Gifted students should be taught separately


Catharina Banneck

Dr. Catharina Banneck, born in 1981, teaches German and politics at a grammar school in Berlin. She worked in teacher training at the HU Berlin and the FU Berlin and from 2018 to 2020 as an inspector in the Berlin school inspection. As a textbook author and in school work, her focus is on quality development, with particular attention to the quality of teaching.

Internal differentiation in the classroom from the point of view of a teacher

There is now consensus that pupils have very different requirements in the classroom and should be encouraged accordingly. But how can a teacher do justice to the 25 to 35 students who sit in front of her as individually as possible? What tools are available for this and why do colleagues still find it difficult to fall back on them from time to time?

5th grade students work in groups. A sensible and well-documented way to do justice to the individual talents of the learner is to teach in a differentiated manner. (& copy picture-alliance, dpa | Marijan Murat)

Pupils bring different requirements and interests, experiences and skills to school. Some are enthusiastic about the performing game and thus open up literary texts. Others seek the challenge of solving tricky logic tasks. Some children need support and motivation to solve cognitively more demanding tasks, for example in the field of natural sciences, but they are convincing in sporting competitions or in musical presentations. Still other students lack the basic knowledge of the German language due to personal experience in order to be able to follow the lessons. Today schools must and want to meet all these different starting skills, learning needs or preferences in order to do justice to the learners. This applies to primary and secondary schools as well as to adult education. A heterogeneous student body needs lessons that understand diversity as a challenge and not as an obstacle. All pupils should be able to acquire competencies in their speed and on their way that lead them to a school leaving certificate and enable them to fully participate in our society.

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Heterogeneity in the classroom - always a reality

"If you sort the students according to their current performance levels, for example, this is only a narrowly defined snapshot, but not a reliable statement about which learning achievements the students in question will release in the long term. Student achievements are known to be highly dynamic and changeable.

[…] In addition, homogeneous student performance does not mean that other student characteristics also match. So cognitively strong students can e.g. For example, children with poor behavior can be very difficult to behave, or underperforming children may prove to be very creative or social. Seen in this way, the common pursuit of homogeneous groups of pupils is a highly dubious undertaking [...]. It is high time to understand and use heterogeneity in the classroom as a productive resource for education and upbringing. This is just as fair as it is future-oriented. "

Heinz Klippert, economist and educator, in: Ders. (2012): Heterogeneity in the classroom. How teachers can deal with it effectively and in a time-saving manner, 3. unchangeable. Ed., Weinheim and Basel, p. 24 f.



Consequences of the diversity of learning requirements for the lesson

For a long time, the idea of ​​a good school was based on the idea that certain subject-specific content was conveyed in the classroom by the teacher and that the pupils absorb, understand and apply them. In this context, a lack of knowledge of the subject matter was attributed to cognitive deficits and / or a lack of motivation on the part of the students.

However, this understanding of learning is out of date, as numerous studies show, and no longer meets the social requirements that children and young people, but also we as adults, encounter today in a globalized and digitized world. The ability to acquire content independently and to acquire skills in a self-directed learning process has become an indispensable part of our individual educational biography. This applies to people of all ages. Every day we are faced with the challenge of sifting through a mass of information, checking it, evaluating it and, if necessary, discarding it in order to be able to form a well-founded judgment that we may also present to others and that guides our actions. Students have to practice these skills first. They must be introduced to their increasing independence and maturity. The school takes on this task.

Numerous studies in educational psychology, empirical pedagogy and teaching-learning research have shown that every person - and thus every single child and every single adolescent - grasps and understands the world in his / her own way. Accordingly, each child's acquisition of knowledge and / or skills takes place differently. All students in a class create individual "constructions", even if they deal with the same content in class. This means that they absorb the content differently, process it and embed it individually in their thinking structures. These findings have far-reaching consequences for teaching.

In today's pedagogical (teacher) training the "constructivist" idea dominates that learning can only meaningfully be carried out by an individual on the basis of his or her own experiences, impressions, interests, abilities or skills. It must therefore be a condition for good teaching that the teacher regards learning as an individual process of the students and takes into account their individual requirements in the lesson planning. Pupils learn better if they can choose tasks, social forms or methodological approaches in class that suit their skills, previous knowledge and interests. Individualized learning also focuses on increasing the students' motivation and improving their skills in self-directed learning by setting their own goals, pursuing them and realistically assessing their performance and competencies, as well as participating in the design of learning paths and lessons. The educationalists Wischer and Trautmann put it as follows: "The school should adapt to the child, and not the other way around." But how can a teacher teach and support a good 25 to 35 students per class as individually as possible in typical everyday secondary school life? Is that possible?

Teaching in a differentiated way

A sensible and well-documented way to do justice to the individual talents of the learner is to teach in a differentiated manner. That means that the pupils from the teacher within the study group can also be promoted individually. One speaks here of an inner differentiation of the learners in a basically heterogeneous learning group in contrast to the so-called external differentiationwhich aims to form learning groups that are as homogeneous as possible, i.e. uniform according to certain criteria, and to gear lessons often to the presented average performance level of the students (see info box).

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What is "external differentiation"?

In principle, the German school system is based on the organizational principle of external differentiation. This is a structuring concept that groups students into "homogeneous" (i.e. as similar as possible) groups based on certain criteria such as age, interests or cognitive ability.

The German school system is dominated by a form of external differentiation that can also be found around the world: learners depending on age assigns to certain grades (also "grades": 1, 2, 3… 11, 12, 13). An external differentiation based on different interests or cognitive performance of pupils, on the other hand, can be organized in different ways. Traditionally, it takes place in Germany by distributing pupils to different types of secondary school (Hauptschule, Realschule, Gymnasium).

But also in the "integrated" school forms that exist today in almost all federal states (comprehensive schools, community schools, secondary schools, etc.), there is mostly an external differentiation. In this case it happens within of the individual school by dividing the children into Groups with similar learning speeds, which are known as level courses. Many secondary schools in Berlin, for example, divide the classes of the year or the class association in certain subjects into GR courses (basic) and ER courses (extension courses). In this way, the class structure is broken down into individual subjects, and the pupils can learn in one subject together with similarly high-performing pupils from other classes. The transitions between the groups are mostly fluid; a change between the courses is often possible after the half-year or a school year if the pupils show appropriate performance.



In an internally differentiated lesson, the teacher tries to take into account the individual starting conditions of each student in the class. That means, as a teacher, I design my lessons in such a way that the materials used, the way I structure my lessons, which methods and social forms I use, are as closely as possible based on the interests and requirements of my students and ideally also with them Students themselves are coordinated. However, this does not exclude - in order to avoid a widespread misunderstanding - that there can be phases that are strongly centered on the teacher and "classic" frontal teaching. I would like to see how differentiated teaching can succeed within a class or course group, what difficulties one encounters in the conception of materials and their use in the classroom and what a meaningful diagnosis of the individual starting conditions of the students can look like as a prerequisite for internally differentiated teaching below show.

Discussion about internal differentiation in practice: typical objections and insights

Basically, the meaningfulness of internally differentiated teaching is no longer questioned today. In research and in practice in schools, there is broad agreement that students should be given the best possible support with regard to their individual learning requirements in order to develop and expand the ability to learn independently, which is important for the entire educational career, and to increase their motivation through the Increase participation in the learning process. Teacher training - both at universities and during the clerkship - deepens knowledge of suitable, subject-specific materials and methods in the seminars. Even high schools, which, given their comparatively homogeneous student body, were initially not as inclined to work with forms of internal differentiation as the secondary schools with their mixed student body, have often said goodbye. one Lessons for all To give to pupils. Because it is also true at grammar schools that lessons geared towards the "average student" can overwhelm some students, others cannot be challenged; for others, the learning path may not be suitable and therefore not very motivating, which reduces the learning success. In school practice, however, there is always disagreement and a need for discussion, particularly on two points relating to internal differentiation. In the following I bring them to the point with a typical statement and briefly discuss them:

    (1) "External differentiation is completely sufficient to do justice to the different abilities and skills of the learners!"
    In short: what added value does the internal differentiation have compared to the external differentiation?
Pupils with similar learning speeds and skills form a "homogeneous performance" learning group, sometimes also when the class structure is broken up in individual lessons, for example through the division into different level courses. Such a division of the learners undoubtedly has its charm. In often smaller learning groups, the teacher can deal more intensively with the individual children and adolescents and - since a certain level of ability is required - a uniform teaching one Plan and implement the requirement level. But: Even within groups that have arisen through external differentiation, internal differentiation is necessary. The division of the learning groups is usually made on the basis of performance. This means that based on their learning outcomes, e.g. B. in class or comparative work, assigned to the groups. It is not taken into account that the learners differ in terms of their preferred learning paths even with similar abilities - one may better acquire the "material" in independent quiet work, while the other benefits more from a teacher's lecture or from working in small groups . A stronger consideration of the individual learning paths can motivate and have a positive effect on the performance of the students.

    (2) "It is impossible to make individual learning offers with 30 students per class!"
    "How am I supposed to create internal differentiation in a full-time position as a teacher that is already busy?"

    In short: What is the relationship between effort and benefit in internally differentiated teaching?
The greatest challenge for an internally differentiated teaching is to do justice to all pupils as a teacher - and this is often more than 30. However, it helps to be aware that it is primarily a matter of rethinking: The goal is not to deal with individual cases, but to multiply learning paths. Because teaching in a differentiated way does not mean that the teacher has to ignite a firework of methods and social forms (individual work, work with the person sitting next to you, group work) within an hour. In this respect, internally differentiated teaching does not mean demonizing frontal teaching and arranging each teaching as station learning.

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Internal differentiation can be part of very different methods, social forms and teaching concepts

"Internal differentiation is not necessarily tied to certain methods, social forms and teaching concepts; even a teacher's lecture can have differentiating qualities, namely if the thematized objects are presented in so many perspectives, multifaceted and pictorially that there are very different approaches for different students. Conversely, internal differentiation does not occur automatically on when frontal teaching is replaced by group or individual work. "

Hans Werner Heymann, mathematician and educationalist, in: Ders. (2010): Binnendifferenzierung - ein Utopie ?, in: Pädagogik (11/2010), p. 6 f.



The relationship between effort and benefit in the planning and implementation of individualized teaching and learning processes should, however, remain within the framework and also correspond to the needs, preferences and skills of the respective teacher. For the beginning it is therefore sufficient to perhaps only undertake one lesson within a teaching unit for a year and to try out the first materials in order to finally use more extensive forms - also supported by cooperation with colleagues.

Internal differentiation in the classroom - a method kit for teachers

In the following, I would like to show that internally differentiated teaching cannot always only be implemented with a lot of organizational and personnel effort, using a method kit from practice. [1] For this purpose, I briefly explain the main variants of differentiation and individual, tried and tested instruments (see overview in the info box) and supplement these with references to specific, tried and tested and documented teaching projects. The instruments are neither complete nor is the assignment to the individual variants rigid. It applies to all instruments that the teachers should allow sufficient time for the evaluation or discussion and for securing the results obtained by the students. Because only with the help of a more extensive reflection of the learning process at the beginning can particularly sustainable learning effects be achieved with internally differentiated teaching.