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Category : Blog

It is hard to do. With high expectations for teachers and students, it is a tough time to consider giving less guidance in certain areas. If anything, it’s easy to feel pressured into spending more time prepping every aspect of the day; leaving little room for the students to choose their own path. But it’s time We need to foster independent and intrinsically motivated learning.

I like the ski slope method of differentiation: give students equal access to the top of the mountain and allow them to choose the slope they ski down. When I was in high school there were three tiers to our science curriculum. After a difficult time in Conceptual Physics in 9th grade, I chose to slow down the pace of my science curriculum and go to the remediation level for Chemistry in 10th grade. I feel that this was one of the best decisions I made in high school… After you fall down enough times on the Blue Square, it only makes sense to make the next run a confidence builder on a Green Circle. I wasn’t taking the easier route because I was lazy, I recognized the need for remediation. I wasn’t feeling success in Science, which caused me to hate Science. If I stuck with the regular pace in Science for Chemistry, I probably would still hate Science. It wasn’t until I truly felt success that I enjoyed learning about Science. For this reason, I feel strongly about allowing students to work with lower-level materials from time-to-time in order to give them a chance to feel confident. I want my students to think that some things are easy. It feels good. Brain sweat is important, but a constant challenge can be frustrating and exhausting. Pushing too hard leads to a harder push back. (Wait, is that action-reaction? Maybe I did learn a little bit in that Physics class!)


After attending a prep school for high school, I had to do (what felt like) endless research projects in History. I don’t remember many specifics about Robespierre’s Reign of Terror, but I remember choosing to write a research paper about it. However, in the midst of my endless fact-finding, I learned one resonating lesson that has made me successful: when I am interested in learning about something, I know how to find the information that sparks my interest.

It is our job as educators to give our students a vast overview of many different topics until something sticks. Give students exposure to everything until they find their niche. School is not about what you teach, but the passion you pass on, and the ability to access information. We are no longer simply teaching students what they need to know, but teaching students how to find out more. We are training students of today to be resilient in a world where they will be professionals in professions that do not yet exist. So relinquish. Let them feel success. Let them feel frustration. Let them feel boredom. Let them discover. Show them a hint of their potential… They will blow themselves away. But they cannot achieve that confidence working within a prescribed plan where the status quo is the expectation. The fact is, each student will work on the correct level for him/her. Continue to teach students at their instructional level, but give students access to different levels for independent work.

Important Considerations before Relinquishing Control:

Do your homework – Prep your students, prep your resources, have a few differing levels on the same topic to allow for independent differentiation… Remember the ski slopes!

Trust is KEY – Trust your resources, your students, yourself, and your instincts. No, you cannot blindly trust any of these things. But if you’ve followed step one, you’re covered… Now believe!

Trust the Students – The Goldilocks Effect – They will find their “just right” level. No one wants to feel bored all day by performing monotonous tasks. When a task is too easy for a student, it’s also exceptionally boring. When a task is too hard, it’s frustrating. You will need to frontload your students with tactics on how to find their level, and how to attack problems that seem to be too hard at first.

Trust Your Instincts – Know when to back-track, when to provide guidance, when to provide support, and when to provide encouragement. School is not a competition, so the less students know about where their peers are, the better. This approach to independent differentiation revolves around one simple truth – students will feel the most success when working at the correct level at the correct pace.

We do our best each day to meet the students where they are and see how much farther they can go. It is time that we allow our students time to figure some of that out on their own.

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