Moving away from differentiation and towards personalised learning


Differentiation has long been a buzz word within schools across the country. Differentiation accommodates learners so that they have a better chance of learning. But why should we as educators be simply accommodating learners? We should be giving our students ownership about what is learned and how it is learned. This is personalised learning.

Every student is unique

It is clear that every student will have a preference in the way which they are taught and everybody will have a unique learning profile which will affect how they best learn. This learning profile is affected by personality, culture and gender amongst others. In practice this means that no two students are the same and as such will respond very differently to teaching methods. Students will come into the classroom with their own personal experiences. Some will have developed a high level of confidence and learnt a great deal prior to entering the classroom. Others may have struggled in previous schools for a variety of reasons causing them to be at an earlier stage of learning. The way students approach a learning situation will have an impact on performance achievement.

Why differentiation won’t work

Differentiating work is rarely able to take all of this into account. For most teachers differentiation involves grouping students into ability and giving them a slightly easier/harder task than others. This strategy has had its uses in the past but it does not promote independent learning which so many of us are trying to encourage.  It is also only separating students by ability. It has not considered any other aspect of the student.

How personalised learning can help

Personalised learning involves the student having a degree of choice about what is learned, when it is learned and how it is learned. Obviously this is not always viable within the classroom. At times this will need to be influenced by the teacher to meet learning objectives and goals which must be accomplished. Just like how differentiation would be used in the past, a teacher should look to include personalised learning strategies when possible.

Using personalised learning in your classroom

The best thing about personalising teaching to students is that it requires very little extra work from the teacher. As students are in charge of their learning, the teacher acts as more of a facilitator to keep students on task. Some easy to implement strategies include:

  1. Allow students to choose their homework: Takeaway homework is most likely my favourite ever teaching resource. It saves me time and allows students to take ownership of their homework. I have had some fantastic pieces of homework from this over the years.
  2. Discuss with students what they want to learn: At the start of every new topic take some time to discuss what the students want to know. This helps to build relationships with the students and gets the students further engaged in the topic.
  3. Allow students to present work in any format they chose: When setting work my students know they can present the information back to me anyway they choose. My classroom is an array of students completing work in different ways. Some students prefer to use diagrams, some like to video themselves, some even like acting the answers to questions out to the rest of the class! As long as the content is there I am happy for my students to express themselves. This is also makes marking a little bit more exciting!

It is important that teachers maintain a high expectation when doing this type of work. Students should be encouraged and rewarded for challenging themselves on tasks as much as possible. Creating a successful personalised learning environment will take time but in the long run it will be beneficial to both teacher and student.

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