Save up to 30% off selected See and Learn Language and Reading kits
For a limited time, save on See and Learn Language and Reading kits ordered from DSE's US and UK online stores.
Find out more: US Store | UK Store

Accessing the curriculum - Strategies for differentiation for pupils with Down syndrome

Gillian Bird, Sandy Alton and Cecilie Mackinnon

By differentiation the authors mean making changes, from small changes to larger ones, which enable children to learn from the school curriculum, designed for their age group, with their peers in an inclusive schooling system. Curricula in each country differ, but all have been created with the educational needs of children as a priority, to equip them socially and academically to function as a member of their community. In each country the curriculum for all children is likely to be the best guide for teaching the majority of children with Down syndrome of all ages, provided that the curriculum is used flexibly and can be differentiated. A minority of children with highly individual needs may benefit from a reduction in the breadth of their curriculum, making it more focused for meeting their highly specific learning needs. However, differentiation of the curriculum enables children with Down syndrome to learn with their typically developing peers and progress forward in all aspects of their development, as other children do, using the same curriculum as a guide.

Bird G, Alton S, Mackinnon C. Accessing the curriculum - Strategies for differentiation for pupils with Down syndrome. Down Syndrome Issues and Information. 2000.



Differentiation is one of the means by which children of all abilities and learning styles can access and learn from the structure of a common curriculum shared with their peers. It involves the modification and matching of curriculum objectives, teaching and assessment methods, learning activities and resources to pupils' individual abilities, educational needs and learning styles in a social learning context.

Successful differentiation requires that teachers value the achievements of all children and recognise the right of all children to be socially included in school and community lives while acknowledging that children learn in different ways. Teachers also need to maintain positive, open minds about possibilities for learning at all stages of children's development. These attitudes are essential for teaching all learners, for example, 'typically' developing children, unusually able children, children with behavioural difficulties, children with different social, cultural, emotional and economic experiences, children with autism, children with dyslexia, children with visual, hearing and physical disabilities and children with language and developmental delay, including those children who have Down syndrome.

See also:

  • Education for individuals with Down syndrome - Whole school issues [not yet available online]

To be able to differentiate well, schools need to have whole school development for inclusion, with school staff, parents and pupils working in ways that facilitate differentiation. The Index for Inclusion[1] is a set of materials to support schools in a process of inclusive school development, and will lead any school, in any country, into practices that overcome barriers to learning and participation and enable social inclusion and differentiation for all pupils. Whole school development for inclusion is a starting point for differentiation and the needs of individuals are embedded in this social and community framework. Whole school issues in relation to children with Down syndrome are discussed in another module in this series.

The modules on reading and writing illustrate ways of differentiating literacy teaching to teach language and understanding. Similarly, the modules on number make recommendations for how to meet individual learning needs, improve skills and include pupils in maths lessons. The recommendations and techniques described in these modules can be used across the curriculum, for developing and assessing understanding, for recording and for enabling children to participate in whole class activities through adapted or additional resources. Additional examples of work by pupils included in lessons with their peers are illustrated in this module, followed by discussion of teaching style and classroom management, to stimulate teachers' creativity and to raise teachers' expectations that pupils can access, share and learn from the same overall curriculum as their age peers in the same classrooms, provided teachers differentiate for them.