Differentiating Instruction

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       There are three critical issues to be discussed as we begin to examine differentiating instruction. One perception, which I have encountered throughout my career, is for some individuals to treat students differently. Many individuals believe that all children should be treated the same, as we would treat any other child. It is our nature to think no child deserves any special treatment, nor does any child deserve more attention regardless of their academic ability.

       The second issue I have encountered is, “How do we assign grades, if we are differentiating instruction for our students.” Can we justify assigning some students an elevated grade if the quality, quantity, or content of their performance is unlike the more advanced students? 

       Lastly, the third compelling issue is, “How do we manage to effectively differentiate instruction in our classes, when students have such varying ability levels and we have large class sizes?” My intention is to discuss two of these issues in subsequent posts. However today, I would like to focus on the first issue motioned, the subject of fairness by treating students differently.

       Let’s think logically, we know that the children in our classes are extremely diverse. We know that most students generally learn at a different pace and/or in a different fashion. We know that most students come to school at different developmental levels, with different skills and needs. Most importantly, we also know that minimal learning occurs when students have already mastered the material being taught. On the other hand, the same is true, if tasks are far ahead of a student’s current point of mastery.  In both cases, this typically leads to frustration or boredom, which increases the potential for behavioral problems.

       Think about your initial appointment with your physician.  After you complete your front-desk check-in, a nurse or medical assistant will bring you back for your appointment. At your first visit, the doctor will collect as much information about your condition as possible. It is really a way for the doctor to fully understand your symptoms. Essentially, he or she gathers data.  Based on the data collected, the doctor will ultimately make a diagnosis or recommend tests or treatment options. Everyone is treated fairly, however everyone’s treatment plan is different.

       It should be no different in our schools. We diagnose each child and based on the data collected, student’s may have very different goals. The goal for the instructor is the same as the goal of the physician. Both want to implement a treatment where the outcome results in success.

“Fairness isn’t Everyone Getting the Same Thing…Fairness is Everyone Getting What They Need.”

       Therefore, we must meet students where they are. It is important for ALL students to be successful.  Below is the mission statement in the last school I worked.

Our mission is to foster educational excellence for ALL students in an engaging, inspiring, and challenging environment to become successful, responsible citizens in today’s society."

As you read on, think about the physician analogy.

       In order to differentiate appropriately for all students, it is important to know where every child is functioning and then assess how much the child is learning and how far he/she is progressing. Student achievement should be based on growth over a period of time.

       An efficient method to measure achievement is using progress monitoring. This strategy can help children learn more and learn faster. It will also assist in making better decisions about the type of instruction that works best for a child. In other words, student progress monitoring is not another way of assigning a number to a child; it is a way of helping a child learn. After each measurement, compare it to the previous measurement and evaluate rates of learning. Track the measurements on a graph as a way of showing student success.

       Remember, “We cannot expect every student to dunk a basketball.” However, we must see the potential in every child and truly believe that every child can learn. Doing so will give them the confidence and conviction to see the potential in themselves!

Next time, I will give you my perspective on grading in a differentiated classroom.

Until next time!!           Dr. G.