Woohoo! Yes! Yes! Yes! I did it…I finally understand exactly how to differentiate and am doing it daily with great success. Are you ready for the secret? Well, if you’re a public school teacher and reading this hoping to accomplish differentiation with 125 kids, you’ve come to the wrong place. And that is the sad part; I couldn’t teach to every child until I left my old life as a middle school Language Arts teacher. I couldn’t teach 120 to 150 kids (yes! I had 147 one year!) in a different fashion. Most kids got the same from me–and I just couldn’t do any better no matter how hard I tried.
It is disheartening, that while many say they can differentiate and I’m sure a few super-people do, mostly it’s just handing out a different form of a worksheet. In the best cases, it’s doing what a teacher friend of mine did, “separate your gifted and let them teach themselves while you work with the middle and lower.”
I hated that I was forced to teach all kids pretty much the same way. Yes, writing does sort of differentiate itself, but, much of the time, my high kids were bored, my middle kids were satisfied, and my low kids were lost.
But, with my new career that has all changed. Teaching in a small preschool has opened my eyes to creating a classroom where everyone can learn…everyone DOES learn. And the amazing fact is, I know where each of my kids are academically and socially. I also know that I’ve said this before…that I knew where all my 120 kids were. But, a sad truth, I didn’t. I couldn’t! It wasn’t that I was lying, I could tell whose paper was whose without a name on it, but I couldn’t really get the depth of knowledge of each kids because I had too many. I now have 10 and I KNOW them.
Yes, I have 10 kids and that is all. I know exactly what each can and cannot do. E-X-A-C-T-L-Y what each can do, and now I can push them to go further. I direct one to the writing station because she is “almost there” with writing complete words. I can take one to the rice and bean sort, or the paint table because he wants to write, but has limited motor skills. I know that one of mine came in writing his name and is now learning sight words, and since he is fascinated with math facts, is learning to count money and to count by 2’s. And, I one loves the writing center and can barely be torn away long enough for art! She is destined to be a storyteller!
I’m not trying to yank anyone’s chain, or call anyone to the mat for saying they ARE differentiating with a large number of kids. I just know how difficult it is and wonder how in the world it can be implemented completely. Maybe there is an answer to teaching in over-crowded schools and giving each kid exactly what he needs…I just couldn’t do it.
In my mind, you have to have small classes. You have to know your kids…everything about those kids. Then, and only then, can you really set up a classroom that works for every kid at every ability. Small classes…tiny, tiny classes. That’s where it’s at!