Differentiation and the Individual Learning Journey

For a long time now, various strands of thinking have been coming together in my head, almost without any effort on my part (though I knew it would be hard work when I started to pull them together, and so it’s proved).

I believe in planning. In some circles, saying that is received with surprise, almost as if there’s a natural conflict between creative, engaging teaching and the logically sequenced processes of the planning effort. In fact, I’ve found the opposite to be true, though the relationship between planning and delivery does contain an essential paradox: freedom needs boundaries.

This mirrors debates about creativity which have rolled through the last century. Daniel Goleman’s excellent, neuroscientific article about creativity (link below) doesn’t entirely debunk The Fabian Society’s influential ‘four stages of creativity’ model of 1926 and whilst it’s evident that the interplay between different areas of brain function is more complex than simply left brain/right brain, that tension between focus and relaxation is clearly the core of the creative process. As Ken Robinson says in ‘Changing Education Paradigms’ (find it on YouTube or RSA Animate), creativity is the “process of having original ideas which have value” – the Holy Grail we’re all looking for when figuring out how to teach that next session.

So I’ve been trying to achieve two things: sell the virtues of planning to trainee teachers (and, sometimes, my own colleagues) and figure out a process for achieving and recording genuinely differentiated learning, which doesn’t rely on assumptions or boxing off students into learning styles silos.

After several months, and run-throughs with some very good-natured guinea pigs (thanks Certs students), I think I’ve got it. Or at least got it down enough to present to my peers as something worth giving a go – I’ll be doing that tomorrow and Wednesday and look forward to coming back to the comments box without too much egg on my face.

All the best processes are simple, radical and elegant (the Thinking Environment is a case in point). I don’t – yet – aspire to elegance, but simple, radical – I hope so. Radical enough to begin to make a real difference to how we view our students and, more importantly, how they view themselves.




Author: TeachNorthern

We are hard working educators with passionate interest in Teaching for a Social Purpose. Everything we've learned is through observing colleagues and students, all of whom are committed to changing the world. And reading interesting stuff. We work at The Northern College in Barnsley and its mission (and thirty-eight year history) of social transformation makes it an ideal base to face the challenges of teaching adults in 21st century England.

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