I think just about any teacher worth her or his salt is likely to do a lot of differentiation of instruction. Heck, I’m going to go out on a limb and suggest that some of the better teachers in your school were doing it before it was coined differentiation. For certain, the Diff. movement began with the likes of Carol Ann Tomlinson and has embedded itself in the pedagogy of most effective teachers in the country. Or at least it should have.
But a funny thing to notice is just how un-differentiated our models of professional development, particularly technology training. One would like to think we would know better…
In my experience, professional development frequently looks like the sort of situation most educators strive to avoid: many people crammed into a lifeless room listening to someone drone on about something that is not directly related to their lives. No spark. No direction. No connection. No life.
Tech trainings can be even worse. Now all those people are in front of computers, everyone is at a different place, yet the trainer is plugging along at the pace of the person in the front row. As educators and administrators, we need to push for differentiation in professional development. Here are a few ideas how:
1. The one-size fits all approach doesn’t work in the 7th grade, let’s quit pretending it works for adults. Train staff in small groups or individually. By training people by grade team or by department, you allow for people to personalize the learning and collaborate on ideas for implementation.
2. Use what they bring to the table. If the idea is to update administration on a new student management system, find out some of the common problems they have had lately and start by offering solutions. “Rainy day” education is near worthless. Retraining will be needed when they actually have a specific issue or need anyway. Instead start with problems or projects that they can use immediately.
3. Assign projects. This may sound like an odd request to make to a group of peers, but most people learn by doing, not by listening. Just going through motions is not enough. Invite them to bring a lesson plan along and assign for them to revise it with new implementations. Guide this process but allow for deep customization. In a group, another idea is to have the group work to revise a policy or curricula.
4. Understand that tech integration is bi-directional. Some people are early adopters, and could be great peer coaches. One-on-one instruction will always be far more effective than one person lecturing or leading a larger group, even if the skill level of the coach is not quite as high. Find out who can best help others and leverage that.
5. Make a point to find out how people learn best. Some of my colleagues would like a text list of instructions on a piece of paper to follow while learning something new online. Others would like a Jing video walkthrough. Others like a phone call while they do it themselves. Still others want someone to sit there with them as they attempt to do it. Not everyone likes to use an info site or watch a video. By offering several delivery styles, the new technology becomes more accessible, and by extension, so does the trainer.
A final thought: it’s nice to remember that at any time there is one person who is furthest ahead on any new concept, and one who is farthest behind. That gap can be large, and teaching to the middle is sure to create both apathy and frustration. Tech integration is an important quality of education today, and the more we can help other professionals stay current and relevant, the better for our students.