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Classroom differentiation: ability, readiness and interest

There are three principal learning conditions that teachers should understand when considering differentiation in the classroom. Learn about them here.

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In the first part of our series on differentiation in the classroom, we identified seven learning profiles that teachers should be aware of. This profile differentiation allows teachers to give pupils of all strengths and weaknesses the best chance of learning.

As a key part of differentiation, teachers should establish their pupils’ readiness to learn, their learning interest and learning ability. Scoring learner profiles in these three areas arms teachers with the best strategy to teach a mixed-ability classes. Firstly, however, it is important to understand that readiness is not synonymous with a pupil’s ability, and both can influence his or her motivation, as well as external factors. In this post we breakdown these three principal profile differences and what a high, medium or low rating in each could translate to.

Readiness to learn

Learning readiness refers to how well equipped a pupil is to learn, including circumstantial and environmental factors. A student with a low readiness to learn may be encumbered by difficult personal circumstances in his or her life, or a lower emotional or physical maturity. It can point to external distractions or a personal barrier.

Medium scoring pupils may have medium or high ability and interest in learning, however for whatever reason, they may need some improvements in learning preparation. This can also be the result of changing personal circumstances. Teachers must work hard to engage this pupil to stop him or her becoming the invisible child.

A highly scoring student may be of an appropriate age to learn a new skill, and is unaffected by any distractions or personal problems. He or she is in a stable, suitable learning environment with a rich supply of learning resources.

Learning ability

The academic capability of a pupil generally dictates the pace at which he or she can learn. A student with lower ability and thus a slower pace of learning is by no means an indicator for future failings. A student with less ability may be less academically capable than his or her peers, but teachers should be aware this learner may excel in more specific areas.

Students with a medium ability score may find themselves less motivated to learn, particularly if they lack the confidence to perform in groups. While they may not be as reserved as low ability learners, these pupils may benefit from learning materials with progressively harder tasks to grow their confidence.

A student with a high learning ability score may not present any immediate concerns for teachers or parents, but teachers must ensure this type of learner doesn’t become complacent. This type of pupil should still be given regular attention and assessment so his or her interests are constantly stimulated to avoid a lack of motivation.

Learning interest

Referring to the levels of motivation a pupil possesses to learn, learning interest will indicate how passionate learners feel about general and specialised subjects. A pupil with a low interest score could be feeling unmotivated due to his or her academic ability or disruptive external factors and circumstances. Teachers should assess his or her ability level to ascertain the situation that is impacting their motivation.

A medium-scoring pupil could be an averagely performing learner and lacking interest in achieving more. This pupil could be more introverted than their peers, and teachers should work on improving his or her confidence.

A highly motivated student, however, could be a high academic performer across all subjects, or a pupil with a specific passion for a specialist subject. This type of student should be encouraged to pursue his or her passion to prosper in future.

Once the implications of these three common learning conditions — readiness to learn, learning ability and learning interest — are fully understood, it is important for teachers to address their mixed-ability pupils using methods of differentiation. These methods are generally listed under seven principal categories, and we will address these in the third part of our series on differentiation in the classroom.

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