Adaptation vs Differentiation

A short blog on adaptation as opposed to differentiation.

We have had a long debate at our school over this and have seen some stunning outcomes from well adapted learning.

At the root of adaptation is the concept that we are aiming for all or the majority of the class to be working towards achieving the same objectives. For this to be achieved, barriers to success that can be removed should be removed. Adaptation achieves this by allowing children to access the same task and show that they can achieve the same level of thought, skill and success as their peers. Differentiation is totally different. When we differentiate we give children tasks with different outcomes: which often means we just make the task easier for some children.

Differentiation has its place when, even with all other barriers removed, children would not be able to access the task. I still regularly differentiate in all subjects, but only after trying all the adaptations I have available for each child. I will deal with the mix of adaptation and differentiation at the end of this short blog.

So what effective adaptations can we make and for who?

From my experience, the most effective adaptations can be grouped in the following way.

  • Adaptations for dyslexic children
  • Adaptations for children with poor vocabulary/prior knowledge
  • Adaptations for organisational skills
  • Adaptations made due to formative assessment

Adaptations for dyslexic children

We are lucky to live in an age where the correct use of well designed technology platforms can go a long way to removing barriers for our dyslexic children


We use the Seesaw application to give our children free access to high quality voice recognition software so that they can dictate their ideas to the application rather than having to compose ideas, spellings and structure at the same time. This reduces cognitive load and children start to see themselves as writers. The advantage of using a system such as Seesaw is that we can see the progress of children’s work clearly in their journal, give immediate feedback and print out the work for their books if we want to.


Some children, who may still find the composition of coherent prose a challenge, are still able to give age appropriate responses to learning tasks by recording their responses as voicenotes or videos on Seesaw.

Access to difficult texts

In some lessons across the curriculum the texts are simply too hard for some of the children to decode and comprehend. However, if the text is read out loud they can easily access the content and perform well in the lesson. We regularly read out complex texts on Seesaw so the children can see the text and listen to the voice-over.

Task management boards

As you well know, our dyslexic cohort also tend to get quite muddled. So we often set the tasks on Seesaw so they can reread instructions (which also have a voice-over) throughout the lesson. This allows pupils to work independently and frees up adults to support more children in the classroom.

Challenges: Having the technology available to use (we are lucky enough to have 10 iPads in every class). It also takes a little bit of time to train up the children in the use of technology and accept it as part of everyday classroom practice. Our children used Seesaw throughout both lockdowns so are very familiar, yet it still took a good year to embed this as everyday practice in school.

Adaptations for children with poor vocabulary/prior knowledge


The key adaptation for this group of children will be the pre-teaching of key vocabulary and knowledge – often linked to a knowledge organiser. This removes barriers in the main lesson because cognitive load is reduced, children stay focused for longer and are more able to achieve the main aim with confidence.

Challenges: Finding the time to fit pre-teaching into the day. If you can engage parents with this it can really help.

Adaptations for organisational skills

Task management boards (as mentioned above)

As you well know, our dyslexic cohort also tend to get quite muddled. So we often set the tasks on Seesaw so they can reread instructions (which also have a voice-over) throughout the lesson. This allows pupils to work independently and frees up adults to support more children in the classroom. This also applies to anyone else in the class who struggles to organise themselves during longer tasks.

Adaptations made due to formative assessment

Another important way to adapt the learning is to respond effectively to need. If you can pick up when a pupil hasn’t met a small step towards a larger end goal, then by catching this early you can still ensure that they keep up with the class and maybe use adaptations in future lessons to support them.

Case study: Mixing adaptation and differentiation to support English writing progression

One of the biggest success stories for me this year, has been using effective differentiation in some grammar and English lessons which certain pupils were unable to access. The work they were given gave them small steps that were supported with the technologies and approaches above so that they could access the work independently whilst I taught the rest of the class. Over two terms these small steps progressed to the point where the pupils had moved from struggling to compose coherent sentences to confidently creating paragraphs that met age related expectations.

The differentiated work that steadily progressed gave them a clear a consistent pathway to follow. The adaptations allowed them to overcome their dyslexia and see themselves as a writer.

This success means that they are now beginning to write successful responses in all subjects, are much more willing to share ideas and talk in front of the class and most importantly, they are happier.

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