In my last post, I shared a personal "flashback" about a moment of time that has shaped the way I empathize with students and value student voice in their learning experiences. What I didn't share with you (for fear of a lengthy, mega-post) is how that experience also fueled my passion for differentiated learning experiences.
Being a twin is certainly one of the first stepping stones on my journey towards understanding and longing for equity in our world...certainly in the world of education. (Also note, that when talking about "equity" here, in it's most brief definition, I'm referring to "making sure every child has their needs met, every day.") Whether it was getting the same toys as my sister, wearing the same clothes, or receiving an education that was "good enough for one of us, so it must be good for us both," I couldn't help but think..... "but we aren't the same person!" Don't get me wrong, "twinning" is awesome, but it's also not everything. You can put us in the same looking outfits, but sometimes...we still need different sizes! You can give us the same toys, but we'll play with them differently because our brains & imaginations are at different places. You can engage us in the same curriculum, but we'll need different supports to accomplish the learning goals since we each connect with the information in our own way. We deserve more than copy/paste support (or gifts, or praise, or whatever)!!!
You may wonder why I often become so "energized" by the topic of how you're REALLY supporting each and every one of your students. Well, that's why.... I don't want the students in your class to be treated as "well, their twins so the must like the same things." This is also why I refuse to teach through any other method than PBL/PrBL. Intentional planning of both Project and Problem Based Learning unit designs AND facilitation notes rely on a teacher's creative thinking for different approaches of lesson delivery (otherwise known as "scaffolding activities").
The first phase of PBL planning is to "begin with the end in mind" by identifying the standards and skills you want students to uncover through their research. Knowing these standards and skills helps us design the project scenario... what problem of practice will necessitate students investigation of these standards and skills? The next phase of designing is where "differentiated planning" takes place... creating the path for how you'll move through the project from beginning to end. We all have our "bag of tricks" teaching activities that we've used to teach a certain standard or skill. It's worth noting this under the "method" portion of this project mapping tool. But I would challenge us to say, "If I stop there, with one idea, I will be delivering a copy/paste learning activity to all students...regardless of individual need." And THAT'S where (for me) the final two columns come into play.
The topic of "differentiation" often scares us as educators, because many of us hear that word and think, "😧 !! I don't have TIME to write 30 different lesson plans to teach the same general standard/skill to the 30 students in my class!!!" But that's not what we're asking you to do!! What we're asking is that you use your initial scaffolding activity idea(s) as a baseline to THEN think about the items in the last two columns of this project mapping tool:
- What barriers or missed opportunities might your students face when participating in the scaffolding activity you identified, or in the general learning environment?
- What alternative media, materials, and methods might you offer to make the scaffolding activities more accessible to all students?
"Thanks for the nudge, Sarah, but I don't even know what that means or what that looks like?!" No problemo! Here are some resources to help you out while you map your projects so that you aren't creating multiple scaffolding activities, but rather, variations for each activity:
- Collaborate with your colleagues! - Talk to your intervention specialists, instructional aides, or student teachers for help during your planning phases! Don't have any of those folks in your building?! REACH OUT TO ME! I'm happy to help!
- Examples of UDL Solutions - divided into three segments, addressing the three brain networks: recognition (what we learn), strategy (how we learn), and affect (why we learn). For each, Form 3B on this website offers examples of technology-based tools, media, and methods as well as instructional strategies to expand your repertoire and engage more students. Note that the appropriateness of these solutions and options depends upon your instructional goal. Providing scaffolds such as spell checkers for writing or text-to-speech for reading is appropriate only if the goal of a lesson is focused on process and content, not on writing or reading mechanics.
- Suggestions for accommodating learners with both different learning challenges AND those with different strengths and interests:
- Video: Sharing content in multiple formats - providing course content in multiple formats to enhance student comprehension
- Video: Motivating and engaging learners in multiple ways - maintaining interest, sustain interest, AND support self-control
- Video: Allowing learners to show what they know in multiple ways - giving various pathways to students to show they've reached the learning outcome and assessed their improvement! (Note: Echo, NTN's learning management system, provides immediate access to many of the methods mentioned in this video)
Get to know your students. Get to know their needs. Get to know the barriers or strengths/interests that are creating missed opportunities in their learning. Get uncomfortable thinking outside the box for how to support them in overcoming those barriers. Get to know those in your building that might know ways to support student needs that you don't. Get ready to celebrate an enhanced culture of learning in your classroom... for the connections students will form with you and the content and level of engagement among learners as a result of appropriate levels of "challenge" for every student, every day.
Peace, love, and one size can't fit all,