Magazine article Times Educational Supplement

World of Difference: Comment

Magazine article Times Educational Supplement

World of Difference: Comment

Article excerpt

One of the things I struggle with is differentiation. In the olden days, you could get away with "differentiation by outcome", which meant setting your students the same task and letting Darwinism take its course. The fact that some students rattled through their work in 10 seconds flat while others were still looking for a pen was presented as cogent evidence that you were meeting individuals' needs. It was a specious argument, like claiming you're a vegetarian because you order salad with your steak.

Thankfully this approach has fallen out of fashion. Like "preferred learning styles" or "thinking hats", it's seen as the pedagogical equivalent of wearing a doublet and hose.

The problem is that when it comes to tailoring students' learning effectively, we don't know where to start. Most of the latest strategies involve coloured cards, a range of tasks and access to an industrial laminator. Students are often asked to pick their own difficulty level. This certainly makes differentiation visible but I'm not sure it helps anyone. Given a choice, most children do the same thing as their mates. As do adults. Last week, thanks to a teacher training session, we had a "non- uniform" day. I tried on several outfits, then finally phoned a friend to ask what she was wearing.

The alternative approach to determining difficulty level is for the teacher to allocate the appropriate level of colour-coded challenge. This gives rise to pandemonium as students complain about the level they've been assigned. …

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