This week on Teach: Tony Danza, Mr. Danza learned a valuable lesson. He learned about differentiation. If you aren't a teacher, that's a big, scary word, isn't it? It's just part of the jargon that all teachers learn to understand. IEP, ECE, LBD, EBD, ADD, Dyslexia, Dysgraphia, and failure. These are words we all know and we become adept at using. Sometimes it looks like Alphabet Soup or an entirely different language!
Differentiation is at the core of education. Look at the word. Let's chunk it and see if there's a word we recognize. Different, right? Differentiation is aiming your individual lesson at several learning styles, disorders, levels and personalities. Legally, I can have up to 31 one students in my room. These students are not cookie cutter models. There are labels that can help you, but the thing about labels is that none of them fit perfectly. As I said, you can use them to help you, maybe give you some ideas, but they aren't going to fix all of your problems.
Mr. Danza appears to be teaching the same level that I teach. In Kentucky, it's referred to as "comprehensive". Comprehensive includes students who are just above the level of "Ramp Up", a class for students who are several grade levels behind in their reading, all the way up to Honors, students who are advanced and hard working. If a student is advanced, but does NOT put in the work, they are Comprehensive. If a student CAN read, but does not want to (Reluctant Reader is their label), they are in Comprehensive. As a ninth grade teacher, I could have someone reading at a sixth grade level and someone reading near a college level in the same class.
Differentiation is the delicate balance of keeping "Should Be Honors But Doesn't Like Work" and "Barely Scored High Enough to Be Place in Comprehensive" engaged, learning and NOT BORED. Bored is the best way to measure it. If you move past their level, this is BORING because it's STUPID and I DON'T LIKE it. If you move to slowly for them, this is BORING because this is ELEMENTARY work and I DON'T LIKE it. Add in that some students literally have brains that are programmed differently, and you've got a hard road to go.
I gave you a lot of jargon at the beginning. Let me explain what those are.
IEP - Individualized Education Program - a legal document for a student who has been identified to have special needs. Failure to comply with this document can result in legal recourse against the school or teacher.
ECE - Exceptional Child Education - The new way to say Special Education. There will probably be a new way to say it in the next few years. ECE does NOT just mean learning disabled. It can relate to emotional disorders, health problems that affect the student's ability to do work and students who are identified as Gifted & Talented. Anyone whose education is identified as needing to be varied to accommodate their needs as an individual learner.
LBD - Learning Behavior Disorder - A pretty wide range of disorders that can effect a student's ability to learn.
EBD - Emotional Behavior Disorder - Disorders of an emotional nature. Some of these students act out aggressively and can be a danger to themselves and others.
ADD - Attention Deficit Disorder - It covers a lot more students then you think. Students can be hyperactive, underactive, look like they're daydreaming, look like they're intentionally trying your nerves, or just look like a "normal" kid.
Dyslexia - A disorder that affects a student's ability to read well.
Dysgraphia - A disorder that affects a student's ability to write.
Failure - We all know what this is.
You can have any combination of all of those in your classroom at any one time. Students with Dyslexia might need a reader (you). Students with Dysgraphia may need a verbal assessment (given by you). Students with ADD may need more time. Students with EBD may not work for you. You may not be allowed to "confront" them. They may act out. Or none of these things may be true of your specific students. Or all of them may be true for one student. And legally? Legally, it's your job to know which students those are at all times. If you don't, you could get sued or fired... or both.
Even without these identifiers, you STILL have to differentiate. Your students depend on it. And some of your students? Some of them fall into those categories, but they never had anyone to advocate for them to help them get the assistance that they desperately need. So, even without the legal attachment, you need to provide for them. In some cases, your job may depend on it, considering that struggling and failing schools are constantly being asked to re-staff their faculty.