Differentiation occurs in classrooms where teachers implement strategies to overcome learning barriers that enable equitable learning (Tomlinson, 2014). To do this, teachers require forward planning and instruction to engage all students in the learning (Board of Studies, Teaching, & Educational Standards NSW [BOSTES], 2015). All students need to be provided opportunity to demonstrate what they know and what they can do (QSA, 2012), and therefore should be considered in proactive ways (QCAA, 2015a).
Teachers need to understand methods of identifying students requiring differentiation (Bender, 2012) and their respective characteristics (Department of Education, Training, and Employment [DETE], 2012). These methods should be embedded in the classroom during the learning process (Renzulli, 2012). The primary method of identification should include teachers undertaking observations and using professional judgement to identify key students (Queensland Association for Gifted and Talented Children [QAGTC], 2008). Teachers should seek information from parents/carers, students, and school guidance officer to inform their judgements (QAGTC, 2008). In addition to this, teachers can utilise diagnostic tasks to facilitate the identification process. Results from diagnostic tasks and assessments can inform identification of gifted and talented students, and those who may have a learning difficulty (Crepeau-Hobson & Bianco, 2011). Teachers should also consider non-test criteria (such as student effort and behaviour) to further aid in the identification process (Crepeau-Hobson & Bianco, 2011).
Upon identifying students requiring differentiation, teachers can begin implementing strategies. However, these strategies have associated difficulties that teachers should recognise and understand. In general teachers have difficulty implementing and sustaining these strategies due to a lack of skills, resources, and motivation (Yuen, Westwood, & Wong, 2005). Teachers also find the added preparation time, large class sizes, and their own workload difficult barriers to overcome when implementing differentiation strategies (Yuen, Westwood, & Wong, 2005).
The following paragraphs will outline strategies for implementing differentiation for two focus students to promote educational equity (QCAA, 2015a). Student A is considered gifted and talented, whilst the Student B has a non-English speaking background (NESB).
For Student A, adjusting tasks to involve information of a higher complexity and requiring higher order thinking is a key way to differentiate content (DETE, 2012). The learning process can be altered with faster delivery or providing challenging learning goals that extend the knowledge and skills of a student through the use of problem-solving, critical and creative thinking, and reflection based tasks (DETE, 2012). When working in groups, the teacher should place Student A in groups with similar ability or shared interests so they are able to apply their knowledge and skills to their full capability (DETE, 2012).
For an Student B, teachers need to assist them to overcome linguistic barriers (QCAA, 2015b). This can be done by ensuring tasks are clearly explained so they can interpret and comprehend requirements (QCAA, 2015b). Teachers should provide students the opportunity to express their own cultural background both in independent and group tasks (QCAA, 2015b). Within group tasks, the teacher should remain flexible to ensure NESB students work in small groups with different peers (Ford, 2012). Teachers should utilise ongoing informal assessment (such as diagnostic tasks and interviews) to determine the ability of the student and alter their differentiation strategies as the students’ needs change (Ford, 2012).
It is evident that both focus students’ learning is facilitated by working in group based tasks and having flexible assessment. Within an Information Technology Systems (ITS) classroom, both students could be differentiated by utilising Project-Based Learning (PBL) (Savery, 2006). PBL enables students to work in groups, which teachers can differentiate by having teams tailored to different learning levels of students (Miller, 2012). Students can also demonstrate their knowledge in varying ways through the use of PBL (Miller, 2012).
Differentiation plays an important role in enabling equitable learning in the classroom. Teachers need to recognise how to identify students requiring differentiation and what strategies they should put in place to provide them the opportunity to demonstrate what they know and what they can do. This short essay has discussed strategies relevant to two focus students; a gifted and talented student and an NESB student. These strategies will inform future teaching practice to ensure all students are considered in the planning of units, lessons, and assessment.
Bender, W. N. (2012). Differentiating instruction for students with learning disabilities: New best practices for general and special educators. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press.
Board of Studies, Teaching, & Educational Standards NSW. (2015). Differentiated programming. Retrieved October 28 2015, from http://syllabus.bos.nsw.edu.au/support-materials/differentiated-programming/
Crepeau‐Hobson, F., & Bianco, M. (2011). Identification of gifted students with learning disabilities in a Response‐to‐Intervention era. Psychology in the Schools, 48(2), 102-109.
Department of Education, Training, and Employment. (2012). Supporting information: Gifted and talented students. Retrieved October 28 2015, from http://education.qld.gov.au/curriculum/framework/p-12/docs/supporting-info-gifted-talented.pdf
Ford, K. (2012). Differentiated instruction for english language learners. Retrieved October 28 2015, from http://www.colorincolorado.org/article/differentiated-instruction-english-language-learners
Miller, A. (2012). Six strategies for differentiated instruction in project-based learning. Retrieved October 28 2015, from http://www.edutopia.org/blog/differentiated-instruction-strategies-pbl-andrew-miller
Queensland Association for Gifted and Talented Children. (2008). Action for Gifted Students in Queensland Schools: Strategies and Indicators of Achievement. Retrieved October 28 2015, from http://www.qagtc.org.au/files/Strategies_Indicators_Document.pdf
Queensland Curriculum and Assessment Authority. (2015a). Equity in education. Retrieved October 28 2015, from http://www.qcaa.qld.edu.au/10188.html#970
Queensland Curriculum and Assessment Authority. (2015b). A-Z of senior moderation. Retrieved October 28 2015, from http://www.qcaa.qld.edu.au/downloads/senior/snr_qa_mod_a-z.pdf
Queensland Studies Authority. (2012). Information Technology Systems. Retrieved October 28 2015, from https://www.qcaa.qld.edu.au/downloads/senior/snr_its_12_syll.pdf
Renzulli, J. S. (2012). Reexamining the Role of Gifted Education and Talent Development for the 21st Century A Four-Part Theoretical Approach. Gifted Child Quarterly, 56(3), 150-159.
Savery, J. R. (2006). Overview of Problem-based Learning: Definitions and Distinctions. Interdisciplinary Journal of Problem-Based Learning, 1(1).
Tomlinson, C. A. (2014). Differentiated classroom: Responding to the needs of all learners (2nd ed.). Alexandria, VA: Ascd.
van Kraayenoord, C. E. (2007). School and classroom practices in inclusive education in Australia. Childhood Education, 83(6), 390-394.
Yuen, M., Westwood, P., & Wong, G. (2005). Meeting the Needs of Students with Specific Learning Difficulties in the Mainstream Education System: Data from Primary School Teachers in Hong Kong. International Journal of Special Education, 20(1), 67-76.