Once again, it’s been quite a while since I’ve sat myself down to write, though I’ve been doing better and feeling mostly better. In a nutshell, here’s what’s going on: After having had a few weeks off for summer vacation back in January, I have gone back to work at my school. The insufferable weather in Buenos Aires is still miserable this time of year, but alas, now I have no choice but be a working adult again (or at least dress the part by putting on pants).
To be honest, I missed having a routine and structure to my day. I’m simply not cut out to be a hausfrau. What’s more, I have to admit that I missed my zany middle schoolers and all their pre-teen hijinks and shenanigans. I also attended a professional development workshop about differentiation in Brasilia last weekend (Zika virus be damned!).
At first, I was wary of going the differentiation seminar, mostly because making plans for the substitute is oftentimes more work than simply teaching the class yourself (#teacherproblems). Even after securing the Brazilian visa back in January, I still wasn’t exactly jumping for joy at the thought of professional development over a long weekend. However, now I can truthfully say that I am glad that I was given a slight push (and/or not-so-gentle kick in the butt) by some of my fellow co-workers to attend.
Well, even if I didn’t arrive with bells on in the beginning, at least I wasn’t dragging my feet and muttering obscenities under my breath like previous PD sessions.
The workshop was led by the guru of the differentiation world, Carol Ann Tomlinson, and even I have to admit, it was pretty informative. I got a lot of out it, even though it was just for two days.
I’ll be honest: my reluctancy to go in the first place stemmed from the fact that it’s just not in my personality to be enamoured with the concept of change and shaking things up at work. I’m quite comfortable in my cozy, little professional comfort zone, thankyouverymuch. I’ve got the two diplomas that say “TEACHER” on them, I’ve secured a stable and dignified job, so the quest for the holy teaching grail has been completed, right?
The bottom line is that quality teaching is a perpetually challenging, ongoing process. You won’t learn and grow if you aren’t open to change, at least not to your fullest potential; likewise, if you aren’t open to change, you won’t be able to teach to your fullest potential.
So what’s up with my clearly brilliant epiphany, you may ask? Where am I going with all this philosophy?
In the end, I have to say that the workshop that I went to was quite powerful. It reinforced this notion that I had first learned about in my student teaching days and identified with (though admittedly, a notion that I had put on a backburner in terms of practice for too long) – that whenever a teacher is able to create different learning opportunities to ultimately reach his/her students via instruction, assessment, and so on, the students are far more likely to be successful. And just like the distinct means of getting there, their personal version of academic goals are probably different as well.
To make a feeble analogy (it’s late in the day and I’m hungry, so bear with me), differentiated instruction is like art. Art is something innate to the human race, but we’ve all got our preferences and preferred techniques to create it. Some of us feel shaky at it, others feel far more confident and skilled, but we are all able to produce art. We also view it differently. Just like learning.
For more than 10 years now, I have formally taught ESL in the classroom, and even on the rare occasion that all my students in a class happened to share the same grade level and native language, they definitely didn’t learn the same way.
What I got out of the workshop is that the concept of differentiation is adjusting the way you teach to be able to reach all students by using a variety of strategies and techniques, and different levels of support. When you offer a choice and a voice in how they learn, they are much more likely to feel invested in what is being taught. My ESL students have been able to thrive best when I have been able to give them this. It has been especially true when I have been able to get them to collaborate together (just like the class where they filmed their own , wildly popular Titanic II Movie after reading about the history behind it).
Now I’m not saying that differentiation implies that every student is a precious snowflake who merits their own IEP. What I am saying, however, is that is if we as teachers are able to keep in mind more of a Vygotsky-esque approach for differentiation, the potential results would be a worthwhile investment.
Making worthwhile adjustments like these takes time, and I know that I am not going to hit it out of the park each time I try out this new concept. But I owe it to my crazy kids to at least try.
You can’t teach without learning, and you can’t learn without teaching.