I love the process of learning something new: the struggle, at first, the questioning about whether it’s worth it, the forgetting to incorporate the new skill into daily life, and then, later, effort leading to success, and much later, realizing you’ve done it successfully without even thinking about it.
I think that differentiation in the classroom is, for me, beginning to move out of the initial phase when it feels like an almost impossible thing, and is starting to become a natural part of what I do as a teacher. And I feel really good about that. The turning point was when I sent home graphs with a class to finish for homework when they did not complete them in class. I thought I’d messed up the next day’s lesson because the kids aren’t good at graphing and I wasn’t optimistic about what they’d do at home, and I figured now I’d spend a whole period just re-doing what they’d completed, with some of the kids who did it right the first time bored out of their minds. But instead of just accepting that, I ended up putting the kids into four groups as I checked their graphs – one group had data that made no sense, so they had to repeat the experiment with more guidance from me, another group hadn’t added their numbers properly, so they got a little lesson on adding decimals, a third group struggled to plot their points, so they got help with the graphing task, and the fourth group had it all mastered, so they went on to the next part of the activity. I recruited two students from this last group to serve as peer tutors and help me manage all my other groups.
Management is the tricky part of these lessons – but the moments when it all feels chaotic are amply rewarded by the moments when you realize that every – or nearly every – kid spent an hour getting instruction targeted to his or her specific difficulty. The kids like it, too, and report that it’s helpful. Their graphs were a LOT better. So, hopefully I can use their buy-in as a way to help keep them on-task and reasonably quiet during this kind of lesson.
Differentiation has been one of my goals for two years – though it didn’t get much attention in Turkey – and I finally feel like I’m progressing towards it. And that’s a good feeling.