Last week, my PLC team and I sat in a meeting. Just a typical meetings – talking about student needs, teacher needs, and any other happenings around the school. Our team is essentially a melting pot of academic areas because some of us are computers, others are media specialists, I’m obviously the art teacher and we also have a music teacher on the team.
While we were meeting, we had a bowl of tootsie rolls in front of us. I mean, who doesn’t like tootsie rolls – but that’s not even the point. Of course, we ate them like potato chips, you can’t have just one. And as we were discussing something, I noticed something fantastic.
When we were done with our tootsie roll, we would all do something different with our wrappers. Personally, I’m a folder. I fold the wrapper up and add any following wrappers to the stack. My neighbor twirled hers into a spiral. Someone else crumpled it up. And others laid it completely out flat.
Even better, none of us realized that we were even doing it. It second nature to our hands to complete the “task” like that. And of course, being the outspoken person that I am, I announced the group “I think it’s fascinating to watch how we all handle the tootsie wrapper”. We laughed and moved on.
And then, in this last week (last very busy week), I kept coming back to that wrapper. Why am I so fascinated with that!? Easy – because it’s a clear example of how important it is to differentiate learning for our students. Eating a tootsie roll is not rocket science and differentiate learning can easily be compared to other mindless activities involving food (eating a Reese’s, eating an Oreo). But I really enjoy this wrapper concept.
With students, it’s important to recognize the different ways in which their brains are learning.
How do I do it?
I always start trimesters and years off with a great pep talk about how, because we are all different, that we learn differently and should come up with different results. Perfect. Every teacher should do this. If a student doesn’t understand it one way, give them the option to show their understanding another. For ever 7th and 8th grade project we do, I allow a written response (for CC reasons too) that allows me to see if a student understands a concept better than their artwork might portray. For my 5th and 6th graders, who I see less often – I supply the same option but also spend as much time as I can talking to each student to see how I can make the lesson benefit them more effectively. And then of course, there are a dozen other ways that I continue to differentiate every day – for students of different skill, different background, different abilities. Easy, peasy – I know I have to do it so my students get the best out of my class – so I jump right into it.
So, how do you differentiate your students’ learning and abilities?
If you expect them to fold the wrapper the same way – stop…it’s not suppose to be like that. I am only a third year teacher but I can honestly say – it’s obvious that everyone works different – so why don’t we allow the same of our students. Yes, for some it could be frustrating to let go and allow flexibility in your teaching – but that’s what teaching is now, flexible and student-oriented.
I’m honestly half tempted to throw tootsies on the table and see how my kids handle the wrapper – all the while not telling them why they get such a valuable treat. Maybe there are correlations. Or maybe I’m crazy. The important thing is that I differentiate my students’ learning.
Anyone else differentiate like crazy?