Differentiation: the catchall solution for making instruction more engaging and effective for students in the classroom.
Differentiation: the word that makes teachers roll their eyes and run the other way.
Differentiation: the main thing that I wish technology could help our students and teachers with.
I’m not debating the importance of differentiation in the classroom, instead I’m stating that differentiation won’t happen in the classroom until it is modeled in the PD room. Differentiation is a vast term, so for the purposes of this article I’m going to define it as:
- “providing different learners access to the curriculum…which is usually approached by: teaching different students in different ways OR teaching all students in many ways…in light of individual difference theories that students differ in their cognitive styles, multiple intelligences, learning styles, and personality styles” Kagan 4.16
It is common for international schools to struggle with differentiating classroom instruction. We have promoted SEN (special education needs) research and practices in the continual pursuit of meeting students’ varying needs. This is a major cultural shift for schools that have traditionally not accepted students with learning difficulties AND for schools that have addressed their needs only through a pull-out model. I appreciate these advancements and have experienced dramatic breakthroughs in the student-teacher relationship in the classroom and student learning through SEN training for teachers and systems by principals. For more on implementing SEN in your school read “The Switch to SEN”.
However, for differentiated instruction to become a reality in our schools we have expand our thinking beyond students’ educational needs to TEN (teachers’ education needs). This isn’t a pun to downplay student’s learning difficulties, nor to contend that teachers have the same challenges. Instead, it is an acronym to reframe learning and teaching (yes, learning AND THEN teaching) in our schools to include a discussion of professional learning for teachers and principals. How often has PD for teachers completely lacked differentiation or failed to appeal to adult learners? How often has PD, coaching, and mentoring for teachers been completely neglected? A conference or two a year? A difficult to squeeze in phone call to a former colleague or distant mentor? In order to express our belief that learning is the key to the school ecosystem through PLCs (professional learning communities) and the effective LO (learning organization) we have to move beyond the fallacy that differentiated instruction is only for students.
In the article, I will describe in more detail “The 5 Steps to Differentiating Professional Learning for Teachers”:
- Begin the discussion.
- Start with the individual.
- Create a PD plan.
- Build a differentiated curriculum for teacher/principal development.
- Provide instruction and support to access the curriculum.