ASK AN EDUCATOR! – “Do you use differentiation in your classroom?”

Jan asks:

“One of the concerns I have with my children’s public schooling is the lack of differentiation in the classroom. What is your stance on this topic and do you use it in yours?”

Thank you for the question Jan! This is indeed a very important topic.

For those of us who are unfamiliar with differentiation:

Differentiation in the classroom pertains to efforts made by a teacher to adapt their instruction to meet the individual, and often unique, needs of their students. This teaching method is based on the realization that not all children are the same and therefore require different teaching methods and accommodations to obtain the goals of the course.

As a Technology Education teacher, the principle of differentiation has been a part of my teaching philosophy since day one. In order to earn your teaching license, you are required to conduct multiple semesters of “student teaching.” During one of these experiences I shadowed a “master teacher” for a couple of weeks, then took over his class for the remainder of the quarter. As I observed my “master teacher’s” teaching methods, it was clear that there was one student who he outwardly did not like. This student routinely interrupted class, didn’t participate during group activities and would make a point of not completing any work. My “master teacher” responded to these actions with negative criticism that exposed the entire class to the conflict, rather then address the root of the problem on a one-to-one level.

The day that I took over my “master teacher’s” class, I was instructed to administer a test. I separated the desks, passed out the tests and began watching the students answer the questions. As expected, the troubled student pushed his test away and verbally made it quite clear to me that he had no intentions of completing any portion. I approached the student, lowered myself to his eye level and calmly asked “what’s the problem?” His response was quite eloquent: “I don’t need to do this ****. My grandfather was a farmer, my dad is a farmer and I am going to be a farmer, so this **** is just a waste of my time.”

Enter differentiation.

Remember, everyone is different and it is a shame that many teachers believe a student needs an IEP or a 504 in order to accommodate for their individual needs. I responded to the student in a way that helped him to see the importance of the material and how it could be applied outside the classroom. All he needed was to know that I cared about what he had to say, and that my approach to teaching wasn’t just barfing out “important” information that I then expect my students to barf back and forget after the test.

I always seem to come back to this story as I think it addresses a systemic problem in our education system. We live in a system where “no child left behind” has graced us with curriculum and polices that attempt to squeeze every student through the same conformal mold. Not every student is the same, nor should they be. As teachers we should make every attempt to provide our students with meaningful experiences that will help to shape their lives in a positive way. By differentiating our curriculum to meet our students needs, we eliminate dull laminated curriculum that gets taught year after year and challenge ourselves to think of new ways to engage and inspire our students.

More information regarding differentiation in the classroom can be found here.

I hope this has helped to answer your question and I encourage everyone who has had a positive or negative experience with differentiation to speak up in the comments section! I would love to hear what you all have to say!

Don’t forget, everyone is invited to ask a question!

Click here!

“Ask an Educator” questions are answered by Adam Kemp, a high school teacher who has been teaching courses in Energy Systems, Systems Engineering, Robotics and Prototyping since 2005.

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