Over the last year or so, I have been working on methods to differentiate professional development that I facilitate. Some things have worked better than others, and I’m refining my methods.
A lot of the impetus is on the participants, and I encourage them to take control of their own learning. Occasionally, I have a group, though, that just wont. If they don’t understand something, they don’t ask questions or use the various provided resources to help them. Worse yet, sometimes they just sit and do nothing. Others who may already know something I’m covering don’t explore new areas as I encourage them to do; they instead do email or shop online. It’s frustrating.
Over the past week, I have worked with a group that did a uniformly great job of making the most out of the PD time based on their own needs and abilities. People who were at a beginner level asked a lot of questions, used various resources provided, and learned at their own pace. People who were further along and more comfortable with what we were doing worked on advanced topics of interest to them, regardless of where we were as a group. They asked questions as needed, and everyone had a successful workshop.
After the workshop, a couple people who had asked me about something that had sent them on their own leaning course that was different from where we were as a “group” stopped to talk to me. They thanked me for letting them do their own thing and not being insistent that everyone in the group do the same activities. I thanked them for being assertive and independent about their own learning. I shared that sometimes people aren’t willing or able to do that. They went on to say that many of the workshops they go to have facilitators who are very strict about everyone “being on the same screen.” They said they’ve had bad experiences in the past with facilitators constantly looking over their shoulder and being intolerant of them working at their own pace or on their own interests.
That really got me thinking. Maybe the reason that some educators seem to have trouble taking control of their own learning in PD is that they aren’t encouraged to do so. Even worse, they may be discouraged from this.
I know that it is not always comfortable as a PD facilitator to have a roomful of participants all working on different things, at different paces, and with different styles — but that’s what differentiation is all about! If we can’t model and practice this ourselves with adult learners, how can we expect to accomplish it with kids?
The best learning practices are not always neat and orderly. We need to remember this for adults as well as kids.