In Carol Ann Tomlinson’s book “Leading and Managing A Differentiated Classroom” , Chapter 1 opens with 4 Common Misunderstandings about differentiation on page 13.
Misunderstanding #4 is described in the following way:
“Misunderstanding: Differentiation is just about instruction.
Reality: Although differentiation is an instructional approach, effective differentiated instruction is inseparable from a positive learning environment, assessment to inform teacher decision-making, and flexible classroom management. To the degree that any one of those element is weak, the others are also diminished.”
I recieved this book a little while ago and am chipping away at it as time allows, and when I came upon this excerpt, I found that it captured much of what I have learned about attempting to implement DI in the classroom.
During one of my recent Learning Classroom post-observation discussions, a question was asked about ‘How often is differentiation done?‘ The questioner then revealed that the ‘vibe’ that they have received is that teachers should be striving to ‘do’ one or two activities per unit and that DI is primarily about these instructional activities, such as Foldables, Cubing, Tiering, etc..
What I am discovering, however, is that, as is mentioned in Tomlinson’s Misunderstanding #1, “Differentiation is a philosophy — a way of thinking…” To that end, I have attempted to make this philosophy concrete by creating a ‘culture of differentiation’ in my classroom with the four puzzle pieces mentioned above:
- Highly effective instructional strategies and structures (that are based on research as well as teacher experience).
- A positive learning environment, predicated on (and supported by instruction of) mutual respect which is built through constant community building and reflection on strengths and challenges.
- High-quality curriculum that is guided by the Ministry of Education expectations for each course.
- Ongoing assessment to inform teacher decision-making, which means that there is continual flow of feedback not only from teacher to students but also from students to teachers.
- Flexible classroom management that offers a respectful and compassionate demeanor when dealing with young adults which is balanced by accountability and adherence to standards and timelines.
Therefore, as I constantly try to create a positive learning environment and constantly strive to implement flexible classroom management, I teach what I know is highly effective curriculum by way of highly effective instructional strategies.
These elements are always being adjusted and informed by ongoing assessment, the continual flow of feedback in the classroom between the students and myself, and the entire process is tempered by my professional judgment as a teacher with respect to
- the particular classroom chemistry or make-up,
- the needs of a particular student, group of students or even an entire classroom,
- the amount of time available at any given moment,
- my duties and responsibilities as a teacher,
- as well as my family and ‘real-life’ duties and responsibilities.
That is to say, to my mind, differentiation is more to do with changing my thinking than simply one particular set of instructional strategies. There are a number of large puzzle pieces that I am constantly striving to implement in my classroom because my primary goal, at the end of the day, is have all students be as successful as they can be.