Differentiation is a focus this year, not only at my school, but also in the region. This has meant that there is a massive push to make a range of strategies more explicit in our programs and units of work.
So, what is Differentiation?
It involves the use of teaching, learning and assessment strategies that are fair and flexible, provide an appropriate level of challenge, and engage students in learning in meaningful ways. Differentiated programming recognises an interrelationship between teaching, learning and assessment that informs future teaching and learning.
The concept began as a strategy to enable Gifted and Talented learners to be challenged in mainstream classrooms. The realisation is all students learn in different ways and when provided with a range of ways to problem solve, a choice of product outcomes and the opportunity to work at a pace that suits them, students will achieve better and more to their potential. No longer is the “one size fits all” solution adequate in the 21st Century classroom.
There are a few suggested strategies that can be used. These include:
- Differentiating the process or activities
- Differentiating the product outcome or assessment
- Differentiating the content and materials
- Differentiate the environment
All the above can be further explained when you examine the following models:
How does this translate in the classroom?
I feel confident from teaching the GATS class that I am able to accomplish these ideas when programming and implementing a unit of work. But when we sat down to discuss it as a faculty, there was a need to have it more explicit and each concept defined and used clearly by each teacher. (Now there is irony – teach in a differentiated way, but don’t program like it! HAHA!) There was also a push from above for each faculty to focus on one strategy to become experts at it – the Art department scored Extended Brainstorming. The more that I thought about it and read about differentiation, the more clear it was to me, that in Art we are really lucky. While we teach students a skill in using materials, the concept development and inevitable outcome, is always differentiated. Students are always working at their own pace and some extend their artmaking when they feel confident, while others are more complacent.
For me, reflecting upon my classes, I thought perhaps I had let my Visual Design class down. Because I teach in such an open-ended manner, I feared that maybe they weren’t developing good enough Graphic Design skills, and some were not all confident with using Photoshop. I don’t like to set down in stone HOW to use the software, I figure that as they problem solve and decide on a visual concept, they are going to have to learn how to use the software, to make it do what they want.
In saying this, I decided to PRE-TEST their skills. I gave them a task that was open-ended, but the end product was like a test of their developing skills.
Here are some of their products.
There is such a range. But it really challenged them and gave them the chance to really showcase what they could or couldn’t do.
So, are you a NOOB, MASTER or WIZARD?
Once complete, I assigned the students the next design brief. However, I based it upon these previous submissions. I was going to tell them what to do, but let them choose. I let them choose from 3 possible project – each increasing in difficulty.
The NOOB task is for students that are developing their Photoshop skills.
The MASTER task is for students that are able to use Photoshop, but not always confident.
The WIZARD task is for the super dooper students who want a challenge and know what they are doing.
The feedback discussions we had about where they were placed in their ability was great, and now the are all doing something that they are enjoying and with enough challenge to learn new and develop their skills.