Content, Process, and Product: Strategies for Differentiation Kenya Weary
Every classroom is readily stocked with a differentiated clientele of students. There are students whose performance indicate that they struggle with learning, there are others to whom learning comes naturally and can soar and excel far above their counterparts and grade-level material, and there are those who are living examples of the students that we’ve read about in education textbooks and perform right in the middle, on grade level. To go even further, within each of these groups of learners, are groups of learners that learn in various ways. Regardless of the many blankets of diversity, the needs of ALL learners must be met, and this is done with differentiated instruction. Differentiated instruction is responding to and focusing on the differences and academic success of individuals or small groups of learners (Borich, 2011, p. 42). Successful differentiation requires that the classroom teachers attend to what students are ready to learn, what they are interested in learning, and how they learn best. The learning day is filled with assessment to gather information about students. These assessments should be meaningful so that they will provide the platform upon which the students’ needs are met. Research has shown that “uniformity in teaching fails many learners” and that the three main areas of student variance are their readiness, interest, and learning profile (Tomlinson et al., 2003). As teachers prepare for instruction, what the students are ready to learn should be a guiding force. Teachers should make certain that instruction is catered to the students’ level of performance. Tomlinson et al. (2003) cites Vygotsky’s zone of proximal development (ZPD), or the “point of required mastery when a child cannot function alone, but can succeed with scaffolding or support”, as the premise for instruction based on student readiness. It is the responsibility of teachers to provide that support and drive students into this zone. This can be done by providing instruction that progresses the student’s present level of performance (Tomlinson et al., 2003). Student interest should also play a role in differentiating instruction in the classroom. Tomlinson et al. (2003) references research and theory evidencing the standpoint that “interest-based study”, questions, and tasks lead to “enhanced student engagement with the task …greater evidence of student creativity, and a higher level of intrinsic motivation”. Students are bound to be successful when tackling learning tasks based on their interests. They are more apt to feel “a sense of competence and self-determination” and are more willing to accept and persevere when faced with challenging content (Tomlinson et al., 2003). Equally important to response to student readiness and interest is response to student learning profile. “The term learning profile refers to a student’s preferred mode of learning that can be affected by a number of factors, including learning style, intelligence preference, gender, and culture” (Tomlinson et al., 2003). Many groups of students have evidenced the positive “impact of matching students’ learning style and intelligence preference” (Tomlinson et al., 2003). As teachers endeavor to provide effective instruction, they should willingly exhibit flexibility in their instructional deliver and in the possibilities that are provided for learning and to showcase learning. Research shows that learning experiences are positively impacted when these options are matched with the students’ “learning-profile preferences” (Tomlinson et al., 2003). In order to achieve positive student outcomes relating to differentiation, teachers must be armed with an effective plan for implementation. Tomlinson et al. (2003) asserts that differentiated instruction must be planned and implemented in a proactive rather than reactive manner....
References: Borich, G. D. (2011). Effective Teaching Methods. Boston: Pearson Education, Inc.
Tomlinson, C. (2005). Differentiating instruction: Why bother? Middle Ground: The Magazine of Middle Level Education, 9(1), 12-14. Retrieved from ERIC Database (ED4097093)
Tomlinson, C. (2000). Differentiation of instruction in the elementary grades. Retrieved from ERIC Database. (ED443572)
Tomlinson, C., Brighton, C., Hertberg, H., Callahan, C., Moon, T., Brimijoin, K., et al. (2003). Differentiating instruction in response to student readiness, interest, and learning profile in academically diverse classrooms: A review of literature. Journal for the Education of the Gifted, 27(2-3), 119-145. Retrieved from ERIC database
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