- Once again, I am in a course with so many talented, passionate educators from across Alaska. The ideas shared via the Twitter chat, in colleagues' blog posts, and in their reflections are truly amazing. The blog posts alone provide enough food for thought and links to resources to keep me thinking and busy for days. Weeks, even. The collected cognitive influence of a group like this is energizing during January's dark days.
- The Internet and mobile technology have redefined differentiation, making it possible to personalize learning for students in ways never before possible. When I started teaching two decades go, "differentiating" was so complicated and time consuming for the average classroom teacher that it was nearly impossible. We did our best, but an approach that involved teaching to the middle and providing support at either end felt pretty good. Today, the ability to truly personalize learning for students with the myriad free and low-cost digital tools is so simple that it feels deceivingly UNimpressive. Oddly, teachers who have been at it for awhile feel compelled to create their own differentiated worksheets, rewrite texts on their own in an attempt to create leveled reading passages, and spend hours designing elaborate plans to address various learners in their classrooms. All of this is great; it's impressive; it demonstrates their dedication. However, technology provides mechanisms for differentiating that are far more reliable, far more adaptable, far more appropriate, and far more specific than anything a single teacher could create for the many levels of learners in her classroom.
- There is power in collegiality. I do my best to monitor new tools, new online resources, new products, etc., for learners of all types, K-12. I read the emails the marketers flood my mailbox with each day; I monitor the #edtech and #edtalk Twitter feeds and aggressively investigate the promising tools as they present themselves. However, even though I spend a lot of time trying to stay current, I still learn SO much from other educators. This week alone, I was introduced a number of new resources that had not yet crossed my radar. That can only happen when we talk to each other...when we work together as professionals and as learners. And that's awesome.
And then there was a completely NON-academic example of differentiation in action this week. Completely unrelated to this class, completely unrelated to computer technology. I arrived at my parents' farm in rural Minnesota on the day this reflection was due to help my Mom after a bilateral mastectomy with reconstructive surgery. She had been cancer-free for 17 years...and then, just after Thanksgiving, she learned the cancer had returned. After a month of fretting over which treatment path would be best, she and my dad decided on an aggressive approach. As I attempted to focus on professional responsibilities back at the office, think about the looming deadlines for course assignments, and remain as engaged as I could from afar, what consumed my thoughts was how thankful I was that healthcare is differentiated, and that my mother received exactly the treatment and care she needed. Differentiation really does mean personalization; it means providing people (whether learners in a classroom, patients in a hospital, clients in a hair salon, or customers in a restaurant) with exactly what THEY need at any given time. So, yes...I was thinking about differentiation as it relates to education, and how technology can be used to take differentiation to new levels...but what I observed spending 10 post-surgery days with my mom taught me tremendous, transferable lessons about how much differentiation really matters.