Differentiated Instruction: Making Sure We Get it Right!

I spent the day (with about 200 other educators) learning about differentiated instruction with Dr. Carol Ann Tomlinson. I was struck by the wonderful way Dr. Tomlinson weaves information with stories, case studies, and clarification. She facilitated the workshop as if she were a student of DI, instead of a national/international leader in the topic.

A defining moment for me during the workshop was a discussion about the mindset of differentiation. Dr. Tomlinson shared that without a believe that it is possible for students to do better than they ever had before, without hope or anticipation of what could happen in the classroom for kids.... there is no foundation for differentiating instruction. In other words, optimism is the energy that propels differentiation. Without optimism there is no purpose or fuel for differentiation to grow.

Does our school demonstrate a "do whatever it takes attitude?"

Do student strengths dominate the conversation?

Do we make efforts to genuinely affirm student efforts?

Do we expect the best?

Does the conversation revolve around reasons students can't do high level work or ways we could support and scaffold students to high level work?

The conviction that students can and should do high level work is the heart of differentiation. We may not be able to simply tell educators to believe in students who failed in the past and somehow that will make it all better. However, we can acknowledge the bias and behave our way into belief.

To quote Dr. Tomlinson, "Differentiation is not a thing you do, it's the way you think."


Amaal said…
As I read Kelly's reflection questions I remembered reading an article in the May, 2008 issue of Educational Leadership which focused on creating excellent and equitable schools. Eduardo Rodriquez was a 10th grade student attending a "chaotic" public school. He had gotten himself into trouble many times and his grades were suffering. His mother pulled him out from the school because she feared her son would either be killed or end up in prison. She enrolled him in another high school that was different from the traditional urban high school. Eduardo began to develop close relationships with his teachers and counselors. In the one year he was there his reading level went from a 5th grade reading level to nearly being on par with his current 11th grade placement. His mother explained that the teachers and administrators had the attitude and beliefs that "It's not,'We'll see if you can do it.' but, 'you can do it and you're going to do it.'"
One of the key features of this high school which has helped many students like Eduardo to succeed is the building of relationships between students and teachers.

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