Tristram Hunt commented in his recent speech:
Imagine, for a second, a school where every lesson can be tailored to the needs of each individual pupil simultaneously…
In Special Schools this really is our bread and butter, or at least it should be. So if this notion is something he is aspiring to develop further, then it maybe of value to consider how we do this in Special Schools.
Differentiation is an essential area of professional development, as when done effectively it underpins high aspirations and the success you have in making learning challenging but achievable impacts directly on both the rate and nature of progress.
When considering developing differentiation skills, one of the approaches that may be helpful is to consider to what extent you can take learning back to the point of birth. How can you enable every child’s learning needs to be meaningfully met within the context of a cohesive and inclusive lesson?
By having a well developed understanding of learning, both in terms of patterns of development, but also how children learn to learn, you can equip yourself with both the knowledge and the skills to make sure you differentiate effectively.
Here is a basic list of different ways of differentiating learning that may be worth considering.
By outcome – This changes what the pupil is expected to do. An example of this may be a writing session where one pupil is producing three sentences using a combination of four information carrying words and another is producing two sentences at a three information carrying word level.
By input – This changes the level of support that a pupil may require to be enabled to complete the task. This could be either Physical Prompting, Verbal Prompting, Gestural Prompting, Imitation, Unaided (Completing the task when all resources have been provided, but without direct adult support), Independently (Completing the task without having resources provided, but having been asked to do so) and Spontaneously (Completing the task without the resources having been provided or having been asked to do so e.g. Getting a drink just because you feel thirsty).
By resourcing – This changes the tools that you may make available to enable the work to be completed. An example of this may be one person completing addition calculations using a pen and paper method, whilst someone else may be supported with real objects.
By response – This focuses on how you might respond to the work or actions of a child in relation to their peers. For example if a child finds it challenging to attend to a task for more than 30 seconds and they manage to stay focussed for 45 seconds, then this is a big achievement and should be celebrated. Another child may only have their hard work recognised if it has been sustained for the whole lesson. This can cause some interesting discussions around fairness with those children who are aware of the difference.
By stimulus – This changes the way in which an objective is delivered. By that I don’t mean the idea of Visual, Auditory or Kinaesthetic approaches, but rather the use of particular multi sensory information. For example you may focus on the development of visual memory with one child whilst another is focussing on auditory memory, or the recollection of tactile stimuli.
By task – This changes the very nature of what the learner is expected to do, but would be delivered within the context of an inclusive activity, rather than by having someone sat separately with direct adult support. An example of this may be where a group are writing descriptive sentences in response to a target image. The alternative outcome may be to select symbols reflecting the content of the image from within a choice array, or sustaining attention to a sensory object related to the content of the image.
Downward – This is, anecdotally, what people seem to find easier and involves the deconstruction of a particular learning objective into its prerequisite parts. This would be done in order to make a more complex learning objective accessible to those who are at a lower level of development in that particular area. However the danger of relying on this approach all of the time is that it can place the less able pupil in a position where their needs are less likely to be directing what is being offered. This can result in tokenistic practice where less able pupils are ‘doing’ whilst their more able peers are ‘learning’.
Upward – This is sometimes harder as it starts with a lower level learning objective and is then extended upwards to make it more complex. It is a bit like finding you way to a location, finding a destination is often harder than getting back home. However it is vitally important that this approach plays a part in order to ensure that all pupils’ needs are valued and considered when constructing lessons.
This is not an exhaustive list by any means and shouldn’t be seen as a collection of single approaches to be used in isolation. Instead it is important to become confident at combining these different areas in order to ensure that in every lesson is tailored to the varied needs of each individual.