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Касенова А.Б. [Часть 2] Teaching English as a Foreign Language (2)



Differentiation is when a teacher reflects on learners’ needs and matches the teaching methods, learning tasks, resources or environment to individual learners or groups of learners. There is a variety of reasons for the range in learners’ needs, but the key principle is that through differentiation all learners can become successful learners.

The main reasons for the need for differentiation in the primary classroom are:

the learners’ level of ability, this is both for supporting the less able as well as challenging the most able

personal styles of learning or pace of work.

How to differentiate

There are many ways in which teachers can create or adapt teaching methods or materials to give every child the opportunity for challenge and success. Some ways of differentiating are:

By using ability groups. The most common way of differentiation is where learners are placed in high, average or low ability groups for some subjects. This can be the most effective way to help the teacher match the work to the different levels, but it sometimes causes the less able learners to develop a poor self- image, especially if groupings are rarely reviewed.

By using mixed- ability groups. An alternative to this method might be to group learners according to gender, age, friendship, or other criteria. This prevents stigmatisation and research has shown that less able learners work better in mixed- ability groups. However, more able learners may not reach their potential and will not necessarily be as challenged as they are in same ability groups

By varying the task. This is when learners cover the same work or meet the same objectives but in different ways. For example, when learners are working on ‘clauses’, some might use sets of ‘clause cards’ to create sentences to identify different kinds of clauses whilst others might be able to work directly from a book activity or worksheet. The most able might work on manipulating clauses to create different effects

By varying the outcome. This is when learners are expected to reach different standards by learning through adapted learning styles or resources. For example, if the class task is to write a short story about an animal, some learners with developing writing skills might draw pictures with captions; others, whose writing skills are good, might write a longer story or include dialogue

By varying learner support. This is when learners receive additional adult help from the teacher, a classroom assistant or even a more able learner. For example, when a class is undertaking a group reading activity, the teacher might work with the less able group and lead the discussion but allow the most able learners to work in an unsupported group with a summary sheet of questions / challenges to focus their discussion.

In summary, there are several ways in which the needs of learners can be met. Planning needs to include opportunities for:

• Differentiated group work

• Differentiated open- ended tasks

• Differentiated questioning. This is particularly important when using ‘closed’ questions

• Open questions. These allow all learners to take part. Encourage learners to discuss their answers either in pairs or small groups before giving a response

• Targeted questions. This is when pairs or small groups are asked specific questions related to the main learning outcome.

It is important that all learners have the opportunity to take part in a discussion, and can respond orally or through specially adapted or specialised resources or with the support of an adult.

Some learners may need extension activities. These can be based on the same learning objective as the rest of the class and need to be very high but with realistic expectations.

Challenge learners to take responsibility and be independent and active and to question and evaluate their learning. At the end of the lesson they can be asked to share experiences and ideas, so that all of the class can see and hear higher level work. In some cases these able learners may be able to use their experiences with active learning to set their own success criteria.

Written work or homework can be adapted to suit particular needs if a learner needs more help with understanding the written word. Enlarged print, illustrations which provide clues to the meaning of the words or an audio recording can be used. Simplifying the vocabulary or breaking the task down into simpler steps, with more guidance can also help. Appropriate resources, which are manageable, should be provided. Learners who need extra support can be encouraged to choose their own support materials.

Differentiation does not set out to enable all learners to achieve the same standard. It aims to promote learning so that all reach their potential – the best that they as individuals are able to achieve. Your skills as a teacher will be to encourage learners on their journey to reach their own personal goals through carefully planned provision of exciting and stimulating learning experiences.


Cambridge Primary. English. Teacher Guide. University of Cambridge International Examinations, 2011. — 172 p.

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