Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Differentiation: A Ninja's Point of View

Education Week recently published an article which claims that the structure of most classrooms does not allow for effective differentiation techniques.  All I can say is, thank you.  For years I have been forced to endure PDs where differentiation has been preached as the cure for meeting the needs of all students.  The truth is that the student make-up of most classes almost ensures that differentiation meets the needs of very few students.  As a country, we have turned away from the homogeneous grouping which would allow differentiation to actually work.  We say that this shift was made to prevent students from being labeled and suffering from poor self-esteem.  We have decided that it's better to fail this generation instead.

ESOL classes are homogeneous by nature as students are placed by English proficiency level.  Although I have thirty-one students in my advanced class, the line between the most and least proficient students is more blurred.  This allows me to create more targeted lessons and ensures that all students make progress, even if I do have to provide intervention to certain students.  

As far as students feeling labeled and suffering from poor self-esteem, most of that comes from the adults, not the students.  My students know that they are coming to ESOL class everyday, while their classmates go to language arts class.  However, I worked to create a positive classroom environment, so the students actually enjoy coming to class.  They feel good about what they are learning and are confident about their ability to earn a good grade.  If heterogeneous groups were created due to students suffering from poor self-esteem in "low" classes, I guarantee that the culture was created by adults, not students.  Adults could easily turn that around by ceasing to act as if they are being punished just because their classes consist of below grade-level students or rewarded if their classes consist of gifted students.  In fact, why label the classes at all? My class is often referred to as Ms. Ninja's fifth period class, not eighth grade advanced ESOL.

I know that despite this article (and my personal opinion), the tide is not going to change as far as promoting differentiation over common sense in the immediate future. However, I do know that ideas around best practices tend to come in cycles, so I will see change at some point in my career.  The sad part is that this will indeed come too late as by that point, we will have lost a generation of students.

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