Consider this statement: When a teacher tries to teach something to the entire class at the same time, chances are, one-third of the kids already know it; one-third will get it; and the remaining third won’t. So two-thirds of the children are wasting their time. —Lillian Katz, EdD
Lillian Katz is a well-known leader in the field of early-childhood education. She lectures all over the world and has written numerous books and articles on elementary education, teacher education, and parenting. Like Tomlinson, Katz advocates for instruction that is differentiated to meet the needs of all learners. Consider her statement— one-third/one-third/one-third—this is an estimate of what most teachers encounter when presenting new content.
What implications does this have for teachers when planning lessons?
Lesson 1 Topic 1: Differentiation
CONSIDER THESE FIVE STUDENTS
Differentiation is an approach to teaching that advocates active planning for student differences in classrooms.
—Carol Ann Tomlinson, EdD
Consider these five students:
· Sam has an avid curiosity and a learning disability. He reads three grades below level, is quite good in math and science, and loves performing in class skits.
· Priscilla is identified as gifted and talented, but she is easily bored in class. She loves drawing and often doodles when she is bored. She has begun distracting her peers, talking during instruction, and shunning homework.
· Greg is an average student who gets along well with his classmates. He falls on the high-functioning end of the autism spectrum. Procedures and routines are critical to his daily performance. He dreams of being a fireman someday.
· Isaiah is a good kid but is easily distracted. He has ADHD and is not medicated. He is constantly in motion, moving about the room. During discussion, he has a difficult time maintaining focus with so many ideas floating around. When he does participate, he is usually two or three thoughts behind. He is limited English proficient. He has never passed the state assessment and still receives sheltered instruction because he is an ESOL student. Isaiah loves playing soccer.
· Josue just moved from his native Mexico. He is economically disadvantaged, and his English is limited. He does well when he clearly understands what is expected and why he is learning the particular content. He loves spending time with his grandfather.
Throughout this course, these five students will be a part of your classroom roster with twenty-four other students with varying needs and backgrounds. As a classroom teacher, your major responsibility will be to make sure that each of these students learns the content at the appropriate level of rigor that is outlined in the state standards. The standards are the same for all students in a particular grade level regardless of a child’s social, cultural, or academic background.
IMPORTANCE OF DIFFERENTIATION
In classrooms around the country, teaching and learning are happening, but are they as effective as they could be?
Consider the traditional classroom: The teacher teaches the same lesson to all learners, gives them the same examples and the same time on task, and requires the same homework. Yet very few of these students have the same characteristics or learning behaviors, other than the commonality of all being in the same teacher’s classroom at the same time. Most will learn to their proficiency level even though the degrees of proficiency are different. Some students already know the material through experiences or background information they bring to the classroom. On the other hand, some students struggle with the material for a variety of reasons: learning disabilities, language difficulties, behavioral issues, and/or lack of prior knowledge, opportunities, or experiences. No matter the starting point, when content is tested, the test is the same, and the standards for success are the same for all learners.
Differentiating instruction addresses student interests; considers differences in student backgrounds, abilities, and learning styles; and provides options for assignments and assessments. It works because just as students are individuals, learning is uniquely individual. Differentiation is not new. For many years, differentiation has been used in gifted and talented (GT) classrooms across the country. Much of the research on strategies for differentiation originated in the GT classroom.
Differentiated instruction means targeting the various learning and environmental needs of all students in the classroom. This can include students who qualify for Special Education, 504, and Gifted and Talented services, as well as English Language Learners. But it also includes students without a label—students who need more time, students who learn through different methods of instruction, students with attention difficulties, and students who have not been successful on standardized state assessments. All students need specialized instruction if they are to succeed. This does not mean a separate lesson plan for each student, rather it means evaluating the current lesson plan, structure of the room, and learning styles of the students in the classroom and responding accordingly.
Carol Ann Tomlinson, EdD, is a noted educator who has spent much of her career teaching students from varied backgrounds in a heterogeneous classroom. She has authored more than two hundred books, articles, book chapters, and professional development materials. More than most, Tomlinson is considered a leading expert in differentiating instruction. Her statement, “Differentiation is an approach to teaching that advocates active planning for student differences in classrooms,” gets to the heart of differentiation and provides the most necessary ingredient for successful teaching, that is, active planning. Our goal with this study is to engage the novice teacher in the aspects of active planning that provide for a well-managed, fully functional differentiated classroom.
Lesson 1 Topic 2: Differentiated Instruction
CHOOSING THE BEST INSTRUCTIONAL METHODS
Based on research, we know that some instructional methods are more effective than others. Sometimes, less is more. Presenting smaller amounts of critical material at a slower pace or through smaller increments, guiding students as they practice so that they can reach the finish line successfully and so that they understand the concept are important methods in teaching and learning. Providing students the time to process new material is critical for you to achieve success in your classroom.
With differentiated instruction, multiple instructional paths are taken to allow students of different abilities the opportunity to learn. Specifically, differentiated instruction gives students ownership in the learning process. Whether individually or cooperatively, differentiated instruction allows you to respond to the needs of students. Learning must be driven by the students’ readiness to learn, their background, their interests, and their learning profile.
Regardless of the classroom designation, while presenting concepts, you usually have three groups: 1) students who get it, 2) students who kind of get it, and 3) students who don’t get it at all. So when you think about it that way, about two-thirds of the students may not fully understand that concept, just as Katz states. If the learning is not differentiated so that they understand it, you put yourself and your students in a situation where, as you cover new material, they may not have the prior knowledge to succeed.
In many traditional classrooms, differences are usually addressed when they become problems. In a differentiated classroom, differences become the basis for planning and implementing instruction. In a traditional classroom, assessment tends to be summative. In a differentiated classroom, assessment is diagnostic and drives the planning process and instruction.
The first step in differentiating instruction is to consider your students individually, and then create lessons that account for these differences. Using the commonalities, you will plan lessons for different groups. You should consider four factors:
· Student Readiness to Learn.
· Student Background.
· Student Learning Style.
· Student Interest.
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