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A fresh perspective on differentiation in classrooms

Published:Sunday | November 19, 2017 | 12:00 AM

The classroom is evolving with integration of technology, the emergence of tools making teaching easy and, at times, fun. But still, there are some challenges that need to be addressed, both in the physical spaces and with regard to the outcomes of the processes.

Education in many countries is defined by the outcome of exam results and not the skill or the best possible chance a student has of learning.

It is natural to identify lack of resources, which could be the teacher-to-student ratio; the constant mandate for assessments; or the pressure on the teachers, students, and school administrations to churn out the highest results.

Delivery of education can be defined as a business process wherein the school ensures that the children are given the best possible chance of learning. this is where the concept of differentiation comes in.

Differentiation is not the counter-argument to establishing standard achievement levels. in fact, differentiation is quite the opposite.

But how do teachers who teach the average 200-250 children per week with varying learning needs give access to their students in a way that they all increase their growth potential and get high grades in the examinations?

Let's look at three possibilities.


Pre- and Post-Assessment


Let's say that a mathematics teacher is teaching inequalities to a group of third-formers and sees them three times in the week, and there are five topics that need to be covered.

A pre-assessment would mean something as simple and standard as taking the first 10 minutes of instruction to explain concepts and asking basic questions across the classroom to assess understanding. It then allows the teacher to consider the next technique: grouping.




This is not always received favourably because the argument exists that again, some students may not access the standard level of achievement. however, there is enough evidence to support the notion that the same children would not access the information via "preach and teach" methods.

Within groupings of mixed abilities, the benefits may that shy students are able to participate more confidently in the classroom setting, and that stronger students are able to lead and delegate roles.

Think of it as a structure that is implemented in any organisation. everyone is not asked to a) perform the same tasks; b) have the same skill sets; c) achieve the same outcomes.

Instead, each department is a group of mixed abilities, where each team member is tasked to contribute at their highest potential within their skill set.




Every learning objective should have a desired outcome. it is in the defining of those outcomes that differentiation lives.

Instead of working to one single acceptable answer, the teacher leads the class in some pre-set guidelines that apply to all students. However, the teacher will need to have the foreknowledge that each informal group of students would have varying answers, which would then require varying methods of remediation.

The stronger students may need simple corrections and extended practice, while the weaker students will be required to reteach a lesson. When the focus is on outcomes, the entire energy of the instruction shifts to quality over quantity.

The fact is that differentiation cannot be achieved within the traditional format of a teacher standing before a classroom and teaching.

The implementation of this concept would require commitment, preparation, and responsibility not only on the part of the teacher, but also on the students, who must demonstrate their own readiness to learn and take interest in their own learning.

The shift of teachers to facilitators and not the 'sage on the stage' is also necessary so that the art of teaching is seen for what it is: consulting or coaching.

In today's fast-paced world, a facilitator would not need to spend 30 minutes of a 45-minute session regurgitating the text but instead may see it as a better and effective use of time.

This can be achieved by front-loading the lesson by assigning students the task of being prepared with "pre researched knowledge" through their own means, e.g. Khan Academy videos, YouTube videos.

This preparation will help to maximise the outcomes in the limited and precious time that both students and teachers have.

- Article courtesy of the American International School of Kingston (AISK), a global centre for excellence in education. Send feedback to