I do a lot of professional development regarding differentiation. I believe that it is a mindset; specifically it’s a mindset that says:
“Hey! All kids can learn. I just need to know what my students’ learning needs are and then plan my instruction to address those needs.”
This is much different than teaching mindset I had back in the day, when I first started teaching:
“Hey! I’m going to spray a lot of content and pray everyone gets it. Don’t get it? Well, figure out on your own what you don’t get and then come see me on your own time. Good luck!”
The good old “spray and pray” method. An oldie but not a goodie that keeps rearing its ugly head.
Anyway, in the course of my professional developing-not only in my district but in other districts as well-I have found that different grade levels have these general responses to the differentiated mindset:
- Middle and upper grades: We believe in it, we want to do it, but… *points to huge piles of standards that someone far away decided needed to be taught in each course in only 180 or so days a year*
- Elementary grades: Duh. Differentiation. It’s what we do ALL FREAKING DAY. Who keeps letting you in our building??
So I’ve been doing a lot to help our upper grades (mainly our high school) see how differentiation can be done in their classrooms while making sure students master the priority standards in their course. After reviewing what differentiation was and the general process of differentiation in classrooms, we did some modeling of that process. Why modeling? Because differentiation isn’t something you can just read about and do well right off the bat – you have to see it in action.
So here’s what we did to model differentiation (while integrating technology):
1. Staff were pre-assessed on their understanding of the differentiation process using the Google Form below, utilizing the Forms quiz feature.
2. The question above self-sorted staff into different groups and directed them to a different page of the form that indicated what station they needed to mosey on over to in order to address their specific learning need.
3. Staff then completed their station’s activities in pairs, assessing themselves on a common rubric that was developed regarding the process of differentiation. In the doc below, the rubric is on the first page, and the stations are on subsequent pages.
4. After completing the activities, staff had to turn in their activities (which they put in a Google Doc) via the same Google Form, using the file upload feature. This was done to show staff the feature existed and, if they weren’t using Google Classroom, provided an easier way in to the world of educational technology.
5. Staff were debriefed on the process and any questions or concerns were addressed.
Again, the point of this exercise was to show one way the process could be done in classrooms, using technology to aid in the overall process. It was also done to show that the teacher does not need to be talking at students in order for learning to happen; teachers can set up the learning experiences according to student needs and then free themselves up to walk around the classroom, helping, questioning, and redirecting as needed. Indeed, learning and meaning-making can’t really occur until students are writing, drawing, and/or talking about the information/concept/skill to be learned.
In other words, learning by doing. And differentiation can set the stage for learning by doing rather than pseudolearning by sitting and passively watching the teacher do his or her job.
And it sets the stage for all students doing the learning and getting what they need to succeed. That’s the point of what we do in schools every day, isn’t it? (Or if it isn’t, shouldn’t it be?)