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This blog will be primarily aimed at innovative educational techniques but will however have the occasional post about education in general.

Monday, January 26, 2015

And I have to differentiate?!?!?

What should teachers do to use differentiation in the classroom?If you are like me, the word "differentiate" drives me crazy!!  I have been teaching now for 17 years and this one still gets to me.  I hear it used most by administrators and curriculum directors.  You know, the ones that don't need to actually do it!!  I am sure many of you have been to a workshop (or 2 or 3) and have participated in many professional development activities about "differentiation" and have learned how it is "the way" to teach!  However, if you believe JAMES R. DELISLE differentiation doesn't work.

WHAT?!?!?  How could all those experts be wrong??!!? Mr. Delisle states:
Although fine in theory, differentiation in practice is harder to implement in a heterogeneous classroom than it is to juggle with one arm tied behind your back.
He goes on and further states:
The biggest reason differentiation doesn't work, and never will, is the way students are deployed in most of our nation's classrooms. Toss together several students who struggle to learn, along with a smattering of gifted kids, while adding a few English-language learners and a bunch of academically average students and expect a single teacher to differentiate for each of them. That is a recipe for academic disaster if ever I saw one. Such an admixture of students with varying abilities in one classroom causes even the most experienced and conscientious teachers to flinch, as they know the task of reaching each child is an impossible one. 
Now fair is fair so here is the definition of "differentiation" from Rick Wormeli, one of the leading experts in differentiation:
Differentiation means we do whatever it takes to maximize instruction over what could otherwise be achieved through whole-class, one-size-fits-all approaches. It's teaching in ways students learn best, not just presenting material and documenting students' success (or lack thereof) with it. 
My problem is that no matter how much I understand and want to do what Mr. Wormeli is asking me to do, I just have to agree with Mr. Delisle.  So, like most teachers, I feel that since I don't "differentiate" I am a horrible teacher and doing my students a disservice..... at least that is what I thought....

Have you ever helped a student on a test?  Have you ever allowed a student to use a calculator but made another student do the math "in his head"?  Have you ever answered a student's question with a question while answering another student's question with a specific example of where to find the answer? Have you ever allowed a student to use a word processor so they can use the spell check feature?  Have you allowed a student to create a poster instead of writing a paper?  If you have done any of these, guess what, in my eyes you have differentiated your instruction!!

Whoo hoo! Pat yourself on the back because I am sure many of you have done some the things I stated as well as countless others.

If you keep the following in mind, I have the utmost confidence that you will be able to "differentiate" your instruction (from Katharine Jacques and Eric Dextradeur: Managing a Successful Differentiated Reading Classroom)
There are three main areas of instruction where differentiation occurs. They are:
Content: what the students need to learn. Generally, content is determined by local, state, and national curriculum standards.
Process: The way students arrive at the content is referred to as process. The term process is often used in exchange for activities and refers to the activities the students take part in to gain an understanding of, or make sense of, the content.
Product: means in which the student expresses a culminating understanding of the content. 
 How can technology be used to help us?  One way to help us teachers create activities is to use "The Differnentiator".  This is a web based tool that will help you change up the "content, process and product".  Also, take a look at the image below, it does a good job of showing what different technologies can be used to help you differentiate:

So, let me repeat myself to help you feel better as a professional educator: if you have done any of the thing I stated earlier to help a student learn,  you are  differentiating your instruction!

Some resources:
The Differeniator
Differentiation in the Classroom
Managing a Successful Differentiated Reading Classroom
Differentiation at the Secondary Level