I recently read a post on StaffRm regarding Differentiation (read it here ) which I believe to be a very complex subject that can be boiled down and simplified to “knowing the student”. The post made a very interesting point with regards catering to students needs, and in particular the areas which they need to develop. The suggestion was that by repeatedly adjusting learning to accommodate these needs we might in fact encourage students to not address areas for improvement and therefore compound the issue at hand.
This got me thinking about all of the other things we should develop or encourage in students. We want to develop 21st century skills including collaboration, communication, creativity and critical thinking. Taking critical thinking we might provide students with a framework with which to question a particular situation or scenario thereby scaffolding the learning activity. If we consistently provide these questions and frameworks students may come to believe these are the only questions and therefore miss other questions which may be appropriate to a given situation.
Having recently read Drive by Daniel Pink I also wonder what the impact of this constant scaffolding would have on students intrinsic motivation. To a student it may appear that every time a task may appear at the outset to be difficult, that the teacher has put differentiation in place to make is easier and more achievable. Also every time a task turns out to be difficult during the completion of the task itself, that the teacher will step in and put in place supporting measures, frameworks, etc to make things more achievable for the student. The teacher here is doing the hard work so from the point of view of the student there is no need to be motivated to overcome any difficulties in hand, as the teacher can be expected to step in.
We also seek to make our students more resilient however how are students likely to become more resilient when we limit the challenges and difficulties they have to overcome.
I wonder whether the above points towards two different perspectives on education. One perspective being the importance of attainment, and therefore the need to provide all students an equal opportunity to achieve through providing support and differentiation. The other perspective focuses on preparing students for the future where they will come across challenge of significantly varying degrees. Here focus is not on making the challenge easier or more achievable but on asking how can we overcome the challenge. The focus is on the students and on developing the skills within them to overcome difficulties, the motivation to keep going in the face of challenge and the resilience to not give up.
I believe the answer here lies between the two perspectives however I feel it is a worthwhile exercise to consider which of the two you tend more towards and what you as a teacher could do to offer a more appropriately balanced educational experience for students. I know I will be giving this some thoughts myself.