In recent years differentiated instruction has been at the center of educational policies and practices throughout the country. Do you think this is just a fad, or will it become the foundation of education in America? What research can you point to in support of differentiated instruction?
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Yes, I do think that we are headed more in a differentiated instruction direction. I do not think this is a bad thing. Kids are not widgets. They are not designed for one size fits all education. This is a thing of the past.
I think (or maybe hope is more accurate) that increased use of technology will facilitate increased differentiation in many subject areas in years to come. Well-designed computer programs will allow students to move at their own pace, will require them to review and/or continue practicing until skills have been demonstrably mastered, and will facilitate enhancing learning activities by incorporating preferred learning styles and techniques.
Absolutely, the goal of differentiated instruction should be the foundation of education - anywhere, at any level and at any time. Teachers in one-room schools did it! Assess your students, become acquainted with their needs, and adjust learning experiences to meet them where they are - that's what differentiation is. It doesn't all have to be completely individualized. Providing small group activities at different reading levels, allowing students choices of end products to illustrate comprehension of a topic (which lets them use preferred methods of working and demonstrating knowledge), directing students toward more or less difficult free-reading choices - all these are forms of differentiation. http://www.differentiatedinstruction.net/
Differentiated instruction is one of the those ideas that sounds great but is very difficult to implement in a meaningful way. It requires spending a significant amount of time on individual students doing individual things in their own way--with their own best "learning style." This in turn requires a fairly disciplined class that works on its own while the instructor is focusing on one student at a time. Let's face it, discipline in the American classroom is not what it should be.
There are minor differentiations that we can use, like more time for tests, or giving an oral test, or out-of-class tutoring. But full-blown differentiation will only work in very small, disciplined classes. Do any of those exist anymore?
What ends up happening in many cases, is that differentiating comes to mean "making it easier."
I have no doubt that there are some super-teachers out there who make real differentiation happen in classes with 30 socially active students, but I don't know any of them. If you are one of the them, please drop me an email with some hints and secrets!! I'm serious.
I am not conversant with any of the research on differentiated instruction, but I have my own experiences to draw upon in discussing it. I tend to think that good teachers have always used differentiated instruction, whether or not they have had a name for it or incorporated it into formal lesson plans. No matter what, we must meet each student where he or she is, and that is the basis of the whole concept, applicable to the gifted child, the disabled child, or the child in the middle of the bell-shaped curve. I have taken note that the idea of the visual, audio, or kinesthetic learner has been largely discounted, rather recently, I believe. However, I don't think that particularly matters. The more ways we can connect with our students, the better off they are.
What concerns me about differentiated instruction in the past several years is that the pressure to teach to the test and to make teachers accountable for learning in only a one-dimensional way have completely superseded differentiated instruction, as well as many other sound pedagogical ideas. There is no longer a drive to reach the student as an individual, only as a delivery system for satisfactory scores. I am fortunate in not teaching where this is an issue for me, but I listen to my friends who are subjected to all of this. Who has time for differentiated instruction when most of the school day is spent on test drills?
So, I don't think it is a fad, but I do think that it does not have the importance and respect it deserves right now. And all I can do is hope that we can find a way to help American education transcend American politics.
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