Differentiation in Classrooms

Differentiation in Classrooms

Teaching process is to identify and engage learners in a way that is best for learning. 

Arguments in favor of differentiation and against have been the norm from the beginning. Does differentiation actually work?

It is true that sometimes we learn in a particular way, but that does not mean that we always learn in the same way.  Today, I feel like reading a newspaper to know about things, tomorrow I may browse and watch a video.  Learning is not a fixed agenda, then how can differentiation fix learning gaps?

Differentiation is only a mark up to categorise students for the day’s learning.  However, it cannot be set permanently to group the learning order among students.  As a teacher, changing the methodology and understanding the learning order becomes a non-scalable task.  Every year the teacher begins the task of sorting lessons in ways that define their yesteryears learners.  Students are dynamic and their learning patterns change from one session to another.  Teaching must also turn dynamic for the same.  With fixed plans and described differentiation tasks, the goal to be achieved, is never achieved. 

Today, ‘learning at their own pace’ is more real that yester years, thanks to technology, but, still adapted countries have not guaranteed learning through its implementation.  The real reason being, learning is not a structured phenomenon, it happens because of various external factors like

  •         Rewards or awards
  •         Motivation – intrinsic or extrinsic
  •         Success -  past or present or future
  •         Failure – past or present or future
  •         Challenge
  •         Interest etc.,

These factors do not remain constant with time.  It changes based on the learners current interest, trend and environment.  A simple example, look at the game of ‘Angry birds’, it was a huge success till 2012, however the game started to lose its charm after 2012, one of the reasons could be - players tried out other games and found those interesting or the company was bent upon the same gaming strategy for a long period of time, whatever may be the reason the slump for the game had begun.  Teaching also experiences the same flavour, unless until some variation is observed, a slump is definite in the teaching methodology of the same teacher.  If, the teacher is changed, the graph may peak; again it all depends on the type of classroom process adopted by the teacher.

Schools introduced and initiated to work with technology to draw them towards learning and enable them to browse, research and improve their reading skill.  However, we have seen in the recent past that students prefer to collaborate and communicate using technology.  Educationists around the world hence are looking for platforms to increase student collaboration.  Let us rethink the statement

Are we shaping learning as per our requirements or are learners shaping their learning as per their requirements?

What is differentiation now?

I would prefer to define as the way a learner prefers learning.  It has to be designed by the learner and not by the teacher.  Teacher cannot practise differentiation.  It is up to the learner to practice differentiation in learning based on interest, environment and trends.  A teacher can put forth the ideas in the best way they can, but the learner – thinks, manages and manipulates as per their understanding. 

Differentiation is not about teaching it is about learning.  Differentiated learning is what brings forth 21st century skills which is clearly based on student understanding and application of learned knowledge.  People before Newton saw that ‘apple fell down from the tree’ it was only Newton who questioned ‘Why?’  It was not instigated by his teacher, he was self-motivated and not satisfied with the answers textbooks provided.  It is this search that leads to discovery.  Teachers are only direction providers – Direction is to be picked up and used by the learner.  Differentiation Should Be For Learner Learning and Not Teacher Teaching.

About the Author
I work as Academic Coordinator at Nalanda Educational Institutions, Vijayawada, Andhra Pradesh. Worked in implementing Technology supportive curriculum in our organisation. Trainer and Curriculum designer for technology based Curriculum.

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