Creative approaches to teaching and to differentiation
How do we create effective learning opportunities for children with Down
Buckley SJ. Creative approaches to teaching and to differentiation. Down Syndrome News and Update. 2004;4(1);1-1.
The four feature articles in this issue have a common theme – how do we
create effective learning opportunities for children with Down syndrome? Three
of the articles are concerned with teaching number and mathematical concepts to
children while the first provides a detailed guide to the use of computer
software in the classroom across all areas of the curriculum and in preschool
years. The last article is more theoretical, the first three are more practical
but all include ways of approaching differentiation.
Differentiation – is it really difficult?
This word, differentiation, has become a BIG word in teacher's vocabularies – at
least this is my experience when running teacher training days for the inclusion
of children into mainstream schools. For those not familiar with this word, it
means adapting teaching methods and the content of the curriculum to allow
individual pupils to learn effectively.
Adapting teaching methods requires teachers to take account of the child's
specific learning needs – for example, taking account of hearing loss, motor
skill delays, speech and language delays and verbal short-term memory delays.
Adapting the curriculum means simplifying the content and selecting learning
targets from the class lesson that are meaningful for the child with learning
At the risk of being controversial and receiving some cross letters – I have to
say that I sometimes feel that teachers and schools are often making too much
fuss about the work involved in differentiation for individual children. We are
sometimes involved in battles between schools and LEAs where schools are arguing
for considerable extra teacher time to be funded to allow them to differentiate
the curriculum for a particular child. In these situations, teachers seem to
feel that differentiation is going to be a very large and time-consuming task
when, in fact, it is often quite simple and straightforward.
Using ICT for differentiation
One very powerful tool to help teachers and assistants to plan differentiated
lessons is ICT. In the first article, Mandy Wood explains the way in which ICT
can help to adapt teaching and learning methods to take account of the learning
strengths and weaknesses of children with Down syndrome – the first part of the
differentiation task. She then goes on to illustrate the ways in which a wide
range of available software can be used directly by children to learn at home
and at school – the software already simplifying the learning – and also how
many programmes can help teachers and assistants to prepare worksheets, to find
pictures for topics and to support the learning of key objectives – the second
part of the differentiation task.
There are training implications for schools, as teachers and Learning Support
Assistants (LSAs) need to have some computer skills but this should surely be a
requirement for all staff in our schools in the 21st century.
Creative, practical approaches
The next two articles, written by
Emma Saunders, an LSA, and
Wendy Uttley, a
parent and maths lecturer, share their practical experiences of teaching number
to individual children with Down syndrome. Both articles give clear examples of
creative ideas thought up by Emma and Wendy, which led to them making simple but
effective teaching materials and activities. Emma's article provides a number of
ideas for developing an understanding of number, and money and time. Although
her pupil is in primary school, many of the ideas could be adapted for older
children still working on time, money and number in secondary education. Wendy's
article highlights the need for clear materials, small steps and much practice
to consolidate learning at each stage – again a message which applies to
children across the age range.
Not rocket science
I hope that reading these articles will allay the fears of some teachers and
show them that differentiation is not difficult or complicated. It does require
some forward planning – LSAs often do the practical work in preparing materials
but they need to know lesson topics in advance and teachers should choose the
simplified learning objectives for the child. It also requires time for LSAs to
make materials and access to card, laminator and computer. However, many LSAs
also become quite confident at simplifying the teacher's messages as the lesson
progresses and card and pens should always be at the ready in lessons in order
to do this.
An essential teacher skill
Many children in all schools (some 20-30%) need the curriculum differentiated.
There are children who learn more slowly in every class and many are let down by
the school system at present. They also need individually planned lessons and
more support – often they could be doing small group work with an LSA and a
child with Down syndrome included in the group. The UK government has recently
published 'Removing barriers to achievement' and this document makes
'personalised learning' an expectation for all children. This means that schools
will need to build in time for training and for planning. We hope that some of
the examples of differentiation we include in this and other issues of DSNU may
allay some of their anxieties.
Removing Barriers to Achievement is available from The Department of
Education and Skills, Tel: 0845 6022260, Fax: 0845 6033360, Email:
email@example.com. It can also be downloaded online at