Differentiation: Pedagogy focused on relationships

I enjoy these last couple of days before finals.  As students wrap up work on final projects, for once I have many opportunities to connect with students without the pressures of a normal day.  As students approach their final projects with their own proficiency levels, interests and level of desire to complete the work I can’t help but think about differentiation.  This post will be a “thinking on the page” kind of post more anything.

The idea in education seems to make sense on the surface.  Students are different.  We should offer many “different” routes for students to reach a similar level of performance.  But I’ve never felt that it can be summed up so easily.  In a classroom full of diverse learners their differences may even affect one another.

Throughout this year I’ve come across the term differentiation while reading about relationships.  What if differentiation isn’t about what we do in the classroom but about how we build, maintain and operate within our relationships?  In relationship it is important that we differentiate ourselves.  If we lean on a partner in relationship too much, there is strain on the relationship.  In relationship we must differentiate and separate ourselves enough so that we can give our best to the relationship.

I think this idea could be powerful in a classroom.  I hear so many students talk about what teachers are or are not doing.  Many are clearly leaning on teachers as the providers of learning.  Perhaps differentiation is about helping students “stand on their own feet” in the process of learning.  If we are in relationship with students, we will naturally respond based on who those students are, but does what we do matter if they haven’t differentiated from us in their learning?

But how do we guide students to differentiate themselves in their learning?  I’m not sure I have the answer for that, at least yet, but here are some areas I hope to reflect on this summer.

  • Does the grading system in my course move students toward monitoring their own learning?  What areas offer external motivators for them that may prevent them from differentiating from me in their learning?
  • What routines do I have in place that allow students opportunities to differentiate and reflect about what they know in Latin?
  • How do I fit this idea into a system that seems to be driven by AP courses, dual credit courses, constant testing and limited flexibility for reflection?
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