Practical differentiation: Think pot luck, not dinner party

What if you and your friends only saw one another when someone had the time, energy and resources to throw the perfect Martha-Stewart dinner party?

Obviously, you wouldn’t see one another that often. So you’ve come up with a compromise: the potluck dinner. The benefits are many. Not only do you get to enjoy your friends’ company without the stress, but your guests get to try out that new recipe and sample a variety of dishes from other cooks.

To make differentiated learning feasible in the classroom, a similar mental shift may be needed. Differentiation is overwhelming when teachers feel they have to do everything themselves, but it becomes more manageable when students are included in the process.

Mike Anderson, author of Choosing to Learn, Learning to Choose, proposes that educators shift some of the responsibility for differentiation to the student by routinely providing learning choices.

In a recent webinar, Give Students the Power to ‘Self-differentiate’ with Learning Choices, Mike says that when students make their own learning choices, they are essentially self-differentiating. Many teachers already give students the choice to read the kind of book that interests them. Students need more learning choices, both to engage and impassion them and also to differentiate learning so it is appropriately challenging for them, Mike says.

When teachers take all the responsibility for differentiated learning, they can only guess at the “sweet spot” of learning, the zone of proximal development where learning is challenging without being too frustrating. When students make their own learning choices, they naturally seek out that zone.

Sharing control and responsibility with students has an added perk for teachers besides making differentiation more manageable: It makes teaching more fun, Mike says.

As you develop your strategy to differentiate instruction, consider the role that student choice might play in pulling it all together for both you and your learners.


Give Students the Power to ‘Self-differentiate’ with Learning Choices




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