We are all unique; that’s obvious. The question is, how do we acknowledge that uniqueness in the classroom?
Often in our classrooms, lessons are created and taught to all students, with little acknowledgement that every student has different strengths and weaknesses, and that if we only assess students where they are weak they will always appear weak and never have the chance for success. While there seems to be a lot more efforts being put into making adaptations, or even modifying curriculum content for students who struggle, we also need to recognize that all students need options in order to do their best. This means that differentiation needs to happen in classrooms not only for “lower level” students, but for those who need enrichment, and even for those who are the so called “norm”.
While there has been a lot of talk about how multiple intelligences, learning styles, and other neuromyths have been debunked, the fact still remains that we all learn differently, and all have different natural strengths and talents. Some people are naturally better at drawing than others, and likewise, some are more athletic. Similarly, in the classroom, some students will be better at math, and others better at English. By differentiating the ways we teach lessons and the ways that we both introduce and assess material with students, there is a higher chance that students will feel successful and be able to demonstrate their understanding of concepts. How can we take this idea of differentiation and make it a reality in the classroom though? How can we really reach all students on a level that’s suited to them?
This is just the question that my group responded to in an inquiry project in our ECS311 class this semester. We wanted to know what information was out there that spoke to working with students based on their “abilities”, what the term growth mindset meant, how to work with lower levelled learners, EAL students and gifted students, and how all of this information can really be implemented in the classroom. To do this, we went off in search of articles, websites, videos, and apps that would inform us, and others, on what differentiated instruction really can look like. We were quite surprised by what we found too!
There is SO MUCH information out there on this topic, and a lot of it has to be viewed with a critical eye. There is information that contradicts other information, there are teachers who always differentiate and others who think it’s not worth it, and there are many articles and websites that reflect these debates. We also found some really great tools and information that we feel will help us to better understand what differentiation can be, because it really can be many different things. To share this information with everyone, we created a website, so please check it out, and if you have comments, please let me know below this blog post!
Now, if you’ve read any of my other blogs, you know how much I enjoy the ideas of Sir Ken Robinson. This video (below) talks about how it’s not necessarily learning styles or multiple intelligences or even differentiation that are the most important to keeping kids learning and engaged, it’s the incorporation of a variety of learning methods and activities that needs to be implemented and incorporated on a daily basis. He says, “Kids prosper best from with a broad curriculum that celebrates their various talents,” and I couldn’t agree more. Kids want to be busy, they want to do hands-on things, they want to read, they want to write, they even want to learn math, but the thing is, you can’t just have children doing the same things the same way every day. That would be totally boring for anyone! So what Sir Robinson suggests is that we spark children’s’ curiosity by tapping into our own curiosity and creativity as teachers.
The ideas that Sir Robinson talks about are the types of things that I build my teaching philosophy around, as they are the ways that I see the world. I enjoy learning in a variety of ways, and also try to improve upon ways that I don’t feel as confident in. As I head into my internship in the fall, my goal is to try as many new things as possible, and to work with the students in my class to find ways to best reach all of them. I tried several things in my pre-internship, including making a choice board as a final project, and I hope to be able to extend this type of thinking even further in my internship.
So my question to you readers, is what are your views on differentiation? What do you do to differentiate? What advice do you have for new teachers as they try to find ways to engage all learners?