Differentiation and Agency

I’ve had a bit of a lightbulb moment over the past couple of days. In this process of handing ownership of learning over to the students, I think I might have accidentally overlooked the fact that not all students are going to be ready at the same time and in the same ways. With that in mind, how have I catered for this range throughout the process? Specifically, has my desire for us to move through this process together as we build momentum meant that I’ve been inadvertently holding some students back? Or expecting students to be ready in ways that they’re not? Sure, we’re all moving in the same direction but looking for, or prioritising, consistency doesn’t feel right.  

Inspired by Dean Kuran and his post on planning learning with his students in the same way that we plan as teachers, I asked my class this week: does anyone want to try planning an inquiry like the teachers do? It was a simple offer and one which a bunch on them immediately jumped on. We sat down as a group and chatted. We discussed the process of planning, and how we, as teachers, consider knowledge, skills, dispositions and concepts. Since they already had an idea for something they wanted to explore, an inquiry into storytelling, we got straight into it. They debated which dispositions were most relevant, decided on what concepts would drive their learning, considered the understandings they would build and identified focus skills. The conversation was rich and purposeful, and I realised they were completely ready to think about their learning in this way. Maybe they had been ready for a while?  

While this was happening, other students floated around the edge of the conversation. Some students watched and listened from across the room; intrigued and interested, just observing at this stage. Once we finished, the group shared a bit of the process with the class. Their ownership, enthusiasm and passion was clearly evident. I offered again: if anyone else wants to plan this way, let me know. More students expressed interest. 

All of this brings us to this week’s personal learning time tomorrow, which will again look different from previous weeks. Some students are now ready to use their new planning to guide their inquiries. Some are now ready to try planning this way after seeing it modelled for them by other students. Some are interested but have told me they need more thinking time because they want a good question or idea first. Some just aren’t ready right now. Maybe they’re not interested in planning this way and maybe they won’t ever be?   As I reflect on this, I realise the value in each of these stages because this whole thing is about so much more than whether students plan an inquiry or about how they spend their personal learning time each week. I’m keeping the bigger picture in mind and trusting the process and the learners.

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