In the past decades, we have tried it all from back to basics, the open classroom, whole language, and E.D. Hirsch’s detailed accounts of what every 1st and 3rd grader should know. America’s teachers and students are the guinea pigs in the perennial quest towards universal excellence. Sadly, the elusive solution that will solve all of the education system’s problems is long from being discovered.
Differentiation didn’t get gong until regular educators adopted the technique in the late 1980s. The Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development (ASCD) has released more than 600 publications about differentiation. Countless publishers have done the same, with manuals an software that turns every classroom into a more differentiated one.
The only problem is: Differentiation is not proven to work. It is an educational joke played on countless educators and students. In theory, differentiation sounds like a good idea.
The several important factors of student learning taken into account by differentiation:
It seeks to determine what students already have learned and what they still need to know.
It allows students to demonstrate what they know through various methods.
It encourages students and teachers to add depth and complexity to the educational process.
This all sounds great however, in theory, differentiation in application is much more difficult to actually implement in a classroom.
The Thomas B. Fordham Institude’s Michael Petrilli writes about a University of Virginia study for differentiated instruction, “Teachers were provided with extensive professional development and ongoing coaching. Three years later the researchers wanted to now if the program had an impact on student learning. But they were stumped. ‘We couldn’t answer the question … because no one was actually differentiating,’ “ the research indicated to Petrilli.
It seems that when it comes to differentiation, teachers are either opting out of doing ir at all or beating themselves up for not succeeding with the method. The verdict is clear that differentiation is an unfulfilled promise and a waste of massive proportions.
The big reason why it doesn’t work is because it has to do with the way students are deployed in most of our country’s classrooms. Combining several learning types of students in one classroom and one singular teacher to tend to their individual needs leads to a recipe for disaster. It seems that the only educations who assert that differentiation is a doable method are those who have not actually tried to implement it themselves. These people include university professors, curriculum planners, and principals. The actual teachers in the classroom know that differentiation sis a cheap way of for schools to pay lip service to those who demand that each child be educated to their fullest potential.
With this method has come the sad truth that we have sacrificed the learning of virtually every student.
Differentiation may have a chance if as a nation, we are all willing to return to the days when students of similar abilities were placed with other students whose learning needs and styles paralleled their own. Differentiation will continue to become a losing proposition for both students and teachers until then.