Sunday, January 23, 2011

Differentiation - some more thoughts

The year after I first became an international teacher my school hosted the ECIS Social Studies Conference.  Despite the fact that I was a new teacher at the school, I was encouraged to present at this conference, along with 2 of my colleagues who were ESL teachers.  Our presentation dealt with the issue that many of our ESL students found social studies to be their "hardest" subject.  Just as it's often difficult to translate menus or jokes, they felt that social studies for many students was an "untranslatable".  Our presentation asked teachers to consider ways they could differentiate for the ESL students in their class.  We gave examples of how at times all students could be doing the same thing using the same materials, sometimes all students could have the same task, but use different materials to access the information (books in their own language for example), at other times students could all use the same materials (for example maps) but be working on different tasks and sometimes both the materials and the tasks would need to be different.

Last year some teachers from our school went to Rome to a workshop by Carol Ann Tomlinson on differentiation.  She suggests 5 elements of differentiation:  content (what the students will learn), process (how they will learn), product (what they will produce to show their learning) and two other elements she calls affect (the interactive nature of the mind and emotions) and the learning environment (climate and structure).

What differentiation means is that we plan so that all students can learn effectively - that all can develop their knowledge, understanding and skills.  It means we have to give up a one-size-fits-all approach and think more about how we get them to these goals - the journey may well be very different for individual students.  However what it definitely doesn't mean is that some students have a watered down version of the curriculum.  Of course differentiation is not always easy - it can involve a lot of extra work for teachers who work in schools where are limited support services for students - but it does mean that we are showing that we believe in all our students and that we want all of them to reach their full potential.

Photo Credit:  Distinctively Red by pshutterbug

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