I’ve been visiting a lot of elementary schools lately, and I’ve noticed a dangerous pattern: instruction that’s called “differentiated” but looks an awful lot like tracking. To varying degrees, I’ve seen it in high- and low-scoring schools, some using Core Knowledge, some not.

Here’s a typical scenario (abstracted from my admittedly limited experience). The whole class is studying a topic such as the circulatory system. As an introduction, everyone gets to hear the teacher read aloud a short text about circulation, watch a video, and participate in a brief discussion. Then the differentiation begins. The class is broken into three (or more) groups, and different groups are given different projects to complete. The highest group may be given a set of texts and websites to use as reference material, a very detailed diagram of the human circulatory system that they have to fill in as a group, and then a writing prompt that each student has to respond to individually explaining how blood is pumped through the body. The lowest group may be given just one relatively easy text, a greatly simplified diagram to fill in as a group, and a group fill-in-the-blank worksheet on how blood is pumped through the body.

So while the highest group has to learn aorta, femoral artery, cephalic vein, superior vena cava, etc. and then actually explain how all those things work together, the lowest group just has to learn heart, artery, and vein and then use those same words to fill in the blanks. That’s not differentiation. It’s tracking—and it’s dimming the futures of all but our highest-group kids.

But it’s not the teachers’ fault. It’s a systemic problem, and the system has tied teachers’ hands.

Differentiation is supposed to provide different learning paths to attain the same goal. In every classroom, some children are better prepared and able to attain that goal more quickly. The rest of the class is just as capable of meeting the goal—but they don’t have as much background knowledge. They have more to learn, and so they need more time. The catch is that the vast majority of schools aren’t able to vary learning time. The students who need more time don’t get it. They just learn what they can in the amount of time provided. So one group masters the basilar artery, and the other has a vague understanding of their heartbeat.

We put a man on the moon. Are we seriously not able to fix this?

 

Multiple Paths, One Goal - Shutterstock
Multiple paths, one goal (image courtesy of Shutterstock).

 

I wasn’t sure about airing these thoughts, but sadly, I just found confirmation that what I’ve seen is not an anomaly. Toward the end of Too Many Children Left Behind: The U.S. Achievement Gap in Comparative Perspective (hat tip to Susan Neuman for recommending it), Bruce Bradbury and his coauthors write:

There is … a good deal of research under way on using ability grouping … more effectively…. A key factor seems to be the role of aspirations and expectations. If the goal of ability grouping or other remedial programming is to help ensure that all children learn the age-appropriate material, then such programming can be very effective in reducing achievement gaps. This model is in contrast to one in which children in different groups are taught different material, which merely serves to reinforce or widen gaps; with this latter model, those who are lagging never catch up, and indeed, they often fall further behind.

In short, to close gaps, schools have to commit to teaching everyone the full curriculum, and they have to find ways to provide the additional instruction and time that some children need.

As Bradbury et al. point out, Finland is doing just that. It starts with family and early childhood policies that minimize the differences in children’s readiness for school. Then, once in school, “another key ingredient in the Finnish story is the fact that students are held to a uniformly high standard. All students are taught the same curriculum, even students who may require extra help to learn the material. (In fact, nearly half of Finnish students do receive extra help at some point during their school years.)”

A few months ago, I admitted that I’m afraid of personalized learning. Now I fear differentiation too. Without a specific, coherent, cumulative curriculum that all students must master, differentiation and personalization seem likely to increase achievement gaps. But with such a curriculum—and with extended day, week, and year options for students who need more time—differentiation and personalization could be our path to excellence and equity.

74 comments on “Differentiation’s Dirty Little Secret”

  1. 1
    education realist on December 14, 2015

    We put a man on the moon with people who were taught in tracked schools.

    It doesn’t sound as if the lower level activity was demeaning. It was simply challenging enough for low-skilled kids.

    Differentiation is ineffective, inefficient tracking and often impossible to achieve well. But it beats a lot of alternatives.

    The “additional time” suggestion has been tried thousands of times. For example, we put kids in Algebra and then “Algebra Support”, giving kids who hate math twice as much math. Then we do the same thing with English. This eliminates any possibility of electives–which, of course, is why you want kids to have an extended school day.

    But KIPP has been providing extended school days, and the result is slightly improved scores that don’t persist in high school.

    Algebra Support and Language Support didn’t do too well, either.

    So your suggestion is to take low-skilled kids, put them in longer and longer school days, restricting their curriculum until the–entirely mythical–day when they “catch up”. Then, when it never happens, you blame the curriculum for not being “knowledge based” enough.

    We could just acknowledge that different kids have different ability levels, separate kids based on abilities, and teach them a rich curriculum based on their ability to absorb it.

    But since we’re not allowed to do that, we’ll try the same thing with them all in the same classroom.

  2. 2
    Will Fitzhugh on December 14, 2015

    We are never shy to admit that there are differences in ability in athletics, but when it comes to academics, everyone must have the same ability? That makes no sense. By the way, not only were those who accomplished the Apollo project tracked in school, but they were almost all white male nerds with plastic pencil protectors who sat in rows in school all the way through MIT and Caltech. Not that you can say that these days….

    Will Fitzhugh
    fitzhugh@tcr.org

  3. 3
    ewadoh on December 14, 2015

    I’m a little late to the party; but, congratulations to those schools and to Lisa, Get your head out of the sand.

    There is nothing more frustrating to that low group than having the full challenge of the highest operators being handed to them and … what? Give them more time? Start early and stay late? Saturday? Shorter breaks? What? What, other than a reason to hate school, hate the learning/non-learning process, and develop a system for ignoring even the things they should be able to do.

    What always DID work for my “slow group” was to be given some project that the others didn’t get. Once completed, they could show what they did and explain it and get some peer appreciation.

    Oh, and don’t forget to have Blue Ribbons for everyone.

  4. 4
    Dennise O'Grady on December 14, 2015

    This is the most ridiculous piece of writing I have read on this blog.

  5. 5
    momof4 on December 14, 2015

    I remember the pocket protectors! And the slide rules in the back pockets!

    I’m on the same train as the other commenters. Like athletic or artistic ability, cognitive ability matters – regardless of how much the politicians and the edworld refuses to acknowledge it. Not all kids can learn the same material and forcing struggling kids into longer days, weeks or months could be seen as torture for kids who aren’t academically inclined.

    I’d also like to drop the Finland comparisons. First, there are fewer people in Finland than in NYC and second, they’re all Finns.

  6. 6
    Susan Toth on December 14, 2015

    Well, Finns are human beings, and our American situation is not caused by ethnic diversity or large numbers of children. These situations do, admittedly, add to difficulties. And we do spend a lot of money for inadequate results.

    Traditionally, the goal of school was seen as the transmission of information, the knowledge accumulated throughout human history, taught directly by teachers. That explains the study of history, language, math, literature, the sciences, and so on.

    However, this goal was attacked and eliminated by the “reformers” of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, for multiple reasons. One of these reasons was probably that content was badly taught, often true. Another conclusion was that since children had different skills and interests it would be unfair to teach a common content curriculum. Another reason was the belief that education should begin with the knowledge and experience that children bring to school. There were, and are, other reasons, mostly ideological.

    Consequently, a situation was created in which some children “bring” more knowledge and experience and others less. The establishment approach assumes that this discrepancy accurately describes the potential of children, and claims also that education does not consist of instructing those children in what they do not know. The previous comments suggest agreement with the establishment approach.

    As long as our view is that school should address the child in his or her feelings and interests and should manipulate information and facts to suit each child we will have these issues. The education of children does not present problems that can be solved. Rather it presents difficulties that must, and can, be managed. One of those difficulties is indeed the fact that some children do learn more easily than others. But this does not justify deciding that they are incapable of learning, giving them watered-down information about the world in which they live, and allowing them to believe that they are educated.

  7. 7
    ewadoh on December 14, 2015

    Susan, you would be applauded if learning history and work/life skills were no different than performing in the arts or athletics. There is no greater pain than being placed in competition with someone of much greater skill.

    This is why there are divisions in sports and music. I’m forever amazed that the jocks “get it” when the “educators” seem not to.

  8. 8
    Susan Toth on December 14, 2015

    ewadoh, I must think about your comments. I do have a first reaction, but it just might not express all of my thinking. I believe that all human beings need to have a better knowledge of the world than I do, having had a progressivist education. And I believe that a history class, or any other subject class, should avoid competition. It is not a matter of learning more, but a matter of learning enough. At any rate, there is just about no situation in life in which there is not someone who does things better than I do, and even those who do not do as well as I do. Actually, I have no musical background at all, and it is a pain I live with. It does not spoil all my pleasures in life!
    Having said this,my second reaction is that your perspective does not justify the refusal to give children information about the world. And a third reaction. Children in the “lower” groups know very well that they are “not as smart” as the others. Perhaps this is the only valid response.

  9. 9
    Lisa Hansel on December 14, 2015

    I’d like to offer just a few clarifications:

    1) I’m talking about elementary school, and I’ve never seen any evidence that–with the time and support they need–there’s more than a tiny percentage of kids who are not capable of mastering elementary-school academics.

    2) I certainly support helping students exceed the curriculum. But I don’t support vague instructional guidance (be it a content-light district curriculum or state assessments that aren’t tied to what was taught) resulting in some children learning far less than they are capable of learning. If all schools had specific, coherent, cumulative curricula, then we’d have a platform for differentiation and personalization that could increase everyone’s achievement.

    3) Knowledge increases IQ (see http://www.aft.org/sites/default/files/periodicals/Nisbett.pdf), so perhaps a lot of those “slow” students are actually just ignorant–a condition we can cure.

    4) I’m not so sure about the athletics analogy. Perhaps tracking in athletics is fine because sports are not as important to the future of our nation as academics are. Perhaps athletic tracking is actually producing the same results as academic tracking. Our children now have an obesity epidemic. Sure, the youth who are really interested and have motivated parents (or other support structures) are excelling as athletes–but what is that system doing for most kids?

    5) I will concede that not everyone can be an astrophysicist. But I’d bet that, well taught, 90% of high school students can learn algebra and can write a decent history research paper. The kids who can do more should have ample opportunities to do more. But right now, there are students across this country who don’t find out where they are and what the adult world expects until they are placed in remedial courses in higher education (including on CTE paths).

    I hope folks will keep commenting. This is a difficult but important issue, and I really appreciate everyone’s thoughts.

    Best,
    Lisa

  10. 10
    Susan Toth on December 14, 2015

    Thanks again, Lisa. I do think you are right and have a few additional comments. I taught mostly high school and always saw that most of the students in my classes under-achieved. Sometimes it was deliberate; they would work only up to the grade they decided on, more often a C. It seemed to me that they did not dare try harder, for fear of failing.
    Everything else you said is so right. It needs to be heard! I think the damage that the rejection of a content curriculum: ” specific, coherent, cumulative,” does has not begun to be realized.

  11. 11
    Mia Munn on December 15, 2015

    I think this is from the Paideia Principle by Mortimer Adler – it has stuck with me since I read it decades ago as a way of thinking about teaching children with different abilities: some children may have a cup, others a pint or a quart – but all should be filled with cream, instead of giving those with the most cream, and those with the least skim milk.

  12. 12
    agnes mcevilly on December 15, 2015

    I believe from experience, as an early years teacher, that young children are natural learners and philosophers. Why, what, who, where, define much of their conversations. Remarkable too is the silent and awestruck response to a foreign language or their entrancement during story-time. But didn’t Michael Oakeshott alert us to the imperative of the young to learn, when he reminded us that we are thrown into this world —– that there is no proto-typical human being hidden in the womb of time for us to emulate. That everyone must learn to become human for himself. There is nothing else to do but to learn to become human. And we do this by looking at ourselves in the mirror of our inheritance. By which he meant the pages of the Liberal Arts – our history, our literature and our Philosophy. (The Voice of Liberal Learning, 1989) For this we need teachers, not practitioners, technicians or partners! De-contextualised skills, what ever they are, will never do this for us. De-contextualised, they are like the dried bones of Eliot’s Wasteland!

  13. 13
    kcab on December 15, 2015

    Why not turn this around and let the kids who are ahead attend school less? I know that would result in child supervision difficulties, but wasting time at school is frustrating and alienating for kids. Or let them learn something else – band, art, another language. That raises equity issues, but getting out of class to go do something else at least frees up the teacher to concentrate on a smaller group of kids.

  14. 14
    Nicole Houghton on January 16, 2016

    In the scenario you provided, it does seem rather simple that the lowest students did very little to attain the information needed for the circulatory system. However, you mentioned that time is typically the problem for many teachers as lower students need much more time to acquire the information needed to appropriately learn the material.

    Differentiation is the ability to provide students with different avenues, while expecting them to meet the goals of the lesson. Students at lower reading levels, should be given texts at their instructional reading levels that are of the same content. There are many programs that allow for differentiation using the exact same articles that the rest of the class uses. Teachers should allow students to complete performance assessments at times, or those who struggle to write could use a computer to type. Students should be provided with manipulatives in math, exclusively teach vocabulary, or use visuals in the classroom.

    While it sounds good to use these different instructional materials that should provide students with different avenues to meet the same goals and expectations, I do agree that time is of the essence. Some schools have built in interventions into their daily schedule which could be very beneficial. But this isn’t reality for many. Tracking seems to be a problem in many schools, even though teachers know the definition of differentiation. We as teachers have to find other ways to differentiate and provide instruction to all students so they can all access the material while meeting the expectations of their grade level.

  15. 15
    agnes mcevilly on January 18, 2016

    Has anyone ever come away from their computer frustrated, having googled subject matter one knows little or nothing about? This experience, I think,is the best example I know,to demonstrate the futility of wholesale reliance on child-led/child centered learning? Aistear (Irish for journey, the guidelines for education of the 0-6 year olds in Ireland, advocates a child centered, child ‘leading’ approach to learning, thus discouraging any kind of formal teaching. But how is a 3-5 year old to ‘discover’ what the letter a or the number 2 mean, for example? If you cannot tell or show them? Trying to introduce or build phonic or numeracy knowledge in the context of free-play, as Aistear recommends, is at best impracticable and a worst intrusive. Timing, atmosphere and mood are all essential ingredients for effectie learning. From my experience, children love real learning. Once introduced to the letters of their name for example, some will forego art rather than miss out on this opportunity! Others can later be observed writing these letters/numbers freely as they engage with paper and mark-making equipment. The exponents of child-centered learning, encourage the availability of mark making equipment but not the correct formation of anything? There is a direct correlation between the circular marks 3-5 year olds naturally make and the letter C for example? Is it not a moral imperative to tell young children that they are actually writing the letter C, which may even be in their name! Wow; how exciting for a young child! And to add to the excitement, they can be shown that when they can write C, the letters a,o,d,g and q are not a million strokes away! Not that one teaches them all at once! It’s a question of how the teaching is done, nothing that the expertise of professional teachers cannnot cope with. Incremental formal learning, balanced with a good dose of free play, both inside and out, is, in my long experience of the early years, the ideal approach. School implies instruction in its multiplicity of forms. Pre-School lays the foundations for the full benifits of school.

  16. 16
    Susan Toth on January 18, 2016

    Agnes M., thank you for what you wrote, especially that “children love real learning.” Professor Hirsch wrote (in The Schools We Need I think) something to the effect (I can’t quote exactly) that one much work hard to discourage the desire to learn in children. My experience teaching in high school makes me think that our progressivist schools have succeeded very well in discouraging the desire to learn!

  17. 17
    Whitney on January 19, 2016

    I think differentiation has it’s place. I grew up in a school that utilized “tracking” I was on the highest track and received enrichment opportunities and a well-rounded education from my school. I differentiated in my classroom and allow my students to teach others that need help as well as participate in project based enrichment. I agree that watering down the content does not help the lower tracked students and they do need more time. But how can you give students more time without sacrificing time from other subjects? I offer tutoring before school, but the students that would be in the bottom track and need the tutoring do not attend. I think if the school required tutoring for struggling students instead of tracking them it would be beneficial.

  18. 18
    Ashley Custodio on January 21, 2016

    I have never heard of differentiation as tracking. Unfortunately, I have seen this in many classrooms and at times even my own. In my classroom, I have some math concepts that students need an entire lesson on prerequisite skills on top of the new concepts. Others, need little to no instruction other than one example completed on the board. But I struggle when trying to get those two varying groups of students the same instructional goals with similar depth of knowledge understanding.

  19. 19
    Erin on January 21, 2016

    In some ways I agree that we are watering down our content to meet the needs of our students, instead of helping students learn the same content but in different ways. If we are “tracking” our students instead of differentiating the material, can we say our kids are meting all the standards. In the example given the low students didn’t learn all the parts of the heart and are now going to miss this information when they take test or standardized test. If we start to leave out certain content to make it differentiated then we need to have differentiated standardized test. However, standardized test are all created to see what content students can master. We are only setting our low students up for failure if don’t teach them all the content. I don’t think longer days are the answer. I really don’t know what the answer may be, but I agree that we can’t leave out content just to make it easier. Maybe offer more resources to complete these challenging assignments or work on the material in small group with the teacher. I know this has opened my eyes to see what I can fix in my classroom when I differentiate my content.

  20. 20
    Sarah on January 21, 2016

    Part of me understands how some people could confuse differentiation and tracking but I feel like those people do not fully understand differentiation. I don’t think you have to leave content out to differentiate. I do believe you may have to adjust the content so that it is more understandable for the various levels of the students in the classroom. I do not like the phrase “watering down.” We are meeting the students where they are and taking them to the next levels. I don’t want to believe I have watered it down. Rather, I’m bringing it to them so that I can have a foundation to build from.

  21. 21
    Ayde on January 22, 2016

    Differentiation is very useful, and can be very effective, but the students also have to be responsible for their own learning. We have a program in our school called AVID (Achievement Via Individual Determination). In our case, we have students who might not be at the same level as other students, but are willing to work hard and use strategies to reach their goals. I see this as placing the responsibility on the students, and they are aware of it. When placing these students in Pre-AP courses, differentiation is useful. We know they do not have the same ability as others, but they are expected to know the same material and they are willing to put the time and effort. Watering down the material is not an option, but looking for different and more appropriate strategies for them is.

  22. 22
    Travis on January 22, 2016

    Differentiation is a tricky subject. It is possible, and it can be done in the wrong way and the right way. I do agree that we are tracking some students when we differentiate. However, I also find that splitting classes into different groups is sometimes necessary for the class to run smoothly, and for everyone to maximize their personal learning. Students should all be held to the same high standard and taught with the same curriculum. Some students just may require some additional help with learning the curriculum. The trouble is resources and time. It would be extremely helpful if every teacher had paraeducators or some other form of support in the classroom for every lesson and for every student that needed it. Unfortunately, this is not currently possible. People are a resource, resources cost money, and money for resources is a tough thing to get in education today. I think it boils down to best judgment and knowing your students, “what will work best for him or her to learn today”.

  23. 23
    Edbacca on January 22, 2016

    You stated, “In short, to close gaps, schools have to commit to teaching everyone the full curriculum, and they have to find ways to provide the additional instruction and time that some children need.”

    Is this not what differentiation is? Finding a way to teach students the full curriculum? During my studies of differentiation I have never read anything about dumbing down or removing curriculum, I feel differentiation means keeping the work rigorous but finding a different way to help students learn the information needed.

  24. 24
    Bennett W. on January 23, 2016

    I think differentiation has it’s place. I grew up in a school that utilized “tracking” I was on the highest track and received enrichment opportunities and a well-rounded education from my school. I differentiated in my classroom and allow my students to teach others that need help as well as participate in project based enrichment. I agree that watering down the content does not help the lower tracked students and they do need more time. But how can you give students more time without sacrificing time from other subjects? I offer tutoring before school, but the students that would be in the bottom track and need the tutoring do not attend. I think if the school required tutoring for struggling students instead of tracking them it would be beneficial.

  25. 25
    Sarah on January 23, 2016

    I have an activity I do at the beginning of the each school year called the Door Activity. I have all of my students line up at the door. Then I announce that all students will be given 3 steps to walk out the door. They must start where they are at that moment while standing in line. Some students need to take only one step to pass through the door while others will never make it with only three steps. The point of this activity is to let students know that in my room we will all eventually walk through the door, some of us will just need a little more help than others. This activity is a great visual for students and when I hear students ask “why is that person allowed this or that” or “why do you help that person more” I refer them back to the door activity. Nearly every time they respond, “oh, that person needs a few more steps to get there.” This is differentiation at its finest.

  26. 26
    Madison on January 24, 2016

    I definitely see the concern of differentiated instruction leading to unjust classifications of students. I also see how the term’s definition has adjusted. Language changes every day, and in time, many words as we know them may shift their definitions based on our actions. For example, most people use the word “jealous” to explain their envy or something, and have swapped the definitions of these two terms. This occurs regionally and world-wide.
    The term “differentiated instruction” originally identified processes where teachers modified their teaching tactics, curriculum, assessments, and policies to support the needs of different types of learners. Today, we are debating this term’s value and withstanding purpose. My curiosity in this shift of interpretation, is whether this term for teaching methodology has modified the way schools are run, students are taught, and curriculum is designed, OR, whether the issues in schools and curriculum are being turned to target this type of instruction. In other words, are the consequences, including tracking, due to differentiated instruction or is the imbalance in learning standards derived from other teaching issues.
    I stand by the importance of adjusting teaching to meet the needs of learners. I do see how doing so may have lead to other issues and partook in causing some unbalance in learning standards and expectations, however, I don’t think that a term as well-known by the education world, should be re-defined in a negative light. Rather, we should rectify the true concerning errors in our instruction to better resolve the growing conflicts.

  27. 27
    Meg on January 24, 2016

    Since I love working with curriculum maps I think it would be a great idea to add a variety of ideas in the map that would be great to use with your below level and even your above level students to help them achieve the standard being addressed.

  28. 28
    Meg on January 24, 2016

    I love the door activity that you spoke about Sarah! I think it’s great for students to understand that everyone is different in their own way and we need to be respectful and work together as a team!

  29. 29
    Carolyn on March 5, 2016

    I think that differentiation has watered down much of our curriculum, especially at my high school. Years ago students were tracked and many of those that were in the lower track went on to become successful individuals but not necessarily college graduates. What I am seeing today is an exponential increase in the numbers of students on IEP’s and because of differentiation more and more of them are being placed in upper level classes. The demands of the IEP’s require me to not only provide differentiated instruction, but to also give them extended time on tests and homework, eliminates the number of choices on multiple choice tests, allow them to use their notes on tests, reduce the number of test questions, take the tests in small groups with a special services teacher, etc. The policy pretty much dictates that allowing them to fail is not an option. So many of them receive inflated grades, yet we are not allowed to indicate on a report card that the grade is a modified score. So in my opinion, many of these students get pushed along with glowing report cards, yet they have not really learned the material. I think we can still differentiate the instruction by placing them in lower (tracked) level classes with high expectations so they can actually learn the material. I also do not have a problem with letting students fail. Yes, it can be discouraging, but it is often through failure that we learn.

  30. 30
    Carolyn on March 8, 2016

    I think that differentiation has watered down much of our curriculum, especially at my high school. Years ago students were tracked and many of those that were in the lower track went on to become successful individuals but not necessarily college graduates. What I am seeing today is an exponential increase in the numbers of students on IEP’s and because of differentiation more and more of them are being placed in upper level classes. The demands of the IEP’s require me to not only provide differentiated instruction, but to also give them extended time on tests and homework, eliminates the number of choices on multiple choice tests, allow them to use their notes on tests, reduce the number of test questions, take the tests in small groups with a special services teacher, etc. The policy pretty much dictates that allowing them to fail is not an option. So many of them receive inflated grades, yet we are not allowed to indicate on a report card that the grade is a modified score. So in my opinion, many of these students get pushed along with glowing report cards, yet they have not really learned the material. I think we can still differentiate the instruction by placing them in lower (tracked) level classes with high expectations so they can actually learn the material. I also do not have a problem with letting students fail. Yes, it can be discouraging, but it is often through failure that we learn.

  31. 31
    Carolyn on March 11, 2016

    Ayde, could you give me more information about your AVID program? What types of strategies are used with the students in that program to help them be successful? I totally agree that curriculum should not be watered down as a means of differentiating instruction.

  32. 32
    George P on March 16, 2016

    I would argue that it is the teachers’ fault. We as teachers are expected to develop a relationship with a student in which we gain knowledge of their experiences, interests, and abilities. We then must use this knowledge to deliver instruction that is unique to their learning style, while still maintaining high expectations for them. Teachers also must seek professional development that helps to address the needs of their current students. Gaps are a recurring issue in our education system, but we must resist the urge to simply shift the blame. We must be advocates for our students if we truly wish for them to succeed.

  33. 33
    Shannon on March 17, 2016

    I too, would be interested in the AVID program. As a special educator, one area of greatest concern presently is self-determination.

    In reading through the posts, one area of concern that I have noted is that there is a general understanding that all students come to proverbial kindergarten table with the same aptitude. Having worked with students ranging from gifted to profound, I find it unsettling that anyone would make such a generalization.

    While we can discuss the very definition of differentiation until the next legislative change in education, the fact remains that very assessments with which we measure the outcomes are not differentiated. If we continue to rely on a single tool at the end of a semester or block to determine student success, in which we have only allow basic accommodations which do not equal the methods we have utilized to differentiate the curriculum, then we have set our students up for failure.

    Take the child with Traumatic Brain Injury. The student often has processing and working memory deficits which do not lend to the environment in which they are being taught, especially in the secondary education arena.

    It is of utmost importance to aggressively attempt to narrow the gap at the elementary level if the student has any chance of success in the secondary level. However, even in the most ideal situations, this gap may naturally continue to widen as standards shift from rote memorization to applications. Also, other variables become more important. If indeed one can only succeed to genetic aptitude, then the TBI student has an even greater obstacle to over come. For instance, if genetic aptitude is average intelligence, how then is a child with a portion of the language center which does not function properly from lack of oxygen at birth ever going to meet their genetic aptitude? Knowledge may equal IQ, but knowledge does not equal understanding.

    We systemically, in our pursuit of the perfect cookie-cutter test score, have lost the understanding that the dishwasher is as valuable as the doctor, the sales clerk is as valuable as the scientist and the farmer is as valuable as the philosopher and the human being is more valuable than the test score.

    Not every student will go to college (and that should be okay) but every student can be a productive citizen given the correct tools. Perhaps, tracking may not have been such a bad idea.

  34. 34
    Lisa Yutzy on March 17, 2016

    Through the lens of a high school teacher at an alternative school, I concur with Hansel that Differentiated Instruction (DI) is different venues to common learning goals and essential understandings, not diluting material or student understanding. However, while this blog thread seems to focus upon extended time, differentiating for readiness (and thus extending time as a solution for readiness discrepancies) includes moving beyond background knowledge or lack thereof, to differentiating for learning profiles and multiple intelligences. This is a basic premise of DI (Tomlinson, 1999).
    While Toth declares that some students learn more easily than others, I would push that idea further to assert that many learn just as quickly as others, though their intelligences are not the same. Thus, it may appear that they are the “slow” learners when using traditional intelligences to instruct. However, if teachers provide comprehensible input through the use of DI and multiple intelligences, such as kinesthetic, visual, and interpersonal, students readily close the learning gap. Indeed, research reports increased engagement and achievement in Latino and African-American males through the use of hands-on, interpersonal, and kinesthetic learning (Jones & Jones, 2007).
    Moreover, as Sarah and Erin assert, DI is not omission of content, time extensions, or tracking. Rather, it is utilizing strategies such as tiered lessons, flexible grouping, independent studies, cooperative learning strategies, learning contracts, stations, problem-based learning, group investigation, etc. (Tomlinson, 1999). Moreover, recent research suggests that effective use of DI moves beyond the traditional preplanning to utilize a teacher’s declarative, procedural, and conditional knowledge (Parsons, Dodman, & Burrowbridge, 2013). This involves incorporating purposeful adaptation of DI through the “use of ongoing informal assessments” to guide instruction (Parsons et al., 2013, p. 41). Thus, I applaud Edbacca’s declaration that authentic DI is discovering different ways to help the students learn, thereby closing the achievement gap.
    Finally, true DI involves implementing the aforementioned strategies and ongoing adaptations and formative assessments in conjunction with guaranteeing the instruction mirrors the assessment to ensure validity and accuracy of the instructional and assessment process (Gottlieb, 2006). Ultimately, this provides the learner with comprehensible input and comprehensible output through the efficacious use of DI (Gottlieb, 2006; Tomlinson, 1999). Anything less is not DI, but a misunderstanding of it.

    References
    Gottlieb, M. (2006). Assessment and the English language learner. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press.
    Jones, V., & Jones, L. (2007). Comprehensive classroom management: Creating communities of support and solving problems (Laureate Education, Inc., custom ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson.
    Parsons, S., Dodman, S., & Burrowbridge, S. (2013). Broadening the view of differentiated instruction. Phi Delta Kappan, 95(1), 38-42.
    Tomlinson, C. (1999). The differentiated classroom: Responding to the needs of all learners. Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.

  35. 35
    Will Fitzhugh on March 17, 2016

    “We as teachers are expected to develop a relationship with a student in which we gain knowledge of their experiences, interests, and abilities.”

    Aristotle was able to do this, but he only had one student:
    Alexander of Macedon. Most teachers do not have the kind of time that psychoanalysts do to get to know each individual student at depth.

    Will Fitzhugh, fitzhugh@tcr.org

  36. 36
    Lisa Yutzy on March 17, 2016

    Mr. Fitzhugh,

    Have you considered using interest and ability surveys to expedite the process of developing academic and personal knowledge of your students? I use a Likert Scale Diagnostic assessment to get to know my students. As you said, without such tools, it difficult to find the time o effectively know each student.

  37. 37
    Al Hernandez on March 18, 2016

    In order for differentiation to be effective, there has to be a certain amount of tracking involved. When you break apart a classroom into groups, you are inherently setting them up for individualized instruction. In my experience, I will even have subgroups with in those groups of students that will need even more attention and guidance. There are many limited English language students at the high school where I teach. Some of these students are first year immigrants with a very limited knowledge of the language. This is the type of students that benefits the most from differentiation of instruction. Even though differentiation does not mean individualized instruction, it often becomes necessary to do so because of the learning gaps that most students possess. I have 130 students this year and I am finding it challenging to accommodate each student’s as an individual learner, I modify my lessons but do not feel that I am reaching every single student need. I still find myself modifying lessons so that the majority of my students succeed.

  38. 38
    Lisa Yutzy on March 18, 2016

    Mr. Hernandez,

    I completely agree with you that DI with ELL students is crucial! A question, how are you utilizing formative assessments to drive your differentiation and modification of lessons? Thank you for your insight and feedback.

    Lisa

  39. 39
    Cynthia on March 19, 2016

    I believe differentiated instruction is a helpful way to address all of our students’ learning needs. It’s through the use of various strategies that our students are given more support as they are presented with the content in ways they learn best. Providing multiple opportunities also raises their chances of understanding the content when differentiation is done correctly. I’ve been teaching for twelve years now and have noticed a change in my classroom make up over the years. For instance, I have more students today with an IEP; therefore, it is mandated that I differentiate my instruction and provide the required accommodations as stated. I can provide my students with all of the assisted support, modifications, and differentiated instruction as I possibly can; however, I feel for some of these students it’s only making them rely on provided information in-turn making them lazy. It was interesting to see some people post about the AVID program being practiced at their site. This year, my district decided to pilot it with a few teachers at my site. I don’t know too much about it since I’m not an AVID teacher, but have heard some good things coming out of it. Going back to my students’ needs, I tend to run my lessons providing them all with the same modifications as stated on IEPs. From my experience, this seems to help the majority and reduce number of students questioning why selected students have “special treatment.”

  40. 40
    Lisa Yutzy on March 19, 2016

    HI Cynthia,

    I appreciated how you connected the use of DI as a response to meeting the needs of an ever-increasingly diverse classroom. Earlier posts emphasized extended time as DI. Like Sarah and Erin posted, I concur that DI is not simply giving more time, thus running into issues of extended days or having students fall even further behind. What specific DI modifications do you use to successfully close the learning gap?

    Thank you for your feedback!
    Lisa

  41. 41
    Casey O'Hara on March 20, 2016

    I think it’s great how you mentioned that even the lowest group should be learning the same content. If they are given something simple and is not meeting the skill that they are required, they won’t gain the knowledge in a meaningful way. I think if they were given the same words but not all at once, and were able to start by fully understanding those and then moving on to more on another day would help scaffold the learning while still differentiating the content.

  42. 42
    Al Hernandez on March 20, 2016

    Hi Lisa,
    I use the formative assessments as a means of determining at what level of proficiency the ELL students are at. Often times they may be better at listening and not so advanced at writing. By understanding their limitations, I am able to tailor my lessons to their levels. I also find that some students understand the math concepts but when taking an exam, they will have trouble reading the questions. This lies at the heart of many scoring issues with the our state exams, they can do the math, but may not be able to read the questions being asked.

  43. 43
    Lisa Yutzy on March 20, 2016

    I agree Casey about your comments on the vocabulary. Also,there are many strategies to teach vocabulary through cooperative learning strategies like Jigsaw, Total Physical Response, Quiz, quiz, trade, and working with realia that meet the needs of diverse learners through DI.

  44. 44
    Omotolani on March 20, 2016

    Differentiation is key to meet each child at the point of needs.I observed that it is easier to achieve for a sizeable class unlike a big class size. I have had experience of both and I struggle to ensure that I help each child achieve and close each child’s readiness to stated objectives.

  45. 45
    Lisa Yutzy on March 20, 2016

    HI Mr. Hernandez,
    Thank you for your reply. Your response regarding ELL students hits at the heart of a conversation I’ve been having with my colleagues: creating valid instructions and assessments that meet the needs of all learners through providing comprehensible input and output. Are you familiar with Gottlieb’s book “Assessment and the English Language Learner” (it won’t italicize). From your post it seems like you would really appreciate it, as you already think along those lines. It might provide some insightful applications for you.
    Thanks again for your feedback.
    Lisa

  46. 46
    Eric Zahler on July 13, 2016

    Thank you for sharing. I often hear about this type of tracking used as differentiation in the classroom. I teach in a high school and most of my classes have a variety of ability ranges. I agree that all students need to be learning the grade level content. In my classroom I like to mix student groups with various learning abilities, so that all students are able to participate and engage as well as learn from each other. I do however often give different groups of students different resources. Mostly I use the same information just find resources at different reading levels, so that all students are able to read and comprehend the materials given to them. I feel that differentiation in the classroom is an area where all teachers need guidance and ideas on how to effectively reach all students.

  47. 47
    Vanita Wilson on July 13, 2016

    Teachers who use instructional strategies add novelty, choice, and individuality to the learning. These strategies allow diverse learners to find a size that fits and suits and to engage in practice and rehearsal to deepen understanding through as many learning styles and multiple intelligences as they can. I chose these instructional strategies/methods in order to provide students with various ways to grasp the knowledge of the subject. These instructional strategies will assist me in differentiating instruction by reaching the student at whatever level they are performing at, they will be able to engage in learning opportunities.

  48. 48
    Patricia Tate on July 14, 2016

    Differentiation…a term I’ve heard for years as an educator. Lead teachers even have different views on “how” teachers use differentiation in their classroom. At one point, teachers were having the lower group work fewer problems and the “higher” groups would also get the challenge question listed at the end of the text book. (By the way, I hate the labels “low group” and “high group”.) The top group would have to write a paragraph with spelling words, and the low group would either draw a picture that illustrates the meaning of the word or write a sentence using each word.
    Whatever is done, the ultimate goal is to make sure students grasp the standard the way they can grasp it.

  49. 49
    Lindsey S. on September 13, 2016

    In my opinion and observations, differentiation has worked with the students I teach and the classroom environment that I teach in. Identifying ways and activities to have all students meet the same standard requires differentiation, as students are not all at the same level of learning. By differentiating my small group lessons and/or students individual work I am able to supply every student with the supports or accelerations that they need. All students are still working at the same high standard. The route they take to get there and the tasks used to grow their learning vary. In order to build background knowledge in those who need support and provide higher order thinking to those that need acceleration, differentiation has been a key strategy. I think it is a dis-service to students when they are all required to complete the same activity and they do not have the resources or supports to show what they know. Students learn and share their learning in a variety of ways. It is important that the lessons and tasks maintain the integrity of the standard but also provide all students with the opportunity to reach the goal.

  50. 50
    Linda Shetler on September 14, 2016

    I am new to this blog, but as I read the comments, I reflected back on the 19 years I taught in schools that used an individualized curriculum. Students took diagnostic tests in the core subjects when they first enrolled. Those tests determined where their learning gaps were, and then we set up an academic projection for each of them. They set daily measurable goals in each subject. The system had built-in rewards to help keep students motivated. Time was the variable and learning was the constant. Students completed the same work only at different speeds. I know now that this individualized approach was not differentiation, because assessments were not varied enough, and students did not have a lot of choice in what they studied. Group collaboration was minimal since everyone was working at their diagnosed levels and at their own speeds.

    Three years ago my school switched to a conventionally taught curriculum. I miss some of the built-in aspects of the individualized curriculum we used, but we do have more room for variety and flexibility. One of the challenges is the tendency for a teacher to feel overwhelmed with the diverse needs of students and pressure to get through the material. Along with that challenge is the perceived lack of time to do everything adequately. I remind myself that I’m not expected to do everything.

    At the high school level students are getting ready for college and need to do well on college entrance exams. Sometimes regardless of interest level a student needs to master material. Just because I am intrigued by the difference in how the Puritan writers differed from American Romanticists doesn’t mean that every student will find that topic interesting. My goal should be to inspire lifelong learning in every student. Each of them has something they will be intrigued about enough to be motivated to learn what they can about it. Hopefully students will be intrinsically motivated enough to learn things they need to know even if they’re not totally interested in that subject.
    Differentiation should give students choices based on their interests, and learning profiles not just on their ability levels. Used correctly, differentiation should liberate students to learn, not put them in tracks that increase learning inequities.

  51. 51
    ANDREA HART on September 14, 2016

    “Differentiation is supposed to provide different learning paths to attain the same goal.” This quote is so imperative to learning and academic achievement! As educators, it is not our job to dictate what we THINK a student can or is ready to learn. We are to provide equal and equitable learning opportunities in authentic learning environments. This means that all students should be given equal access and exposure to content standards and objectives; however, the pathway that is taken should differ per individual. Students are not made from cookie cutters. They are all learning and developing at different levels and through various learning styles and intelligences. We should be tailoring our curriculum, instruction, and assessment to provide equitable means for learning and achievement across the board; not just tracking.

  52. 52
    GUERNA EUGENE VINCENT on September 15, 2016

    As educators, we all hear the word “differentiation” over and over, and many would say that they differentiate their instructions for the students. However, I think the problem is that teachers are not effectively differentiating instructions for students, therefore, are not getting the benefits from it. Differentiate curriculum, instruction and assessment is not a simple thing and requires deep knowledge of how to do it. To differentiate instruction effectively, teachers have to really take the time to get to know the students and learn about their lives, their home and family environment in addition to their readiness, interest and learning profile. Teachers will often tell you they differentiate instructions yet may not be able to tell you the name of the students in their classroom or where the students are from, what they like or don’t like. When instructions are created taking into consideration the needs of students, students benefit. However, if teachers fail to consider those factors that impact students’ learning then it will be impossible to effectively differentiate.

  53. 53
    Linda Shetler on September 17, 2016

    Hi Guerna,
    I think what you are saying is that we don’t really understand what differentiation is. Teachers think they are differentiating when they’re not. I agree with you that teachers need to get to know their students in order to benefit them. A key is relationships with students and learning about what interests them and how they learn.

  54. 54
    Lindsey S. on September 17, 2016

    Cynthia,

    Thank you for sharing your thoughts on differentiated instruction. I agree with the ideas and rationales you presented. Before working in the public schools, I was fortunate to also work in a Montessori classroom and see how students can learn independently and at their own pace. The concept of meeting a student at their level of learning needs was a focus. This has since then translated into the public school classroom I currently teach. Williams, et al. (2014) shared that differentiation not only includes instruction, but how students go about obtaining instruction, and the learning supports needed for those students to be successful. The work I did in the Montessori classroom can compare with the differentiated work I now do in the public schools. With the help of professional development sessions, I have been supported in my growth as a teacher learner to identify and create differentiated lessons for my students.

    Reference
    Williams, R. T., Swanlund, A., Miller, S., Konstantopoulos, S., Eno, J., van der Ploeg, A., & Meyers, C. (2014). Measuring Instructional Differentiation in a Large-Scale Experiment. Educational & Psychological Measurement, 74(2), 263-279. doi:10.1177/0013164413507724

  55. 55
    Ebony King on September 19, 2016

    I think that you hit the nail on the head when you spoke of what would be needed to make sure that tings like differentiated learning work. Many times these great new or not so new concepts are introduced to the teachers with limited training and development on what that means for the classroom and and what it looks like to actually revise lesson plans etc to ensure these elements are included. Not only should they be included, but they have to lead to one common outcome for all students regarding of learning style or level.

  56. 56
    S. Hagen on September 19, 2016

    There seems to be confusion between the meaning of tracking and differentiation. I would like to ask other teacher professionals how they move at a pace that appropriately challenges each student without leveling activities. I am a sixth-grade mathematics teacher, but I question if each student should have the same sixth-grade level goals. I understand that I am responsible for teaching the sixth-grade curriculum to all sixth grade students, but I also have students who have specific IEP goals for prerequisite skills. The issue of time is a daunting one to tackle. For example, I teach 55 minute math classes. For 15 minutes, my IEP students are required to work on an online math intervention program during my class. They are not completing all of the grade-level work, but I adjust my goals and expectations for those students because they are working on personal goals. Any advice for my situation?

    Thank you.

    Samantha

  57. 57
    Jennifer on November 9, 2016

    This was an interesting post to read as a second grade teacher. I am always trying to differentiate based on what my students need through monitoring, however it is necessary to make sure that all students are working towards the same target. One way that I have been working on this is by making sure that all students know what the learning target is and what is expected of them to reach the target. Students may work with a peer, independently or with the teacher to complete the task. I think that setting high expectations for all students is also important. Some students may be able to write the responses to the questions that are posed, while other students can draw or verbalize the answer. As I continue to work on differentiation in my classroom setting, I am going to continue to think about what you stated above and try to make sure that I am not just giving the students who have showed proficiency more work and those who need a little extra help, less work.

  58. 58
    Casey Sorensen on November 13, 2016

    This was a very interesting blog to read and it makes me think of my own school and how we differentiate our instruction. For starters, I’m not so sure that I think the lower group was being demeaned with their task at hand. First of all as teacher one of the most important aspects is to understand how all of our students learn. For the lower group, if that activity is providing them with high level thinking (for those students)then I don’t see anything wrong with the way the teacher handled the assignment. I actually think that the teacher did a pretty good job making sure that the material was challenging for all students involved in the activity. But I also understand where the author is coming from. When watching the lesson I’m sure it felt as if only the high level students were receiving an education that is considered high level. In my school we have been working closely with our Special Education teachers to work on differentiating assignments for our lower level students. I have seen many modified assignments come across my desk from our sped teachers that look a lot like the assignment discussed above. I really do believe that all students can learn at a high level but that high level is going to be different for each and every student. I understand that differentiated instruction is providing different paths of learning for students to reach the same outcome. This is why I continue to work with my department and the SPED department to develop instructional strategies that meet the needs of all our students. Like I said before, it is important for teachers to understand their students and how they learn. When we have that understanding we need to differentiate our instruction to meet the needs of all our students. It is important to put our students in the best possible situation for them to succeed.

  59. 59
    Casey Sorensen on November 13, 2016

    Jennifer,

    I would agree with you about making sure that students are all trying to meet the same goal. And this is done through differentiation. I really like what you have to say about making your learning outcomes known for all your students. But do you think the differentiation shown in the original post is doing a disservice to the lower level students she was talking about? Please let me know.

    Casey

  60. 60
    Lissette on November 13, 2016

    I remembered when I used to go to school, there was no such thing as differentiation. The teachers would mainly lecture to the students and then give the students assignments and projects which were most of the time individually. Looking back, I could think of times that I may have needed some extra help or more practice in a particular subject, but class instruction was only imparted as a whole group and either you got it or not. In my classroom, I make sure that all my students are working to learn the same learning target, and what I do is give them the same material but different format. For example, I may print out the same facts and information on a given topic and give the students with a higher Lexile the longer version of the passage, while the students that struggle with reading will have the same facts, but in a shorter passage based on their reading abilities.

  61. 61
    Monica Adams on November 13, 2016

    The light was shed on how some teachers impart different instruction to low performing students. This is very common in the classroom. I will give the teacher the benefit of the doubt that she/he understands the ability of their students and the time was a factor. It can be difficult for teachers to spread themselves among the high and low students in the classroom. I do believe that every teacher needs an assistant because of this.

  62. 62
    Christina on November 14, 2016

    I enjoyed reading this post as I am a fifth grade teacher. You stated “differentiation is supposed to provide different learning paths to attain the same goal.” This quote is so important as it explains the meaning and purpose for differentiation.
    Personally, I have not seen any teachers use tracking instead of differentiation. However, I have seen teachers differentiate incorrectly and in a way that does not benefit the students.
    As educators we need to make sure that our students are learning all that they can. We must make sure that we have the same end target for each of of our students.

  63. 63
    Maren Talcott on March 22, 2017

    I find differentiation to be a challenging thing to incorporate in my classroom. It is the thing that I struggle with the most as a Kindergarten teacher. In Kindergarten, students enter the year with such a large range of academic skills. Some students can read at a second grade level, and others are still learning letter names and sounds. Differentiation for me has looked like each student receiving unique goals based on their ability level. I find it appropriate that each student makes progress at their own pace. In this blog, differentiation is described as different learning paths to meet the same goal. At times, I use this idea of differentiation in my classroom. There can be lessons that the same goal is appropriate, but the strategies and methods of getting there are differentiated for the unique learners in my classroom. If some students obtain the goal more quickly, should they have a more challenging goal? What do those students do as soon as they complete the work or assessment. For this reason, and these questions, I tend to differentiate the actual goal and assessment instead of expecting all students to reach the same goal.

    Of course there are state standards that each student is supposed to meet. And in a sense, those are goals. I look at those standards as an end of the year point. All Kindergarten students should meet these standards before moving on to the first grade. With that said, as the year progresses, students need stepping stones, smaller goals along the way. These goals can look different from student to student. And there will always be students that surpass the Kindergarten standards and need a higher challenge. I disagree that this is tracking instead of differentiation. I do not think by doing this I am dimming the future of the highest-group kids. I actually think the opposite. Instead, I am meeting the needs of every learner by giving them work, activities, and assessments that challenge every learner but look different from student to student.

    It struck me reading that every student is capable of meeting the same goal, but needs more time. I completely agree with this statement, but that is why different goals (stepping stones) help them get to the end goal, but with more time. In all, that is the argument I am trying to make. Differentiation is providing these students with more time and more resources. Differentiation is not expecting all students to meet the exact same goal at the exact same time. I think we could agree that is not reasonable or best for our students. One thing I have learned is that differentiation takes time, energy and planning. Differentiation and personalization could indeed be our path to excellence and equity.

  64. 64
    Melissa Bunkowske on March 22, 2017

    I agree differentiating curriculum is not easy, but is beneficial. I have tried it in my own third grade classroom. Two days a week I use math workshop. I do have my students split into four groups however I do not have them split according to ability rather to personality. I have four stations that my students transition to every fifteen minutes. At each station they are working on that day’s math skill. The stations include a mini lesson with myself, using technology, partner games, and working with math manipulatives in small groups. My students use one another for peer help before coming to me for assistance. I have found that offering my students a variety of ways to learn the math skill keeps them engaged and gives them the opportunity to problem-solve on their own and to find what strategy best helps them succeed. I believe that every child can learn and be successful but they need to have the tools and resources available to them to meet that goal.

  65. 65
    Kimberly Margetjak on March 22, 2017

    Due to the diverse needs of the students in my classroom, differentiated instruction is the most efficient way to meet their learning needs. I have the same learning expectation for all my students, and they are expected to master the same standards, but some students may require different tools to reach success. If differentiation is used to scaffold instruction and build the skills students need to reach the learning goal, it can be effective.

    1. 66
      Melissa Bunkowske on March 25, 2017

      I believe that all students can learn and be successful, however students need the tools and resources to help them meet their goals. This requires differentiating the curriculum to meet the students’ learning styles and needs. As you, I have the same expectations for all of my students as well. I have found that having my students work in small groups and partner share has been very beneficial. Not only are they learning by using different resources and strategies but they are learning from one another. During my math workshop my students look to a peer to help them problem solve rather than just come to me and state, ¨I don´t get it.” Providing different ways for my students to learn creates a learning environment where all my students can succeed.

  66. 67
    Rachel on March 22, 2017

    My goal every year for my students is for them to demonstrate growth. While I admit there are some subjects that are easier for me to differentiate than others, I feel that by using differentiation I am able to ensure that every student demonstrates growth throughout the school year. This blog presents the idea that differentiation provides different learning paths towards that same goal, and while I believe that to be true, I think the goal may look different for each student. To use the example used above, if the goal is to explain how blood circulates through the body, one student may meet that goal by using more advanced terms, while another can still achieve that goal by using more simple terms. As a teacher I know my students and I am aware of their needs, and ultimately my goal is for my students to demonstrate growth.

  67. 68
    Mary Orcutt on March 22, 2017

    Your post brought attention to a major concern in education today. As a teacher in an elementary school, differentiation is a word that will undoubtedly be used in any PLC, intervention, or faculty meeting. However, the scenario you explained is an example of differentiated instruction that is taking placein classroom with negative effects. In the setting you described, the high students were engaging in challenging learning experiences, while the low students were working at a comfortable level and creating achievement gaps. I agree that this is not the teachers’ fault. While differentiation is part of the every day lingo in the school setting, very few are effectively meeting all individual needs in their classrooms. It is a tough process that involves knowing each students’ ability level.

    All students are capable of learning the curriculum, and teachers can make it possible using effective differentiated instruction. I agree with you that we must be committed to teaching all students the curriculum. The next step has to involve showing teachers what effective differentiation looks like in action. We know that teachers are not purposely creating achievement gaps by removing content from leveled assignments because it takes extensive time and energy to plan. The experience you described and the visual model of multiple paths, one goal was very insightful and eye-opening for me. I am curious if (since this post) you have been in a classroom setting with an effective differentiation model? I am always looking for ways to meet all of the individual needs in my classroom.

    1. 69
      Kim Margetjak on March 25, 2017

      Mary,
      Great Post! Differentiation is battle that all teachers encounter. Through differentiation teachers can create an environment where students will engage and be motivated to learn (Fitzgerald, 2016). Understanding that students need differentiation is the easy part, but carrying out a differentiated learning plan is the struggle. I have been working on differentiating instruction effectively in my classroom, and I rely on assessment data and student background. I think one of the biggest things that I have learned is that differentiation does not have to be a several different lesson plans, because the students are working on mastering the same learning standard. Differentiation can occur in the same lesson by varying grouping, activities, independent practice, technology programs, and assessments based on the student’s need to help that student master the standard. As you mentioned in your post, I believe that Professional Learning Communities (PLC’s) are an effective place for differentiation strategies discussions to take place. For example, even though teachers do not have the exact same students, they may encounter similar learning situations and could design some effective differentiated activities to promote student learning. I have found that it is easier to differentiate instruction for the struggling students because I have had adequate professional development and assistance in this area, but it does not come as natural to differentiate instruction for the high-achiever and gifted students. What are your thoughts about differentiating instruction of all levels of learners?

      Sincerely,
      Kim

      References
      Fitzgerald, P. (2016). Differentiation for all literacy levels in mainstream classrooms. Literacy Learning:
      The Middle Years, 24(2), 17-25.

  68. 70
    Dr. Simon on March 23, 2017

    I enjoy reading the post responses regarding differentiation. I’d like to share a brief outline of response I’d completed for a class as a model of the varying ways differentiating instruction could be implemented. This particular response is associated with Student Learning Profile. Thanks in advance for your comments and other feedback!

    To differentiate in response to student learning profile, a teacher addresses learning styles, student talent, or intelligence profiles (Tomlinson, 2010h). Moreover, there should be no mystery for students about either intended learning outcomes or what success in achieving those outcomes will look like. (Tomlinson, 2006). Therefore as the lessons unfold to the next level for learners according to their learning profiles, the results of how to reach the specific content standards should be shared with students.
    According to McTighe (1998), varying instructional strategies could be used to assist learners to the next level of understanding. For example, posting and reviewing the essential questions, listing the knowledge and skills that are to be learned, review or renew on-going and summative assessments, and share rubrics that culminate to show what the results will look like.
    When a teacher honors and intends to respond to individual variance, questions, parts of the project, and requirements should move from simple to complex no matter the learning level of students. (Tomlinson & McTighe, 2006). By the same token, teachers must have content prepared and available for student readiness. Flexibility of time and use of space must be negotiated based on teacher prepared content and availability.
    The lesson listed below takes into account the varying degrees of flexibility needed to complete each task within the project. Use of learning contracts, allowance for specific rewards for competing assigned tasks, and creating quiet zones where students can with minimal distractions helps to maintain the requests of students according to the results of their learning profiles.
    The lessons associated with each task although timed, are simply an estimation of what will transpire as a result of the unit on food history. The next level of the lessons within the unit moves the class closer to being able to work outside the classroom with other learners, participate in field trips, become more active in the community, while teachers share with colleagues during Professional Learning Communities, integration and participation with parents, and sharing results with school building leadership.

    Part 3: Learning Plan , Student Learning Profile
    • Learner Variances Being Addressed • Variance in instructional method, content and product- Using a range of materials to motivate and engage students, Using 21st Century tools for Content delivery.
    • Variance in Student profile- providing task that allows exploration and expression. Encouraging independent use of wiki web site for assignments and collaboration.
    • Variance process and product Using computer program for review and extension
    • Providing work alone or work with a peer options leveled strategies and grouping.
    • Using group assignments designed to tap the learning preferences of each student in the group.
    Grouping Structures Whole group, small group, paired, individual
    Lesson Materials/Equipment/Software Chart paper, teacher Youtube videos, computers, Wiki site creation, PowerPoint application for final group presentations.
    Steps for conducting the lesson:
    Introduction • Goals, Task, Enduring Understandings, Essential Questions
    • Hook and motivate students, Goals, Task, Enduring Understandings; Essential Questions.
    • Create Task Notebook.
    • Hook and motivate students, interactive PowerPoint, You tube video.
    • Lesson progression will take place over a period of 2-3 weeks as a part of a unit.
    Progression • Teacher will briefly review previous days interest discussion on Part 1 of food history lesson between 1900-50s. (20 minutes).
    • Review vocabulary (15 minutes)
    • Teacher will show a video on food commercials explaining the process of how food is sold and prompt student interactions through inquiry. (25 minutes)
    • Students will be asked to write a response to video allowing them to work in groups to share their responses according to visually/kinesthetically learning style/profile. Struggling students will participate using their strengths. (25 minutes)
    • Teacher and students will plan an interactive Wiki site partnering with another student created site on farming/gardening using computers that will be displayed on an interactive white board for class to view. (40 minutes per class)
    • They will be asked to participate according to their shared strengths and grouped with equal representation of learning profile. Teacher will assist in assigning groups based on learning profiles (20 minutes).
    Closing Daily Ticket-To-Leave, Quick responses to vocabulary. Continue progression with Task Notebooks.
    Integration of Research-Based Practices
    • Integration of technology
    • Collaboration with members of a professional learning community
    • Working with families and communities to support student learning
    • Data-informed instruction • Technology Integration-computers and web quest application, LCD projector, PowerPoint presentation, Wiki application
    • Data Informed Instruction- teacher observations, student work samples, and student progress reports will be used to inform instruction.
    • Working with families-Wiki application to post parent concerns and keep parents informed about the progress of students.
    • Collaboration with PLC- Working with and eliciting support from the Student support team, principals and team teachers

    References
    Tomlinson, C.A. (2004). (2nd Ed.).The differentiated classroom: Responding to
    the needs of all learners. Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision of Curriculum Development.
    Tomlinson, C. A. (2010h). Laureate Education (Producer). Differentiating
    instruction: Learner differences [Video file]. Baltimore, MD: Author.
    Tomlinson, C. A., & McTighe, J. (2006). Integrating differentiated instruction and
    understanding by design. Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.
    G. Wiggins and J. McTighe (1998). Understanding by design. Alexandria,
    VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.

  69. 71
    Tonya Tuigamala on March 26, 2017

    You shared a great point about providing different learning paths to attain the same instructional goals. Dr. Wolfe shared that the more modalities you use to enter information into students’ brains, the more avenues you have to retrieve it. Thorough research is helpful in finding different strategies to deliver instructions to our diverse learners. They walk into our classrooms with different learning abilities. They do not all share the same background knowledge or experiences, but there isn’t just one way to teach concepts to students. Instead of grouping them by abilities and trying to cover information within a certain amount of time, teachers can provide extra time and use different modalities to help students attain the same goals as our gifted learners. And as you mentioned, it is not the teachers’ fault, but a systemic problem. We as educators continue to find strategies that are useful and beneficial to help enhance learning within our schools.

    1. 72
      Dr. Simon on March 26, 2017

      Thanks for your response. Most effective classroom instruction is set aside in lieu of ‘teaching to a test.’ That may bode well for district data ‘coverage’ awards financially, but learners suffer as a result of the system appears to call for a ‘pedagogy of poverty’ particularly in urban schools where the pressure for teachers to ‘get things tight’ for the district’s sake. According to Haberman (1991), A Pedegogy of Poverty consists of but not limited to:
      giving information,
      asking questions,
      giving directions,
      making assignments,
      monitoring seatwork,
      reviewing assignments,
      giving tests,
      reviewing tests,
      assigning homework,
      reviewing homework,
      settling disputes,
      punishing noncompliance,
      marking papers, and
      giving grades.

      Recognizing student needs based on their learning styles, creation of a learning inventory, and recognizing their ‘whole’ selves transform teaching from ‘getting things right’ to making a difference in our children’s lives.

      Reference
      Haberman, M. (1991). The pedagogy of poverty versus good teaching. Phi Delta Kappan 74 (4). 290-294.

  70. 73
    Debbie Chen on April 30, 2017

    I have mixed feelings about this article. As an educator who works primarily with students with Autism, differentiation can be a great tool that can help every student attain the learning content in a way that meets their current needs. Whether differentiation means adjusting their workload to their current skill level or allowing them to share their knowledge in a successful way, it should be planned with intention. Yes, differentiation should be used to meet a student’s current needs, but it should not be hindering the student’s ability to grow. We should still continue to challenge our students and expose them to higher level content because that is where we ultimately want them to be.

  71. 74
    Heather Kearnes on May 23, 2017

    I agree with the definition given, “Differentiation is suppose to provide different learning paths to attain the same goal.” It is also easy to see differentiation as ability grouping for a teacher that is just getting started on this journey. Ansolone (2010) states the pros of tracking to be:
    1. Individualized instruction
    2. Modify teaching to the level of the student
    3. High level students are no longer bored
    4. Encourage lower level students to participate
    All 4 of these things are great tools to help students achieve. I think as teachers, we want this to apply to every of our classes. However, I feel that these pros can be achieved with other methods. The cons of tracking are too dangerous to risk for our students. Opponents state tracking furthers the gap between students and lower tracks are labeled as an “inferior education” (Ansolone, 2010).
    Standards-based grading “involves measuring students’ proficiency on well-defined course objectives” (Scriffiny, 2008). Standards-based grading or mastery grading and a more personalized education can also achieve all four pros of tracking. In my classroom, the first 10 minutes is the only time allotted for whole group instruction. The other 40 minutes are dedicated to conferring with individuals or small groups. Students have the choice to work in the assignment or problem that addresses their current need in the content. Conferring with individuals or small groups allows my students to have individualized instruction. Formative assessments also allow me to modify the teaching to the level of the individual or small group, because I have gathered data on the standards that show their strengths and weaknesses. High-level students are no longer bored or completing problems over a standard they have already mastered. They have a choice in the material that they work on each day. Low students no longer have the fear of participating because whole group instruction is a very small part of the day. They are working with a teacher one on one or in a small group of students with similar struggles as themselves.
    This method allows differentiation to become an organically intertwined piece of every day. The standards clearly defined for all. It allows students the time they need to achieve the level of the standards, while ensuring an equal education for all.

    References
    Ansolone, G. (2010). Tracking: Educational Differentiation or Defective Strategy. Educational Research Quarterly, 34(2). 3-17.

    Scriffiny, P. L. (2008). Seven Reasons for Standards-Based Grading. Educational Leadership,66(2), 70-74. Retrieved May 23, 2017, from http://www.ascd.org/publications/educational_leadership/oct08/vol66/num02/Seven_Reasons_for_Standards-Based_Grading.aspx

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