Getting Schooled on Differentiated Instruction

Getting Schooled on Differentiated Instruction

Today I got schooled on differentiated teaching and learning.
By the end of the day, I realized that I have been doing it all along…in parenting.

Each of my children, all adopted, arrived in our family with profound strengths. But they also arrived with specific needs for support. Additionally, they have preferences and interests, which make parenting them fell less like arithmetic, and more like a Science experiment. In a word, they are diverse.

My wife and I have been differentiating now for years.

Just so we can enjoy dinner as a family, one of our children needs a sensory chair and limited opportunities to speak, so others have oxygen to breathe. Another child needs evenly portioned amounts of food and language prompts so that he will share in conversation.
We have even learned to differentiate the kinds of birthdays we throw for our kids. One child thrives with a large gathering, even if cupcakes are the only special treat served. Another child enjoys a celebration with a few friends, a lot of laughs, and a gigantic cake.

We have the same general hopes and expectations for our kids in these arenas. We want them to connect with family and receive nourishment at dinner. On a birthday, we want children to feel loved and celebrated. But we get there different ways.

This, I learned today, points to the essence and need for differentiation in education.

Today I got schooled on differentiated teaching and learning.
By the end of the day, I realized that I have been doing it all along…at school too!

After some reflection, I realize that I differentiate when I clearly communicate what students “must do” as well as what students “may do.” Where a particular student needs more of a challenge, they are encouraged to move on to “may do” extension activities, like adding content to their learning blogs or additional research.

Teaching Physical Education, I differentiate by offering multiple ways students can demonstrate aerobic capacity. Some students are able to reach competency, via the Pacer test, while others succeed in a mile-distance run. In English instruction, I purposefully differentiate when I plan lessons with a healthy mix of whole class, small group, and independent settings.

Trying to ease the potential anxiety of educators in the room, Paula Rutherford reminded us that there are many ways we differentiate each day. In fact, she exclaimed with some levity, “You can differentiate in your classrooms without losing your life!” But our students will benefit at increased levels if we have more mastery and awareness of strategies used to differentiate instruction. “Know that you are doing it so that you can be more purposeful about it,” she encouraged.

In Meeting the Needs of Diverse Learners, Rutherford communicates that differentiation is not about adjusting expectations of students. To the contrary, all students can learn, including those who have historically performed at low levels.

Differentiating effectively means that we think proactively about our diverse students and, from the beginning plan and teach lessons which include more than one avenue for success.


Image by nathanmac87 via Flickr

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