I have been on a quest this year to work on ways to differentiate professional development workshops. In every group of teachers or administrators I work with there is a huge range of experiences, background knowledge, tech comfort levels, learning styles, etc. Just as in working with students, we need to differentiate training experiences to address this.

I did a workshop a couple of weeks ago that was my best experience so far in doing this. At the end of the day, everyone was amazed at how much we had accomplished.

I started by giving each participant a make-your-own agenda for the day. For each of five 45-minute time slots, they had a choice of “stations” they could choose from. I gave them an array of choices (e.g. Integration ideas and lesson planning for language arts/math/science/social studies, Using Inspiration and graphic organizers across the curriculum, etc.), each of which had support resources they could use. They could also design their own station if they had an idea they wanted to work on.

In addition to this, for participants who felt that they needed more guidance, I also conducted small group direct instruction sessions on specific topics during each chunk of time. I also roamed around and provided support as needed. And some participants worked in teams together.

This workshop worked extremely well (the post-workshop evaluations were stellar) for several reasons:

  • It was an “advanced” workshop, and the participants had already had previous instruction and time to practice in their own classroom.
  • The participants were awesome — They teamed well, were focused, and worked hard, staying on task throughout. To do a workshop like this, adult learners need to be able to take control of their own learning, and this group did so with gusto.
  • There were ample resources in multiple formats (print, a wiki, other electronic resources, and “live” support) to support the experience.

Here are some of the interesting comments on this workshop format:

    “I wish other workshops would let me actually work with what I am learning about. I really appreciated getting to download new things to use with my students and to be able to talk to my colleagues about what we can do with our new stuff.”

    “This allowed us time to work out some of our own bugs in the system and gave us enough time to have some personal experiences and expectations of what knowledge we needed to gain at the end of this workshop session. Thanks!!!!! Great workshop!!!!”

    “Very useful. I know so much already, I was really able to focus on what I did not know and work on lessons for my students.”

    “It was a wonderful opportunity to differentiate instruction and accommodate our needs. I received much more from being able to practice areas that I need to work on. ”

    “A lot of times we have workshops that give us ALLLL best things to do, but we never have time to incorporate it. Today we had time to find things that we could use and time to create them for use in the classroom.”

    “I liked the fact that I was able to work in the small groups with the instructor on things I wasn’t sure of and on the computer/palm by myself on the items I’m more comfortable with.”

    “This personalized the workshop.”

    “Thank you for treating us like adults.”

Differentiated PD

One thought on “Differentiated PD

  • January 29, 2009 at 9:13 pm

    Very cool, Karen. I love this idea for professional development. It is what works in classrooms as well. What is hard about it is all the preparation and flexibility. What is easy is that once you have created the avenues, the learners make it their own. Very interesting direction…


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