Two weeks ago, I started attending a great exercise class at my local gym called Active. It’s a terrific combination of cardio, weights, abs, and balance. The instructor gives just the right amount of guidance in advance of every move. Her constant stream of directions makes it fun and accessible. And it suddenly occurred to me – the instructor is a whiz at differentiation! “If you are finding this too much of a challenge, feel free to… If you want a bit more of a challenge, you can…” She was speaking my language! I could learn a thing or two from her.
And then I noticed that the young woman next to me was in great shape, but struggling. Not struggling in the out-of-shape sense, but struggling to follow along. She went left when we went right, backwards when we went forwards, too many repetitions, not enough repetitions. It wasn’t the usual uncoordination or lack of rhythm I’ve seen in classes before, though. And her slightly older companion in the row in front of her seemed to be doing OK, but kept turning around to speak to her struggling friend. And then it occurred to me – she doesn’t speak English, or at least not fluently. When they speak to each other, it’s in Spanish. She’s not benefitting from either the clear verbal directions or the differentiation the instructor was providing, because she cannot understand it. She was purely following along visually, perhaps catching bits of language here or there that makes sense. This broke my heart.
As an elementary school teacher, this experience has me thinking two things. First, how incredibly important differentiation is to support all learners. Differentiation requires that we attend to the learning needs of all students. This is critical if we are to maximize student growth and ensure individual student success. This is exactly what my Active instructor was doing and what I strive to do each day in my classroom. It certainly isn’t easy. Second, how frustrating and discouraging it is to be the struggling learner. I’d like to think that the young woman in my exercise class will keep coming back, but who knows. Will she become so frustrated that she gives up? Do our ELs feel this same frustration? I’m sure they do. We are seeing an increase in the EL population in our district and I wonder if we are really doing enough for them. Mapping out instruction that supports them is an important part of my differentiation planning.
Much food for thought, and all from one exercise class at the gym.
Many thanks to the crew at Two Writing Teachers, and the extended SOL community, for giving us the time, space, and encouragement to live the writerly life here each Tuesday and every day in March. Won’t you join us?