Sharing ideas on Education, Leadership and Life

Thursday, November 13, 2014

A Mindset for Differentiated Instruction


In the last two blog posts I have written about some of the ideas and techniques behind differentiating instruction. Truth be told there is no shortage of books articles and experts on the topic. Therefore when I saw the following I said I need to put this idea in a blog post. 

I saw the following article 

Response: Several Ways To Differentiate Instruction

"Rick Wormeli is a well-known author, workshop leader and educator. He has written books on the topic of differentiation, and I'd recommend you read another essay he's written titled Differentiated Instruction: Setting the Pedagogy Straight.
There is no one book, video, presenter, or Website that will show everyone how to differentiate instruction. Let's stop looking for it. One size rarely fits all. Our classrooms are too diverse and our communities too important for such simplistic notions.

Instead, let's realize what differentiation really is: highly effective teaching, which is complex and interwoven; no one element defining it. Reading multiple books and watching many videos on accomplished teaching as well as listening to presenters speak on effective teaching and augmenting all those insights with perspectives gained from on-line communities, faculty conversation, PLC's, and dedicated Websites prepares teachers best for teaching, i.e. differentiated instruction. 

Professor and differentiation expert, Diane Heacox, reminded me a few years ago that differentiation is foremost a mindset. It's only 10% craft and mechanics of pulling it off. If we're attentive to the results of formative assessments, for example, we realize that Michael needs 15 minutes with a mentor to review proper lab write-up procedures, LaShawn needs help with Punnett Squares in the Genetics unit, and Umber is ready to write something more compelling in her studies on political rhetoric. Without the focus on formative assessment and adjusting learning in response to what it reveals, however, these students drift with needs unmet, academic potential dwindling. Are our minds tuned to differentiation possibilities? 
In a successful differentiated class, we stop hiding behind the factory model of teaching. We teach in whatever way students best learn, even if that's different student to student, or different from the way we best learn ourselves. Many of us are guilty of that from time to time - teaching the way we best learn, not the way our students best learn, myself included. We can do better. We can embrace the root of differentiation: responsive teaching. As students' learning story is revealed, we adjust our instruction in order to maximize their learning. If a student needs more, less, or a different challenge, we provide it as we can. 
As institutions, they are designed to meet the needs of students who "get it" first or easiest. This curriculum-by-age approach protects the status quo, and it provides a false sense of orderly effectiveness. Since teaching and learning can be messy processes, we seek easy schematics; they make us feel like we know what we're doing and we are in control. As a consequence, we are our own worst enemies when we try to teach so students actually move content and skills into long-term memory. In order to live up to a school's mission, we sometimes have to part way with its protocols.

Accepting differentiation more as a collection of principles about responsive teaching than a collection of quick recipes for someone's diversity cookbook is my first piece of advice, as practical as those recipes may be. Mitigating the negative aspects of the factory model of schooling is my second. " 

It is worth it to read the entire article. However what caught my attention was the idea that differentiation  is rooted in a mindset, that we can meet the needs of our students. That ones ability is not fixed and that we can grow and change. Second is the idea that differentiation isn't a bunch of techniques to help only the weaker students but rather as Wormeli puts it is based on principles and a philosophy of knowing all your students and being responsive to the needs of your students. 

Nothing that I can write or say about differentiation is going to be new and as I mentioned before there are experts in the field far greater than me that I have spent their lives writing about differentiation and meeting student needs.  So accept this post as a reminder that if we believe in a growth mindset and that we can grow and change and our abilities are not fixed, and we want to be  responsive to the needs of all students then we have the building blocks and the foundation to differentiate. The rest is  just following a recipe. 

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