A teacher must differentiate the curriculum in a meaningful, relevant way, adopting teaching strategies based on three ‘pedagogical needs’: common to all learners, specific to groups of learners.
and unique to individual learners (Lewis and Norwich, 2005).

As I gained more confidence in my teaching and classroom management, I started to focus also on forecasting and attending to individual needs. One becomes more flexible when they try different strategies in the class. We plan for variation through ICT, demos, and visual strategies, yet sometimes the different needs are more subtle, and knowing your students better helps a lot in making the curriculum relevant for everybody.

The first differentiation I’ve done was at the class level, with the group having the majority of members with additional learning needs. I planned for inclusive themes, bite-size information, and a and a slower lesson sequence. Yet, this type of differentiation also means being ready to compensate and challenge the more advanced learners.

Another type of differentiation is to plan for students learning EAL. With techniques and learning strategies both rich in English keywords but at the same time celebrating their culture.

The third type is unique to individual learners, and this was the type I learned the hard way. As the student was still in assessment, very advanced in art skills, and having a hard time socially adapting to the new country and school, the curriculum stopped interesting the learner. The student started missing classes and school in general. Meeting with the head of the year and cooperating teacher, planning to find her a space in the art room to feel safe, brought no further results as the year was concluding with exams and it all got busier.

Catching the learner one day during supervision, I asked:

A: We are missing you. What would make you want to come back to the class?

Z: Do you have polymer clay?

A: No, but there is plenty of normal clay.

Z: I like 3D more than 2D. I want to build my little monsters.

A: Come to the next class, and I’ll set you up.


Next class, the student came, and I made a corner for her where Z could feel free to come in the breaks or when she wanted to calm down and replenish. The moment Z started sculpting in clay, the student didn’t move for almost 3 hours (double class + big break) and looked like she was feeling in her element. This beautiful dragon head started to rise. I intervened only when needed, as she has social anxiety, bringing tools and advice and, by the end, having longer conversations on 3D animal heads.

As a teacher, it feels fabulous and teaches you at the same time to be observant, to ask, and to try to support the student in the best way by making different choices in planning.


Image credit: student of Sacred Heart Clonakilty.

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