Differentiation is a funny term in education. Mention the D-word to any educationalist and the response will often range from a glazed indifference to a subtle rolling of the eyes that takes place prior to a very professional acknowledgement of the important part that a differentiated classroom plays in effective education. Invariably differentiation is a subject that often fails to arouse much enthusiasm amongst teachers – perhaps any such enthusiasm has look since been extinguished by the dousing properties of numerous leadership led INSET’s ?
The truth is we all understand the important place that differentiated instruction has in the classroom. The question I am interested in is ‘Are we differentiating in the correct way?’ The typical response when asked to define what differentiation means is to say that it involves ‘providing challenging activities that students are able to engage with’ put in even simpler language it is about ensuring work is suitably challenging for all learners and that enough support is provided for those that are less able.
But is that it?
Think about the best lessons that you have delivered. It’s almost certain that they all have one major feature in common – the students were interested. Despite all hours of the training and discussion on questioning, differentiation strategies, starters, plenaries, behaviour management, literacy, numeracy, feedback and assessment for learning – in the end the think that made it great was that they were interested!
So the big question we should be asking ourselves is HOW DO WE MAKE LESSONS INTERESTING? Of course it is a simple question to pose but a far more difficult task to answer. Think about the things that you yourself are interested in. Not only will there be a variety but these will vary from reader to reader. I find watching Manchester United incredibly interesting, my wife is interested in watching the Antiques Roadshow – we disagree on what is interesting in this instance. And therein lies the problem, children have different ideas on what ‘interesting’ means.
A couple of years ago I cam across the Blooms/Gardner Matrix shown below. This is essentially a planning tool that not only addresses the need to provide more rigorous and challenging activities for students (that’s the Blooms part) but also addresses the different ‘intelligences’ of children in order to provide a learning environment that is far richer and more interesting for more of the students more of the time. Of course we can’t meet the needs of all of the students all of the time (despite what the DFE seem to believe) but we can attempt to create a classroom where students arrive not knowing what to expect and one thing we can probably all agree on is that the unknown is interesting!
Below is an example of how the Matrix could be used to support planning. Links to the full document and other examples can be found below