When I was learning the ropes of teaching, the buzz word we were taught was differentiation. Education, incidentally is full of polysyllabic words, some of which actually show up in spell check. Anyway, the key to differentiation, I learned, was to think of the classroom as a one room school house. Back in the day, as we know, a teacher might be responsible for teaching all the kids in a community, from primary to high school age. The 21st century teacher must echo the ability to reach a classroom filled with a diversity of learning styles and multiple intelligences.
In theory, for most teachers the one room schoolhouse exists as an analogy and ends there. They learn to incorporate art, music, games, group work, peer work, and all sorts of tricks into an ordinary day to cater to their visual, auditory and kinesthetic learners. For many teachers in communities like the Bronx however, the one room schoolhouse exists beyond a metaphor.
We have students of all ages, like my friend with several 13 year-olds in her fifth grade class. In most cases, even if there’s not a broad range of ages (in my own classroom thankfully no student is older than 9) there’s a huge spectrum of academic abilities. So while you might not be teaching kids age 5 – 17, you might be teaching kids whose reading and math abilities range from kindergarten to fourth.
I say all this not by way of complaining. First of all, I’m very fortunate to have only 19 kids in my class this year. 19! It’s an unbelievable number. Secondly, in a strange way I’m excited for the challenge of teaching four kids how to read starting with the ABC’s at the same time I’ll be challenging my brightest book worm to navigate different types of chapter books. In the end, I just mean to point out that differentiation, like many cornerstones of education (technology, arts integration…), means something very different to different teachers depending on where you teach.
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