On superdiversity and differentiation… (Urban Education, 2)

(Translated from Dutch Onderwijs in Brussel is… urban education, superdiversiteit en differentiëren (2))

Significant individual differences…

In a superdiverse classroom, we can no longer talk about groups of children: the non-Dutch speakers, the Turkish children or the disadvantaged pupils, for example. Each pupil is different and the differences are so big and spread over so many different levels that a one-size-fits-all approach is rendered ineffective. This means that teachers need to learn about the backgrounds, prior knowledge, interests, motivation and home culture of their pupils in order to design the educational environment in such a way that they not only take these differences into account, but also appreciate and use them.

The pupil in the group…

The superdiverse classroom is more than just a collection of individuals. Pupils also relate to each other, form (sub)groups, build relationships, have a certain status – influenced by their upbringing, home and street culture, past experiences and group dynamics. Teachers in a superdiverse classroom cannot afford to ignore these complex (group) relationships. They have to work with and use them.

Differentiation as the solution…

Due to these huge individual differences and complex relationships, it is even more of a challenge to differentiate in a superdiverse classroom than it is in a regular classroom. Teachers need to develop a wide range of differentiated strategies in order to set the bar sufficiently high for all pupils, without falling into the trap of low expectations. These strategies should take into account both individual differences and pupil-to-pupil relationships. There are three levels of differentiation: the curriculum, the learning process and the learning outcomes (Fukkink & Oostdam, 2016), which means that differences in interest (e.g. talents), differences in learning status (e.g. prior knowledge) and differences in learning profile (e.g. pace of learning) (Struyven, 2016) have to be taken into account. Due to the high level of diversity, there needs to be both convergent (where possible) and divergent (where necessary) differentiation in the superdiverse classroom. Diversity in Action (DIVA) emphasises the importance of six didactic building blocks that can be used to best support this diversity in learning among pupils (Van Avermaet & Sierens, 2012):

  • a varied approach
  • broad observations
  • expand the learning environment
  • collaborative learning
  • heterogeneous group formation
  • broad evaluations

To be able to differentiate in a superdiverse classroom, the teacher needs to have a mindset that is focused on (1) growth and development and high expectations for ALL pupils (‘growth mindset’ – Struyven, 2016) and (2) whereby the teacher effectively takes into account individual differences and mutual relationships (‘ethical compass’ – Struyven, 2016).

Differentiation based on insights about growing up in a metropolitan context…

However, mastering the teaching skill ‘differentiation’ isn’t enough on its own. In order to be able to differentiate effectively, in addition to that good basic attitude and knowledge about the pupils and the group, teachers in superdiverse classrooms also need to have knowledge and insights about metropolitanism, multilingual language development, poverty, street culture and the home culture of their pupils, etc. This is essential for developing and implementing the right differentiated strategies – and doing so effectively.


Gepubliceerd door Piet Vervaecke

Directeur Onderwijscentrum Brussel

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