Ripples & Reflections

"Learning is about living, and as such is lifelong." Elkjaer.

Differentiating… differently.

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Long time no post! The school year is well underway and a ton of topics are on my mind, but things have been chugging along busily. Without the MA assignment to procrastinate, there’s been a little less motivation to blog, too! I’ll try to post a few shorter sets of thoughts based on our recent PD on Differentiation. 

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Differentiation is a philosophy of teaching

That much I’ve had confirmed by an excellent few days’ PD with Sandra Page*, from ASCD, here at CA. It niggles at me that at times (or perhaps even often), I should be doing more to meet the individual learning needs of students. We all know that we should differentiate, and maybe we think we do so effectively, but it takes a real effort to want to make changes to the way we ‘teach’. Over the last few years I’ve been removing myself from the stage and trying to get the focus of learning on what the students can do and understand, and this opportunity to spend some time thinking about it and gathering more tools and practices has been welcome and invigorating.

What is DI? From DifferentiationCentral. Click to go there and find out more – it’s good stuff!

We took the time to focus on why we differentiate and how, thinking carefully about the general principles of differentiation (link to DifferentiationCentral overview). From a practical perspective there was a focus on differentiation of process by readiness, interest and learning profile.

As you can see from Tomlinson’s diagram of DI, it is a much more in-depth approach to planning and teaching. However by choosing to focus on process differentiation, everyone in the room, regardless of their own readiness level as a differentiator, was able to get something to take away and put into action immediately. A few colleagues and I had some great conversation as part of our Digital Bytes Friday yesterday on some of the practices she suggested and what tech tools exist to effect them in our 1-1 environment.

I realised early on that I’ve been using some of these techniques with some success for years, but my planning and implementation of really effective DI lessons (and units) could definitely do with being ‘beefed up’. I’ve taken a lot away from this experience, much of which will help me work towards my differentiation goal at school of better extending the more advanced students.

Some plans to put into action:

  • Make more effective use of the wealth of pre- and ongoing assessment data we generate in my classes to better inform DI lesson plans and the direction and style of lessons and units.
  • Establish more fluent routines to facilitate flexible grouping.
  • Find out more about Making Thinking Visible for ongoing formative assessment.
  • Use readiness as a filter for differentiation in the high-stakes classes, then develop DI lessons for different interest and learning profiles as they are appropriate.
  • Really clearly communicate KUD’s and make use of formative and ongoing assessment with various groups and students to check that we are making the right progress.
  • Develop and curate more resources for teachers to put to use in our connected, 1-1, international MYP environment.
  • Maybe even get some chat going on #MYPChat about differentiation!

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The Penny Drops: Differentiated Instruction and the MYP Planner

Sandra emphasised the importance of a solid ‘Know Understand Do‘ (KUD) for a DI lesson plan, which immediately made me think of the link between the Significant Concept(s) in Stage 1 of a unit planner and their relationship with the Knowledge and Skills in Stage 2. Of course we plan lessons to work towards larger unit goals. A good DI lesson will therefore act as a stepping stone towards those learning goals, tailored to meet the needs of the students.

I quickly put together this diagram to communicate this relationship to colleagues.

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Some useful Differentiation links:

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*I can totally recommend her to lead PD on differentiation. We’re always wary as teachers of someone coming in to ‘tell us how to do our jobs’, but she was excellently prepared, clear, very knowledgable and supportive. This session was focused on MS/HS teachers and was tailored as such, with examples from across the disciplines. She worked with the school beforehand to discuss our needs and acted upon them. Here’s her page on LinkedIn.

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Author: Stephen

Director of Learning & MYP Coordinator at Canadian Academy, Kobe, Japan. Formerly MYP HS Science & IBDP Bio teacher and missing it terribly. Twitterist (@sjtylr), dad and bloggerer.

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