Differentiation is the customisation of a curriculum to students' needs. It requires regular assessment of what students do and don't know and the offering of alternate pathways to ensure more complete learning. I would like you to ask you about that idea.
The notion of differentiation is attractive. To break away from the one-size-fits-all, heterogeneous delivery of curricula is, however, difficult to achieve in practice in a classroom setting. A review by James R. Delisle in Education Week (well worth reading) suggests that teachers trained to undertake differentiation are not doing so because it's just too difficult and, when it is implemented, leads to a dumbing down of the curriculum.
In the traditional classroom, even delivering a single pathway through a curriculum is time-consuming. This applies to all sectors of education: K-12, higher-ed and workplace training. Asking teachers to do more is problematic.
So if differentiation is alluring, how could it be achieved?
If we are going to burden teachers with the requirement to offer individualised curricular attention to students we must unburden them in some way.
What do you relieve teachers of in order to allow them to direct their energies?
The simplest step is to reduce the tedium of assessment. Educational technology can assist in that regard, and this help will be especially needed if the frequency of assessment needs to increase to accommodate differentiation. But as assessment is based in a curriculum, you cannot simply offer assessment without first knowing the curriculum. So another necessary step is for greater support for curriculum design from institutions or governing bodies. Unburdening teachers means revealing them of the necessity to reinvent curricula to prepare lessons (at least significant parts) for each day. Ironically, this would mean that in order to achieve differentiation efforts need to be combined, which leads to greater standardisation.
I've been paying attention to the School of One who have been running a very individualised and differentiated curriculum that is responsive to daily testing, that's right: daily. The memorable part for me was the attitude of teachers involved in the program who felt they had been relieved of the administrative facets of their usual job so they could instead focus on what they were good at - teaching.
With evidence pointing towards an educational future without differentiation, am I wrong to hope for it?