It has not only been my experience whilst supply teaching that has raised my doubts about the necessity of differentiation, but also an experience in my final placement. I was teaching a Year 3/4 ‘lower ability’ maths class and had taught them a series of lessons on metres. It was time for me to try and convert that knowledge to kilometres, including that 1000m=1km. I decided, from a certain group’s previous assessments on metres, that it would be necessary to initially reinforce their knowledge of metres before moving on to kilometres. However, I had them sit in on the introduction to kilometres. In the discussion, one child from the group who had struggled wanted to answer. I had an initial reluctance as I felt that I needed to make sure they were sure on metres, but decided to have him share an answer as I always try to create an ethos in the classroom where all ideas are valued, even when they might not be ‘correct’. That child showed excellent understanding of kilometres and converting that unit into metres. Not only that, but so did a number of the group! This could have been down to a misinterpretation of assessment, or that the introduction of the kilometres helped put metres more into context for the children.
Whatever the reason for the children’s ability to work with kilometres and metres, what was clear to me was that the differentiated activity I had planned would have held back the children from the learning potential they had in that lesson. That led me to question – how often have I inhibited the learning potential of children by trying to differentiate learning when it may have not been appropriate, just to show my mentor that I could indeed differentiate learning activities?
Now, of course, it would be foolish to suggest that learning should never be differentiated. This statement is not validated by evidence that I have, but by the need to provide inclusive activities for all. This is applicable to children who need support and extending. In fact, if a teacher does not differentiate an activity for a child who needs extending, then they are inhibiting the learning potential of that child by their lack of differentiation.
I think, as with most issues in education I’m finding, there is not a clear cut answer to whether differentiation is a support or ……
I am Matthew Roberts. I just graduated from my Initial Teacher Training course at Manchester Metropolitan University this July. I have been working as a supply teacher for 2 months in the Manchester area and am embarking on a full time position at a growing, vibrant school in South West Manchester as a Year 6 teacher. You can follow me @Mroberts90Matt and read my educational blog at mroberts1990.wordpress.com