Recently as part of a Teachers College assignment we were to create a unit plan for our particular subject areas. It needed to include a minimum of 12 lessons and was to be accompanied by a justification essay articulating how and why we chose to include elements and methodologies. Days upon days disappeared as I poured my heart and soul into creating something that I was proud to submit with my name on it. Aimed toward a mixed ability Year 10 Graphics class, I carved what I hoped to be a scaffolded plan to see the class create original and imaginative toy designs. I experimented with gamification concepts through the use of levels, created heterogeneous ‘toy company’ groups for competitive collaboration, instant feedback loops via individual student blog reflection and incorporated plenty of strategic choice for the students. My aim was to produce a student-led project based unit and I feel like I achieved that.
Then it was onto the justification essay. Under the section differentiation we were required to articulate how and where we were catering to specific different abilities in the class – one part we needed to specifically address ESL (English as second language), another high and low ability and a third to specify how we were creating a culturally responsive unit. While these were among the many areas that I had considered when thinking about the lessons and activities included in the unit, the exercise in specifying for just these three areas seemed so light.
How could three sections cover the 25-30 individuals that could hypothetically be participating in this imaginary class?
Differentiation to me means recognising and accepting each and every student as an individual. I feel like the labels above somehow create a sticker that is attached to a certain group and ‘if x, y & z are done then yes you’ve ticked that box’ and that’s going to be the best way to teach that ‘type’ of student. On my teacher placements I have witnessed students entering the classroom with a myriad of needs and have seen my Associate Teachers adapt swiftly on the fly. It’s magic and spell binding to watch. And the biggest take away was that sometimes you just don’t know what is going to pop up.
I’ve seen that each student brings with them a suitcase of past experiences, beliefs and motives, any of which can be played out within the 60 minutes or so they are with you while making meaning of the language and symbols they are faced with. Each student approaches new information at different angles using tools from their suitcase. It is within this space that teachers facilitate differentiation through individualisation, ensuring that the information is being dispersed to a multitude of ways and then pulling and pushing all the different tangents and angles students further. I can understand that meticulous planning has a major part to play in this cycle but I feel so much more is about the relationship between the student and teacher and more importantly between students themselves while they interact within this space – an organic process that is student-led and plays out in real time.
So maybe the essay heading for the unit assignment shouldn’t have been differentiation – but instead – How is the unit catering for individualisation?