Tuesday, August 21, 2012

3 Pick This/Not That Ways To Create the Differentiated PD Menu

There is no need to explain why teachers should have the same benefit of differentiated learning as students do. Fundamentally, most people agree with the idea, but for some reason the differentiated professional development experience seems more the exception than the rule. Here’s are three juicy options to give teachers what they’re craving.

Appetizer: Pick Strategically, Not Randomly
Pre-assessments and formative assessments are critical to the DI experience. How would we know where to begin if we do not assess prior knowledge, student interest, and learning style? Before we start the PD experience for the year, perhaps we should find out a) what teachers know, b) what they are really interested in learning, and c) how they learn. This can all be done prior to the first in-service of the year with the right surveys. Sure, if you have the spare five minutes to set up a Google form or quick survey on Survey Monkey, that’s a fast way to gather information on what teachers know and need to know, but even if you are crunched for seconds, asking teachers to simply email the information or list it on a shared document is sufficient. There are so many sufficient learning style inventories online, like this one which even allows for group analysis and sharing: http://www.learning-styles-online.com/inventory/. By having teachers complete this as a warm up to the year, we can not only design experiences which match or at least allow for some experience in the dominant style, but we can also strategically form learning groups based on individual strengths.

Main Dish: Pick Doing, Not Talking
This is especially true for tech training. Rule number one of any tech training should be Bring Your Device! I recently attended a training on a new software and the ratio of listening/watching to time allocated to working within the program was roughly 99/1. Teachers conferences, at least the most enriching ones, are now comprised of at least three pathways of learning which exist concurrently: listening/watching presentations, tweeting exchanges to share gems of the experience, and engaging in either the active usage or documentation of the material. Allowing for these paths, or like variations, within every tech training is essential because it allows for learners to engage in the way best suited for them. Some may only listen and take notes on a notepad, but others might form a Pinterest Board such as this one on DI as the presenter talks, and others might just start constructing within the new tech platform, learning as they go.  

Dessert: Pick Options, Not Mandates
Just as some people will always say yes to dessert, so too will some teachers always say yes to traditional group training. However, a differentiated approach to learning allows for some level of choice. This can be accomplished by a menu of options which provides both traditional and “flipped” experiences, online and face-to-face ones.

And finally, even if we cannot muster the energy to design differentiated experiences for all PD, let’s try to agree that we will at least practice what we are preaching when it comes to professional development sessions on Differentiated Instruction. Nothing is more frustrating than sitting through a presentation on DI with one mode of learning...listening. Here’s a DI-inspired DI Experience for teachers wanting that path.


  1. Hi! I find this post vey interesting. I absolutly agree with the idea of practicing what we preach, since it's always a wonderful way to understand better what the students percieve in our classrooms, in regards to their individual strengths. I am taking a class towards my master degree and the professor took the time to ask each of us what are the topics are we interested the most so she can provide us with related articles to read for an assignment. I was pleased to see that even at the higher levels of education we strive for the best practices to enhance the student's experience as learners. I am ordering from your " menu"!

  2. I so agree that successful professional development initiatives must model the learning environment we aspire to create for students. There happens to be an "I" in LEARNING and there is no way to escape the necessity of personalizing the process!