Differentiated and targeted teaching is a valued High Impact Teaching Strategy (HITS) that helps teachers ensure that learning is a challenging but successful experience for students of all abilities.
At Carlton Gardens Primary School, school leaders and teachers employ the Response to Intervention (RTI) program to apply differentiated teaching approaches to students across a number of areas of the curriculum.
Response to intervention (RTI) explained
This multi-tier approach to classroom learning enables teachers to identify the abilities of individual learners and provide additional instruction to learners who may benefit from support in smaller, more targeted settings.
Student achievement is closely monitored to help both teachers and students understand how their development is progressing, and to celebrate success in their learning. Teachers can use this data – as Carlton Gardens have – to make decisions about student's instructional needs and whether they may need to move between intervention tiers.
Teacher Monika Planinic explains that after trialling the model for just under a month, the response from staff was really positive:
'I think because we could actually see the changes within the students learning over the three week period,' Monika said.
Applying differentiation at Carlton Gardens
Carlton Gardens Classroom Teachers Mel Lazaroo, Hollie Winfield, Maire Clapham and Intervention Teacher Monika Planinic each explain how they contribute to the success of the RTI model, and what qualities they look for to identify whether or not a student should be moved between different groups in the second and third tiers of intervention.
Tier one intervention: Whole-class instruction
The first tier sees all students receiving the same core teaching and learning, usually in a whole-class setting. These lessons ensure that all students are exposed to the general curriculum teaching.
'After we've taught the Tier 1 teaching, the core unit, all the students are given the same common assessment task so that w e can look at whether or not they've all achieved the essential skills and knowledge that they need,' explains Teacher Hollie Winfield.
'Then based on those results, we group the children into Tier 2 interventions.'
Tier two intervention: Targeted learning
At the second tier of intervention, Carlton Gardens differentiate students into three types of learners – each with similar learning needs. These include consolidation groups for students performing at the expected level; extension groups for students performing above the expected level and support groups for students who need additional targeted teaching to meet the expected level.
'For three, half-hour sessions a week, [support groups] target just that particular skill and getting them to reach the standards within hopefully two to three weeks of that targeted teaching,' explains Team Leader Mel Lazaroo.
Teachers collaborate with education support staff who lead the more established consolidation groups and specialist teachers, who provide more targeted teaching support. As the sessions progress, all teachers and support staff take detailed notes so they can collaboratively assess student learning at the end of each session.
'These short tests allow the teachers to be able to ascertain whether students did understand the skill or they were unable to understand the skill,' explains Monika.
'If they did understand, they will then move into a different group. Then if they didn't understand, they stay in that group and they continue to work on that skill.'
Tier three intervention: Intensive teaching and comprehensive evaluation
The final tier of intervention is targeted towards students who consistently show little progress, even at second tier intervention. Principal Tina McDougall explains that when the school introduced the RTI model, they began with only the first two tiers.
'For a year or two, we just looked to Tier 1 and Tier 2, but over time we also had those students who are Tier 3 that were 12 months to 18 months behind their peers,' said Tina.
'We needed to then develop that intervention program even further by having someone designated as a Tier 3 teacher that could pick both kids up.'
At the third level of intervention, students work with specialised teachers who develop individualised learning plans designed to really target their learning and ensure they can realise learning growth and success. Teachers can also begin to identify those students who may require additional assistance through Student Support Services and undertake this particular intervention.
High impact teaching strategies: Differentiation
Effective teachers use evidence of student learning readiness, learning progress, and knowledge of individual student learning profiles, to make adjustments for individuals so all students experience challenge, success and improved learning.