Adaptive Teaching

This one slipped under the radar a little bit when it was first mentioned in Ofsted’s ‘Overview of Research’ (ref. 180045) back in 2019.

This was the document that summarized the findings from worldwide research that underpinned the Education Inspection Framework (EIF). And it included one short paragraph when comparing adaptive teaching to differentiation by task:

“…On the other hand, adapting teaching in a responsive way, for example by providing focused support to pupils who are not making progress, is likely to improve outcomes (Deunk et al., 2018; Education Endowment Foundation, 2018e). However, this type of adaptive teaching should be clearly distinguished from forms of differentiation that cause teachers to artificially create distinct tasks for different groups of pupils or to set lower expectations for particular pupils.”

It now appears in the grade descriptor for Quality of Education, where Good includes this statement:

“Teachers present subject matter clearly, promoting appropriate discussion about the subject matter being taught. They check pupils’ understanding systematically, identify misconceptions accurately and provide clear, direct feedback. In so doing, they respond and adapt their teaching as necessary without unnecessarily elaborate or individualised approaches.”

From these scant references a considerable focus has arisen on adaptive teaching and it is clearly high priority on inspections, but also in school’s own improvement work based on the quantity of other research evident that supports it’s efficacy.

The good people at PISA (Programme for International Student Assessments) states that “adaptive instruction” is one of the approaches most positively correlated with pupil performance. As an aside, whenever I see a PISA study or report I imagine them all working in the wonky tower, sliding excitedly down a sloping floor to present the latest paperwork to colleagues who are holding their coffee cups precariously on sloping desks, cursing under their breath as something else rolls on to the floor. Maybe that’s just me…

It’s also there in the Early Career Framework where it states:

“Adapting teaching in a responsive way, including by providing targeted support to pupils who are struggling, is likely to increase pupil success.”

However, a number of ECTs I’ve worked with recently had experienced little input into what it entails in their training.

In schools where adaptive teaching has been a focus, the first thing I have suggested, or they have already done, is to blow the dust off the visualizers. Showing pupils WAGOLL, or modelling an example on the screen is a really effective way to support learning and respond in the moment. I saw one being used in an art lesson where the teacher literally modelled in clay and the pupils were able to mimic the techniques she demonstrated almost perfectly. Some required an extra demonstration so she provided one, then went to check those pupils could then learn the technique.

And although this isn’t rocket science, I did recently see another lesson where it was. Pupils were designing and making paper rockets to launch using an air pump. Again, the teacher demonstrated making the body of the rocket using her screen so everyone could see, and then ‘worked the room’, supporting pupils who needed help, praising  and challenging pupils based on their progress and responses to carefully worded questions and ensuring all pupils could succeed by breaking the task into small steps for a few pupils who benefitted from this approach.

A lot of schools have looked at adaptive teaching strategies in English and maths, so it would be useful for those schools to take the next step and consider what this could look like in foundation subjects. Here’s an example from a course I’m running where I share examples of adaptive teaching in a range of subjects, in in PE:


Other examples are slightly more or less complex than this, but hopefully seeing real life examples, alongside the theory is useful for schools. I have worked with schools where not only do year group partners share adaptive teaching ideas with each other, but also have opportunities to share ideas across year groups and key stages.  And where subject leaders focus on adaptive teaching in their subject when monitoring, and also when considering CPD needs of their colleagues.

Not just because Ofsted ‘like to see it’ but because it actually works. How many children in the past had ceilings put on their learning by the old tiered differentiation model? (And had their self-esteem dented by knowing full well the hierarchy of those groups and where they were in the pecking order, no matter how we tried to hide it by using non-hierachical group names?)

To massively mis-quote Darwin, adaptation is key.

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For more information about Tim’s courses he is running including one on Adaptive Teaching here.

To book Tim or one of our consultants to work in your school on Adaptive Teaching or any other area, email us 

You can find us on Twitter @focuseducation1 or get in touch with the Focus Education office on 01457 821 818.




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