Sunday, April 24, 2011

Leading for Differentiation

This image just won't leave me.  

Imagine a teacher and his/her students on one side of the bridge. Think of the canyon as all that must be learned this year.  Hear the teacher say, "Come with me.  This is where we're going this year."  Listen to the students:

"Let's go.  It looks great!"

"I don't know.  It looks awfully far."

"I don't think I can make it."

"Can you help me get across?"

The image was put into my head by Carol Tomlinson.  (Drama and voices are my own.)  

What does it take to get all students across the bridge?  As I wrote in my first post on differentiation, Tomlinson thinks about this question in two ways.  Leading for differentiation and managing for differentiation.  The focus on leading pulled somethings together for me with new clarity.

Leading for differentiation is the creation of that community of learners.  It's how we get them to set foot on that bridge.  It's how we get them to keep walking, even when the journey is uphill and we are starting to wonder if we will ever get there.  

When Carol Ann Tomlinson spoke in Winnipeg several years ago, she mentioned a psychologist and author named Carol Dweck.  I purchased and read the book and thought it was brilliant... but I took no further action.  When I heard Tomlinson in San Francisco, she talked about her again.  So did at least five other speakers.  When someone's ideas are causing that much buzz, we need to think about them.  

Dweck researches and writes about two kinds of mindsets: fixed and growth.

  • Success comes from being smart
  • Genetics and environment determine what we can do
  • Some kids are smart- some aren't
  • Teachers can't override these difficulties
  • Success comes from effort
  • With hard work, most students can do most things
  • Teachers can override students' profiles
  • A key role of the teacher is to set high goals, provide high support, ensure student focus-to find the thing that makes school work for a student. 
  • (Carol Tomlinson & Marcia Imbeau 2011)

    We need to think about the implications of our own mindset on who, where, what and how we teach.

    We also need to think about how we are communicating our mindset to our students.  I want my students to be really clear on the fact that I have a growth mindset.  More.... I want them to have a growth mindset too.

    How We Came to Be...Us

    Because my teacher treats me with respect,
    I feel a sense of dignity in this place.
    Because my teacher treats everyone of us with respect,
    We are respectful of one another.
    Because my teacher sees our possibilities,
    I am beginning to see them too.
    Because my teacher says sweat makes winners,
    We're learning to sweat.
    Because my teacher works hard for me,
    I want to work hard for her.
    Because my teacher won't settle for less than our best,
    We aim high more often.
    Because my teacher says we are responsible for one another,
    We help one another succeed.
    Because my teacher helps us see ourselves through her eyes,
    We see hope in ourselves.
    Because my teacher is a great coach,
    We are a great team.

    - Carol Tomlinson



Sunday, April 17, 2011

Thinking about Differentiation

I saw Carol Ann Tomlinson again recently.  She is a former teacher, now university professor and author of many books on differentiating instruction and assessment.  Check out my bookshelf below for links to some of her books. 

One of the ideas she was talking about was classroom management and how it is often thought of as a synonym for control.  And that if we see it in that way, our view of teaching can become ensuring that kids are quiet and still.  The underlying assumption being, that on their own, young learners are unreliable.  She went on to quote Alfie Kohn, saying:
                ... the more we "manage" students behavior and try to make them do what we say, 
               the more difficult it is for them to become morally sophisticated people who think 
               for themselves and care for others.

Tomlinson encouraged us to think about leading students first... and then managing them.

               First asking..."What do my students need to succeed and how can my students and I 
                work together to meet those needs?" Then managing the details necessary to  
               accomplish that.

She described leadership in this way:
  •  has a vision for something good
  • has the capacity to share the vision and enlist others in it
  • builds a team for achieving the vision
  • renews commitment to the vision
  • celebrates successes
  • about people
... and management in this way:
  • plans schedules
  • handles details
  • prepares materials
  • arranges furniture
  • orchestrates movement
  • practices routines
  • troubleshoots
  • about mechanics
And then she asked this question,

" To what degree do you see yourself as a leader vs a manager of students?"

The question itself isn't that hard for me to answer.  Harder are the questions that follow:

  • What is my/our vision for this community of learners?
  • How am I sharing this vision with my students?
  • Am I sharing this vision with all of my students?
  • Have I built a team for achieving this vision?
  • Do we need to renew our commitment to the vision?
  • Are we celebrating success as often as we should?
What I liked in this way of thinking about differentiation was that it clearly showed it to be about relationships, mindset and the learning environment... first and most often.

  More next time on Tomlinson's view of how to get there.