If you’re a new teacher, you‘ve learned about the concept of differentiation and you’re ready to apply it in your new classroom. If you’re an experienced teacher, you’ve likely approached differentiation through Response to Intervention, accommodation, modification, or sheltered instruction.
How do we start to make differentiation real? Differentiation is so huge that it is often hard to clearly define.
Let’s start by addressing the common misconception that differentiation is the same as individualized lesson planning. It’s NOT. It doesn’t mean that every student has to have a different activity. It means that each lesson needs to provide an entry point for each student. Knowing your students’ needs allows you to provide the right support, the right grouping, the right tasks to students at the right time. We don’t live in a one-size-fits-all world, so we can’t expect students to learn from one-size-fits-all instruction. This is huge! This makes it really important for you and your team to have a shared understanding of what differentiation is so you can plan for student success together.
Let’s get to it. Meet with your team, discuss the quotes and resources below, and come to a common understanding of what differentiation means.
- The idea of differentiating instruction to accommodate the different ways that students learn involves a hefty dose of common sense, as well as sturdy support in the theory and research of education (Tomlinson & Allan, 2000). It is an approach to teaching that advocates active planning for student differences in classrooms. http://www.caroltomlinson.com
- Educators are changing the learning environment so they can see students' readiness levels, learning profiles, needs, and interests more clearly. Through differentiated instruction, teachers are rethinking what they personally experienced in their schooling and working to customize the complexity of instruction so all students experience learning success. http://www.bertiekingore.com/diffinstruct.htm
- Differentiation is a way of teaching; it’s not a program or package of worksheets. It asks teachers to know their students well so they can provide each one with experiences and tasks that will improve learning. As Carol Ann Tomlinson has said, differentiation means giving students multiple options for taking in information (1999). Differentiating instruction means that you observe and understand the differences and similarities among students and use this information to plan instruction. http://www.scholastic.com/teachers/article/what-differentiated-instruction
Here are a couple of other resources.
- Watch Carol Ann Tomlinson discuss differentiation. (You’ll be investing just under 4 minutes.)
- To learn more about what differentiation is and is not, study this image from Dr. Bertie Kingore’s article “Differentiating Instruction: Rethinking Traditional Practices”.
In the next post of this learning series we’ll outline several easy-to-use differentiation strategies that you and your team can explore and apply. Do the strategies square with your team’s definition of differentiation?
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