In his recent Education Week commentary, When Pedagogic Fads Trump Priorities, Mike Schmoker shares his observations of teachers implementing Differentiated Instruction (DI):
In every case, it seemed to complicate teachers' work, requiring them to procure and assemble multiple sets of materials. I saw frustrated teachers trying to provide materials that matched each student's or group's presumed ability level, interest, preferred "modality" and learning style. The attempt often devolved into a frantically assembled collection of worksheets, coloring exercises, and specious "kinesthetic" activities.
"DI corrupted both curriculum and effective instruction." Schmoker concludes. "With so many groups to teach, instructors found it almost impossible to provide sustained, properly executed lessons for every child or group..."
Like Schmoker, I've seen DI be a source of stress for teachers more so than a solution. On the other hand, I strongly believe teachers must assess and address students' individual differences. This is simply good practice just as it's good practice for coaches in sports to assess players' strengths and weaknesses, and then utilize those strengths while also addressing each player's weaknesses.
The problem I've had with DI and, for that matter, so many innovations over the years has been less about the innovations themselves than the implementation of them. In the case of DI, whereas Schmoker has seen it fail in practice, I've most often seen it misunderstood or ignored in practice. And the reason has been a lack of practical training and support--i.e., workshops followed by ongoing, on-the-job coaching to ensure effective implementation of strategies presented at those workshops.
But does it really matter whether DI is a bad idea, as Mike Schmoker insists, or a badly implemented one? Either way, effective teaching includes assessing and addressing students' individual differences. What teachers need, therefore, are practical approaches for differentiating instruction whether or not they buy into Differentiated Instruction. I'll be sharing one such approach in an upcoming post.
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