Yesterday I spoke in Chapel at our Germantown Campus about our theme for February: Courage. Actually I spoke twice–first to grades 2 through 5 and a little later to JK through 1.
Planning for the seven minute or so talks served as a reminder for me of the importance of differentiation in teaching. Great teachers are always differentiating in ways large and small. They differentiate between groups by grade level and by student readiness. They also differentiate instruction by time of the day and day of the week. Additionally, they are forever building a nuanced understanding of the specific learning needs of individual students that allows them to differentiate their instruction by student. Not every successful strategy for one student is successful for all students. In short, it takes remarkable finesse, in addition to deep pedagogical and curricular knowledge, to do the work of an outstanding classroom teacher.
So…back to my chapel talk about Courage…
I had notes and a plan, but it was incumbent upon me to adjust my plan not only by my preconceived notion of the age ranges in the pews, but also by my ongoing read of their engagement. Fortunately for me, the students assembled in both chapel services were fantastic.
In the first talk to the older elementary students, I was able to call upon several responses to questions–“How do you define courage?” and “What is an example of courage?” Not only were their answers interesting and relevant to the direction I wished to go, but the other students were listening attentively to what others were saying. As I spoke extemporaneously to flesh out a couple of ideas (mostly about aspects of their lives that require courage), I was able to go a bit deeper than I expected before I began.
About twenty minutes after the older group departed the chapel, the younger group arrived. When I reflect on both chapels I realize that I feel good that the core message of each talk was the same, but the means by which I got to it were quite different. With the younger kids I used different examples, and I didn’t ask for responses from the audience–with that age group, I felt as if we might head astray too quickly if I had done so (though if it had been a much smaller group that would have been a good strategy). I also used different and more concise examples of courage.
So…the plan I created and notes I wrote were aimed at helping me design what I wanted to say and teach, while my adjustments to that plan were made thinking about what I wanted our students to hear and learn.