Over the past few months I have seen many teachers tweeting about the concept of differentiation and the expectations placed on them to demonstrate they are differentiating for their students. One comment has stuck with me: “A HAP book should look different to that of a MAP or LAP book”. This whole idea concerns me when we have moved to non-tiered, undifferentiated GCSEs for the large proportion of the curriculum, since September 2016.

Geoff Petty defines differentiation as follows: ‘the process by which differences between learners are accommodated so that all students in a group have the best possible chance of learning’.

So, it is a process by which teachers ‘accommodate’ different types of learners to ensure they can ALL access the learning. Having read the excellent Make Every Lesson Count by Shaun Allison and Andy Tharby, I agree that differentiation isn’t about the historical notion of providing students with different worksheets, but about providing suitable challenge, and being responsive to support them in achieving the learning goals. In the past, many low ability students have fallen in to the ‘comfort zone’ where there has been low challenge and a self-fulfilling prophecy of underachievement. I believe if teachers set high challenge and allow students to enter the ‘struggle zone’, then with appropriate support, we see students thrive.

If we take one element of a GCSE specification relating to river landscapes:

How river landscapes contrast between the upper courses, mid courses and lower courses of rivers and why channel shape (width, depth), valley profile, gradient, discharge, velocity and sediment size and shape change along the course of a named UK river.

This key idea from the specification is ‘undifferentiated’; it is essential that ALL students studying geography at GCSE can understand the reasons why river landscapes contrast between their upper, middle and lower courses. It is therefore the role of the teacher to set up the learning for ALL students to reach this outcome but provide scaffolding and be responsive for those students that might require more support to do so. The illustration from Make Every Lesson Count demonstrates this:

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This is how we have approached differentiation in our department. Firstly, we don’t have graded success criteria (using the terms ALL, MOST, SOME; bronze, silver, gold; or any other 3-tiered system of outcomes). Instead we have just one outstanding outcome, using the phrase, ‘an outstanding geographer will be able to…’ to set the bar high and challenge all students right from the outset. This means that our expectations of the students are high, and we inspire all to work towards the highest learning goal.





To provide appropriate support for students when they are working on the knowledge quiz, we have a structured sheet. Overtime, this scaffolded support is reduced to 4 supported questions, then 3, until the student no longer needs the additional support. This has meant the lower ability students don’t hit the ‘panic zone’ at the start of the lesson.



We then have several strategies that we use, as and when appropriate, depending on the subject content and the students, which includes:

  • Structure strips
  • Modelling
  • Questioning
  • Highlighting
  • Question stems
  • Writing frames

The effective use of these strategies relies on the expertise of the teacher, which has been a departmental focus to ensure all teachers know what excellence looks like in geography.


The CRAFT of assessmenti

The CRAFT of assessment

The new 9-1 GCSEs have created a challenge for teachers to develop students’ ability to think deeper and recall a wide range of concepts and processes at the end of their two- or three-year course. Regardless of their starting point, the ability for all students to retain and recall knowledge effectively across their GCSE consistently is something that we as a department have developed.

This has led to the evolving of an approach called the CRAFT of assessment, which involves teachers creating learning opportunities for students to do the following:

C – Condense

R – Review

A – Assess

F – Feed-forward

T – Target-driven improvement

The CR – Condense and Review

Condensing is all about the students taking ownership for their classroom notes, using their own preferred method of breaking down the concepts and processes into smaller chunks for revising. For example, in our department over the last few months, students have been creating revision clocks, flash cards and mind maps. The emphasis is on the student doing the condensing as homework and the teacher checking for completion and factual accuracy.

The role of teachers has been to introduce a 5-question knowledge quiz at the start of every lesson to continually check retention of knowledge across different topics.

The A – Assess

Our new IFA (Interim Formative Assessments) have been written to test students’ ability to apply their understanding of the content every 2/3 weeks as demonstrated by the SOW planning schedule below. The new IFAs mirror the type of questions that students would expect to receive in their GCSE examination and typically last 20 minutes. These diagnostic tests allow teachers to use assessment for learning to provide students with feedback on their progress without the use of grades, percentages or total marks. This cycle of IFAs repeats every 2/3 weeks, with each one testing across the topics taught to date.

At the end of the 8/10 weeks, students then sit a summative assessment based on all learning from the previous weeks, allowing teachers to provide students with detailed feedback on their progress, along with a grade.



The FT – Feed-forward and target-driven improvement

Once students have completed their IFAs and received feedback from their teacher, there is specific learning time set aside for feed-forward tasks. These tasks are specific to an aspect of the topic students may have struggled with, enabling target-driven improvement.