Five preconditions for good differentiation

We organize schools and classrooms according to our Grammar of Schooling. That is a whole of presuppositions, rules and traditions that determine how we organize schooling. Times have changed, but many Grammars of Schooling didn’t. In times of impactful evolutions (in case of large migration waves), education is challenged to adapt the Grammar of Schooling to new emerging needs.

It can help you to focus on the following aspects.

Differentiation can go much further than classroom differentiation. Sometimes the learning needs in one group of pupils differ so much that the following four aspects can be taken int account to change some aspects of your classroom and even school organization.

1. Grouping learning goals

Some learning goals deserve explicit instruction (the letters of the alphabet). Others are more abstract (calculation with fractions, for instance). Putting abstract learning goals in a concrete context and grouping them with other learning goals, can make some subject matters more accessible for NAMs.

Compare these to lesson plans:

Explicit instruction Thematic instruction
9h – 9h35
Technical reading, words about clothes

9h35 – 10h
· Reading comprehension: actuality

10h – 10h25
· Calculation: fractions

10h25 – 11h
· Listening comprehension: songs about love. Theme choice: Fashion

9h – 11h
Technical reading about clothes.
Reading comprehension about famous designers in your country.
Speaking exercise about other famous designers that the pupils know.
Calculation exercises: buying clothes and calculating reductions.
Listening comprehension: documentary about the designer Gauthier

The second lesson plan combines linguistic learning goals with mathematical learning goals. It provides more context and allows you as a teacher that pupils work at their own rhythm.

2. Grouping pupils

You can group pupils using different criteria:

· Interest: at given moments, you can organize workshops in which pupils with the same interests come together.
· Level: level-groups make it easy to teach. However, pupils can feel stigmatized when they always belong to the same group.
· Heterogeneous grouping: in heterogeneous groups, more advanced students can help others. In cooperative structures (hyperlink), pupils do not only achieve academic goals. It is also an excellent way to develop their social competences. They learn how to lead a group, how to moderate, how to take care of materials, how to respect the work of other pupils.
· Multi-age groups: very often, we group pupils according to their age. But there’s no need to do so. younger kids learn fast when they can observe and imitate older ones. At given moments in the week, you can choose to compose multi-age groups.

3. Grouping teachers

There is talk of co-teaching when several education professionals together support a group in an equivalent relationship over a period of time in a structured way in achieving a set of learning objectives. They do so in the same or adjoining areas.

Co-teaching is a source of permanent professional development if the teachers who share their task also make time to consult together and to give each other feedback.
Co-teaching offers to pupils increased space for personal attention and feedback. There is room for differentiated instruction, changing alignment forms, increased attention for pupils with additional support needs and pupils who need to be extra challenged.

4. Differentiation in different phases of the learning process

You can differentiate both in a divergent and a convergent way during the following three phases of the learning process:

Instruction (1) and processing (2) the subject matter

  • Classical instruction without differentiation.
  • Provide roadmaps with pictograms for the instruction.
  • Let pupils discover the assignment themselves and invite them to come to the instruction table if they need prolonged instruction.
  • Divide the class in 2 groups. Every group reads another assignment. Every pupil of group A explains his assignment to a pupil of group B, and vice versa.
  • Activating Direct Instruction: give a very structured instruction to your pupils. Test if they have understood (by a Google Form, a short quiz or test, a self-evaluation…). Divide them into 3 groups:
    o Group A gets prolonged instruction with your help.
    o Group B works alone on the assignment.
    o Group C gets a more difficult assignment.
  • Provide choices in how pupils want to acquire the new subject matter (video, roadmap, text, observation of another student…).

Evaluation (3)

  • Teacher centered evaluation: you decide how pupils will be evaluated.
  • Pupil centered evaluation: pupils can suggest how they want to be evaluated. For the learning goal “speaking in public”, they can choose about what they speak and when they organize their conference.
  • Voluntary halfway assessment: provide opportunities in which pupils can let your feedback on what they already did. Those moments are not obligatory: they can choose if they want to participate or not.
  • Self-assessment: let them give scores to themselves/ Do they correspond with your score?
  • Peer evaluation: let pupils give feedback on their classmates. Reflect with them on what can be good evaluation criteria

5 - Dare to think out of the box

Always think in function of your goals:

  • Which goals do I want to achieve?
  • Which way leads to those goals?
  • In wichi measure does that ways differs for different pupils/students?

Always think as a pilote. Starting from a growth mindset and a positive view on youngsters, you always focus on that goal. Then you decide which ay you will follow and you determine all of the aspects of the learning environment that are described above. Here you can find our EDINA-cockpit. This illustration can helps you to visualise all of the possibilities that you have as a real pilote-teacher.

the EDINA-cockpit