Thursday, January 22, 2015

The keys to differentiating is all about "knowing"

Often principals speak with teachers about the topic of differentiation.  These conversations routinely focus on a wide range of topics - everything from learning styles to different activities, pacing, and assessments, just to name a few.  Perhaps we need to think about differentiation as a way to meet the needs of all of our learners and it all comes down to "knowing."

Know your students:
In order to effectively differentiate, teachers must know their students.  Teachers must know their students' passions, their interests, their strengths, and their weaknesses.  Teachers must know when to push and challenge their students and when to support and scaffold learning.  Teachers must know how to connect with their students on a personal level before any meaningful learning can occur.

Know your teaching:
After personal connections are made, teachers need to know how to meet the needs of their students. Teachers cannot begin to meet their students academic needs without knowing what their students already know.  Beginning with formative assessments, teachers can use that data to inform their instruction.  Knowing this baseline data will help teachers identify strategies to cognitively engage students, allow for critical thinking and problem solving.  Teachers must create lessons which extend the learning for some while providing remediation for others.

Know your colleagues:
It is unrealistic to expect every teacher to be able to effectively differentiate to meet the needs of all the learners in a classroom.  Essentially, every student has his or her own IEP.  So how can one teacher be expected to meet all of these needs?  They can't.  However, a team can.  Teachers need to know their own strengths and the strengths of their colleagues in order to be able to share ideas, leverage effective teaching strategies, and create skill based groups utilizing all the talents of the team.

Meeting the needs of all the students in a classroom is extremely challenging.  But if teachers "know" their students, their teaching and their colleagues, the task will become much more manageable and the students will all benefit.