4 Things to Consider Before Differentiating for your Students

In professional conversations with educators across grade levels, I’ve heard some interesting conversations. One focused on student performance and the implementation of differentiation. It seems some teachers are concerned that differentiation has done little to help students. As one teacher said this:

“We’re differentiating to the point where the very standards that used to be the anchor of teaching and learning are being adapted and modified to the point where they carry little weight and compromise what achievement looks like!”

This teacher when on to say that differentiation was in her words, “used and abused” to the point where young people have less academic challenges than they did just decades before.

This is a serious concern for all educators with a classroom of varying abilities. We adapt and modify process and products to the point where it seems what used to be grade level standards are now manipulated.
But, let’s consider the changes in the world along with the changes in teaching and learning. Inclusion is now common place. It’s not unusual to have students varying in ability that spans 8 – 9 year.
The class population is often made up of a combination of English language learners, OHI, special education, 504, and the list goes on.
Release the guilt of believing you are responsible to make every child reach the exact same expectation at the same time within a standards driven instructional environment.
Each student, as proven by current research, develops at their own pace. You can only guide students and support them, help them make a way for their potential.

3 Tips to Differentiate with Integrity

High Expectations, Flexible Boundaries

Neurologically, there are commonalities across populations of students, but then consider those factors unique to each. Learning styles, environment, health, socio-economic conditions, etc.
With these in mind, it’s difficult to imagine conformity to teaching methods and time lines based on stringent parameters. If all minds and bodies were forced to learn skills using one method and one time frame, teachers’ efforts would surely be wasted.

Get Messy Sometimes

Let go of the limiting belief that you have failed as an educator if a student doesn’t learn what you have taught on your projected time frame. Let go of the belief that students must reach mastery at the same time as their peers.
Let go of expecting to meet every child’s needs the first go round.
Finds comfort in being driven by the standards while differentiating for need. Begin embracing the glorious mess that is learning in a classroom of varied abilities.

Become a Keen Observer

And finally, look for ways to gain insight to your students through the use of observation, data collection, and flexibility.  You deserve to give yourself credit for the positive impact you make on students every day without judging yourself against the impossible dream of uniformity.
Remain focused on the standards, and open to diversity. Seek support of your professional peers, and be open to new methodologies and management skills to find balance. Make strides towards differentiation and welcome the growing pains that are part of the journey.

Differentiation is Not a Compromise

On the way to developing a standards based grading, differentiation is not the road to compromise. In this every changing world, fair is not always equal, and in light of this, it is up to us to help all students flourish and rise to their potential and all its beautiful uniqueness.
But, don’t forget to nourish yourself along the way because you are a student, too my friend, and your achievements and growth as a professional deserves the same flexibility and support as you offer your students.

About Vivian Beck

I am a blogging teacher, teaching people how to blog. Check out the tutorials and you can start your blog today.

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