‘Implict’ or ‘Explicit’ Differentiation: Am I creating more work for myself?

Trying to unscramble all the information that has been thrown at me in the first half-term currently feels like an impossible task. The first half-term has been a sheer rollercoaster of ‘winning’ classes over and ‘good’ lessons to moments of despair (luckily, the moments of despair were limited).

When embarking on my teaching career I envisioned I’d be a pro at differentiation due to working as a TA for nearly four years. My work as a TA was part of the reasons I joined the crazy, social life-less world of teaching, I wanted to help pupils get an equal start in life regardless of their background or ability.

When Barbara and Dalga (voluntary professional development extraordinaires) came to deliver us our first Whole-School Best Practise session on differentiation I thought this was my moment to shine and an area I would find relatively ‘easy’. The methods they shared were not completely alien to me and understanding the needs of pupils through data and reading files was something I was familiar with, however I quickly began to realise that my view of differentiation was double-sided.

My work as a TA has clearly made me confident with ‘explicit’ differentiation (for example a separate sheet for a specific pupil and their need) but after reflecting on my teaching practice I soon appreciated I ‘implicitly’ differentiate in every lesson, through questioning, scaffolding answers, modelling and seating plans.

When ‘explicitly’ differentiating I realised I differentiate for pupils personally rather than for their particular need. For example, Roger* is severely autistic, has an incredibly low reading age and low level of understanding. I have a pupil who has very similar needs in another class however I differentiate for them individually, knowing what specifically works for them and suits their personality. Roger* really enjoys drawing and is talented in this area, therefore wherever possible (which isn’t always) I include a drawing task as part of his work. I asked Roger* to analyse a written source, he read through the source and I asked him to draw for me what he believed the source was saying. I then asked him a question in relation to the source. Roger* went through the source and highlighted key/ relevant words to the question. Rather than changing any words of the source I included a word bank with definitions of any words he may have found difficult. I decided to do this so that it didn’t take any meaning away from the source and so that Roger* was introduced to some new words and therefore provided him with an extra level of challenge. Roger* was able to independently answer me the question regarding the source, all I had to do in the lesson was read through the instructions with him then leave him to it. I did go back and check on his progress, but just as I would with any pupil in my lesson. The rest of the class did the same activity as part of their lesson and moved onto a more difficult task. Roger* spent the majority of the lesson on this but by the end of the lesson he was able to read a source for meaning and answer a question, an outcome I was very impressed with.

*Name changed for anonymity

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