Adaptive Teaching

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 summarised the findings from worldwide research that underpinned the Education Inspection Framework (EIF). 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, which is clearly a high priority in inspections and school improvement work based on the quantity of other research that supports its 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 struggling pupils is likely to increase pupil success.”

However, several 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 visualisers. Showing pupils WAGOLL, or modelling an example on the screen, is an effective way to support learning and respond in the moment. I saw one in an art lesson where the teacher modelled in clay, and the pupils could almost perfectly mimic the techniques she demonstrated. Some required an extra demonstration, so she provided one and then checked if those pupils could learn the technique.

Although this isn’t rocket science, I recently saw 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.

Many schools have looked at adaptive teaching strategies in English and maths, so it would be helpful 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 PE:


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

Not just because Ofsted ‘likes to see it’ but because it 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 the hierarchy of those groups and where they were in the pecking order, no matter how we tried to hide it by using non-hierarchical group names?)

To massively misquote Darwin, adaptation is key.

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   For details, click here         Adaptive Teaching in Practice

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