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Adaptive Teaching - Differentiation by a Different Name?

The Polesworth School ran a CPD session on Adaptive Teaching in October that sparked quite a few discussions. Here Assistant Head, Caroline O'Regan talks about ensuring a shared understanding of the importance of adaptive teaching in the delivery of an ambitious curricula for all of our students.

Our session about Adaptive teaching on October’s CPD day proved to be quite a topic for discussion. It hopefully provided clarity and to an extent a renewed sense of autonomy, for those where perhaps the original message about the importance of the ‘same diet’ for all students has become somewhat mudded. Partly, as a result of feedback from the session, we delivered a streamlined version to Curriculum leaders & SLT early last week. We want to ensure that there is a shared understanding of the importance of adaptive teaching in the delivery of our ambitious curricula for all students.

What is adaptive teaching?

Adaptive teaching is not differentiation by another name, with different resources, handouts, different learning objectives which automatically produce a glass ceiling for student achievement. Neither is it an excuse for deviating from the shared scheme of learning and doing your own thing.

Adaptive teaching is not revolutionary, it is high quality teaching for the students in our classes.​ Adaptive teaching happens before the lesson and during the lesson; it is ‘adapting planning prior to the lesson & adjusting practice during the lesson’ (EEF, 2021) It is about planning for and teaching the learners in front of us in the classroom at that time. It is the same diet, but at a different pace.

For adaptive teaching to truly ‘do what it says on the tin’ we must be continuously assessing (and I don’t mean testing, I mean monitoring) what students know and understand. The teacher’s role is to monitor each child’s learning and to adjust instruction as necessary. In essence, ‘CHECK, REFLECT, RESPOND’. This is formatively assessing the ‘learned curriculum’ before embarking upon the next planned chunk of new learning. And this takes time, planning and agility within the classroom. The questions to ask ourselves is ‘Does everyone understand …?’ and ‘How do I know that?’ ‘Can everyone explain their understanding?’ ‘What mechanisms have I put in place to check student understanding?’

And when we have checked understanding what we do next is vitally important:

There is a vast array of strategies at our disposal when considering adaptive, high quality, teaching and below are just a few of them:

Adaptive Teaching Strategies​

  • Scaffolding​

  • Questioning e.g. cold calling & checking for understanding​

  • Modelling/live modelling e.g. live annotating under visualiser

  • Guided practice​

  • Chunking or teaching concepts in small steps​

  • Flexible grouping based on the strengths and weaknesses of individuals ​

  • Live marking​

  • Partially completed examples/non-examples​

  • Sharing ideas/discussion​

  • Choice of activities e.g. in pause lessons – students becoming responsible for their development​

  • Explanations/diagrams/graphic organisers​

  • Sharing success criteria ​

  • Providing sufficient time to process instructions/concepts (think-pair-share)

Further Reading:

Below are links to two podcasts that influenced the thinking behind this article.

Adam Boxer’s overview of Afl/formative assessment

Dr Nick Soderstrom’s piece highlights the distinction between learning and performance

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