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Differentiated Instruction: Implementation and Application

Differentiated instruction is best understood as a process of offering students varied options for learning, ingesting and understanding information conveyed to them. This concept was launched in the field of education upon realization that certain students grasped knowledge much faster than others and that there was a need to offer them something more challenging in the classroom. However, advanced research and application of this method has led to its enrichment as various approaches and strategies can be used. In the paper, I will summarize my understanding of differentiated instruction and how I plan on using this in my classroom practice.

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What I know on the theories and principles that govern differentiated instruction

While differentiated instruction may seem like a relatively new approach to teaching, the concepts and principles governing its existence were actually derived from very well known and traditional theories. This mode of teaching conforms to the belief that all students are unique and they differ from one another in terms of their prior knowledge, language, readiness to learn, their interests as well their backgrounds. In my view, this is what necessitates the provision of diverse options to one’s students. I have interpreted differentiated instruction as a way of delivering instruction to students in a way that closely fits their profiles – where profile denotes the manner in which a student prefers to learn. (Tomlinson, 2001)

Traditional philosophers on education have long acknowledged the fact that learning occurs when students are presented with material that exceeds their current level of knowledge. The latter concept was perpetuated by Vygotsky in his proximal zone development model. This implies an educator must be in a position of assessing exactly what level of knowledge his students already possess and then improve on that level by offering them slightly advanced material. In my view, this subsequent introduction of new knowledge is what causes such good results in differentiated instruction. Most times, instructors find it quite natural to modify and improve the complexity of tasks for students who achieve low grade levels or those who record average performance. Unfortunately, gifted children who seem to be ‘getting it’ are often forgotten as it assumed that they were already where they needed to be. However, after gaining some perspective on differentiated instruction, I realized that if I did the same then I would not be meeting gifted children’s needs. Failing to give them new challenges in the classroom can cause their desire to learn to dwindle. (Winebrenner, 2001) Consequently, the zone development model applies to all children irrespective of how well they perform.

Through several literature readings and course material, I have learnt that differentiation is also rooted on a re-conceptualization of diversity. Since different children possess various abilities, it is critical to always challenge one’s comprehension of gifted and non gifted children. Callahan (2001) redefined my understanding of giftedness because I now know that intelligence scores are not sufficient to determine whether an individual is gifted or not. In fact, defying such stereotypes is a key step in carrying out differentiated instruction. To this end, it is my responsibility as an educator to always keep up with emerging facts on giftedness in order to make my teaching relevant to the needs of a differentiated classroom.

Various strategies I have learnt on implementing Differentiated instruction

At the root of differentiated instruction, is a need to derive the most out of their learning experiences. Therefore, I have learnt that I must ignite their passion or interest in whatever is going on. This means that every time the students are expected to engage in a task, it must be closely associated with their interests. (Tomlinson, 2001) In this regard, it will be my motto to always demand improvement from all my students. Gifted students in my classes will not be left behind because their progress will not be evaluated normally i.e. it will be essential to look at how they started and where they are presently rather than evaluating them on the basis of what all other students are expected to know.(Winebrenner, 2001)

Tomlinson (2001) identifies three areas where one can differentiate the curriculum i.e. process, product and content. These three areas have provided me as a teacher with a basic direction on how this form of instruction can best yield results in the classroom. For instance in improving program content, it is recommended to dwell on principles rather than minute details and this is what I will do in my class. One must ensure that tasks should always be goal aligned and this is something that I will definitely commit to in the future. This strategy allows both the learner and the teacher to look at the bigger picture which is another important reason why I consider differentiated instruction a revolution in education.

Tomlinson (2003) identifies yet another strategy for differentiated instruction that can be very useful for me in my practice. He explains that the manner or the process of teaching has an adverse effect on the level of differentiation in the classroom. Here, diverse grouping can be used as an essential tool where one day a teacher can group class members in terms of their interests and on another day in terms of their abilities or their learning profiles. In my understanding, the reasoning behind such a strategy is to avoid stereotyping certain members of a class as being intelligent or slow. This implies that one’s class members can learn how to develop and improve each other as a community. One particular issue that came to my attention as I pondered over the issue of stereotypes was teaching gifted children. Many instructors tend to place all gifted children in one category and assume that they can be treated in more or less the same ay. I have decided that I shall no longer take on such a stance because some may be highly independent while others need teaching assistance; others may be handicapped while others may not and all this may cover up their giftedness. I noted that an effective strategy of dealing with these needs is by continually assessing gifted children to discover their knowledge and learning capabilities. (Callahan, 2001)

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I believe that the needs of gifted children have long been ignored in many inclusive classrooms. Therefore, in order to change all that, I plan on using a strategy that has gained a lot of wide acclamation by inclusive educators all over the country i.e. curriculum compacting. This strategy can be defined as the process of modifying the curriculum in a manner that suits the needs of gifted or high ability children. (Reis and Renzulli, 1992) Usually, work that is already known to these individuals can be overlooked and greater emphasis given to new and challenging areas. In my practice, I intend on first setting out the overall plan for my curriculum before compacting. I will subsequently back this up with assessment of competencies among students. Thereafter, students will be expected to gain proficiency in these areas through sufficient practice and will then be given the option of accelerating their learning experiences. Through such a systematic approach, I believe students will be better placed to become proficient in the curriculum since their need to learn new things will always be met. (Reis and Renzulli, 1992)

Sometimes it may not always be easy to implement all these objectives at the same time, consequently, I plan on carrying this out slowly by slowly in my first differentiated class. Preferably, the unit I find most interesting will be the starting point to then I can eventually follow these up with other materials. On top of the latter, it will be more organized if I started with material that I had previously taught in the curriculum so as to have a firm foundation for continuing with the rest of the differentiation process. (Page, 2001) In my opinion, this step by step process strategy is always likely to prepare the student mentally for change in the differentiated classroom.

How I can incorporate DI into the my classroom practice while maintaining expectations of the state, district and school

Since the school has a set curriculum that must be taught by all teachers irrespective of the needs of their students, then it is the imperative for me to pace the varying topics to be taught in a particular course. Gifted students can be given time to indulge more in a specific topic so as to make the most of their experiences (Winebrenner, 2001). On top of the latter, I will also be collaborating with all my students on how to pace the curriculum. In so doing, we will have a well prescribed path for knowledge dispensation without necessarily dictating to students the terms of this engagement. The school will be content with the fact that we have covered the entire curriculum while students will feel that they have understood prescribed content.

Administrators and the district board are often responsible for ensuring that educators are well prepared to handle diverse classrooms. (Winebrener, 2001)This implies that they are the ones to decide which teachers ought to go through training classes for teaching gifted and slow learners. However, upon examination of teaching journals and reports, I was disappointed to discover that most administrators rarely provide resources for training teachers on educating gifted children. Therefore, it is my plan to keep researching and interacting with other teachers and researchers on giftedness. This will allow me to incorporate differentiated instruction even without support from higher authorities.

The school administration may also expect that a gifted child should remain in an inclusive classroom throughout the entire day. However, it would be painstaking for such children to be taken through the regular curriculum since this may seem like review to them. It is therefore my plan to engage in acceleration of such students in the subjects that they have specialized in while taking them through the usual routine in other areas that they may not have gained proficiency (Willard-Holt, 20001). Through such practice, I will have inspired gifted children within my classroom to do extra well while still operating within the confines of the curriculum as outlined by the school.

On the opposite end of the spectrum, sometimes, it may be common to find a specific district taking major strides towards the development of systems that acknowledges the needs of diverse classrooms. For instance Page (2001) asserts that in North Carolina, previous standards were modified in order to meet the needs of high ability students. In such scenarios, one must cooperate and engage with other teachers on how they have introduced new programs in their classrooms. I therefore plan on forging a friendship with another educator who can then give me support on different aspects of the school curriculum

In conclusion, I believe that a successful differentiated classroom usually possesses certain outstanding qualities which I plan on incorporating during my practice. First I will have to create objectives and targets that my students can reach. This should then be followed by a decision to differentiate certain materials and to leave others. I also have to decide the manner of differentiation and this implies choosing assessment methods that work best for students. The most important aspect in this kind of instruction is always putting in mind that processes, content and products need to be differentiated all the time on every single day.

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Tomlinson, C.A. (2001). How to differentiate instruction in mixed ability classrooms (2nd ed.) Alexandria, VA: ASCD.

Tomlinson, C.A. (2003). Fulfilling the promise of the differentiated classroom: Strategies and tools for responsive teaching. Alexandria, VA: ASCD

Callahan, C.M. (2001). Beyond the gifted stereotype. Educational Leadership, 59(3), 42-46.

Winebrenner, S. (2001). Gifted students need an education, too. Educational Leadership, 58(1), 52-56.

Page, S.W. (2001). When changes for the gifted spur differentiation for all. Educational Leadership, 58(1), 62-65.

Reis, S., & Renzulli, J. (1992). Using curriculum compacting to challenge the above average. Educational Leadership, 50(2), 51-57.

Willard-Holt, C. (2001). Raising expectations for the gifted. Educational Leadership, 61(2), 72-75.

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