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PLC Conference Call (May 2013)

On Sunday May 12th, participants in our middle school professional learning community had the privilege of hearing from Ben Mann, middle school principal of the Solomon Schechter Day School in Manhattan, on the topic of differentiation. Ben responded to questions the group submitted in advance, regarding challenges they have experienced with differentiation in their classrooms.

We cannot summarize all that was said, but here are some of the points made during the call:

  1. The goal of differentiation, at any given time, is to be responsive to the diversity of our students' ability/readiness, interest, or learning profile. 
  2. It is crucial to have clear learning objectives. One must always ask whether the differentiation is ensuring that these objectives are met.  
  3. Formative assessments throughout student learning is necessary to know how to respond in a differentiated classroom to the students' needs.
  4. In a differentiated classroom the students are divided into 2-4 groups. Differentiation takes group work to a higher level. Once a teacher has planned group work they only need to tweak the learning activities to meet the needs of each of the groups.
  5. Often there are multiple big ideas in a text. One way to differentiate for interest is to let the students choose a big idea they feel connected to from a number of ideas provided, and to have them study the text focusing in on that idea. 
  6. When the text is being studied in Hebrew, the teacher sometimes give some students the English text. Another option is to allow those students to read in English in advance so as to get the overall idea, and then still work in class with the Hebrew (scaffolded). 

In closing, Ben urged the teachers to purchase any book by Ann Thomlinson, who is the guru of differentiation in schools. The process of successfully running a differentiated classroom is one that takes continued study and effort, but is definitely worthwhile.