Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Feeling Inspired After PD on Differentiation

We had an all-staff professional development session today that was actually great! The speaker was from London Gifted and Talented, but he spoke more generally about differentiation for all kids (in the context of G&T education). First off, I have to say that I am a skeptic of the whole G&T education thing and what it does for kids; anyway, I went into the PD with quite a bit of doubt.

That said, I was really glad to hear the speaker say that the best way to nurture G&T kids is to provide opportunities for enrichment for all of your students via effective differentiation. He talked a lot and went through a lot of slides, but here were my favorite points:

* "High challenge/low threshold learning" is what we should be aiming for. A truly differentiated task should be limitless on the upper bound of complexity and be truly open-ended, genuinely investigative, and to allow student choices of medium/depth/topic, but still be accessible to everyone in the class.

* Differentiation cannot/should not be an end in itself. It should be linked to a purpose, and your method should reflect your purpose. --> This was a particularly good point for me, because I realized while he was talking that I have not clarified the end goals of differentiation for myself. What am I trying to achieve? Do I want different kids to be able to approach problems using different methods? Do I want kids to be able to demonstrate their knowledge using different media/application? Do I want kids to achieve similar abstract knowledge or am I comfortable with different kids understanding the concept differently? Lots of things for me to think about!!

* "It's not that [differentiation] is not happening. Rather, it's that we don't have the shared language to talk about what is already happening [in our classrooms]."

* Provide variable-credit assignments. A complex, rich task that is done well should replace several smaller, more basic tasks. A talented student should not be punished for their talents by being assigned extra work.

* Student floundering is good. Teacher needs to create environment for kids to think independently and to allow students to struggle. (I know I'm preaching to the choir here, but I also know how much I enjoy PDs that emphasize this point, because so many educators still do not believe that themselves.)

All in all, the session was great because it reminded me of the things I had committed to doing in the beginning of the year that I am still not doing. I don't believe in new year's resolutions (since I think goal-setting should be an on-going process and allow the opportunities of failures and re-attempts), but the second half of the school year seems like as good a time as any to be more self-critical and to hold myself accountable to some of those promises!

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