I think one reason it is hard for us to differentiate the learning in our class is our well ingrained idea of teacher control. The only real way to have every student engaged is to have each student doing something that is relevant and meaningful to them – which necessarily means everyone doing something different. A lot of the curriculum we have to work with as well as our long held habits make it difficult to do this. If we think that differentiation means the teacher having to design more than one program, this means that designing 3 tasks would do a better job than just one, but to do it properly we would all have to design 25 different tasks and then do this in 5 different classes! I’m pretty sure there’s no teacher on the planet who can design, implement and assess 100+ programs! If we think like this, we will always think that differentiation is a noble ideal but way to time consuming to actually do.
As difficult as it is to let go, the only solution to this is greater student choice and greater student control. This can be difficult to accept, particularly when our experiences with many students suggest they wouldn’t be able to handle this responsibility very well. It would also involve incorporating new technologies that make it easier to find out where students are at and give feedback, as the common model of students completing work, handing it in, the teacher marking it and then handing it back is way too time consuming and labour intensive.
I love the first suggestion in the document about differentiating by outcome. If we can have a common process outcome, like “everyone will produce a video about ‘x’, ‘y’ and ‘z’ that is better than their last one” the same resources and general instructions can be provided but each kid is doing something aimed at their own level. If there was a rubric that described what a great video, or a great project looked like, each will come in to the project having assessed their previous work and knowing what they are trying to achieve this time – every student is working on something different to achieve the same thing – at the level that is appropriate to them. This would be impossible if we were designing all these programs ourselves. In this paradigm, students also become at least partially responsible for the feedback side of things.
Once we start working like this our main focus becomes how to we give feedback and assistance in real time instead of how do we teach the information. At the moment the biggest concern people typically have with change is the time it takes to do it, as we are all under the pump. These ideas are important as allow us to work smarter instead of harder.
Welcome any comments.