Differentiation: response to Andy Tharby.
I was thoroughly heartened to read Andy Tharby’s (@atharby) post this week on the dangers of differentiation” http://reflectingenglish.wordpress.com/2014/10/05/the-dangers-of-differentiation-and-what-to-do-about-them/ . So many teachers feel compelled to differentiate in silly ways because they are told to by Ofsted-wary SLTs or HoDs who spend their lives looking over their shoulders. I’m talking here about those “must/should/could” objectives and the pressure to provide different tasks for different levels of ability. My views on these can be found here: https://andywarner78.wordpress.com/2013/05/09/why-weve-got-differentiation-wrong/
I’m always banging on about how the best differentiation is in fact invisible and intuitive, and this seems to me to be Andy’s key point. If we are differentiating well then the students will be engaged in their work and making progress, but not because you’ve designed each kid a separate worksheet, but rather because you’ve used your skills as a teacher to allow the students to access the topic you’re currently studying. Good differentiation comes from a good teacher framing and reframing explanations so that they can be understood by everyone in the room; it comes from targeting questions in verbal and written feedback that stretch and push students; most importantly, it comes from fostering a classroom culture in which students don’t give up, thrive on struggle, and realise that the more mistakes they make, the more they will learn and progress. Teachers need to scrap their differentiated objectives and stop worrying about colour-coded worksheets and have the strength of conviction that what they’re doing is right, providing it works. It was very refreshing to read another blog from an English teacher who stands squarely in the camp of raising the challenge for students, rather than making things easier as many of us have been told to do for so long.