Ditch the word differentiation. Never use it again. Forget it exists. By default, using the term differentiation, causes us to first look at what’s different about students before designing assessment or a lesson. We weigh these differences against what’s seen as ‘normal’ and by doing so, we categorize without really even getting to understand individual students. Differentiation is a quick way to streamline the process of knowing our students. We assign them labels so we feel like we understand their needs… but do we really?
Personalisation starts with understanding. It’s not a term that is used exclusively with students who struggle to read, have learning challenges or who are identified with being gifted. Personalisation should be done for every single student. It begins with the unwavering belief that all students are capable of excellence. All. But in order to really live this philosophy, it takes a commitment to digging deep into children who enter the walls of the classroom.
Idea One: Create a Community of Learners
Creating a community where everyone (regardless of perceived academic ability) feels included, valued and comfortable is essential for all students and especially necessary for students who may have been marginalized in the past and felt excluded.
Things we can do to create these communities:
Refusing to set/track classes
Teachers are vulnerable with students
CritiqueUsing peer feedback
Appreciations Share-Out at the end of classIndividual reflection
Allowing for student voiceProtocolsMixed ability groupings
Question Wall (Parking Lot)
Encourage risk taking and celebrate it publicly!
Refusing to use competition as a motivational tool
Knowing students individually
One on one conversations with students
Ice Breakers and opportunities for students to share with each other (non-academic)
Show & Tell Activities that high-light student passions and interests
Variety of activities that necessitate different talents (Socratic Seminar, World Cafe)
Display ALL beautiful work where students have invested, regardless of whether it’s ‘the best’
Idea Two: Focus on what students CAN do, first.
It’s easy to start the year by looking at student deficits, however for any student who has struggled with school in the past, they know whether they’re ‘good’ or ‘not good’ at school. The most important thing is to build confidence in students by examining what students can do, what they’re already good at to provide more access points to help in areas that need development.
Ways we can focus on what students can do:
Be flexible in the ways students show understanding (dictation, partner writing, pictures, etc.)
Take “Learning Style” survey and design lessons around different types of learners
Activate prior knowledge before new knowledge
Ask them. What are you comfortable with? What do you struggle with? They know.
Idea Three: Provide scaffolds for students to reach higher, don’t lower expectations.
When creating scaffolds for students to complete a desired task, it is essential the support matches with need of an individual student. Determine what the task is, what an individual student may need in terms of support to reach the desired task and provide resources accordingly.
Ways we can scaffold learning:
Graphic organizers (Give the option to all students, some will need them without ever officially getting support)
Modify assignments to do less if it’s the same skill
Allow dictation to a teacher or another student
“Workshop Groups” with a particular task as a theme (Open these to all students who may need support! They can also be done after school)
Visuals with text
Untimed Learning Stations so students can go at their own pace, combined with Daily Check-Lists
Idea Four: Honour student interests
Our students have rich lives outside of our classrooms and the more we can do to bring these experiences into school, the better chance we have at honouring who are students are and what they are good at.
Ways we can involve the interests of students:
Choice in assignments (what to write about, etc.)
RAFT (Role, Audience, Format, Topic)
Conduct “Home Visits” and meet with students and their families
Have Show and Tell each Friday with different students presenting each time
Give open-ended projects where students can include their own ideas for products