Simply put, Differentiation is a process where a teacher directs students at different levels of ability to complete work at different levels of complexity. This is not usually done on an individual basis, but by grouping students according to ability, and perhaps by work ethic. I personally find this easy when teaching mathematics, where weaker students can be asked to complete more of the simpler questions in a set of exercises, with more capable students (or those with more experience) being asked to focus on more complex questions.
One technique that can be used to identify different groups of learners within a class using data is a schema called the Quadrants of Learners, developed at Proserpine State High School in North Queensland.
The process is as follows: students data is captured from two sources – NAPLAN results (national standardised testing) and School Curriculum results.
Students are then classified into one of four categories
- High Flyers – Achieves at a high level in both NAPLAN and School Curriculum
- Hard Workers – Achieves at a sound/high level in School Curriculum, but may not perform naturally to the same level in NAPLAN
- Underachievers – Achieves at a Sound/High level in NALPAN, but may not demonstrate this level in School Curriculum
- Strugglers – Achieves at a low level in both NAPLAN and School Curriculum
It is fairly easy to see that students in each group will be capable of different levels of complexity, and will require different levels of support to achieve. This is not designed to be an overt exercise to separate the class into different groups, but assist the teacher in planning for each unit or lesson. I will leave the process of differentiating work for each group to the imagination and practice of the reader.
Differentiation versus Personalisation
Differentiation, as a strategy, is often put forward as a way to provide more challenging work for Gifted & Talented students, however I disagree with this idea due to the fact that it is still highly teacher-centred. Differentiation does not engage students beyond a minimal level as there is little ownership of learning. There is a similar technique called Personalistion, where students make choices about and direct their own learning, based either on whole class Learning Intentions, or their own learning goals. In this way, Personalisation is more useful with highly engaged students and reflects the learning styles present in Constructivist, Cosmopolitanist and Enactivist learning theories.