UKEdMag: Expectations of Differentiation by @Mroberts90Matt

Children never come with a pre-determined differentiated grouping. Are we selling children short by expecting a particular outcome? In this article extract, by Matt Roberts first published in the August 2014 Edition of UKEdMagazine, considerations are shared on the legitimacy of differentiation and how teachers should implement strategies that help the learning of all children, without holding back progress. 


Differentiation is expected in today’s Initial Teacher Training. Simply you are not an ‘Outstanding’ teacher unless you differentiate learning in the classroom. You’re not even a ‘Good’ teacher unless you begin to deploy differentiation techniques. On top of that, differentiation is cited as a necessary skill in the most recent Teachers’ Standards in England.

However, could it be questioned that there are times when differentiation is not appropriate? When we set differentiated tasks we are making assumptions from evidence, past experience of the child’s engagement with similar tasks and their conceived ability in the learning area. Despite this careful analysis by teachers, is this expectation always correct?

I suppose my biggest doubts around the focus on differentiation had arisen from my supply teaching. Obviously, as a supply teacher I do not have access to data on children’s ‘ability’ in subject areas or even experience of working with them so I can differentiate accordingly. So, am I expected to have differentiation in my lessons if I’m called upon to provide my own learning experiences? Some would argue yes. Some would argue that it is counter-productive and impossible. It would require dozens of versions of the activity in order to cover for every possible need in the classroom.

Now, it is possible I’m being a little pedantic – no, obviously I cannot plan for every eventuality, but a three or five tiered differentiated task would be possible. In any of my supply posts, has it been necessary? No. In every class I have gone in every child has been included and involved. Admittedly the occasional child has struggled, but with assistance they have, according to the evidence, made progress toward the learning objective. Each child has been able to participate and learn without personalised learning as I did not know their personal learning needs.
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