Differentiated learning is about differentiated teaching

Most of our classrooms adopt one-size-fits-all delivery system which breeds disengagement and detachment from learning and is detrimental to learning.

Nowadays, the students profile in the schools is more diverse in terms of background and needs than ever before. Most come to school both impoverished and enriched by their environment. They span a wide spectrum in readiness, interests and experiences. Ensuring optimization of learning of each one is a challenge for any teacher. But the challenge is not a new one – teachers grappled with it one hundred years ago and they continue to grapple with it today. What is new is the preparedness of the teachers to respond to different learning needs armed with the developments made in the field of education and resources available for differentiating teaching and learning. Not taking into account these developments while designing our classroom practices would be unfair to the children whose learning we are entrusted with.

In this writing I would like to dwell a little longer on how a differentiated classroom works vis-à-vis a traditional classroom.

1. In the traditional classroom, student differences are acknowledged when problematic; whereas a differentiated classroom has individual students’ learning profile drawn upfront which drives classroom instruction and assessment plan. 

2. A traditional classroom is curriculum driven. In a differentiated classroom, modifications and accommodations are made for student individualism keeping in mind the learning needs of the students. 

3. In a tradinional classroom, all students are assessed on a common task which is very rigid in terms of time and “right responses”; whereas variety of tasks and flexibility of time is the norm in a differentiated classroom.

4. Finally, a traditional classroom prepares children more for tests than for life and teachers are more loyal to the curriculum than to students’ learning. The differentiated classroom prepares children for lifelong learning and the teacher understands the needs of the curriculum as well as the needs of her learners. A differentiated classroom is based on respect for all students and equity of learning.

As Howard Gardner (1997) suggests, it is no point trying to make everyone into a brilliant violinist, an orchestra needs top-quality musicians who play woodwinds, brass, percussion and strings. The aim of education is achieving excellence in diversity that we are presented with in the classroom and not homogenization of that diversity.

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