Academic journal article New England Reading Association Journal

Differentiated Instruction: How Are Design, Essential Questions in Learning, Assessment, and Instruction Part of It?

Academic journal article New England Reading Association Journal

Differentiated Instruction: How Are Design, Essential Questions in Learning, Assessment, and Instruction Part of It?

Article excerpt

Differentiated instruction: How are design, essential questions in learning, assessment, and instruction part of it?

The authors of the books reviewed here have different perspectives on differentiated instruction. Wormeli (2008) points out that differentiated instruction is preparing students for a variety of learning and life situations they will encounter. In part differentiated instruction is adjusting both the curriculum and students' skills to promote dexterity, critical during students' formal schooling (p. 9).

Perhaps, a simple way of looking at differentiated instruction, from the various perspectives, practices, definitions, and protocols discussed in all the books is that differentiated instruction is about making space, making space for meeting the individual needs of students to become even more powerful readers, making space for varied ways of demonstrating learning and achievement, making space for students to build knowledge of the world through questions that engage their imagination, and making space for practitioners to continue their own learning to refine instruction so that each student has opportunities to learn and show achievement.

Tomlinson, C.A., & McTighe, J. (2006). Integrating differentiated instruction + understanding by design. 200 pp. Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development. ISBN 978-1-4166-0284-2

In their engaging book, Tomlinson and McTighe argue that differentiated instruction and backward planning go together. Combining them is the foundation of instruction in a sound curriculum. With backward planning teachers establish outcomes, what they envision students are able to do and know as a result of the instruction and learning. They design various kinds of evidence to demonstrate that learning, and finally, devise and revise instruction that enables students to achieve the outcomes. The authors focus their discussion on how each stage works, in a diverse classroom, complete with templates for thinking, talking, planning, and instruction. They explain the teaching involved, including grouping, assessment, and recording and reporting achievement. The authors outline simple principles, or axioms, based on current best understandings of teaching and learning, and then provide a lengthy classroom vignette illustrating one. "Simply put, quality classrooms evolve around powerful knowledge that works for each student" (p. 3). The goal of backward planning is "guiding application of sound principles of curriculum design" (p. 2) and the goal of differentiated instruction is "ensuring that teachers focus on processes and procedures that ensure effective learning for varied individuals" (p. 3). The book is a practical guide showing how the two work together.

Tomlinson and McTighe acknowledge the challenge of addressing curricular outcomes and note findings of researchers who examined 160 national state-level standards that yielded 255 standards and 3,968 benchmarks. The researchers calculated that with 30 minutes of instructional time allocated for each one, thousands of extra hours of school would be needed for students to learn them all. The question the authors address is: How can teachers make time and instruction count? What is essential? What does the most work to deal with so many demands? The authors present ideas that will challenge readers, perhaps provoke opposing views. In their chapter devoted to teaching in academically diverse classrooms they tackle the issue on the pressure of covering content that teachers frequently talk about while lamenting the lack of time. The authors play with the word "cover," meaning to skim the surface, and propose a new job description of uncovering content. "When we speak of uncovering content, we refer to teaching methods that go into depth to engage students in making meaning of content" (p. 28).

To become "uncoverers" of content the authors begin with generating essential questions, and determining outcomes based on what they call "six facets of thinking as part of learning experiences" (p. …

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