at a task, make mistakes and seek support, whilst I was working with a mixed group of children who were struggling with the task.

The current children in my class are rising to this challenge.  Children who said “I’m no good at maths” are now tasting success of the higher order tasks and are keeping up with their peers.  More capable children are acting as learning mentors for others and we are finding new ways to evidence our work (Seesaw recordings and annotations are excellent for this).

If you are still differentiating by task then please ask yourself why.  Then maybe think there could be another way…

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