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Differentiation by design

Differentiation is the process by which differences between learners are accommodated so that all students in a group have the best possible chance of learning……

As an AST I am often asked to how to differentiate effectively. I  have asked myself this question and reflected on differentiation many times over the years, as I am sure many educators have. I have delivered numerous CPD sessions on challenging the most able, mixed ability and differentiation for less able students… and still I find that I am constantly not sure….

So does effectively teaching 30 mixed ability students in one classroom require teachers to develop 30 lessons, one tailor-made for each student? Does it mean tailor making multiple worksheets for every lesson? Does it mean that teachers should adopt a best fit approach or  “aim for the middle” and hope that they challenge and engage the vast majority of learners.  The answer I am sure you will not be suprised to hear is it simply is not that straightforward. While most teachers would agree it is not practical to try to individualize every lesson for every learner, research has repeatedly shown that teaching to the middle is ineffective. It ignores the needs of the most advanced students, often leaving them unchallenged and bored, while it daunts and confuses lower functioning learners. Moreover, in my experience even when students are set based on their ability, there is still the need to differentiate. Why because differentiation is not all about ability…it is about a whole range of other factors. 

So what is best practice?  Best practice suggests an alternative to the “middle ground” or “multiple worksheets”: differentiated instruction. Differentiated instruction is an approach that assumes there is a diversity of learners in every classroom and that all of those learners can be reached if a variety of methods and activities are used. Carol Tomlinson (2000), a noted expert on differentiation, explains that research shows that when students make the best progress when they are taught based on their own readiness levels, interests, and learning profiles. WLearning profileshere readiness is about their knowledge, understanding and skills, interest may be established via self selection, engagement and enthusiasm and learning profiles could look at their strengths as learners.

Below are  a few simple ways that I find have helped me with effective differentiation.  Some I have found…some I have designed…but I have used them all with a variety of learners. I hope that you find them useful.


And a Science example for you to use and download.

Uses of glucose revision board and question cards that go with it. These should be printed onto different coloured paper.

glucose model instructions

greenquestions to answer

greenquiz questions green

glucose and osmosis red

leguminous plants question red

nitrates and proteins question red

active transport question yellow

flow chart yellow

venn diagram yellow


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