Last term we had a Teacher Talking session and then a Bite to EAP on differentiation in which various ideas were raised and discussed. These sessions led me to thinking more about how I could differentiate better in my own classes. If differentiation means maximising each and every students’ learning, a starting point must be knowing our students and identifying their individual needs. One way to classify these needs might be to group them into the following four categories: Background (what students already know and what they are familiar with); Ability (what each student’s strengths and weaknesses are); Learning Preferences (how each student learns best); Academic Course Needs (what each student needs to be able to do in their future / current university studies).
In each of these four groups there are a wide range of points that could be investigated and considered. For example, when looking at Background, it would be worth finding out where students are from, what their previous education experience was, if they have ever lived away from home before and if they have ever visited or lived in the UK before. For group 2, Ability, this would encompass students’ strengths and weaknesses in the four key skills as well as grammar and vocabulary, and this would change and develop as a course progresses. Group three, Learning Preferences, could include whether students are predominantly auditory, visual, kinaesthetic, or a mixture; whether they prefer working independently or in groups; whether they like to take a strong, vocal role in class or a quieter one; and if they feel they work best in the morning, afternoon or evening. For the last group, Academic Course Needs, there are a wide range of points to look at, such as the academic subject students are or will be studying; the level of study, e.g. undergraduate or post-graduate, taught or research; the requirements of their academic course; the type of essays they need to write; and the different ways in which they will be assessed. Collectively, information from these four areas should provide a starting point for understanding the needs of each learner in a class, as well as the group as a whole.
Having gathered ideas and information about students and their learning needs, the next step is thinking about how this can help create a more effective learning environment for each one of them, but that is possibly the subject of another post…
What type of information do you find out about your students’ needs? How do you get it?
For more ideas about differentiation, take a look at Geoff Petty’s website.