In the book, Fair Isn't Always Equal: Assessing and Grading in the Differentiated Classroom, author/educator Rick Wormeli has given middle and high school teachers the book he wishes he had had when he began teaching.
Recognizing that most educators struggle with moving differentiation from theory to practice, Wormelis newest book takes teachers behind the scenes of preparing a differentiated lesson, pulling together the research from a variety of differentiation experts, and offering practical advice gleaned from his own experiences teaching in a differentiated classroom.
Wormeli talked about his newest book and how the principles of differentiation not only result in sound teaching practices but lead to the professional aha moments or mini-epiphanies that fuel teachers to keep going.
Education World: What is (and what isnt) differentiation?
Rick Wormeli: The first thing that comes to mind when defining differentiated instruction is understanding that it is maximizing the learning that can happen over what traditionally happens with one size fits all lessons. At any point when youre choosing to maximize what students learn, as opposed to settling for what they can learn, that is indicative of a differentiated class.
In the book I use the phrases finessing the students for the curriculum and finessing the curriculum for students. I think it has to go back and forth -- so for example, you would teach the students to advocate for themselves by asking them which of the multiple intelligences best works for them or what their learning style is. Now Ill encourage students to advocate for those things in my classroom and in other peoples classrooms. That would be a sign of a differentiated class.
A big part of a differentiation is flexible grouping, but not individualized instruction -- that is a bit of a myth. No one is asking everyone to do independent programs for every single child. Were talking about flexible grouping within the class and making sure that youre adjusting your instruction based on assessment that means in a differentiated class there is a heavy emphasis on formative assessment over summative assessment Emphasis on summative assessment is a sign of a non-differentiated class.
There are some people who think differentiating is just putting kids in groups. Thats only part of it; differentiation is putting them into groups based on something you know about them. So just putting them into groups is not differentiation. But putting them into groups that are purposeful, based on their individual needs -- now were talking a differentiated class.
EW: Does scaffolding fit into differentiation?
Wormeli: Scaffolding is huge in the differentiated classroom. Scaffolding has a variety of different definitions. Im looking at it in terms of providing lots and lots of direct instruction early on -- a template perhaps that students follow word-by-word -- lots of support, lots of direct instruction, and then slowly removing those platforms over time so that eventually the student or groups of students can fly solo and be autonomous to the teacher in performing the task as described by the standard.
EW: What are some of the tools that are needed to manage differentiation in the classroom?
Wormeli: There are lots and lots of tools. One would be that youd get to know the students so well youd know what buttons to push with them and youd then push those buttons. Thats a very important part of differentiate instruction.
Youre going to be required to be flexible. You need to consider, Am I giving them more work or less work? as opposed to -- and the preferred way -- Am I giving them different work? Change the nature of the task, not so much the quantity of the task.
You need to think about:
I might use constructivism at one time, but another time Bernice McCarthys format model sounds good. You dont want to be in a rut -- in fact, a really good differentiated teacher is vigilant against being in a rut.
More on differentiation!
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This e-interview with Rick Wormeli is part of the Education World Wire Side Chat series. Click here to see other articles in the series.