Differentiation—Good for Students, Good for Staff
- Published: Tuesday, 26 January 2016 13:49
It is widely accepted that differentiation plays a significant role in making sure ALL children learn. Those most naïve students, those students who are new to the English language, those students who have identified special needs all deserve a quality education. Equally important is differentiation for those students who excel in their academic achievements. They deserve lessons that match their advanced needs. There is no one size fits all if we are going to reach each student at their specific academic level. The effectiveness of having a teacher well versed in effective strategies for differentiation is not disputed in the research.
In like manner, JP is of the firm belief that learners are learners are learners. Whether a learner is 3 or 33, IF a teaching/learning strategy has been proven to be best practices, then that strategy should be used no matter the age of the learner- especially if those learners are learning something entirely new. In point of fact, it is probably more important to use these evidence based procedures as we mature as learners. Memories are not as acute and learning becomes a bit more laborious as we mature. Evidence based practices would enhance accelerated learning on the part of ALL learners.
Teachers are all not the same- they learn differently and, perhaps in many cases, at different rates as well. Each teacher comes with their own unique background knowledge that anyone providing PD for a staff must accommodate. Professional development is the way our adult teachers learn something new.
Evidence based strategies are an integral part of all of our PD. JP uses explicit instruction techniques as well as the Gradual Release of Responsibility in working with our teacher partners. We also differentiate every piece of our PD- from stand up training to our individual classroom coaching. Once JP School Improvement Specialists (SISes) begin the coaching process, we create 3 tiers of teachers; much as we do in a school setting for students. Those teachers who exhibit a high level of mastery during a coaching session would be assigned to Tier 1. Those teachers who seem to need more repetitions and a bit more structure to learn would be in Tier 2 or 3. From that vantage point, we now differentiate WHAT we coach, HOW we coach it and HOW OFTEN we coach a particular teacher.
Our coaching sessions then become the basis for how we also differentiate our face to face training/ professional development with teachers. At the end of each classroom coaching session, each teacher receives a Teacher Support Form (TSF). This form details the effective things a teacher is doing that he/she should maintain and specifically outlines suggestions on how to improve teacher effectiveness. We call this piece, ‘Next Steps.’ JP SISes analyze the TSF for what is going well and what needs to be improved. Based on this analysis, customized workshops are designed for teachers based on their specific needs. If, based on the particular coaching session, there is a group of teachers, no matter the grade level, who need to improvement in a certain area-those teachers are grouped together in order to effectively teach them the specific skills they have already demonstrated they need. For the same token, if there is a group of teachers who show advanced skills in a certain area, they would receive professional development on more sophisticated strategies.
Research is definitive- the single most important factor in achieving high student success is the quality of the teacher. It has been shown there can be as much as a 50% difference in student scores on summative assessments based solely on the quality of the teacher these students had. Creating and delivering effective professional development is the most critical path to improving teacher performance in the classroom-the process must be of the highest quality. Embedding differentiation in professional development ensures that we meet each teacher’s individual needs.