Wednesday, March 7, 2018

Semantics: Watered Down or Differentiate?

     In talking to a colleague recently, I learned how much most teachers, and administrators for that matter, don't get my school. I'm used to the powers that be referring to the "two" high schools in town (ignoring the alternative high school). I'm used to references of the alternative school being for the "bad" kids or the "druggies." Yet I wasn't prepared for the comment shared of how we "water down" the curriculum.That was irritating.
     Alternative education is different, right? In theory, maybe, but in practice we do what the administrators and education gurus say is positive--we differentiate for students. Sometimes we bring materials down but other times we increase our expectations and differentiate up. What does it depend upon? The student. Right now, the start of a new block, I have full classrooms where I'm teaching five classes at once, all individualized for each student. As teachers it's our responsibility to see students learn, challenge them to reach new heights, and help them on their journey. I tell my students it's my job to help them be successful in school, not to give them misleading test questions or confusing assignments. It's my job to teach them how to think and analyze and communicate. What isn't my job is to  water down my curriculum.
      Is it "watering down" a curriculum when a student is at a fourth grade reading level and you give him a book for seventh or eighth graders that is high interest and engages him in the novel or is that differentiating? When he actually reads the book and asks for another rather than Spark Notes the book to get through the writing task and regurgitate what he read rather than what he knows? Is it "watered down" to get students to think about and analyze character motivation in a book or the significance of the motifs in leading to the theme in a book they're excited to talk about rather than one they faked reading? Or is that differentiating? If "watered down" means meeting a student where he's at and then bringing him to a higher level, than I guess I'm guilty as charged.
     Teachers deal with all types and levels of students. We also deal with all types and levels of colleagues--some understand the education process better than others. However, using the term "watered down" is inflammatory and ignorant. Especially in relation to alternative education. We meet the kids where they're at and challenge them to go higher--no matter what level they're at. It's called differentiation. So don't be concerned if you're tagged with "watering down" a curriculum if you know in your mind you're exacting more than what the student thought he was capable of doing. Meet the student where he's at and take him further than he thought he could go.
      Go ahead. "Water down" your curriculum. Or in education-ese differentiate--it could make all the difference to the success of that student. Isn't that why we stay in education? To make a difference?

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