I’m writing reports. I’m too tired to go and find all of the tired tropes teachers traipse out every time they talk about differentiation.
Wow, massive alliteration bomb right there.
Einstein and his tree-climbing exam comes to mind immediately.
The focus for our school in the upcoming years is differentiation, and the first goal is to explore the concept and see what comes out of the dialogue. I’ll dialogue later. I’ll monologue now.
Like an evil villain. Mwahahhahahahahahaha!
And I worry that, if I create a different lesson plan for each and every one of my students, and then have to mark each one differently to allow for their special abilities, that I’ll be a lot more tired later. Of course, if I spent more time marking work and less time writing blog posts, I might be less tired. But, what can you do?
Here are some thinking points:
- Most schools do a great deal to try and raise the grades of students on the left hand side of the bell curve.
- What are schools doing to extend those students at the upper end of the scale?
- Bored geniuses are… genii? Grant me wishes? I’ll look it up. Bored geniuses (obviously not me) are often discipline problems. They tune out because the work isn’t challenging, or isn’t relevant.
- Extending the high achievers definitely involves more work for teachers and will be a bone of contention in planning meetings, even if nobody says anything out loud.
- A lot of current educational methods are being made redundant by new technologies.
I’m not offering solutions just yet, just offering points to think about.
If you’re making students answer questions from a text book, differentiation will be difficult. Luckily, this isn’t such a prolific practice as it was when I was younger.
OK. Enough rambling. What are the solutions?
First up, look at the questions you are posing in your assignments. Are you asking students to do something that they can cut and paste from Google?
“What were some of the effects of World War 2 on the world economy?” can be typed into your favourite search engine verbatim, and students can pick and choose a variety of answers to submit as their own. There is no reason to extend myself as a student. My answers might be better than the lower kids’, but I don’t have the motivation.
Essays such as this should be put to rest. Anything that can be Googled needs to be removed from the curriculum. Try this: “Create a radio news broadcast from a specific day in 1946. Include local and world news, sports, business and weather reports”
They can Google the information but they still need to use it in an original way. You’ll have already taught them about how to be web-search literate, finding accurate and relevant information from authoritative sources. They’ll rationalise their choice of information in their updated bibliography.
They can be assessed on ICT knowledge, History knowledge, speaking and listening in English and hopefully group work.
Secondly, create tiered assignments based on your knowledge of the students. Each tier should have opportunity to stretch themselves, allowing the teacher to move them up for the next work task.
My Engineering and Design class is called The Evil League of Evil. Students start off as Minions, and work towards becoming SuperVillains. The first tasks have them following instructions and showing me that they can gather evidence. It also allows for a variety of responses, allowing those with higher skills to show this. The boys create Lego robots, designing and planning before creating, and finally evaluating their own and others’ creations.
The second task is split into three. They can Build a Robot – if they still need more help – using instructions and continuing to record evidence. They can Design a Robot – Henchman level work that gives them some autonomy but still working on a task I’ve set them. Or they can Invent a Robot – the Villain level work which lets them create a bot from scratch with no intervention from me.
From there, I can shift boys up and down the ranks, depending on how they respond to challenges. They know where they are at all times, and have the impetus to try and reach that highest level.
And of course, we finish the semester with an all in Robot Battle Royale, for those who have achieved a high enough level. Once reports are done. To keep them going for the last two weeks. There are prizes. It’s great.
I know people are thinking “But yeah, practical subjects like that lend themselves to differentiation! And think of all the extra work you just did!”
First up, I’m using Stile, which I love. It allowed me to simply copy the activities into different classes, and I could simplify the language for the minions and add a couple of bonus activities for the Villains. So, not so much extra work.
Secondly… Well, sure, you might have a point. Differentiation is easy in practical subjects. But I can come up with dozens of ways to differentiate an English or History lesson off the top of my head.
Leading to my final point in this mad ramble. One that I’m sure you’ve heard from me before: Collaboration. Nobody should have to do all of this work alone. I have a great team working with me in Technology, so assigning tasks and year levels is easy and the results are fantastic. Use your team. Have a regular spot in the morning briefing, in every staff meeting. Have one staff member share a success story in differentiation. It doesn’t have to be subject neutral. But it could give the rest of the staff that spark that lets them do the same in their classes.
I want to go into depth here. I’ve been working with differentiation for over 10 years. But I also want to keep this under 1000 words (or one picture). So I’ll stop and add more later.
Five words to go! Whoo hoo!