You are on page 1of 12


The discussion concerning differentiation within education is a fundamental

discussion in the sphere of education today. It is an area which separates the person
whose job is a teacher from the person who is a teacher. The idea of differentiation
extends beyond a lesson plan and plays on multiple dimensions of teaching and
education. It is a concept which can be seen as a philosophy but it is not restricted
to abstraction, but rather it can be expressed through principles and techniques.
Beyond its applicability, it is also an idea that can be embodied by the teacher. To
define differentiation for this essay, Id like to use the definition used by the New
South Wales curriculum support package which states that differentiation is
understanding individual differences and devising institutional strategies to cater
for students needs (Robinson, 2003). Differentiation seems to have strong parallels
to the learning theory of constructivism. Essentially, a teacher who operates from a
constructivist learning theory understands that learning is student centred and
knowledge comes from prior knowledge. With the underlying belief that learning is
based on prior experiences, a teacher has already taken on a differentiated
approach to students learning.

Essentially, differentiation isnt a technique that is employed whenever a teacher

has a chance, but rather it is an idea that is embodied by the teacher and expressed
through the behaviours and expressions of the teacher. When using the world
embodiment, I define this as literally incorporating physically, the social and
material world in which we live (Krieger, 2005). When discussing the embodiment
of differentiation, initially it is a mindset shift. The shift in perception is from viewing
students as a class and viewing students as individual students with the

acknowledgement that each student has a unique set of traits, characteristics, level
of knowledge and experience (M.Ed. in Differentiation - Sample Lesson, 2011). This
is also a view held by constructivism which suggests that the theory of
constructivism and the technology of differentiation are compatible ideas.

Beyond the mindset and perception shift, the embodiment of differentiation is

manifested in the way a teacher conducts lessons. Students are acknowledged and
seen as individuals and also spoken to as individuals (Tomlinson, 2000). This can
involve the teacher walking around the classroom and discussing what the student
is learning about and what it means to them. According to Tomlinson, differentiation
becomes responsive teaching rather than one size fits all. An important aspect to
the embodiment of differentiation is adaptability and planning for unpredictability.

The importance of differentiation is in the global trends of classrooms around the

world. The diversity of contemporary classrooms is increasing compared to two or
three decades ago (Subban, 2006). At this point in time, educators are being
compelled to reshape their approach to education due to the inclusion of students
from non-English speaking backgrounds, students from diverse cultural
backgrounds and students with disabilities (Subban, 2006). The old method of
simply lecturing the content to the middle percentile of the class and having the
students who took in the information regurgitate it on the exam is doomed to fail.
Therefore, differentiation offers an approach that supports the individual learner. It
has the capacity to support different learning styles while challenging students
appropriate to their individual levels of development.

The way in which differentiation is expressed and employed effectively within a
classroom revolves around fundamental principles. These principles include
respectful tasks which means all students work is equally interesting, appealing
and engaging (Braggett, Day & Minchin, 1997). The importance of this principle is
so that students do not assume that there are tasks that separate the smart
students from the other ones, or the less academically inclined from the others.
Rather, the tasks should appear to be interesting to all students so that students do
not feel like they are left out or relegated to the lower tasks. Flexible grouping is the
principle that a differentiated classroom will use group settings in multiple ways and
not be restricted to level of content understanding (Braggett, Day & Minchin, 1997).
Flexible grouping means that a classroom may be divided into groups for the
reasons such as a small portion of the class not understanding a particular concept.
Or to group students with a similar learning style. Or grouping students with similar
interests in order for them to use the shared language and vocabulary of that
common interest to enhance their learning. The importance of the principal of
continual assessment lays in the feedback that assessment provides. It is an insight
into where the students are at as individuals and as a group. It also reveals the
effectiveness of teaching, the levels of learning retention through methods and
activities of teaching as well as the overall impact that a teacher has had on
facilitating learning within the classroom. Finally, the fostering of a community
environment within a classroom has the effect of reducing rivalries, creating a more
homely and friendly atmosphere that encourages participation, inclusion and
belonging (Braggett, Day & Minchin, 1997).

Based on the ideas, principals, philosophies and mindset shifts associated with

differentiation, practical strategies to ensure differentiation is effective within the
classroom are continuous assessment. Essentially this means that students will be
continually assessed accurately so that a teacher understands which level the
students are at as a group and as individual learners. When using the word
assessment this is not restricted to infrequent formal exams. Rather assessment
can be informal in the form of a classroom discussion where students are able to
demonstrate their knowledge of what they have learned. It can also reveal which
students are ahead and which ones are behinds. In addition, an informal
questionnaire before a new lesson or unit has begun is another strategy.

Listen to spoken texts constructed for different purposes, for example to

entertain and to persuade, and analyse how language features of these
texts position listeners to respond in particular ways

The nature of this curriculum area relies on personal responses and opinions.
Essentially the strengths of the constructivist theory are amplified in the sense that
students will use past experiences to develop responses to questions involved with
such a curriculum area. While the emphasis is on working with others, it is
necessary for students to express opinions and points of views originally. On a more
technical level students must be able to demonstrate their knowledge of sentence
structures as well as express their knowledge of words and word groups. When it
comes to this specific curriculum area, students will be required to evaluate bias
and stereotyping in the spoken texts that will be analysed and will discuss their

findings. Students will also have the chance to identify and comment on omissions
of information. Furthermore they will explore and identify moral and ethical
dimensions of an issue represented in the spoken texts. These dimensions will be
discussed and it will be observed how they align or contradict with different

For this year 9 class, the area of curriculum should be taught based on the level that
the class is at in relation to the ability to discuss and analyse spoken text. For this
reason, the class will begin with an informal assessment in order to gauge the
overall level of the class as well as accommodating for the academic disparity
amongst students. To assess the level of the class I suggest that the class is shown
a clip of a media presentation about an issue that year 9s are able to relate to and
understand. For this informal assessment, the class will discuss a comedic
commentary by Russell Brand about Johnny Depps migrant dogs. The most
important part of this informal assessment is to recognise where the students are at
in relation to understanding and analysing how the use of language is used to
position the reader.

After initial discussions about the way in which Brand positions the viewer
contrasted to the way Barnaby Joyces use of language, I would like to suggest that
students break up into small groups and choose from a selection of spoken texts.
These spoken texts will be in the form of politically hip hop music using the works of
music artists such as Immortal Technique, Lowkey and Vinnie Paz. After
analysing and engaging with spoken text in the form of music, students will engage
with spoken text in the form of news presented by entertaining and engaging

journalists. I would like to suggest that students choose from popular journalists
such as Mehdi Hassan, Jeremy Paxman or Waleed Aly. In addition, students will also
have the choice of engaging with news which is more blatant and obvious in their
use of language and the way in which they position the listener. Ideally, students
will be paired or grouped in threes based on their level comprehension, critical and
creative thinking competency and skill in identifying and discussing the use of
language as well as identifying and discussing bias and stereotyping.

The reason I have chosen to use grouping to differentiate in this classroom is

because it is most appropriate to do so based on the nature of the task. The task
requires group interaction about different elements of spoken texts. The nature of
grouping in this particular aspect of the curriculum allows the students who are
more advanced in comprehension and critical thinking to discuss ideas on a
different level of complexity. Students who are more capable of thinking about
complex ideas, dimensions of morals and ethics represented in different texts are
able to engage with the text in a more sophisticated manner. These students can be
challenged with music produced by Immortal Technique and may wish to compare
or contrast against a journalist such as Mehdi Hassan or Waleed Aly.

As for students who struggle with the nature of the task or are still developing their
evaluation, critical and creative thinking skills and applying them to spoken texts, I
suggest that these students use spoken texts developed by fox news such as Bill
ORielly or Sean Hannity. The nature of these journalists is much more overt and
obvious; their use of language is not sophisticated and is intended to be understood
by lay people which is simple use of language which overtly demonstrates bias,

stereotyping and moral as well as ethical discussion points.

I believe that the use of such spoken texts which I have mentioned above is ideal for
a classroom which is diverse in competencies. The students who are at the lower
levels of competency will not be discouraged and will not look towards the more
capable students because the task is essentially the same. However the students
most likely will not realise that the more competent students have been given a
more challenging spoken text because from their perspective they will most likely
see it as a variation of the same course work.

The Ottoman Empire (c.1299 c.1683)


The way of life in the Ottoman Empire (social, cultural,

economic and political features) and the roles and relationships of
different groups in society


For this subject area which will be taught to year 8 students, students will be
required to approach such a topic critically, creatively and with a regard for ethical
understanding. Students will also engage with different cultures and will therefore
be open to intercultural understanding. Based on the principals of constructivism,
students will be able to use their understanding of cultural identity to build on the
teachings of this curriculum area. In a city like Melbourne, particularly its northern
suburbs, students will be able to reflect on their own cultural heritage and make
meaning by comparing and associating the cultural aspects of multiculturalism with

the historical lessons about the Ottoman Empire. Through this part of the
curriculum, students will be engaging with their own sense of social awareness and
their appreciation of diverse perspectives. Students will also be engaging with their
understanding of ethical concepts and will explore values, rights and
responsibilities. Furthermore, students will be engaging with culture and cultural

As mentioned in the earlier differentiated class on English and spoken texts, a

crucial element of the differentiated classroom and curriculum is the use of
assessments. An informal assessment in this class will reveal students
understanding of cultural identity, values, views, beliefs and perceptions. The
importance of this lays in the students depth of understanding about cultural issues
and cultural disparities from one part of the world to another. I would like to
suggest that the informal assessment be in the form of a question and answer
format. Students will be asked questions such as: What does culture mean to you?
How does culture influence values/beliefs/ethics?

After students have undertaken the informal assessment, the levels of

understanding of culture will be gauged and a teacher will be able to adjust the
complexity of the content to the class as well as to individual students or groups of
students who are either at the highly competent and advanced end of the spectrum
and the students who are at the developing end of the spectrum.

Based on the level of cultural understanding of the class as a whole and of the
students as individuals, I would suggest that a teacher identifies the students who

are at a higher level, at an average level and at a rudimentary level. After
identifying the individual skills and competencies of the students I would suggest
that a teacher employs the strategy of tiered assessment. Tiered assessment will be
augmented through variations of complexity. The task for the class will be to read
different excerpts from historical fiction. Id recommend excerpts from both My
Name is Red by Orhan Pamuk and The Tournament by Matthew Rielley. The
excerpts from these novels will be used to give students insight into Ottoman
lifestyle and way of life including the way in which culture was expressed through
lifestyle. It will also allow students to explore through reading these novels how
political systems impacted culture and lifestyle, how religion influenced political
systems, how religion impacted views, values and ideals.

After students have engaged with the supplementary literature, I would suggest
that students write creative pieces about life under the Ottoman Empire. These
creative pieces can be in the form of a narrative with a protagonist such as a sultan
guiding the reader, it can also be from a third person perspective which describes
what is happening in the scene that is being written. Essentially students will
approach this task from a creative angle. Tiered assessment will be applied onto the
students through the expression of their writing. I would suggest that the more
advanced students allow their character to describe the lifestyle of Turkish people
under the Ottoman Empire by discussing the impacts of political systems, beliefs
and social history on the ideals of the individuals. Perhaps they can highlight this
through a personal struggle. This is a very complicated task but I believe that such
a task can draw out the talents of the advanced students in the class.

For the students who are mid ranged, I would suggest that they write a narrative
which will highlight the joys, the plights or the struggles of either visitors who come
to Istanbul or for foreigners who are from other parts of the world such as a Roman
or an Englishman and tell a story about what they encountered, what they were
surprised by and what was unique about the Ottomans in terms of ideas as well as
customs and beliefs.

For the students who are struggling, I would suggest that students simply write a
story about an Ottoman who is either in a high position such as a Sultan or an Imam
who gives a tour to a foreigner. This tour should discuss the way in which the
political system is run, the way in which society is organized and even a history of
the Ottoman Empire. Students writing this story will be supported through cues
such as what would it have been like for a merchant or a soldier.

My only issue with the above idea and expression of tiered assessment is whether
the content will be too heavy and I am expecting too much from year 8 students. At
the same time, this differentiated curriculum is more obviously differentiated and
my concern is that the less competent students will assume that they are partaking
in the easier task. Furthermore, while I understand that advanced students enjoy
challenges I am concerned that they might resent such challenges when realizing
the class work of their classmates is much easier than their tasks.


Braggett, E., Day, A., & Minchin, M. (1997). Differentiated programs for

secondary schools. Cheltenham, Vic: Hawker Brownlow Education.

Gross, M., Sleap, B., & Pretorius, M. (1999). Gifted students in

secondary schools. Sydney: GERRIC, University of New South Wales.

Krieger, N. (2005). Embodiment: a conceptual glossary for

epidemiology. Journal Of Epidemiology & Community Health, 59(5), 350-355.
M.Ed. in Differentiation - Sample Lesson. (2011).
New teacher survival guide: Differentiating-Lesson Planning. (2011).

New York.

Subban, P. (2006). Differentiated instruction: A research

basis. International Education Journa, 7(7), 935-947.

Tomlinson, C. (2000). Reconcilable Differences? Standards-Based

Teaching and Differentiation. How To Differentiate Instruction, 58(1), 6-11.