There is no question that we as teachers want students to struggle. It combines with many best practices (inquiry, growth mindset, desirable difficulty, intrinsic motivation, choice theory… the list really goes on) but there is a question that must be deliberately addressed to foster the appropriate level of struggle. Ask a student to send a rocket to the moon and they will, no question, struggle. The problem is most will hit shut-down and that’s bad news. Each student’s shut down point will be different and therein is born the problem we call differentiation.
The next update of Biology Rocks, Ed 2.2, will include resources to support a way to allow students to self-differentiate. The combination of skill and ability feels great and we all seek to be engaged and challenged. Students are no different. What if we could reframe a task so that students can select the level of performance they wish to exhibit? What if a “C” could reflect success, unqualified and unequivocally successful at a task, rather than failure to achieve the “B” or “A” form of a task?
Teachers make these kinds of choices already, but we don’t always make those choices visible to students. If you ask students to type a report and get a hand-written report instead, you might deduct 10% from the student’s grade. Front load this process and define what B-level work looks like with positive statements instead of negative ones and let students choose where they will feel adequately challenged.
Consider something different. To pass a lab, just ask the students to make a graph and answer their driving question. No writing required. A guided report is enough to earn a B. A typed formal lab report reflects full mastery and earns 100%. Systems like this allow each student to define their own success conditions. What is exciting is seeing students choose challenges for themselves that exceed what they would choose in a prescriptive classroom. This will increase student ownership of their own work and leverage what we know about student motivation to grow a love of learning and science.
Keep an eye out for more on student differentiation when Biology Rocks! Ed 2.2 drops this summer.