Whole Class Instruction Enables Targeted Support

In-class differentiation means that the whole class is disadvantaged, because they cannot experience an ordered classroom where the expert instructs them. They cannot experience a coherent curriculum because the curriculum must be personalised.

But there is a huge difference between in-class differentiation and targeted support outside class. Schools such as Michaela, for example, target pupils who need it with an intensive synthetic phonics programme. This is because they recognise that without these fundamentals firmly in place, pupils will not be able to access fully the rich knowledge curriculum that they offer through whole class instruction.

Or consider the example of Japan. Large mixed ability classes receive whole class instruction, and they are all expected to reach the same standard. But teachers regularly give additional support to pupils outside lesson time. They are able to do this because they teach far fewer lessons per week due to the large class sizes, and because they are not wasting time producing complicated, ineffective plans for different activities within each lesson.

This is the best model. Coherent, whole class instruction in orderly classrooms, with the expectation that everyone will master the content, combined with targeted support outside the classroom, made possible by an efficient whole school approach.

In the madness and chaos of differentiated classrooms, with exhausted teachers and the noise and distraction of multiple activities, those who need additional support do not get it. In the orderly, sane world of a coherent curriculum and whole class instruction, there is plenty of time and energy to give them the extra help they need.

Whole class instruction enables targeted support. Differentiation damages everyone’s progress, but like all ineffective approaches, it hurts the disadvantaged most of all.

Further reading:

Differentiation Damages the Disadvantaged

The Cult of Differentiation


6 thoughts on “Whole Class Instruction Enables Targeted Support

  1. When the teaching is largely focused on knowledge and understanding, the provision of targetted support is greatly simplified because much if not most of it can be delivered by TAs, other pupils or even through self-testing. The use of knowledge books such as those used at Michaela greatly simplifies.this.

    A key part of the education plan for our proposed free school–which was effectively sabotaged by the education adviser appointed by the DfE–was competition between houses, with each house meeting daily in mixed-ability and mixed-age groups, with each one containing more or less the same proportion of pupils who needed targetted help. The older and more able pupils would work with them, and regular testing would provide ample incentive to ensure that everyone stayed on message. Each group would have its own TA, who would communicate with teachers about any special problems that needed attention.

    I would dearly have loved to have seen this in action. Our education adviser–for whom ‘differentiation’ was gospel– was not at all impressed, We felt that routine testing would greatly reduce the need for ‘performance management’, and no doubt we should have kept our mouths shut about this.


  2. Fantastic, as always. The high school where I work in Alabama just spent an entire year of professional development covering tiered instruction in the classroom…and the plan is to do the same next school year. It almost physically hurts to know the resulting damage of so much differentiation in the classroom.


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Thoughtful and reasonable discussion is always welcome.

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