Differentiation made easy


Up to 12 months ago I always found differentiation difficult and extremely tine consuming.   I teach in a mixed ability 11-16 comprehensive school,  and often was taken to task during observations about differentiation.  Fortunately @heatexedu mentioned to me about home and away groups, so I did some research in this and based my ideas on @learningspy (http://www.learningspy.co.uk/learning/the-expert-approach-to-group-work).


The concept is simple,  pupils sit in mixed ability groups,  gaining assistance from their peers and developing gifted and talented leadership skills-this is their home group.   Pupils then, at a key part of the learning in the lesson move to their away group where differentiated work given out.


So what type of work can be given? The truth is anything.  As pupils aren’t mixing with others pupils they’ll never know the differences between their work.  A simple fill in the blanks “why have they got the first letter completed?” question from the pupils doesn’t happen as they are only sat with people of the same work! But a more clever way I’ve found of differentiation is when pupils are in their groups but each group has a different topic to research, so can have differentiated research-from different ability books to different links to websites.  Again by having the class in groups make this a lot easier to plan for and control.  This approach means that it makes sure that I plan for differentiation, leading to a better learning experience for my pupils.

I’ve promoted this with ITT staff and seen it done really well – with pupils moving around the room midway through lesson to their differentiated groups and moving back after their task has been completed and I’ve seen pupils go to different corners of the room to get their differentiated work before moving back to their normal seats immediately.  Most pupils are happy with this arrangement, and this provision has been one factor in ‘outstanding’ grades being awarded as it is helping all pupils to reach their potential.

I’ve also seen it done badly, where pupils have been put in their group but work hasn’t been differentiated – leading to sinking ships without support.

Where planned it goes really well.


I’ve found that giving each group a similar themed identity has worked really well.  I first tried shapes – Triangles, Squares, Pentagon, Hexagon etc.  Then I did colours, Red, Blue, Orange, Yellow etc.  The trick is to have a method behind your choices.  This year I’ve done Philosophy Groups – pupils in all of my classes were given a Philosophy Group – Kant, Plato, Aquinas, Descartes, Socrates and Augustine. At the start of the year the pupils got into their groups and I gave them information about their Philosopher and they wrote their group name on the front of their book.

Another variation I’ve done of this was to give a group name and number in that group to each child (ie Descarte 1, 2, 3 or 4).  Then during the lesson I can shout out ‘Descarte 4″ so I can ask targetted questions, at a differentiated level, to a specific child.  This also has the advantage of saying ‘all number 1’s get together’ and I have mixed ability groups.

As said previously, this works well, as with any teaching, when it is planned and you know your group.  Clearly your own individual touch and group identities will help a long way.

If you have found this blog helpful, please RT it or follow me on Twitter – @sheltont101.  Thanks for your time.


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