Does Differentiation Work?

Last week I was on Twitter, and came across an article by Jim Delisle. I have read many articles, and few books by Jim. I have a lot of respect for him and his work. In this article I think there are some good points, and some points that I don’t necessarily agree with. (If you have any comment on this, I would love to hear from you in the comments sections below.)

Here are a few things I do agree with from Jim’s article:

  • Differentiation is hard, and at times confusing
  • Education bounces back and forth between paradigm shifts
  • Many teachers are not differentiating
  • Differentiation asks a lot of both teachers and students
  • Classrooms should be homogenous. ( I know many of you will have issue with this.)

Here are a few things I don’t agree with from Jim’s article:

  • Differentiation is a failure
  • Differentiation is a form of lip service for those who want to teach students to their full potential
  • Differentiation is only a theory where teachers talk about doing it but don’t

From personal experience there are many teachers who do not differentiate. They are unclear of what to do. They often thinkdo I need to differentiate the curriculum or the strategy? I know that it is easier to differentiate when the students are more on the same ability level. There is a big BUT! I honestly believe, that if a teacher sees that a child is struggling, either because the work is too hard or too easier they won’t step up and do something for that student or a group of students.

I know teachers have a lot of students in their classes, especially in the middle and high school, and there are demands of testing and teaching to those tests. I feel that teachers who have a handle on their curricula can make differentiation work if they really try. I am not saying that differentiation is easy or impossible, because ultimately the extra work goes on the teacher.

I am lucky. My classes are homogenous. I teach gifted children who for the most have the same I.Q. range and ability. My classes are also smaller than the normal teacher student load. I differentiate a lot. I differentiate not so much the curricula but the products my students create. I have some students who are good artists, and some who love to debate; I have some students who love to use technology, and some who are very shy and would rather not get out in front of a group of people they know and share what they are working on. I think if I had a class of 25 students with varying abilities I may have a different view of what differentiation might be. In essence, in every class you may be differentiating your material for just a handful of students.

I believe differentiation is a mindset. It’s not easy. It’s a lot of work for the teacher, and I because of that it most often fails. I do agree with Jim that there are a lot of variables when trying to see if differentiation can or could work. I also believe that if a teacher doesn’t have this mindset they will be closed to the idea of implementing it in their classroom.

What do you think? Is differentiation a mindset….a failure….impossible task given to teachers from administrators…or just another shift of the educational pendulum?

As a side note: The Ohio Association for Gifted Children hosted a tweetchat on this topic. You can check out the transcript, and resources from that chat here.


3 thoughts on “Does Differentiation Work?

  1. I’ve tried differentiation in a variety of ways; from differentiating levels, products, time, and content. The issue is that differentiation allows for “differences” and is mostly lip service in classrooms today. With the increased pressure to perform, no teacher can take the time to give students the opportunity to learn on their own timetable in their own way. The only differentiation happening may be choice in product and on a rare occasion, content levels.

  2. As an ex-teacher (can one ever be that?) I believe that differentiation is very much achievable but at the moment it gets pushed to the middle of the pile by all the hoops that need jumping through first. Given that it is individual to each child it’s not something that can be planned one year and regurgitated the next very easily.

  3. Phyllis

    Differentiation is definitely a mindset. It is not something that happens overnight. A teacher must believe it will work and be willing to try different methods. It takes three to five years for a teacher to feel completely comfortable with dinferentiation. I taught gifted students for nineteen years and differentiation in my classroom was very successful, but it didn’t happen all at once. A teacher must develop a culture of differentiation in the classroom and attend lots of trainings on how to differentiate.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s