Amplify Learning to Differentiate
Amplifying learning means going beyond yourself, your closest surrounding, reaching further to others so you can lean more and better. So what does differentiation has to do with amplified learning?
As according to Carol Tomlinson, the guru in this area, differentiation is a way of thinking, teaching and learning:
Differentiation is NOT a set of strategies….It’s a way of thinking about teaching and learning – Carol Tomlinson
For this reason alone, differentiation requires long term learning for the teacher, involving practice and professional dialogue to support reflection on practice. Differentiation is not trivial, but it is also exciting because it can empower all students. Teachers need more than just their isolated skills to differentiate. Teachers need other teachers to develop a differentiated class.
Nowadays, we naturally learn from the Internet through Google search, but we can greatly enhance this type of learning if we have better knowledge about advanced search strategies for example. We can also enhance our learning through the Internet if we take advantage of social media to develop a professional learning network. These Internet learning strategies represent amplified learning for the teacher. Amplification continues as teachers impact students in the classroom with differentiated strategies and share their experience with others, who can not only learn but also provide feedback.
One way to “simplify” differentiation is to consider strategies for the whole classroom that can target different styles and needs. The illustration below demonstrates the idea of designing instruction that targets all students and still caters for those with difficulties or special needs. So for example, instead of planning a lesson that is mainly based on written tasks, one can plan for the same lesson with a strong oral component that will allow time and space for those with writing skills difficulty to explore ideas verbally first. All students benefit as ideas get clarified in class discussion before going down on paper. The National Center on Universal Design for Learning advocates, explains and shares research related to universal access design applied to instruction.
In terms of whole classroom approach, the ultimate goal of differentiation would be to develop students’ skills in self-directed learning. The complexity of such task involves teaching students to self-assess towards clear learning goals and determine next steps in their personal learning path. Jan Chappuis, in her research-based work called Seven Strategies of Assessment for Learning, describes how teachers and students can engage in this process. Feedback is also a crucial element described by Chappuis, so teachers first need to learn and model effective feedback, then students can use this model to self and peer assess. Amplified learning for the teacher can greatly support this process that involves teacher learning, teacher modeling, then student learning.
A classroom that supports student self-directed learning is differentiating by empowering students. As mentioned above, to reach this goal, a great amount of teacher amplified learning and experimentation is necessary. As students become more self-directed, teachers are able to guide students in exploring their skills and passion beyond classroom walls, reaching out to the community and creating real impact.