I read the following post 'The dangers of differentiation and what to do about them' by Andy Tharby (@atharby) earlier today. I would suggest you read that first then come back here. It's an excellent post and I believe that Andy has gone some way in demonstrating how ineffective our current form of differentiated instruction is at the moment. I believe that we are holding back many children due to our obsession with differentiation in every lesson.
I teach in EYFS, this is a world where differentiation should not exist yet it does. I am continually reminded by my SMT that I should be including differentiated activities in every lesson so that every child can gain access to the learning (I'll hold back from writing what I really think about that). It is true that children come into Reception with varying skills in reading, writing and number. Some children are more than capable of reading simple sentences and their phonic knowledge is good. Others recognise their name and that's about it. Others can write a few words whilst some struggle to hold a pencil using 'the preferred grip'. Realising this wouldn't it make sense to approach every lesson with a set of differentiated activities so that every child could succeed in the learning? No, it wouldn't.
If I did this I am automatically assigning four and five year old children with a label. They will be forever known as a HAP, AAP/MAP or LAP (High, Average/Middle, Low achieving pupil). This label will be theirs throughout primary school and no doubt into secondary too. I stood my ground last year and did not assign labels to any child in my class. However, at the end of the year I had to provide the Year 1 teacher a list of HAP/AAP/LAP/SEN children so that she could fulfil the obligatory use of differentiation throughout the school.
Differentiation means well. In a recent post on EdWeek, differentiation takes the following factors of student learning into account.
• It seeks to determine what students already know and what they still need to learn.• It allows students to demonstrate what they know through multiple methods.• It encourages students and teachers to add depth and complexity to the learning/teaching process.The problem with this is that it is unworkable in the classroom. The teacher ends up spending too much valuable and productive time on the time-consuming activity of planning for three separate activities that end up not meeting the planned for lesson objective. Andy Tharby's lists a 'Differentiation Hall of Shame'. (This list should be printed out and put up in every school in the country).
1. Differentiation because you think you should.
2. Differentiation to meet an outsider’s expectations.
3. Differentiation according to prior-attainment grade or target grade.
4. Differentiation that takes time away from planning subject content.
5. Differentiation according to all/most/some.
6. Differentiation that does the thinking for them.
7. Differentiation as a life sentence.
8. Differentiation as a list of rules!
Teachers blindly adhere to SMTs ideas on lesson planning and what is supposed to be contained in those plans. Yet SMT do not teach your class. You are the teacher, you know your class better than anyone else in the school. You should be able to adapt where you see fit, to change a lesson at any point when you realise it's not working. You should teach your whole class and then respond as and when to those students that need you to make the progress they richly deserve. They do not need watered down activities that hold them back, that will never stretch their learning. They need a teacher.
The most effective differentiation takes place inside the teacher’s thought-processes. - Andy Philip Day
What differentiation does get right is telling us that teaching in the previous year was poor, substandard. That's about it. To ensure we don't fall victim to the curse of differentiation we need to teach our children well. We need to ensure they understand what it is they have been taught, and they need to be able to demonstrate this understanding before moving onto the next lesson.
We don't need to differentiate.
We need to be better teachers.