Differentiation: Seeing the bigger picture
When I talk to staff about differentiation, the most common obstacle that they tell me about is not having the time to differentiate their lessons or their resources. Time, or lack thereof, is a challenge in teaching and I think we could make things easier for ourselves if we could all try to commit to seeing the bigger picture when it comes to differentiation. It would be great if we could see the potential time-saving benefits that differentiation could bring in the long term.
It is difficult in the midst of a busy week, but I think it is important for us to see beyond the short term, to see beyond the ‘I don’t have time to adapt this resource’. and instead, consider how spending those 5 extra minutes at the planning stage could save you time further down the road. Think about some of the potential ‘time gains’ that could result from spending 5 minutes adapting something. This is not something that comes naturally to us as we are so used to thinking about what needs to happen ‘right now’ and we can often get bogged down in thinking we don’t have time to think more long term.
Here are some of the ways that I think time can be saved in the long term if we put in the time to make our lessons accessible to students.
More time in the lesson to support and give feedback to all students. Now that they can access the lesson you won’t be pulled left, right and centre to help students understand the task.
You can also use this freed up time in lessons to do some marking of work with students in the lesson – this saves time marking later and also means you can have a conversation with students to ensure feedback is meaningful.
Time spent marking will also be saved even further because if students are able to access the work and you are able to give feedback in the lesson, the potential for them to make mistakes and have misconceptions is reduced. This means you won’t be spending time correcting the same errors in numerous students’ books.
Some students react to not being able to access work by behaving in a way that is disruptive. This impacts on the amount of work you are able to get through in the lesson and could also mean you have to spend time recording and setting sanctions for students for disruptive behaviour. If students can access the work, this time can be better spent.
There are obviously numerous benefits of differentiating your lessons, but I don’t think we often think of the time that we could potentially recoup.
There are even lots of differentiation strategies that you could use that take even less than 5 minutes to implement – or even no time at all! Instead of taking time to implement, some of the suggestions below simply take a moment of conscious thought either before or during the lesson. For example, you could decide that you are going to swap roles with your teaching assistant; you will work with the lower ability students to give them your specialist support and the TA works with the more able students to prompt them to extend their thinking. This takes no time to implement but could save you time in the ways mentioned above.
I encourage all teachers to view differentiation as a time-saving strategy rather than something that is a burden on you and your time.
Vicky Marshall @vicks_marshall is a SENCo in a mainstream secondary school in Wiltshire. She has been teaching for 6 years and her specialist subject is English.