So everyone’s going nuts about differentiation around here, with the new teacher evaluation standards and so on. And the admins are thumbing through their lists and saying, “You TPRS people aren’t differentiating.”
Should we be?
Differentiation is for LEARNING. Being able to diagram sentences, conjugate verbs in charts, or list the four principal exports of Peru are not innate human abilities. It does not surprise me that different students would have different ways of most rapidly grasping whatever skills or facts are involved in each of these things.
But acquiring a language? That IS a natural human ability. Every human being who does not have organic brain damage does it without any instruction whatsoever.
Logically, the only differentiation that would be useful for true acquisition is differentiation based on speed of processing, because all people acquire language in the same way, whether or not we want to admit it. (Literacy is literacy, and language is language — reading and spelling are secondary to language. But I am not aware of any documented case of a person acquiring a language in any way other than the way the brain seems determined to do it.)
And TPRS already takes care of differentiation based on processing speed quite neatly. We repeat many times, taking care of the “slow processors”. We add new details, taking care of the faster processors. We write the meaning on the board, pause and point (you ARE pausing and pointing to EVERY unknown, right?) to take care of the slower processors while we’re honoring the faster processors. We ask the “how would I say XYZ in French?” questions of our more apt students (aka the faster processors) while asking “What did I just say?” or “What does the -n on the end of ‘hablan’ mean?” of the “slower” ones. All these things (and they can be endlessly categorized and glorified to fit any rubric or form that’s out there, have no fear!) are differentiation based on how fast a person acquires language using the same darn mechanism that everyone uses, like it or not.
If you are hard-pressed to “differentiate”, the challenge is to keep the differention visibly “different” while insisting that all the differentiated content and activities are input-centric. So that could mean reading to some students out loud and letting others read independently, or having some students listen to a story on an mp3 player or on the Web while others build it in class.
But at the end of the day, if you believe that input is what drives acquisition, then any activity that is not input-driven is taking you off track, no matter how beautifully it “differentiates”. And I don’t think the intent is to differentiate between activities that foster language acquisition and fluency, and activities that don’t.