May 15, 2023

Reflections on adaptive teaching – Asimina Georgakopoulou

My initial perception of “adaptive teaching” was that it was synonymous to differentiation—a term which is still used in teaching publications (DfE, 2021, T.S.5, p.11) and which the Times Educational Supplement used, to describe the practice of “putting the student first” (Amass, 2021). As the two terms are often used interchangeably, I began my practice unsure about which approach I was truly implementing. A broad understanding of both terms dictates that differentiation involves assigning certain needs to students while planning, assuming an objective can only be met a certain way. Adaptive teaching involves adjusting to address progress by providing scaffolding or challenge to support achievement of a unified objective in a flexible way (Deunk et al., 2018, p.31-54). After focused conversations with my placement colleagues, I was intrigued by the general consensus that the main difference between the two concepts in practice centres around the teacher’s understanding of “high expectations”.

I struggled with this concept originally, as my understanding lacked practical depth. During English writing objectives, I was expected to scribe for certain children after probing them to articulate themselves. I found this problematic, as it assumed that these children could express themselves orally and only struggled with writing. I understood that this was a genuine effort to avoid differentiating by task and communicating to the children that they were capable of completing the same task. In reality, the children were not expressing any ideas, and this resulted in them copying a board. Upon questioning them, I discovered that they still perceived their task as different, because they were not doing it independently.

Discussing this with my teacher, we ascertained that high expectations could be more effectively communicated by expecting all children to work independently and regularly changing support groups (CCF, 5.20). Although it seems like the same few pupils require constant small group support, I now realise that adaptive teaching is an approach meant to broaden our understanding of how to provide support. When the children were given a word mat that indicated meaning with symbols, they were able to start expressing their understanding independently, with little guidance. While other children did not have this support, all children were working independently and were given equal attention. I observed the positive psychological impact on students who felt that we were raising prior expectations.

As Coe et al. (2020, p.6) highlight, feelings of competence and autonomy are pivotal in promoting “learner motivation”. Additionally, they point out that “progressing…from structured to more independent learning” aids pupils to activate “hard thinking”. Adaptive teaching has the potential to lift children from the cycle of constantly requiring support to superficially meet an outcome that will not progress their understanding and will only lead to them requiring more support in future.

Although I do regret not taking initiative sooner, as I will not be able to observe long-term outcome improvement, my developed understanding of high expectations and adaptive teaching will have strong implications in my next placement, as I have grown my confidence and resourcefulness in supporting children appropriately. This is a point in my teaching where the WTV of creativity will greatly support development. By finding creative ways to scaffold learning, it is possible to communicate high expectations and creating a supportive learning environment.


Amass, H. (2021) “Differentiation: the dos and don’ts,” Tes Global Ltd, 16 April.

Coe, R. et al. (2020) Great teaching toolkit: Evidence Review, Great Teaching Toolkit. Cambridge Assessment International Education. Available at: (Accessed: April 14, 2023).

DfE (2019) ITT Core Content Framework available online at:

Department for Education (2011) Teachers' Standards. Available at:

Deunk, M., Smale-Jacobse, A., de Boer, H., Doolaard, S. and Bosker, R. (2018) 'Effective differentiation Practices:A systematic review and metaanalysis of studies on the cognitive effects of differentiation practices in primary education.' Educational Research Review (24) pp.31-54.

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