Greg Ashman

Is it time to ditch ‘Differentiation’?

By Greg Ashman

I suspect I would struggle to find a teacher who has never heard of ‘differentiation’. Exhortations to differentiate are ubiquitous in schools and from school leaders.

But what do we mean when we use this term, what does the evidence say about it and just why has it taken on such totemic importance?

Is ‘differentiation’ even a helpful term to use?

What is differentiation?

A small group of struggling readers are withdrawn from their primary classroom for an intensive, phonics-based intervention. In the class down the hall, the teacher has run a learning styles survey and has grouped students and set tasks based on the results. The secondary school that these children will attend places students into maths classes based upon their current level of attainment and the school’s geography department stresses the importance of student choice in how they approach tasks and express their ideas. Which of these examples would you describe as differentiation?

To answer this question, it may help to quote Carol Ann Tomlinson, a world expert on differentiated instruction. To Tomlinson,