"If this is working for you, great, and stay right here. If you wish to take it to the next step then follow me. Great! Now for those of you who are ready lets take it up one more notch. Remember this class is for you and about you, go to the point where you are at." For anyone who has been to a good yoga instructor this is familiar direction of instruction. It always amazes me that one instructor can take 50+ individuals (self directed and motivated, I get it that does make a difference) with all different skill levels and teach a 60 minute class that ends with everyone feeling stronger, more flexible, and less stressed then when they came in.
A few weeks ago when I was in Warrior One, or was it Three, I heard the instructor say, "The ultimate goal is to be able to get your thigh parallel to the floor, but that is the ultimate goal, tonight take it as far a you can." This comment clicked with me and I began to wonder; has Yoga, over the centuries, mastered the art of differentiation. What can teacher's learn from yoga instructors? How can schools approach differentiation differently?
There is no doubt that NCLB throws a bucket of wrenches into what I am about to say, because after all, the ultimate goal that the yoga instructor has given an individual a lifetime to achieve now has a very real deadline (ACT, end of marking periods, graduation, etc). But maybe we can simplify the situation by suggesting in the end we simply want students to learn. Whether the student is under, average, or overachieving we want students who are engaged, trying, and showing growth.
Can you imagine a classroom that sounded like this; "Students, the ultimate goal is for you to be able to present the dynamics that drive evolution to an auditorium of people , but remember this is the ultimate goal. Some of you may get there this year, whiles others may start with a classroom presentation, and still some may choose to produce a video recording of themselves to share."
"We are going to start with Darwin and his trip to the Galapagos Island, we need to be able to understand what he saw there. If this is your limit, great! For those who are ready we are then going to take a look at how Darwin applied his concepts elsewhere. For some of you this will be your comfort spot and that is great! For anyone who is ready to take the next step you will follow me in a discussion of the dynamics that drive evolution of mankind."
If you have the opportunity to attend a yoga class listen for the number of celebrations or affirmations; "Great! Do the best you can! Notice how one side is a little tighter then the other." These and other comments are a key component to making differentiation work in the yoga studio and are just as important in the classroom. Students feel appreciated and understood rather then put down or singled out.
I am attempting to implement the "yoga differentiation attitude" into my Biology classrooms this trimester. Continuing to practice Capturing Kids Hearts principles will guide my efforts to remain open, understanding, and supportive. To differentiate the content I will use a sliding grade systems which allows students to skip a section entirely in order to spend more time on a particular topic/project. Students will also have the option of completing inquiry based projects as a way to earn points rather then completing a test. The use of E2020 and collaboration will allow students to move together in small groups at a pace that is right for them. As the yoga instructor moves around the studio, I will move around the room and facilitate the learning for each group/individual.
An essential trimester question will serve as the ultimate goal. This question can be answered by any student who has participated in the class; of course there will be the average, those who go beyond the average, and still some who are on their way. But in the end all students should be able to demonstrate through this final assignment that there has been growth. So what is the essential question or ultimate goal:
Identify several key ideas or topics of Biology and discuss how each has impacted your life or how each could impact your life in the future.