What to Expect From A ThoughtStretchers Differentiation Workshop
by John McCarthy, EdS
Meeting the needs of each learner is an established expectation for every educator. We want “all” students to succeed in their subjects. We want every child to strive forward and grow to the place where they can confidently get jobs and/or get a post-secondary degree or certificate. Differentiation is a key component for striving towards this goal.
In my experience as a classroom teacher, curriculum director, and instructional consultant working with schools internationally, I see the capacity and opportunities where professional staff ‘can’ have a greater impact on learners. One challenge is recognizing the skills and structures that already exist in the staff and exploring the core components for differentiation that can help create a better system for planning and implementing learning experiences that intentionally meet student needs.
The goal of our differentiation work with schools is to:
- help their educators adopt a common language for differentiation
- explore core concepts for differentiated instructional practices
- and use the ideas for ongoing collaborative reflection along their professional journey.
Our foundational Differentiation workshop is two consecutive days for the maximum learning experience. The intention for this format is to engage participants in exploring core concepts, experiencing differentiation, reflecting on applications to their work environment, and designing lessons that can be launched immediately back in the classroom.
We often facilitate this workshop in both onsite and online settings, and sometimes a hybrid of both. While ideally, our work is done in the aforementioned two consecutive days, we recognize schools have logistical and financial needs that might call for a logistical variation.
When a virtual element is included, the workshop is sometimes structured to occur on non-consecutive days and even formatted as several 3-hour blocks to meet the needs of particular schools. We strive to model differentiation in the workshop structure so that the school or district involved can best meet the needs of their teachers and staff.
Day one begins with building a common language and understanding for a systemic approach to planning and implementing differentiation. Teachers engage in reflective exploration and conversation through the use of case studies and connections of core concepts to their existing instructional practice. The core concepts include:
- Establishing a shared definition of differentiation.
- Understanding the relationship between Intentional and intuitive approaches to differentiation.
- Clarifying the meaning and system for intentional planning: content, process, and product — based on learner’s context based on readiness, interests, and learning preferences.
Through the rest of the day and into the second day of the workshop, teachers engage in a cycle of exploring practical strategies and applications based on readiness, interests, and learning preferences, with planning and reflection time to actively include the concepts in forthcoming lessons.
The second half of day two is dedicated to personalized learning experiences of intentional implementation of differentiation based on needs expressed by the participants. This is where the common language is cemented into the work by the teachers as they draw connections to the “reality” that exists in their workplace. Topics and resources for this period are developed based on a pre-planning session with the school prior to the workshop to best ensure staff needs are met.
We can and have offered an adapted version of the workshop in 1-day and 1.5-day formats. However, the opportunities for processing the key concepts into practice are not as intensive as with the two-day model. These versions serve a different purpose than the standard workshop. The shortened formats provide participants with the key ideas and concepts needed to intentionally plan and implement effective differentiation as the standard workshop.
While teachers do use work time to adapt an existing lesson for readiness, interests, and/or learning preferences, there is less opportunity to experience deep practice. We’ve found that the processing time for truly internalizing these new planning skills takes root for most teachers with the experiences of the standard two-day workshop.
In all workshop formats, teachers leave with a wealth of strategies to incorporate into their lesson-planning process. They take away a clear understanding of the core common language for differentiation that can be powerfully impactful in the staff’s professional conversations and collaborative planning and reflection.
Our Differentiated Instruction workshops empower leadership with the language to include in their inquiry questions with teachers and equip them to explain what they intend for differentiation in lessons. It also helps show direct connections to what was accomplished and the next steps to further improve the learner experience.
If you’re looking to design and deliver instruction that helps all students grow our differentiated instruction services are great opportunities for teachers and instructional leaders to improve and refine their craft. To learn more and schedule an informational call we invite you to visit our Differentiated Instructions Workshops page.