Death of differentiation

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This is my unimpressed teacher face – McKayla Maroney (photo of her on the olympic dais)

An educator whom I respect greatly recently proclaimed the “death of differentiation!”, and the phoenix rising from its burnt ashes..? Personally significant learning. I am certain that my disagreement with this comment was obvious, I believe that my face was akin to that of McKayla Maroney.

My greatest concern with this concept that differentiation is dead, is that it shows we did not get the purpose of differentiation in the first place. Why did we start this approach where we attempted to accommodate the various ways that people learn? Surely to ensure that there is the academic diversity such that all students can access the learning, can lead the learning, and can make that learning personally significant. Granted, I saw the majority of differentiation consist of various versions of; “I will give student x more time on this task”, “Student y won’t try the harder questions”, or three different assignments with *shudder* scaffolding for the whole class.

To me, differentiation was all about interest, presentation methods and engagement. The greatest piece of differentiation that one could do was to get every student interested and to care about the concepts that you were covering. Once this is achieved, then the process of guiding student centred learning is quite easy.

There are a million “differentiation tips” around, but really, purpose is the key. Why are you letting those students use computers to communicate? Why does that student have to do fewer problems? Why does that student get to write their own questions? Why are you grouping those students together? Why are you framing that work around that student’s interests? The answer to all of these questions should be “because it guides the student towards a greater understanding and an ability to connect knowledge to every day life”, i.e.: personally significant learning. 

A good approach to pedagogy is good for everyone, and if your approach doesn’t work for everyone, then it needs work. As was said in my class earlier this year when I was filming a lesson:

“Why are you filming the lesson?”

“So I can look back on it and try to be a better teacher”

“But you’re already good!”

“Thank you, but if this is the best I can ever be, I would be devastated. I have 50 years of working life ahead of me, I couldn’t handle not improving”

“woah…”

Now, lets have a moment of silence for the Death of Differentiation, but make it quick, because we have work to do…

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