Why differentiate? Why not just give the same learning experience to all children? Well, as we all know, this has a disastrous effect on a number of pupils. Firstly the higher attaining pupils may not be stretched, leading to boredom and frustration and a platouing of attainment. Secondly the children who need extra support don't get it, leading to insufficient gains in learning, demotivation and possibly switched off and frustrated learners. In the case of pupils learning English, they can fall into both categories - the higher attainers who are not stretched appropriately and the group that needs additional support.
This is not to say all pupils cannot benefit from the same learning experience to some degree e.g. they can all participate in a science experiment however in order to maximise the learning of al pupils thought needs to go into how to ensure the key learning concepts have been understood by all pupils and what support is necessary to ensure this takes place. In addition, more abstract concepts or additional information may need to be engaged in by pupils ready for additional challenges.
The grid designed by Jim Cummins is one of the most useful tools for determining whether you are differentiating effectively and for understanding the difference between differentiation for pupils with special needs and those with language learning needs.
Jim Cummins explained that when children new to English first start learning English they will need to have the cognitive challenge of some tasks lowered whist they are learning a lot of new vocabulary. However, he determined that very soon those pupils will need the cognitive challenge raised to where the majority of pupils are, and different methods of support given to help EAL learners achieve the objectives.
Differentiation strategies that make the difference are ones that challenge the pupils. One of the most common errors teachers make when implementing differentiation strategies is underestimating what EAL pupils can do – often they surprise you! So keep expectations and the cognitive challenge high whilst providing support for comprehension of the key concepts, vocabulary and sentence structures.
Each child is an individual and theres not one size to fit all. Resist having a ‘package approach’ for all new comers as children will be at different stages and have different skills and strengths. Take time to get to know each pupil and implement systems and support according to need.
Sometimes you’ll provide extra teacher support, sometimes, alter the task and other times provide peer support, or talk frames etc. Relying on the same differntiation strategy all the time could mean that you are not allowing the pupils to develop some key skills or to develop independence in some areas.
Evaluate frequently to find out whether what you are doing is working
or not. This can be the teacher evaluating the childs progress, children evaluating their own
progress or peer evaluation where children evaluate their own progress.
In order for evaluation to be effective you need clear learning
intentions and success criteria to measure success against.
Liaise with the other adults supporting the child – it’s a team effort and all adults need to know the targets, support systems and content of the lessons prior to the lesson beginning.