Differentiation – a quick guide

By Rachael Ellard

Strategies for Differentiation

The Training and Development Agency for Schools describe differentiation as ‘the process by which differences between learners are accommodated so that all students in a group have the best possible chance of learning’. But what does this mean that we as tutors need to be doing in reality?

Here are some of the basic methods of differentiation and some best practice from my peers:

Differentiation by Task

This means setting different tasks for different students based on ability. For example if you have different topics that need to be researched, the topics can be allocated based on the level of difficulty (some topics may require more advanced research skills or a better understanding of the subject) with more challenging topics allocated to the most capable students. For example in an Aquatics lesson, learners in small groups were given different body systems of fish to research, with the more challenging systems given to the more capable learners.

Differentiation by Pace

Some students will progress through work faster than others, rather than be left waiting with no work to do. Try building in extension activities or have a “bank” of additional questions/tasks that they can work on to develop their understanding further. For example on Level 1 and 2 Animal Care, students are set an “Extended Project” which they can work on whenever they have completed existing work which develops their independent learning skills and prepares them for progression.

Differentiation by Group

Dividing the class into small mixed ability groups, gives you further opportunity for differentiation. Different roles can be allocated within the group; for example allocating a team leader, which may be a more capable and confident student, allows them to develop their leadership and organisational skills. For example during a debate in a Wildlife Rehabilitation lesson the team leaders were responsible for ensuring the views of everyone in the group were heard and for collating the different viewpoints to feedback to the class.

Differentiation by Outcome

Using this method all students undertake the same task but achieve it at differing levels. For example in an Animal Biology lesson students were tasked with making an animal cell out of sweets. They then voted as a group for the best cell – all students worked to produce the cell but some groups made more detailed cells and were able to explain it in greater depth.



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