Differentiation

Discussion in 'General Education' started by teacherintexas, Jan 11, 2015.

  1. teacherintexas

    teacherintexas Maven

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  3. ktdclark

    ktdclark Comrade

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    Jan 11, 2015

    Just read this this morning.

    I spend lots of time and energy trying to differentiate LA and math in my second grade classroom.

    I NEVER feel like it is enough.

    Interested to see what others say about it.
     
  4. EdEd

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    I read that too, and thought it was very short-sighted. He points out several weaknesses of differentiation in terms of implementation, but despite his assertion that it's unsuccessful and impossible, it routinely happens in many classrooms everyday, such as with small group reading.

    I agree with his point that educational trends come and go, but differentiation isn't a fad because it's a core concept of education. Differentiation is, at it's core, providing instruction matched to his/her learning level. If differentiation doesn't occur and it needs to, instructional simply doesn't occur. This is different disciplinary fads, ways or reorganizing education such as single-gender education, summer learning, etc. Not knocking (or supporting) any of those trends specifically, but differentiation just isn't in that group conceptually.

    Interestingly and ironically, just as there are educational fads in terms of things to be for, so there are educational fads related to things to be against. It's quite popular now to be wholeheartedly against NCLB, state testing, charters, etc. Again, not supporting or refusing to support any of those trends, but it has become educationally fashionable to be against them, beyond the actual rationale involved in many cases.

    Delisle appears to be in private consultation practice, which means he makes money by saying shocking and oversimplified things. Not saying that's why he's saying them and that he has no point, but I would take this differently than a formal statement from a neutral research group or university.

    Sadly, folks just seems to be making up things these days, and claiming research supports it.
     
  5. 2ndTimeAround

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    It's been like that in education for years.

    Heck, even some so-called researchers do it to/about themselves. I can't tell you how many times I've read an article, supposedly based on research, where I've wanted to go to the original sources and check out the methodology. Only to find that the author had referenced himself more than he had anyone else. @@
     
  6. FourSquare

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    I think this article throws the baby out with the bathwater, so to speak. Differentiation is not about individualizing instruction. I think it is reasonable to provide accelerated small grouping to those who need it, and remediation to those who need it. Can we do it for every objective? No. Can it happen all day, every day? No. But you cannot look at a class of 30 kids and tell me they all need THE SAME EXACT THING.

    It's a challenge. Teaching is challenging. It's not impossible.
     
  7. 2ndTimeAround

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    Read part of the article before that tab closed out on me -arggh. I'll try to finish it using Google Chrome later.

    But one statement stood out - and it was exactly what I've been saying/thinking for years. Differentiation causes dumbing down. I know it isn't supposed to, but one teacher simply cannot give every lower learner everything he/she needs without the average and above average learners losing out. Not in a typical classroom.
     
  8. EdEd

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    I agree. Got to be careful when reading "research."
     
  9. EdEd

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    Jan 11, 2015

    Well put
     
  10. ecteach

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    Jan 11, 2015

     
  11. EdEd

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    Focusing on the upper end of the skill spectrum would cause you to lose the bottom end, and vice versa - unless you attempt balance.

    Before we go too far down the road/discussion of balance the needs of a few at the sacrifice of the many, I hear you. I do think at the end of this discussion is a value call that schools/districts/teachers have to make about where to focus their efforts. I don't think you are wrong for wanting to make sure those in the middle and upper ends of the spectrum get a fair education, nor are others wrong when they advocate for the lower end. Obviously, if we could provide optimal and challenging instruction perfectly to all students we would, but sometimes we only have so much time.
     
  12. EdEd

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    Thanks ecteach :)
     
  13. 2ndTimeAround

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    I think it is impossible with the resources and time that are available.

    I know that I personally could not teach a class where 1/3 were way behind, 1/3 were at goals, 1/3 were advanced, differentiate for all of the students and then turn around and teach one or two more courses with the same requirements later in the day. Not with one planning period per day.

    If I ONLY had three levels of students, three sets of needs with only one class, I could do a better job at it. But I couldn't do what was ideal for any of them.

    For example, I use vocabulary that many students have not heard before. Last week I used "plethora" which was new to some of my students. I've been told that this is GREAT for students because they are seeing vocabulary everywhere. It'll help with SATs and English comprehension. yadda yadda yadda.

    I've also been told to cut it out with my lower students. They have a hard enough time with the science vocabulary without me explaining those concepts with hard English vocab.

    So if I cut it out, I'm dumbing down my instruction. I'm not giving one segment what will benefit them the most.

    My only option is to split up the day into thirds. Present three different lectures, with my own vocabulary changing from lesson to lesson. But then again, students that are working independently while I lecture for most of the class, aren't getting my attention then either.
     
  14. 2ndTimeAround

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    Jan 11, 2015

    ITA.

    I'm a big advocate for ability grouping. It isn't PC, but neither am I. I get the benefits of mixed classes. But I think they are outweighed by the benefits of ability grouping.
     
  15. FourSquare

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    Well, none of us can....but this is not an excuse to do nothing.

    For your example, I absolutely would have kept the word plethora for everyone. Is the reliance on lecture a problem? Is there one day a week where those lower students could be retaught the concept in simpler language, while your higher students do an independent enrichment activity?

    Again, it is a challenge. But I have seen it done in secondary classrooms.
     
  16. EdEd

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    2ndTimeAround I think there's no question that the skill range in some classes and need for individualization is just too much. Sounds like you have one of those classes.

    I also hear you that whole group instruction does need to be lowered in complexity if there are enough students below the mean, and that causes missed opportunities for those at the upper end of the spectrum. My counter would that, in the practical scenario you find yourself in in which you have students that are going to lose out either way you go, split the difference - try to balance the needs of the students you have, not only serving one or the other. After all, it sounds like that's the rationale you have against differentiation in the first place - that it sacrifices the learning opportunities for those at the upper end of the spectrum.

    In terms of across-class ability grouping (not within-class), I think that's a big discussion and probably a separate one, though not completely unrelated. My short response would be that I agree there benefits, and I might agree that in some educational settings it would make sense, though I wouldn't say that would be often, at least at the elementary level.

    Still, we return to our main point that sacrifices and judgement calls will need to be made - which ones are made is probably best done after a lot of thought with progress monitoring and holding oneself accountable to results along the way.
     
  17. otterpop

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    Jan 11, 2015

    I also really support ability grouping.
     
  18. Tyler B.

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    I would encourage advocates of ability grouping to study the literature on the subject and consider other ways of grouping. The potential of doing unnecessary harm to the low groups can be avoided.

    Part of the reason elementary teachers ability group is that they think they need to teach "reading skills" when mostly they need to make sure students learn to love reading.
     
  19. EdEd

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    For folks other than Tyler and I, I'll refer back to one of Tyler's threads for our responses to each other about ability grouping and the literature. I believe it had "ability grouping" in the title or something similar.

    What's new, though, Tyler is your comment about teachers not needing to teach reading groups, or that "most" of the task of teaching reading involves inspiration of love to read as opposed to teaching skills.

    I'd wholeheartedly disagree, and refer you to the results of the "whole language movement" a while back in support. Since, there has been a wave of research that has concluded many things, one of the most fundamental being that direct, explicit instruction with basic reading skills is absolutely crucial for kids that are struggling readers.

    There's no doubt motivation is important, but all too often kids who are low performing aren't blamed as being lazy or uninterested, when in reality they can't access the text in question because they don't have the skills to read it. In short, yes - we definitely want to inspire kids to love reading, but one of the best ways to do this - with struggling readers - is to empower them with the skills to actually engage in the task.

    As with our last conversation, there are also going to be students who don't struggle with basic skills, and I'd say that teachers can spend more time with those students on motivation and inspirational activities, though I'd also encourage teachers to not simply stop skill instruction just because they've mastered basic skills. I think all students should be pushed.
     
  20. Tyler B.

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    I think we agree that students who don't need to be taught reading skills shouldn't have lessons in reading skills. However, most reading programs set a course of skills that young readers should be taught. These are laid out in teachers' editions that pretty much encourages a teacher to group students by ability.

    What a teacher should do is to bring students through age-appropriate and engaging literature then remove any blocks to comprehension as they come up. This way a teacher only teaches skills that actually need to be taught.

    When my daughter entered kindergarten, she was already reading. Her teacher told her to sound out every word (a reading skill). Instead of using sight words, picture clues and background knowledge, my very complaint child stopped at each word and tried to sound it out. This slowed her down so much, her comprehension regressed by 6 months. The very well-intentioned teacher was following the TE.


    "Implications are that treatments using classroom books produced significantly higher comprehension scores than workbook practice or extending basal treatments."
    Instructional Approaches That Significantly Increase Reading Comprehension
    Cathy Collins Block Sheri R. Parris, Kelly L. Reed, Cinnamon S. Whiteley, Maggie D. Cleveland
    2009 American Psychological Association
     
  21. gr3teacher

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    The smaller the range of abilities in the class, the more attention at their level that students will get. This should be more or less self-explanatory. I'm not going to say that differentiation doesn't work, but I'll just say that being a high student in a class with a wide range of abilities is a miserable existence with a near-guarantee that the teacher will barely acknowledge your existence.
     
  22. EdEd

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    It sounds like your main comment here is that kids should only be taught skills they need to be taught. I agree. Basals don't force teachers to do this - curriculum pacing guides from districts, and district mandates, do. It doesn't make sense to choose whole group instruction over small group instruction because teachers may inadvertently choose to teach redundant skills in small group instruction. I think good, effective teachers know how to not do this.
     
  23. Pashtun

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    I would think that student mastery of the skills would even trump the district mandates and pacing guides....even according to most districts, no?
     
  24. a2z

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    Being able to sound out words, segment, blend, and manipulate sounds in word and print is beneficial to almost every student, even those who are able to read above grade level using whole word or sight words because these skills become essential when being confronted with more complex words when reading more complex texts. For some their ceiling hits at about 5th grade and others hit it in HS or college making reading texts or articles that contain un-common or content specific vocabulary much more difficult.

    I'm sure your child's comprehension rebounded quickly.

    It may be that the method the teacher chose to use to teach your child those skills was not the best method for your child, but that doesn't make the skill she was insisting your child demonstrate and practice is not extremely important.

    Now, there are kids that will automatically pick the skills up on their own eventually, but too much of teaching is relying on that at this point.
     
  25. Backroads

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    This is more of a vague idealistic statement from my end rather than a true comment directly on the article but...

    My personal philosophy of teaching is to focus on the basics. Some might say that is focusing on the lower/mid kids, but I do think with the right skills students can go as far as they'd like on their own terms.

    So I suppose I don't focus that much on the higher kids.
     
  26. 2ndTimeAround

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    ITA. Or you get to play "teacher's helper" and do her job for her by explaining things to your classmates.

    time after time I see comments how mixed groups harm the lower learners. I don't believe it to be true, but even if it was, is harming the average and above average student any better?
     
  27. 2ndTimeAround

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    Which is why you should be placed with kids that need help with the basics and the higher kids need to be placed with teachers that actually help them.
     
  28. gr3teacher

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    NO. ALL kids need a teacher that focuses on their needs. If the high kids could do that well without you, they'd be sitting at home studying on their own. Just because they don't need "the basics" does not mean they don't need their needs met. High kids need to be challenged, they need to be accelerated, they need to be encouraged to dig deeper into concepts... and as a second grade teacher, you should know as well as anybody that even the brightest, most gifted, most driven seven year olds need guidance, direction, and other forms of assistance.

    As a third grade teacher of gifted students, I want second grade teachers to introduce multiplication to the gifted kiddos. I want second grade teachers to help kids reading on a fourth grade level (or higher) to fully process this more advanced text. I want them to help students identify deeper themes within text. Heck... my life would be a lot easier if second grade teachers did ABSOLUTELY NOTHING for gifted kiddos other than make them write a paragraph now and then about their mathematical thought processes.

    Sorry... not meant to be a rant towards you specifically, it's just that I get too many kids who have had second grade teachers that decided the students didn't really need anything, and could just read a book all day.
     
  29. Pashtun

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    To your first part. This should receive as much focus by speial education, lawyers, IEPs, specific laws, advocates..etc as all the "other" students in special ed programs.

    These students should be the focus of activities as much as the struggling and middle students.

    I believe all 4 math operations and fractions should be introduced from 1st grade on.
     
  30. a2z

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    That's a loaded question that would have to have the comparison clarified in much more detail than the open-ended question that it is.

    Better for the individual? How far behind are the lower kids? Better for the community? Better for society? Financially better? Ethically better?
     
  31. 2ndTimeAround

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    Without ignoring the average kid. Average students are the ones that are woefully left behind around here. Heaven forbid you are an average kid of color, a poor average kid or an average kid whose parents aren't friends with someone on the school board.
     
  32. Pashtun

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    I believe they all deserve equal attention. Where I work, "gifted and talented" students get by far the least amount of focus, "average" students get tons of it.
     
  33. Tyler B.

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    You and I agree again. However, it does make sense to choose whole group instruction for these benefits:

    - One masterfully-planned lesson instead of 3 or 4 rushed small group lessons that depend on some publisher's idea of what your kids need.

    - An ability to monitor the whole class at once so remediation and acceleration can happen as needed.

    - Thematic lessons so the writing, reading, science, math and social studies can all mesh together in a way that excites children.

    - No anxious parents worrying about what group their child is placed in.
     
  34. Backroads

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    Oh, I give them the needed attention and I do not let them just read a book all day. But too often I see people going out of their ways to make fancy things to impress higher students without actually teaching them anything instead of honing and improving the skills they need to learn. THIS is teaching them the basics. Discussing things IS the basics It maybe on a higher level than the lower kids, but it is still the basics. But I'm not going to ignore the skills they need to perfect and take beyond just so everyone can bask in their giftedness without actually teaching them a darn thing. These are basic skills EVERYONE needs regardless of their educational level.

    Sorry if that thought was misunderstood.
     
  35. bella84

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    I totally agree with this. In one of my grad school classes, we discussed how this isn't likely to happen until parents of gifted kids demand it in a fashion similar to how parents of children with disabilities made a big fuss (rightfully so) back in day.

    I think my school does a really good job of focusing on students of all abilities. While we don't completely ability group, we form classes so that most fall on one of the following spectrums: low to average or average to high. It's extremely rare for a teacher to have a class of low to high. All of our gifted students are clustered in classes together with few to no low students (although there are many average students). Our low kids are in classes with other low kids and average kids. Being a teacher with a low end class, I can say that it's tough to meet all of their needs when there are so many of them. Regardless, I do believe that the ability grouping definitely makes differentiation for whole-group lessons easier on the teacher. Differentiating for small group lessons should be possible in any class, regardless of the abilities of the students.
     
  36. Backroads

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    My previous school was a wonder at differentiation. I believe the school applied for a certain grant to create an amazing program. It's what made me love differentiation. We had the lower kiddos helped, the higher kids branching out, the average kids getting noticed...

    I'm rather sad my new school doesn't have such a program.
     
  37. bella84

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    I've been enjoying reading many of the points everyone has made in this thread. However, I'm afraid I have to disagree with some of these points.

    I typically hold 2-3 small reading groups per day, along with one whole-group reading lesson. I don't follow a publisher's guide for any of my lessons, whether small group or whole group. I honestly don't think most effective teachers do. The only exceptions I can think of would be those who are mandated to follow the teacher's guide by their district and those who are new to teaching. Also, while I did feel rushed at one time in my career and still do from time to time, I generally take the time I need, and if I don't get to all of my planned groups on any given day, I just revise the group schedule for the next day.

    I also think that most teachers can monitor their class doing independent activities during their small group instruction time. I feel like I am better able to monitor my students understanding of new skills and content when I work with them in small groups than during whole group instruction.

    Finally, I've always been really pro-thematic units where all of the content was meshed in with the skills instruction. However, that's all my school does now, at least when it comes to ELA and science or social studies (math is still on it's own). I HATE it!!!! It sounds good, but we're just not teaching the skills that most in my class (again, a class on the lower end of the spectrum) needs. Since we don't have a required project or assessment for our current unit, I scrapped what our curriculum says I should be having the kids write about, and I decided to do a project that meets the same writing standards but is about different content. Some of my most reluctant writers are actually telling me that they are enjoying writing now! They are learning the skills and are having a lot more fun with it than when they are required to write about the science or social studies topic we were studying. I think thematic units have a place, but I'm opposed to making them the gold standard, at least in the primary grades.
     
  38. Backroads

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    I'm rather neutral on thematic units. I like the idea, when push comes to shove I'd really just like to focus on skills in purity. That's not to say many a cross-over option doesn't come up that isn't wonderful, but a thematic unit for its own sake can sometimes be a waste of time.
     
  39. teacherintexas

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    My district would probably say student mastery is their goal, but would pitch a hissy fit if we were off the pacing guide more than just a bit.
     
  40. Pashtun

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    So if you could show "data" that your students had mastered a standard, would you be able to deviate from the pacing guide or would they make you stick to it?
     
  41. teacherintexas

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    The pacing guide is practically written in stone so I wouldn't hold my breath.
     

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