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How collaborative learning can be used as a strategy to support differentiation in the classroom

Published: Mar 18, 2015 2 min read

STEM learning

Having spent 34 years teaching science in a variety of secondary schools I have used many strategies to differentiate learning for students.

One of the most successful strategies I have adapted, is the ‘quick on the draw’ strategy to engage and support students in their classroom learning. It relies on grouping students in threes according to their learning potential and producing differentiated sets of questions about the text. Here is how it goes:

  1. Each groups’ set of cards is on a different colour so no-one is aware of the level of the questions.
  2. Each of the students is given a role, researcher, scribe or runner.
  3. The runner from each group collects their first card and takes it back to the group.
  4. The group work together with the researcher to find the answer and the scribe writes the answer down.
  5. The runner takes the answer to the teacher who gives formative assessment on the answer if they need to improve.
  6. If the answer is detailed enough and correct, the runner takes back the second question.
  7. This continues until all questions are answered.
  8. Each member of the group is then given a question to answer using the information they have collected collaboratively.

The use of this collaborative working strategy as a teaching and learning tool allows students of similar ability to challenge and support each other. By acting as learning buddies they are able to check each other’s work.

Assigning students to groups and allowing them to work collaboratively towards a common learning goal is a great differentiation strategy because students are also developing independent learning skills. By working collaboratively they are able to share ideas and build on one another’s thinking. They will feel mutually supported and can often explain ideas to others who are struggling, in a language that their peers can understand, thus enabling them to grasp the concept.

It is essential that the learning is carefully managed to maximise the benefits, as  success is dependent on everyone making a successful contribution.

The National Science Learning Network has a range of professional development courses to assist with developing differentiation in the classroom: