Differentiated Instruction in the Classroom Term Paper

Excerpt from Term Paper :

In many ways, the concepts of separating out individuals that are different has been fostered by the construction of the educational format. Tomlinson notes the fallacy of such an arrangement and provides some excellent advice with regard to classroom inclusiveness. "A classroom is -- or at least ought to be, in my opinion -- a microcosm for the world we live in. It is a community of individuals in which the good of each and the good of all continually seek a balance." (Tomlinson, Sharing 189) Of course, to assume that the mere make-up of classrooms to inclusive rather than exclusive would change prevailing prejudices is to overestimate the influence of such a measure. But education should not be endorsing such outmoded concepts as segregation and differentiated instruction helps to provide an environment wherein individuals of varying skill levels and learning potentials can see the value that other members of the class can bring to the fore. In many ways, differentiated instruction embodies much of what is honorable and worth aspiring to as human beings.

'Differentiated instruction ... drives the spirit of the classroom and school community toward critical reflection and disrupts the inequalities currently prevalent in our schools and our society. Such differentiated teaching practices reflect a democratic philosophy, wherein each student's voice is heard and valued." (Baglieri and Knopf 525)

Such concepts as noted by Baglieri and Knopf may seem beyond the scope of educators but helping individuals achieve the most they can with what they have to offer is an ideal worthy of effort. Larsen states "Using differentiated instruction ... educators can help each child achieve his or her potential." (17)

Another aspect of differentiated instruction involves the opportunity to teach the value of diversity. When children learn this concept it helps alleviate many of the problems that can result from insensitivity and prejudice. Helping students reach their potential shapes the attitudes of the students being taught and shapes the images in the minds of the students of what it means to be different and how that can be a valuable asset both in and out of the classroom.

Diversity in classrooms was often avoided because of the delay that "slower students" would cause in the instruction process. As a consequence those students were marginalized and stigmatized. Many educators may still fear that including such a variety of students into a class could jeopardize the learning process. But, "educators should be raising their expectations and associated teaching competence to meet standards rather than lowering the standards for students with special needs." (Hoover and Patton 76) This will inevitably require change and adaptation on the part of teachers but the benefit from such work is difficult to measure. Instead, it is easier to measure the significant unemployment, disaffection and societal harm that come from preventing classrooms from being "burdened" by diversity of learning abilities.

Among the variety of reasons to include differentiated instruction in the classroom today is the importance that knowledge has in modern society. In the industrial age, the strength of one's back was often more important than the strength of one's mind. Consequently many educational approaches hang on to out dated principles that fail to consider knowledge to be the "prime resource in the modern economy and society." (Davies 197) This failure is not one of simply failing to educate about mathematical equations, historical facts and writing but is a failure to teach students to think, reason and work together. Differentiated instruction stresses these very ideas which have reached an all-time high with regard to their importance. Not simply because of the computer-age in which students are growing up, but in an age where understanding is tantamount to living together in peace.

In spite of the important reasons to begin using differentiated instruction, there is a great deal of reluctance to adopt the notion. The consequence has been that some teachers view the philosophy as a fad or worse, as a hindrance to education. There are as many reasons for refusing to accept the idea as legitimate as there are success stories for its implementation so progress to spread the philosophy and get it implemented on a large scale has been slow. Interestingly, the resistance to differentiated instruction comes not from a lack of efficacy but out of deep rooted and almost dogmatic fears and doubts. In some cases it comes down to the issue of humans being slow to change.

What is keeping teachers from using differentiated instruction?

Some teachers see the adoption of differentiated instruction as a leap of faith or as a switch from some closely held belief to something wholly unknown.

'The incremental approach to change and decision making is deeply ingrained in our culture, and to challenge current orthodoxy and think differently presents a considerable shift in our traditional patterns of decision making." (Davies 197)

And since differentiated instruction represents a fundamental challenge to existing methods of not just teaching but of structure and organization, it seems only reasonable that there would be some resistance to the notion. Therefore, it is important for proponents of differentiated instruction to stay the course and to remain undeterred by natural obstacles to changing ideas.

One such issue that causes resistance to adoption of differentiated instruction is time. When implementing a program that is as broad as described herein, it naturally requires not just an investment in time to get the program running but patience to see where the program is taking the students. Some teachers want immediate results but differentiated learning is a systemic change that takes significant time to implement and even more time to assess. Pettig notes that "After traveling on the road to differentiated instruction for five years, our teachers rightfully ask: Are we there yet?" (17) But it is natural to expect some kind of change and improvement in the short run. It is however unrealistic to assume that dramatic increases in standardized testing scores will be showing up the year that the program is instituted.

The fact that standards-based teaching is the mandate for many teachers also leads some to believe that the idea of differentiated instruction is incompatible with standards-based instruction. "There is no contradiction between effective standards-based instruction and differentiation. Curriculum tells us what to teach: Differentiation tells us how." (Tomlinson, Reconcilable 8) Therefore, this idea of incompatibility is a myth not based in fact but based on a fear of what will happen as a result of creating inclusive classes that could potentially undermine genuine education improvement that is taking place in other areas. That is not to say that some adjustment would not need to be made.

'The current emphasis on teaching and assessing standards requires knowledge and skills to differentiate standards-based education to successfully meet diverse needs in the classroom." (Hoover and Patton 74)

In other words, this is a legitimate concern for educators but only to the extent that they are unwilling to make modifications to the way in which information is delivered. As teachers put aside this concern they may actually find that they have more time to spend supporting standards that they are required to maintain rather than having their time diluted and over emphasized on a small, special needs group.

In spite of the dream that teachers are somehow immune from the prejudices and fears inherent in society, it is a simple fact that some teachers are simply afraid or uncomfortable with the idea of including students of all capabilities into the same classrooms. The resulting outcomes surrounding differentiated instruction are largely unknown which results in many "educators have varying attitudes toward and mixed reactions to inclusion." (Salend and Garrick Duhaney 125) These concerns invariably meet at a crossroads of fears related to time and standards requirements.

'Teachers often express a variety of concerns about inclusive education: their ability to meet simultaneously the needs of both "normal" children and those labeled as having dis/abilities in their general education classrooms; the lack of adequate supportive resources; and the pressures to meet academic performance standards enforced through standardized testing (D. J. Gallagher, 2001)." (Baglieri and Knopf 526)

In this confluence of fears we see a sort of "perfect storm" against the differentiated instruction philosophy where some of the concerns that teachers have actually help fuel and support the other fears the teachers possess. Sadly, these fears are extremely difficult to overcome but they can be dispelled if administration is firmly grounded on the fundamentals involved in differentiated instruction and are willing to help teachers overcome the skill gaps that often lead to questioning the legitimacy of change.

When teachers lack the skill sets required for implementation of proposed changes it is quite natural for resistance to occur. This is not unique to differentiated instruction. A fundamental change such as that represented by an inclusive classroom involving different levels of learning ability may sound overwhelming to many teachers. In response some teachers manifest…

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