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Step 2: Reinventing learning walks

Differentiation in Practice / Unit 3: Leading differentiation

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Step 2: Reinventing learning walks

Differentiation, like any other cornerstone of teaching, will form an important part of your quality assurance and evaluation processes.

The key here is to focus not on prescribing actions – saying ‘differentiation needs to look exactly like this in our school’ – but to take a thoughtful approach to improvement that focuses on teachers finding answers to the questions they know and developing their practice over time.

Reinventing learning walks

Many schools make effective use of learning walks: this is likely to be a form of evidence gathering you practice already. They are, according to Lauren Resnick, characterised by:

  • a group of teachers/leaders working together
  • a mutually agreed enquiry question, revisited throughout to ensure useful evidence is being gathered
  • regular reflection and discussion after each observation
  • continual professional learning rather than appraisal or compliance
  • a focus on ‘so what?’ – e.g. what are the implications for future practice?

Learning walks are one way of examining differentiation practice, however, you might like to try a slightly different alternative: whirlwind observations.

Whirlwind observations

Whirlwind observations are similar to learning walks. Like a learning walk they use an enquiry question to help focus the observer and gather evidence relevant to their classroom practice. Unlike a learning walk though, whirlwinds are more solitary and are typically conducted by just one teacher: individual teachers identify their question and seek answers through rapid drop-ins to observe practice or groups relevant to their focus rather than completing collaborative joint observations. Like a learning walk, however, outcomes are used to share learning and promote dialogue among a wider group of staff. Ultimately, whirlwind observations are enquiry-oriented and lead to action.

The following flowchart shows the process of a whirlwind observation:


Watch the video clip to see how schools use whirlwinds observations in practice.

You can also download a template for completing whirlwind observations.


Regardless of the process you decide on to examine your learning practice, your next step should be to choose an enquiry question relating to your subject area or responsibility. How will you gather evidence and reflect on the effectiveness of existing practice – learning walks or whirlwind observations?

Aim to follow through this enquiry in the next few weeks and discuss the results with a colleague.

Remember, this is not about judging the quality of individual teaching or making any other sort of formal assessment; it is about gathering some preliminary evidence relating to the question you want to answer about the experience of pupils in your school.

Step 2 question
Which of these can describe whirlwind observations?
Checkpoint quiz: 
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