It doesn’t take multiple data points to figure out that there are a wide range of abilities in our classrooms. In fact, it only takes a few moments of instruction and engagement to realize that fact. We know they have different needs and our instruction must somehow meet all of those needs. This is why differentiation is key to success in our classrooms.
But what is differentiation? How are we supposed to meet the needs of such a diverse range of learners?
We can start by having conversations within our districts and schools about a common definition and understanding so that we are all on the same page with expectations. We can talk about what differentiation IS as well as what it IS NOT (like individualized lesson plans for all students!?!)
We can start with visualizing what it could look like and re-imagining our understandings. We could use this video by ESOL teacher and author Larry Ferlazzo to help us envision a common understanding and jump-start our conversations. I think this could ease a lot of stress teachers are experiencing when they think about trying to differentiate for all of their students.
So before you find your pulse quickening and blood pressure rising at the thought of differentiating for your students, give this video a view and have some collegial conversations. Differentiation isn’t a four letter word!
A few years ago I approached the administration in our district about bringing an EdCamp model of professional development to our staff. They wanted to give it a try for one of the few workshop days we have. They designed a mini-conference-style day of professional development where teachers were offered a menu of sessions ahead of time that they sign up for sandwiched between keynotes to kick off and wrap up. It has proved to be very popular and meaningful to staff.
Yesterday was one of those workshop days. It was also the first time I didn’t have to present and could just be a participant. I loved it! My choices were quite wide ranging…and probably would not have even been on my radar a few years ago.
We started with a keynote ‘Responding to and Preventing Bullying’ that stressed the importance of intervening-even when we don’t know the ‘right’ thing to say. Speaking up with respectful interventions and breaking the pattern of escalation is essential. The speakers intent was to open our eyes to how students experience coming to school in which hateful language and bias is prevalent and our role to awaken the empathy that allows it to exist.
ACTIVE SHOOTER simulations. This is a PD I hope I’ll never have to use, but was grateful to our local police department for offering it. What would I have done if was at Columbine or Sandy Hook? I don’t know, but I have a better sense of awareness and options to consider, now. We experienced 3 real-life scenarios that happened in schools and then debriefed on what occurred and what we might do in those situations. It’s training teachers should never have to experience, but our world is changing so fast and guns are far too prevalent for us to bury our heads in the sand.
Another way our ‘local world’ is changing is with the influx of more and more immigrants and refugee students. A session on supporting English Language Learners was incredibly enlightening. Understanding why it is important for their entire family to acculturate together, the ‘affect of filter’ on learning, and cultural considerations that can impact our relationships with student were eye opening. I am more in awe of the challenges and courage of these families and I’m more determined than ever to support them.
After a session on Movie Maker (our school took away our Macs and replaced them with PCs so I felt like a novice again!) I think I can once again create teaching videos to share with staff. We then ended with a keynote on Happiness Hacking. By the end of the day on a Friday we were already feeling pretty happy, but any tips for inviting more into my life is always welcome.
If your school district hasn’t tried this format for professional development, I encourage you to look into it and suggest it to the powers that be. We differentiate for our students, why not differentiate for our teachers as well? We are all learners. We all want some choice in what we learn! I’m proud of our district for recognizing and honoring that.