“Differentiated Instruction: One size does not fit all”
By Chip Meyer and Nancy Kurtz - Morgan County Middle Shool math teachers
Long before No Child Left Behind, the faculty at Morgan County Middle School has known that when it comes to educating children one size does not fit all. Our faculty is aware that to reach each child, each child needs to learn in a manner that can be successful for him or her.
When we were in school, the teacher stood in front of the class, and delivered instruction. What about those students who needed to visualize the assignment by using a graphic organizer? What about those students who needed to work with a partner and not in isolation? What about those students who needed more than oral instructions? In those days, learning differences were not addressed.
Although our faculty has long known there were different ways to reach each child, we didn’t know there was a name for this. It is called Differentiated Instruction or DI. For the last two summers, the middle school has sent two groups to summer institutes at the University of Virginia to be formally trained by Dr. Carol Ann Tomlinson, one of the leaders in the DI movement.
Differentiated Instruction has several key concepts that our faculty is currently studying and engaging in practice. One of the more important elements is to respect all students as they are; every child has abilities and it is our job to provide respectful tasks to accentuate those abilities. We are learning how to informally assess our students on a more frequent basis, so that we can be flexible in how we move on to new topics. That flexibility means that we may have to present our concepts in a variety of ways. Presenting a high-quality curriculum is another key concept. All students are reaching for the same academic goals, this means that we are always “teaching up.” There is no “dumbing down” of the curriculum for the students who are struggling.
There is building a bridge, or scaffolding, of the curriculum which will allow those struggling students to reach the same goals.
Differentiated Instruction requires much more of the teacher than ever before. Extensive planning is required to develop lessons that maximize each student’s abilities and interests. As an example, sixth grade social studies has a state standard that examines how European exploration and colonization has had an impact on various world regions. The teacher could set up four different assignments which would lead to a discussion of the standard. Activity One: Prepare and deliver a speech as if given by Queen Isabella explaining the economic reasons for the need for world exploration. Activity Two: Prepare a power point illustrating the architectural influences of both Spain and England in modern architecture. Activity Three: Research and write an essay on the effects of colonization on Africa from the viewpoint of an African. Activity Four: Prepare a poster showing the various trade routes of England, Spain, Portugal and France. All of these activities will help the class arrive at an overall look at how exploration and colonization has affected various regions of the world. Each of the projects, despite being diverse, has one goal, to help the students reach understanding of the Georgia Performance Standards. DI is not limited to the core academic classroom but in the connection classrooms of art, physical education, and technology.
This is a concept that can support each child by allowing them to work to their strengths.
In education, the idea of one size fits all, is an old idea that we now know did not work for every learner. We at MCMS realize that children should not be “forced” into a box that is uncomfortable, but that the box should be expanded and filled with items that will make each child feel that he or she should not be “left behind." Every day at the middle school, we try our best to make each child feel respected and “worth” the extra effort.