Your art classroom is likely to be one of the most inclusive areas of school. Barriers that may impede learning in other disciplines such as low levels of literacy and numeracy may prove less problematic. The real challenge lies in the art teachers ability to get to know their students when class sizes are often large and time is often small.

Differentiation is the practice of teaching a class of individual talents the confidence, resilience and the determination to succeed. The mixed ability classroom has many challenges, these are my priorities:


‘In great lessons, the nuanced teacher knowledge of the student’s needs is always evident’ Tom Sherrington.

Building a relationship with your students forms the bedrock of all teaching and learning. Get to know your students ability early by organising an art and design baseline test with the new intake at the start of year 7. This will provide you with a good starting point onto which targeted intervention can then take place. Feedback whether verbal or written should always be tailored to the individual as should questioning which if done with care will enhance the relationships you have with your students.

2. Organisation

The classroom environment is a crucial tool to help support the learning of all of our students. Creating and using display space to exhibit work where strong students are inspired and weaker students can be directed to look and investigate is very important. A mixed ability class is better accommodated when drawers of equipment are clearly labelled and where students have to at times, make their own choice of material. Having equipment such as light boxes to support the initial tentative marks of a less confident draftsperson can also be an asset to an art room. Using visual sources that will appeal to a range of abilities can also support the growth in confidence in all. A colleague created a differentiated toolkit which is a good visual reminder of the equipment that can support weaker students with their art and design work.


3. Collaboration

A collaborative environment where the responsibility of teaching and learning is shared by all helps support the progress of our students. Routines that reach as far as working together to clean a sink or using peer to peer demonstrations make for a rewarding and enriching learning experience. Using simple straightforward language and an illustrated format I aim to make all my schemes of work accessible to all. I share all projects that I teach via the school website so that parents are able to support their children’s learning. Each student is given this same guide to be put in the front of their books or folders and teaching assistants are given a yearly training session in the department on the use of equipment or materials. Working closely together is very beneficial to us all.

4. Ownership

When your students can work without constant direction this will give you time to make the kind of precise interventions that facilitate good progress. Progressively from year 7 through to year 13 my students are given increased flexibility and responsibility for the self direction of their work. At the start of year 7, students are given options on which materials they may use for a final piece or which of 2 artists will influence the direction of their ideas. By year 11 students are able to plan their own projects and by year 12 they will be prepared to put forward a plan that demands much invention, commitment and a serious level of challenge. Self directed study provides a real opportunity at any level for the teacher to have personalised conversations with individuals which of course will be tailored to their specific needs.