Invisible differentiation


I heard a story of an Ofsted inspector taking two student books, one a lower attaining starter and one from a higher attaining starter. The inspector then proceeded to look at the same lesson in the books and try to find evidence of differentiation.

This really made me think. What would they see in my student books? And the answer is troubling; it’s ‘nothing’.

It’s troubling because if they were to make a judgement on just this I would ‘fail’. Yet I know there is a lot that I do to ensure that everyone achieves and can be extended.

It’s in my teaching along the way…

When I teach, I consider the variation of students in the room. My use of vocabulary ranges from ensuring the students with lower literacy understand key vocabulary to the use of more technical terms. Everyone in the room can access both but as minimum they can know and use the core vocabulary.

I go through structures and skills all together as a class. Again, ensuring that all can access the basics and yet everyone can access the high level. For example, I go through a possible structure to use in their answer. It’s up to them if they use it. However, everyone has a copy of that structure in their folders. I wouldn’t just give that to some students; they all have it.

I also model good examples. Every student has a copy of these. This means they can all see what a good one looks like and can use it as a model for their work.

I will use emphasis in my explanations. I will highlight higher level responses. I will indicate the kind of vocabulary that shows a deeper understanding. The higher attaining starts are well aware of what they need to do, but I haven’t excluded anyone else from this.

I also don’t just teach what is on the spec. I extend knowledge and understanding well beyond. For example, I teach students some Arabic at GCSE. I don’t need to but it really pushes their skills and extends their core knowledge.

It’s on the board…

I leave lots on the board that is supportive or may extend. For example, some of the technical key words, a diagram of the structure they could use, a quote they can attempt to use in their work by themselves. If it’s not on a PowerPoint slide then that support will be gone and potentially unevidenced.

It’s in my in-class support….

I walk around my class, answering questions. If I see common issues I stop the class and clarify. I reference the stuff on the board if I can see students are missing something. I remind them to use their notes. I remind them of good examples and structures. It’s what I tell them whilst they work.

It’s in their use of notes….

I encourage students to take notes during my lessons. Whilst they vary in terms of independent notes, there are core ideas, words and content that I make them all have. Sometimes when students are doing a piece of work I will give them the option to use their notes or not. These core notes provide a basis for their support. I train them to look back at their notes each lesson and see how useful they are. As these notes will include a range of material including that needed for high end answers, they can all use their notes to achieve.

It’s in my expectations….

I expect all students to do the top end work. I don’t give them different tasks based on any sort of data. They all do the same task but all the previous stages means they can all access it. I don’t have students saying ‘I don’t know what to do’ because the preparation and support given for the piece of work means that, unless they’ve been absent, they can all attempt a piece of work and have a range of support as above.

What you won’t see

On the whole, you won’t see different tasks, different vocabulary lists, different structures, levelled worksheets, target level activities, different homeworks, different mark schemes…. anything that limits the possibilities for students. 

In my classes, you won’t really see anything different in student books which ‘proves’ that differentiation has happened. However it does happen and it seems to work fine, except if someone comes looking for it in their books……..


5 thoughts on “Invisible differentiation

  1. Pingback: Alphabetical Signposts to Teacher Excellence – D – Teach innovate reflect

  2. Pingback: Invisible Differentiation | Teaching and learning history

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