Engaging with the research presented here will deepen your understanding of effective and inclusive strategies for differentiating in mixed-ability classrooms, and the benefit of formative assessment in building a bridge between teaching and learning.
Differentiation is more than implementing a few different activities, or a few levels of an activity, assigning each child to one of the levels. This research explains how differentiation can be student-led in an inclusive heterogeneous mixed-ability classroom.
John Munro’s paper defines differentiating instruction as responding constructively to what students know. It notes that for those exceptional learners who have learning difficulties, differentiation is increasingly seen as the responsibility of classroom teachers, and that for those exceptional learners who are gifted and talented, differentiation is implemented in alternative ways. The paper goes on to explore how the model of the gifted and talented learner as an expert knower and thinker can be used to differentiate the regular curriculum.
Tracy Huebner’s paper describes a growing body of research showing positive results for full implementation of differentiated instruction in mixed-ability classrooms. It goes on to show that differentiated instruction consistently yielded positive results across a broad range of targeted groups, and was effective for keeping high-ability students challenged in heterogeneous classrooms.
Diana Lawrence-Brown’s research focuses on the creation of inclusive classroom environments in which all learners can be successful. It proposes that differentiated instruction is as important for students who find school easy as it is for those who find it difficult, because opportunities can be available even to students from traditionally marginalized groups that have often been underrepresented in gifted and talented programs.
Carol Tomlinson’s book defines a differentiated classroom as one that provides different avenues so that each student can learn effectively. It describes what differentiation is, and what differentiation is not.
Feedback is much more than telling a child, ‘Good job!’. This research explains that feedback is forward looking, is powerful in enhancing learning, and provides the bridge between assessment and learning.
Hattie and Timperley’s research concludes that feedback, combined with effective instruction in classrooms, can be very powerful in enhancing learning, and when formative assessment practices are integrated into the minute-to-minute and day-by-day classroom activities of teachers, substantial increases in student achievement are possible.
AITSL’s paper explains that effective feedback practices provide the bridge between assessment and learning. High quality feedback can improve student learning by as much as eight months. There’s a strong evidence base behind the impact of feedback. It is a cost-effective approach to enhancing student outcomes and it can be implemented in any education context.
Dylan Wiliam’s article explains that assessment for learning is any assessment whose first priority is to promote student learning, in that it provides information to be used as feedback by teachers and students to modify teaching and learning. It notes that the existing research base shows only that short- and medium-cycle formative assessments improve student achievement.
Dylan Wiliam’s article begins by explaining that our students do not learn what we teach. If they did, we would never need to assess. Assessment really is the bridge between teaching and learning. It proposes that the term formative should apply not to the assessment but to the function that the evidence generated by the assessment actually serves.It suggests three key processes in learning: 1. Where the learner is right now, 2. Where the learner needs to be, 3. How to get there. Finally the article explains that when students come to believe that smart is not something you are but something you get, they seek challenging work, and in the face of failure, they increase effort – thus owning their own learning.
James Popham’s article discusses long-term assessment in greater detail, proposing that while they may not be without merit, (they may enable teachers to make useful longer-term changes in instruction and curriculum), research currently does not support the claim that they are instructionally beneficial in the short term.