Differentiation is one of those buzzwords in education that is often misunderstood. For many it brings up a sense of feeling “overwhelmed” or having to do “extra work”. Teachers will attempt to differentiate by creating different work for students based on their skill level and over time this becomes such a daunting task that many feel they cannot maintain this type of instruction. I don’t blame them, that is daunting and requires a great deal of effort and energy on their part. It is one of the reasons teachers often feel burnt out and attempts at differentiation often fail. Misconceptions of what differentiation is and how it can be implemented contribute to this.
Differentiation is about helping students be successful at their skill level within the given content being presented to the class. This requires a clear understanding of the primary skill being taught, the foundational skills that support the primary skill, and how learning can be extending beyond. An approach that can be applied to all areas of skill development: academics, classroom routines, functional skills, social emotional skills, regulation skills, or any other skill being taught within the general education classroom.
The accommodations and modifications that teachers make everyday for students in response to student skill levels either identified on an individualized plan or not, is differentiation. We are consistently monitoring and adjusting to meet the learning outcomes of our students. It is an amazing skill that teachers possess and one that is not for the faint of heart. I heard one time that the only other profession that makes more decisions in a day than educators is air traffic controllers. I believe this, I have lived it, and it explains why hearing, “What are we having for dinner?”, at the end of a long work day could be a trigger for me.
This continual decision making that educators carry out on a daily basis really gets to the heart of differentiation. The learning inclinations of students drive the decisions being made and are discovered through the development of relationships. When we truly understand the skills students have and we are part of developing their learning outcomes, we can differentiate in a manner that supports student development in relationship to the classroom curriculum, routines, expectations, and environment as whole.
Do You Differentiate, for EVERY student?