Techniques to improve teaching could be learned from a myriad of simple life experiences encountered through interactions with people in non-teaching professions. This is possible if teachers keep their eyes open and connect real-life phenomena to their own teaching experiences in the classroom.
Such was my own experience during a recent visit to a hair salon. Until that day, I held the opinion that I could not learn anything significant about teaching from a hairdresser. On the contrary and to my pleasant surprise, I found out that even hairdressers could teach educators such as myself a thing or two about teaching and being an affective teacher.
A closer look
A typical hairdresser is responsible to attend to his/her customer’s request to cut, color or style his/her hair. However, customers do not usually pay attention to all the detailed procedures, elaborate efforts, techniques, tools and equipments utilized by a hairdresser to perform his tasks.
For example, a simple haircut is done through the ingenious choice and use of a combination of different types of scissors (e.g., hair cut scissors, hair thinning scissors, professional hair scissors, hair shears scissors and stylist shears scissors). This could be observed if one pays close attention to the number of scissors used for even a simple haircut. One would also realize that each pair of scissors plays a distinct role and fulfills a specific purpose in the whole process of giving a haircut.
As such, each individual customer is treated differently and approaching the same task may require a hairdresser a totally different strategy and plan.
This observation led me to thinking about the seriousness and importance of treating every child as a unique individual who constantly requires personalized attention from teachers to fulfill his/her learning needs. If hairdressers typically differentiate the act of cutting hair for his customers, how much more should teachers consider differentiating instruction for their students?
Before teachers start believing in the need for differentiation and hence acting upon it, they need to accept the fact that every child is different and requires different types of stimulation to learn. Psychology teaches us that children differ with regards to their general background knowledge, socio-cultural and linguistic experiences, subject specific knowledge, language proficiencies and academic skills, interests and motivation to learn.
By accepting and acknowledging the fact that children are different, teachers would be able to deal with the challenges that are inherent in the profession. Often, teachers enter into the profession thinking that uniform treatment, approach and coping skill would suffice to succeed in the classroom. However, upon entering into the field and encountering children’s individual differences, they experience burnout.
In most cases, teacher burnout is not caused by their lack of competency. Rather, it is due to their unwillingness to accept that children are different and actively work toward meeting them at their own level of academic responsiveness.
Having said that, it must be borne in mind that differentiated instruction promotes knowledge transfer, the ultimate aim of education! This happens because teachers who utilize differentiation teach not only content but more importantly, the individual child. Secondly, teachers who customize instructional approaches deliver content more effectively by knowing how to motivate each child effectively.
Accomplishing this does not require extensive training or workshops. Teachers could, in their own simple way challenge every learner by providing materials and tasks (addressing a curriculum standard or a set of learning objectives) at varied levels of difficulty, with varying degrees of scaffolding, through multiple instructional groups (in the same class) and with time variations.
Key to effective implementation of the above-mentioned differentiation techniques is constructive classroom management, which could be easily established by setting up and adhering to a set of norms that everyone agrees upon for mutual academic benefit.