As an ESL inclusion teacher by day, I’ve heard the word and used the word “differentiation” very often, but usually in a way of accommodation and making text or content more accessible for my ESL 3 middle school students. That being said, when I hear the word “differentiation,” I translate it to be “more work for me” because it entailed a teacher handing me her lesson plan, saying, “differentiate this for your students.” Or sitting in a workshop, thinking about how we could differentiate for ESL’s and SPED students and it included lesson plans, write-ups, long discussions, internet searches and all sorts of extra work. To the point when I would hear “differentiation” and recoil a little bit.
But at the workshop, Debbie Centamore gave me a new perspective on what differentiation means, and it doesn’t mean all the work that I thought it did, or that I have put into it. Now does that discredit all the work I have done? Of course not. And have those accommodations that I have written for my ESL 3 middle school students helped them a lot? Of course. But when we were talked about differentiation strategies in the workshop, I saw that differentiation can just be as attainable and simple as a thought as you are leading the lesson.
For example, she had these cards that depicted different situations; I had never seen them before, but I loved them and I want to get myself some. In adult ESL classes, she said she passes them out and the students talk, write or work with a partner about what’s on the card, building oral or written language. What I learned was that she differentiates as she hands out the cards deliberately, knowing what your students’ levels are, what their interests are, what their background knowledge is. Hence, she makes the activity accessible to them and meets them where they are and I thought, wow, she didn’t have to research that online or back it up with buzzwords; she didn’t have to spend hours writing a lesson plan, it was just an in-the-moment decision that made her students more successful in the class.
Now how do I transfer that to the ABE program? I’m still thinking through that question. One thing we also talked about during the differentiation workshop was that teachers could use different types of learners and multiple intelligences as a means of differentiation and I thought that was something my ABE students could relate to. Because ABE students as the lowest-performing adults, sometimes have academic anxiety because they are low, they’ve have interrupted education, they are ELL’s… whatever their struggles may be, somehow are only at a 3rd or 4th grade reading level or math level as an adult. So with Gardner’s multiple intelligences and the types of learners (audio, visual and kinesthetic) in mind, I thought wouldn’t that be a great opening week activity with my ABE students, and differentiate it in that they discover which “smart” they are and in which ways they are smart, just to build some self-efficacy at the beginning of the semester, and then I can use that information and use that data to make those split-second differentiation decisions to be able to support those students.
Before this differentiation workshop, I had no idea the students I would be getting, except for Carmen; I knew Carmen would be coming back to me. After our “reaping” as it were (the registration night) and getting to know my new students just a little bit, I see that they will be at different places and those little decisions and differentiating my lessons will be of utmost importance for their success this semester.