Differentiated learning may be a students’ paradise, but it can be a teachers’ nightmare. I insist on the phrase “can be” because that is never the case with all students or all teachers, and that is, by the way, enough evidence to the fact that we need differentiated learning because we react differently to it.
To illustrate the point of differentiated learning and teachers’ resistance, let me share a conversation with a concerned teacher:
Concerned Teacher: Differentiated learning simply means a lot of work for the same pay, does it not?
Danny: Yes, it does. That’s why you need to discuss with your administration a way to organize work with other teachers to divide the load, and maybe divide the whole approach in different phases. That will take more time at first, but once the differentiated pools are ready, it will be a lot easier. Let’s face it, it is beneficial in the long run.
Concerned Teacher: What do you mean by differentiated pools?
Danny: These are the different places you divide materials by topic, the level of difficulty, interest, modes of presentation, etc.
Concerned Teacher: Still no extra pay for that, no?
Danny: I am afraid not, but who would want to do the same thing we have been doing for ages. Aren’t you bored yet? Besides, if you are among the first to take this step, you will establish some new experience that will eventually give a boost to your paycheck.
Concerned Teacher: I don’t think I can manage students learning different things at the same time. How will I be able to track their individual progress?
Danny: There are tools that can help you do that, not pen and paper, though, you will have to use the computer in your class and more importantly, the cloud.
Concerned Teacher: That’s what I am afraid of. How am I going to learn all these things?
Danny: You have never tried, have you? That’s why you are so afraid of it. First, you don’t need to know every single feature of a given software or a cloud-based service to be able to use it effectively with your students; always have the goals you want to achieve in mind before you learn any software, it will be much more fun and faster to look for specific features of a given application rather than learn it in general. My advice is never to take a holistic course on an app, like say MS Word or Excel. This will intimidate you for no reason. It will usually teach you a lot of stuff you will never use in the app, but you have to learn these because they are a part of the app curriculum. You see, they have not personalized learning apps; these companies are excellent at providing educational technology tools, but it is our job to add educational value to these tools. Second, I assure you that learning the second app will be a lot easier, no matter how different it might seem from the first app, all the way until learning a new app will be a piece of cake. Finally, trust me, this whole process is addictive, once you start you can never stop.
Concerned Teacher: I will be honest with you, I know the textbook I teach by heart, every nook and cranny of it. When I have to teach a new textbook, it takes me time to master it, which is a pain. Are you telling me now that there will be no specific textbook, and students can learn just about anything? How do you expect me to deal with such a variety of topics? I don’t know everything about all possible topics in the subject I teach. I can’t afford to sound ignorant in front of my students and make them feel that they are better than me in any way.
Danny: Well, let me, too, be honest with you. You should know everything about the topic you teach, but to be realistic, we know that not all of us do. Well, this is a chance we grow our knowledge with our students. We don’t need to be highly experts in all topics when we start this differentiating thing, but I strongly believe that if we do, in a couple of years from now, we will be. And a word of advice here from my humble experience, my students never thought less of me when I told them “I don’t know,” only when I told them things I didn’t know about, and they figured out later that I gave them some wrong information. Our students love to take the role of a teacher; we still represent a role model for them, you see. They will feel proud if they know they have added something to the teacher’s knowledge. It happens with me all the time. In fact, I am thankful that I have been working this way with my students for a while, for I have multiplied my learning capacity in the past couple of years. And don’t bother my friend about being better than all of your students because you are not. None of us is. They are just like us. Some of them are better than us, and we may be better than some of them, yet who are we to judge such a thing; I believe it is a trivial, useless classification thing we have been doing for many years with no use at all.
Concerned Teacher: Well, you may be right, but that means assessment will have to be varied as well, and you know we are bound to some standards to follow, and students will be tested based on these standards, so what do we do?
Danny: Well, that is a problem we still need to find a solution for. We will be discussing it next time
Concerned Teacher: All right!
Danny: Thanks for listening to me!
Well, I am just trying to point out that to implement anything in the educational field, we will need teachers as our allies. If they do not believe in it, it will never take off. A considerable part of our planning any new approach should be focused on how we can win teachers to our side. They are key; we need to keep thinking of developing them all the time. I say we keep thinking about our students, which is a noble thing I must say, but more often than not, we tend to forget about our teachers whose support can almost guarantee the success of any approach we choose to implement.