Differentiated Instruction

I have been mulling over the term differentiated instruction for some time. It is a very popular term, but I am not convinced it means the same thing to all people. Administrators generally tell me that differentiated instruction is a priority and that they see very little of it in their schools. These same administrators generally tell me that they used differentiated instruction techniques as a teacher and their teachers tell me the same thing.

I am left wondering if what many educators really mean by differentiated instruction? I am convinced what is done in the name of differentiated instruction is really the accommodations, adapting and modifying work. On the surface this doesn't seem to be a bad thing. Accommodations and adapting and modifying work are the cornerstones of mainstreaming. I use the term mainstreaming purposely here. When mainstreaming IEP students into the general learning environment was the popular, the expectation was for students to be physically included in the environment. The environment was not radically changed. The students might receive preferential seating, multiple choices tests might be limited to two or three distractors, number of written sentences for a project might be reduced, print might be enlarged etc....

These are important skills for an educator and there is clearly a need for these strategies in a 21st century teaching environment. However, it is critical that these strategies be the floor, not the ceiling in helping students overcome learning challenges. Reducing test items to two distractors reduces reliability and validity.... students have a 50% chance of guessing the right answer. Does this really tell us what students know and are able to do? The majority of strategies used in a mainstreaming environment require less of the student.... they read less, responsible for learning less, write less....

Today's classrooms are moving towards inclusion, which strives for physical, social and academic inclusion. We are required to ensure that all students meet the standards and can perform well on high stakes tests. I contend that we cannot reach these goals if our primary methods require students to read, write, know and do less than peers.

We need a universal understanding of differentiated instruction. We need a common definition that does not require less of students, rather it provides opportunities to learn and express learning DIFFERENTLY. We need to change our environment to fit the students instead of trying to maintain the environment we have, are comfortable in, expecting less of students. We need to plan for differences and allow kids to show us what they can do. I am convinced that we would be surprised.


kderoche said…
I feel the same way as to wanting to have a common definition. It makes it difficult for teachers to ehar, "You need to differentiate" but not really knowing in what way to differentiate or what their administrators really mean. Is one way we could get around this to have students create projects and grade their work on a rubric? Or utilize portfolios as assessment tools? Maybe having students create their own assessment to meet the objective and develop the rubrics as well?
shartman said…
I agree with your observations but am wondering if it also opens a window of opportunity to provide additional professional development tailored to looking at the process/evolution of DI.

I am reminded of the “learning by doing” quote and as I reflect I realize that I have developed a clearer understanding of DI through continual professional development, reading and collaboration. So I wonder if we use this window to help provide clarity of what DI would look like an “ideal” classroom.
ddimenichi said…
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