Perils of Differentiation?

” I’ll have a tall almond soy half-decaf half-regular extra drizzle of caramel latte. It’s for here but can I have it in a to-go cup?”

Starbucks’ were the early masters of differentiation. They understood that coffee drinkers are not the uni-dimensional horde assumed by the Folgers’ and Nescafe’s of the industry. And this attention to individual needs has catapulted Starbucks to the commanding heights of the coffee industry. The MYP program has been built around a similar logic. It accepts, and rightly so, that different students have different strengths. The curriculum is (or at least should be) designed to effectively engage these differences. For example, on a recent unit covering the Spanish conquest of South America, my students were provided with three options to express their understanding of the roles played by guns, germs, steel, and geography. They could choose to participate in a play, create an imovie, or deliver an oral presentation. ( I have lately been moving towards more ‘student-driven assessments,’ where the students themselves help design the assessment. The results have been pretty amazing, and I will be sharing these in an upcoming post.)

However, I still wonder sometimes where to define the limits of individual tailoring. One thing relatively certain about the future work-place, is an increasing trend towards collaborative projects, and an increasing reliance on technology. Both of these trends will favor socially-savvy problem solvers, able to locate and discern relevant resources quickly, with sufficient artistic skill to create a compelling digital presence. It seems, therefore, that to graduate students who have not learned these skills would indicate a disservice. So, here seems to be one example of a “limit.” Despite the multiplicity of “intelligences” in any given classroom, all students need to learn how to solve-problems and discern relevant information both quickly and creatively. They also need to learn the social skills required for collaboration among diverse personalities. Moreover, these students need to learn how to promote ideas, causes,… indeed themselves… to a virtual community with increasingly high expectations for what constitutes “creative.”

I think the MYP program is unique in this regard, providing a framework flexible enough to accomplish all the goals I have just enumerated. Does the MYP also provide the less glamorous preparation for the so called “real-world”: exposure to failure, and ego-shattering disappointments? Having one’s interests or inherent strengths dismissed as irrelevant for particular assignments?  I think the answer is yes, provided there is a clearly defined “end-game,” which is to say an articulate response to the question: ” what kind of adults should we as teachers encourage these children to become?”

I hope to have gone some way in explaining my own response to this question, though it remains a definition in progress. I hope some of you take a minute to chime in…. Nina? you seem to have thought quite extensively on this topic…

Are Teachers Agents of Stultification?

The child who recites under the threat of the rod obeys the rod and that’s all: he will apply his intelligence to something else. But the child who is ‘explained to’ will devote his intelligence to the work of grieving: to understanding, that is to say, to understanding that he doesn’t understand unless he is explained to. He is no longer submitting to the rod, but rather to a hierarchical world of intelligence.

The quote comes from Jacque Ranciere’s ‘Ignorant Schoolmaster.’ To position oneself as a teacher in the role of the “one who understands” and whose vocation is to “bring the light of understanding” to the benighted pupil, is to set up an antagonistic classroom from the outset. A hierarchy is erected. Following Ranciere, I think this duality between the wise-master and the groping subject, along with its pedagogical expression–teaching as explanation— is a source of stultification. It ignores the idea of knowledge as a process, a construction, and perhaps most fundamentally a conversation. It offers instead a classroom divided between light and darkness, and promotes a culture of submission rather than innovation. This, at least, is my take. It would be great if some other teachers would give voice… It would be even greater if some of you could offer strategies on how to overcome the said duality..