Not the definition for Differentiation

Education is littered with technical terms and jargon with a few acronyms thrown in for good measure; differentiation, AfL, SEN, G & T, inclusion, PBL, personalization, EFL or ESL or EAL, to name but a few.   Most of these terms and their associated definitions come from the western educational world.   As such they rely on certain assumed background knowledge and experience plus on a certain cultural background.     What are the implications where these terms and their definitions are applied in other parts of the world?     Remember, in a different part of the world we have differing cultural and contextual backgrounds plus the added issue of translation.

Our understanding of something new is grounded in what we know already, in our experiences, etc.   As such explanation of something new requires concrete examples, so in the case of differentiation the concrete examples might include providing challenging extension tasks for the more able, or providing additional teacher or other staff support for students who are less able.    So to the teacher experiencing the term of differentiation for the first time, they might come to think of differentiation as meaning they should provide extension tasks to the more able and additional time and support to the less able, as these were the concrete examples provided.    Now I know this is quite a simplistic view, and that if we were introducing differentiation to teachers we would include a variety of techniques for challenging the more able and supporting the less able, however does this truly get to the heart of what differentiation or any other term for that matter, truly is?

Another approach is to look at what a term is not.    Here we can ground the ‘NOT’ version of a new term in things teachers already know and have experience of.    So continuing the differentiation example we might discuss teaching all students the same content at the same pace and at the same time.    We can then ask “why is this not appropriate?”.     The answer which teachers, and even those who have never encountered differentiation, should reply with will be the fact that students have differing needs, abilities, interests, etc.     So differentiation is the opposite of teaching students the same content at the same pace and at the same time.    From this, discussion can be generated into how this can be done practically in the classrooms of a particular school, with particular students within a particular context.   I would suggest that this approach would generate a “better” understanding of what differentiation or any other term is, as opposed to the explain and model approach.

So next time you need to explain something new, to teachers or students, give some consideration to NOT explaining it.

 

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Author: garyhenderson2014

Gary Henderson is currently the Director of IT in an Independent school in the UK. Prior to this he worked as the Head of Learning Technologies working with public and private schools across the Middle East. This includes leading the planning and development of IT within a number of new schools opening in the UAE. As a trained teacher with over 15 years working in education his experience includes UK state secondary schools, further education and higher education, as well as experience of various international schools teaching various curricula. This has led him to present at a number of educational conferences in the Middle East. In addition Gary is a Google and Microsoft Certified Educator.

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