busy airport with travelers

*This post was originally written by Dieu-Anh Nguyen, one of our previous colleagues at Stetson & Associates.
As a consultant, I spend a lot of time at airports.  Often, I am just sitting around waiting for a flight.  Don’t misunderstand, I am not complaining.  Sitting around waiting for a delayed flight or just waiting for the only flight available (or suffering through any other inconveniences of traveling) is such a small price to pay for a job I love.  Nevertheless, with all this spare time on my hands, one might assume that I have read every book on my e-reader, caught up on every personal email, or knitted a sweater for every member of my extended family.  Shamefully, my response to such assumptions is no, not quite.  What I do spend a lot of time doing at airports is people watching.

A recent observation was this:  the airport is the epitome of differentiation.

When we board the plane, we all have a destination established.  Some of us are heading to the same place, while others will continue on in another direction.  When our students start school most of their destinations are graduation day.  After this momentous day, students set a new destination with any number of paths available to them to reach it.

As travelers, our motivation varies from trip to trip.  Other than work, one might fly for vacation, job interviews, school, to visit family, better medical care and perhaps for some, we fly for a combination of reasons.  In the classroom, students are motivated to learn for many different reasons as well.  Some may learn best when the instructional process is differentiated by their multiple intelligences as defined by Howard Gardner.  Some may be motivated by engaging with their peers during cooperative learning activities. Some students may work hard to achieve intrinsic motivation while others work to please a favorite teacher or parent.  Identifying and satisfying a student’s source of motivation is paramount to their success throughout the course of their education.

While in the airport, how we transition may differ based on our needs.  We can reach our gates by walking (or running), wheelchair, moving sidewalk, train or people mover, and/or cart.  Plus, personal support is provided if needed (e.g. language interpreter, physical assistance, escorts for minors).  No matter what we choose or why we choose it, we all share the same rules and regulations for flying which are designed to keep the airport and air travel safe and orderly.  This is similar to how educators differentiate their lessons for the many levels of learners in their classroom.  The end goal is the same, but how students reach that goal may vary drastically.  Assignments can be tiered by readiness, challenge level, complexity, resources, outcome, process and product to meet the students learning needs to they all successfully reach that common goal together.

So, there it is.  Differentiation is not only in the classroom, but all around us.  It is the balance between common norms (in the case of the airport, for safety and order) and the various supports or options that help each of us reach our destination.  Of course, I can go on and on about how the traveling environment is differentiated by the various entertainment options, comfort of the plane, and the restaurants and shops found in the airport, but I won’t.  I think you get my point.  Speaking of points, today I arrived at my gate by way of moving sidewalk and cart.  After facilitating a training session for 7 hours wearing 3 3/4 inch, pointy-toed pumps, my feet appreciated the extra help!

At Stetson & Associates, we simply define differentiation as the set of decisions we make as educators to bring learning within the reach of every student.  For more information on our services regarding differentiated instruction, visit our website.

Differentiated instructional ideas and strategies:

Tiered Curriculum Project

Differentiated Instruction and Implications for UDL Implementation

Educational Resources for Pre-K thru Grade 12

Professional reading about differentiated instruction:

The Differentiated Classroom: Responding to the Needs of All Learners
By Carol A. Tomlinson

Integrating Differentiated Instruction & Understanding by Design: Connecting Content and Kids
By Carol A. Tomlinson

Classroom Instruction That Works: Research-Based Strategies for Increasing Student Achievement
By Robert Marzano

Differentiating Instruction in the Regular Classroom: How to Reach and Teach All Learners Grades 3-12
By Diane Heacox Ed.D.

Differentiating with Web 2.0 applications:

Article: Differentiate Teaching and Learning with Web 2.0 Tools

Links: Technology Tools for Differentiation

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