Most primary teachers would agree that well-targeted differentiation is an essential component of successful teaching and learning. This term, with Covid-19 learning gaps adding to the usual "summer slide" and inevitable handover issues, top-quality differentiation is more crucial than ever before.
But tailoring your teaching to specific groups, or even individual students, takes time and resource, which are things that educators everywhere tend to find in short supply. What’s required is a way to integrate high-quality digital learning with everyday best practice to provide targeted, differentiated lessons for all our pupils.
Thankfully, help is at hand. Our reliance on edtech solutions to support all pupils during the past 18 months has involved a steep learning curve for many of us, but it has helped to identify areas where technology can have a genuine impact.
EducationCity, part of Edmentum’s leading digital curriculum and assessments for learning provision, is an example of a highly engaging and versatile learning platform that can assist with this. Ideal for helping teachers to analyse gaps and plan recovery, EducationCity provides a huge range of engaging activities, adaptable learning and insights into student progression by means of assessments and data tracking.
Edtech support for differentiated learning
Here’s how this sophisticated and powerful tool can help overcome barriers to, and pursue excellence in, differentiated learning.
1. Boosting engagement
Introducing colourful, fast-paced, interactive media is often a sure-fire way of engaging pupils who struggle to maintain focus.
Modelling can be done using colourful slides or videos, after which a carousel learning approach allows some children to rehearse the skills with an iPad activity, while others work on printable resources, allowing the teacher or TA to target specific needs with a small group. All learning tasks provide opportunities for skill rehearsal, including high-quality activity sheets.
There is a huge range of online games and teacher tools, such as English assessments, like this formative reading assessment and mathematical Learn Screens, such as the Rounding Tutorial for Year 4. The flexibility, variety and vibrancy of this kind of approach helps to engage more learners.
Potentially repetitive activities, such as times tables, can be enlivened with the times tables bundle, which includes songs, videos and games to improve speed and accuracy. This kind of hugely versatile content provides an engaging learning experience for all pupils.
2. Combatting a dependent mindset
Some classes, for different reasons (personality, habit or summer birthdays), find it challenging to work alone and take risks with their learning. Using high-quality tech in the classroom, with its transferable skills, can help to foster an independent mindset.
For example, having monitored different children, arranged groups and set appropriate activities by means of EducationCity’s Groups function, a range of independent activities can be set to meet next-step learning needs.
These might include a ThinkIt for those moving towards mastery, a Learn Screen for introducing new learning and a PlayLive activity for those ready to rehearse skills by pitting them against others. There are also interactive timed tasks and videos.
These can be mixed and matched with everyday group discussions, whiteboard practice and recording to provide a wide range of activities to promote independence. And if the everyday classroom experience is removed for whatever reason, high-quality learning can still be assigned and easily accessed from home.
Sarah Morgan, assistant headteacher and edTech demonstrator programme lead for Pheasey Training, Pheasey Park Farm Primary School said: "Children, parents and staff love how child-friendly EducationCity is. It allows the students to independently access the work set for them by their class teacher and explore the site themselves to consolidate their understanding and extend their learning at a pace that suits them."
3. Cutting time-consuming planning and offering across-the-board delivery
Planning teaching and learning that delivers positive outcomes for all learners is challenging.
EducationCity’s search tool (by year group, subject or topic) allows teachers to quickly locate relevant content and distribute learning for different ability groups. Pupils can be assigned simpler tasks and not know that they are learning at a lower level.
Progress can be monitored, with assessment data that is collected and marked for you, and groups can be easily reformed for allocating extra practice activities or revision, accessible both at school and home. This is crucial as partial delivery will continue to be an issue for teachers in the new academic year as we provide catch-up for children who are absent, isolating or receiving interventions elsewhere.
4. Catering for different learning styles
When planning for those differentiated or mixed-ability carousel learning tables, there’s often one "weakest link" task. We know that some learners won’t manage it without support, even from peers, but we’re running out of time or ideas or, sometimes, energy.
EducationCity‘s activities have an "info" button or "book icon" whereby children can rewatch animations, revise scaffolded learning steps and have another go. Crucially, low-ability readers are not barred from accessing content, as there’s also an audio function.
Individual and class gaps are easily located with end-of-unit assessments (marked for you) so misconceptions can be addressed and extra learning promptly located and planned.
The tools to succeed
The return to classrooms this term will come with complications and challenges, and pupils will undoubtedly need additional support. However, with tools such as this at their disposal, teachers have never been more equipped to cope.
Deborah Jenkins is a freelance writer and teacher at Rocks Park Primary School in Sussex