Chiltern Teaching School Hub


These are simple yet effective changes you can make to benefit all students

1. Adaptive Teaching

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


2. It's NOT Differentiation

This is a departure from traditional differentiation which focuses on the individual 


3. Formative Assessment

Formative assessment is fundamental to the effectiveness of adaptive teaching in the classroom. Teachers need to check understanding, reflect on student understanding and respond in an effective way to ensure students are secure in their knowledge before moving on 


4. Anticipate Barriers

There are several steps teachers can take to anticipate barriers in advance of the lesson by identifying possible misconceptions and challenging concepts 


5. Scaffolding

Scaffolding is an effective form of adaptive teaching. However, it should always be a temporary structure, which is removed to allow the student to consolidate their own learning


Find out More? 


Adaptive Teaching by Caroline O'Regan (2021)


Early Career Framework (April 2021) 


EEF Blog: Exploring the Evidence (2021)


EEF: Moving from Differentiation to Adaptive Teaching (2022)


Adaptive Teaching Explained: Why, Why and How by Matt Bromley (2021).  



Teacher Talk: Adaptive Teaching in the Classroom

Welcome to our educational blog. Here we explore all things pertinent to education, discuss current topics and provide tips, from research and educational experts, to aid practice.

There has been much discussion in education recently around adaptive teaching and how this differs from differentiation. The Early Careers Framework states that this is ‘adapting teaching in a responsive way, including by providing targeted support to pupils who are struggling’ (ECF, 2019). Kirsten Mould, in the EEF blog ‘Assess, adjust, adapt – what does adaptive teaching mean to you?’ defines adaptive teacher as ‘adapting planning prior to the lesson and adjusting practice during the lesson’ (2021). 

So how do they differ and what does research tell us about their impact?

Most crucially, in the Ofsted Overview of Research it is stated ‘In-class differentiation, through providing differentiated teaching, activities or resources, has generally not been shown to have much impact on pupils’ attainment’ (2019). This is a marked departure from the traditional approach to differentiation that dominated pedagogical practice for several years. For example, pupils completing different tasks, such as differentiated worksheets or even following a different curriculum to that of their peers.  Adaptive teaching shifts away from differentiation focused on the individual or a small group to a wider focus of the whole class. As Matt Bromley describes it, in his article for SecEd on adaptive teaching in 2021 ‘It is, in effect, the difference between teaching up to 30 different lessons at once, matching the pace and pitch to each individual student and providing different tasks and resources to different students, and teaching the same lesson to all 30 students, and doing so by “teaching to the top” while providing scaffolds to those who need additional initial support in order to access the same ambitious curriculum and meet our high expectations.’

However, it is also worth highlighting that this does not mean ignoring the SEND Code of Practice or failing to meet requirements of an EHCP (Education, Health and Care Plan), rather the opposite - integral to the principles underpinning adaptive teaching is the fundamental aspect that as teachers, we must have a strong knowledge of our pupils and their needs within our subject or phase. 

Check, Reflect, Respond 

In order to adapt to the differing needs and prior knowledge of the students in the classroom, teaching staff need to be accurately and regularly assessing pupils' knowledge and understanding of each curricular component as they build to the composite through the use of formative assessment. Formative assessment is nothing new and is often an intrinsic feature of the classroom. However, it is what the teacher does with that information that is most crucial. 

In his EEF blog, Harry Madgwick (2021) discusses the importance of diagnostic assessment to identify students misconceptions and knowledge gaps in order to adapt and address before progressing onto the next curricular component. As Madgwick states, this is a complex process and subject/ phase teachers need to consider carefully how to do this effectively.  However, without this regular, meaningful formative assessment, adaptive teaching cannot be truly responsive to the needs of the students in the class. 
A useful model to frame this process is discussed by Caroline O’Regan, in her blog ‘Adaptive Teaching - Differentiation by a Different Name?’ (2021) O’Regan explores the role of formative assessment and how teachers can effectively adapt their practice through the simplistic model ‘Check, Reflect, Respond.’ Check understanding through regular, effective formative assessment, reflect on pupils' understanding of the curriculum content and then respond accordingly, using subject and pedagogical expertise to ensure students are confident in their knowledge of this particular component.

What strategies can I implement in my classroom? 

Scaffolding is key to adaptive teaching and is identified as one of five impactful teaching strategies in the EEF’s guidance for special educational needs in mainstream schools. However, scaffolding is a temporary state and should be gradually removed as students begin to consolidate their knowledge and become more confident. 

A useful way to approach scaffolding is to draw on Sweller’s work in this area. The conceptual model of backwards faded completion models that is explored in the book  ‘Efficiency in Learning’ (2016) allows for structured, temporary scaffolding that will reduce cognitive load and provide students with a worked example to then apply to their own understanding. 

This model shows the process of transitioning from a worked example through to the learner working independently to solve an assigned problem. Within the model, it does not simply transition from a modelled example delivered by the teacher to the learner completing the task independently.  It demonstrates the gradual increase in learner autonomy of the task as the teacher incrementally removes the scaffolding. 

A worked example of this that has gained traction in recent years, particularly in the history teacher community is ‘I do, We do, You do’ which follows the conceptual model, to introduce a key historical skill and gradually reduces the scaffolding within the task. This is completed with the whole class, working to the same curricular goal, which would then allow the teacher to target support. 

This is just one example of scaffolding that could occur in the classroom to support all students in their consolidation and mastery of the learned curriculum. However, modelling with a visualizer, live marking to address misconceptions immediately, providing sentence starters, utilising hinge questions can all play a part in this responsive approach. 

As expert practitioners, skilled in our subject or phase, we could anticipate in advance of the lesson the misconceptions students may get ‘stuck’ on or identify sticky points in the curriculum journey. This further supports the responsive actions that may happen in the lesson and allows us to hone in on the barriers of learning- by pre-empting them. For example, identifying tier 3 vocabulary in advance of the lesson and pre-teaching or sharing definitions before tackling a written extract. 

This is simply a starting point for further discussions in subject and phase teams, as to how best to implement adaptive teaching effectively in classrooms. A renewed focus on adaptive teaching  allows teachers to begin a dialogue about how to support all students to follow an ambitious and rich curriculum, whilst systematically assessing their understanding before moving onto the next component or revisiting prior knowledge to address misconceptions and bridge any gaps. As the ECF standard 5 states, adaptive teaching ‘seeking to understand pupils’ differences, including their different levels of prior knowledge and potential barriers to learning, is an essential part of teaching’ and therefore it is imperative that departmental teams work collaboratively to draw on best practice in their subject area to ensure high expectations for all through an rigorous curriculum diet. 

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