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…

One thought on “Perils of Differentiation?”

  1. In kind of remind me the limiting factor when I studied eco-system in the biology class. The diversity of species does improve the stability but it is very complicated to understand how each players in the system interact with each others.

    Differentiation is almost guarantee to be good, but how much tailoring can we really cater and can students benefit from this is another issue. I do agree that almost everyone need to learn how to solve things creatively and quickly, but when the “market” is flooded with this kind of people, those who are able to conduct in-depth research and endure will be rare and eventually be valued. I think the “craftsmanship” is one very good example. We can now buy a lot of different things that could be customise to cater different people, but it still cannot beat those hand-made product. If we can identify the uniqueness of a student and encourage them to work with others, although they may not be as “quick” or “creative” as others, they can still find their unique position as long as they embrase differences, and I think “different” is a concept that most creative people celebrate…

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