Director's Corner: On Differentiation

Differentiation has been a buzz word in the world of education for a few years. It refers to the practice of taking into account the readiness, the interest, and the learning style (visual, auditory, kinesthetic) of all the students in the classroom when preparing a lesson. Differentiating by content would be designing multiple entry points into the topic under study, teaching the information in smaller, more concrete steps, pre- or re-teaching, using graphic organizers, providing materials at various reading levels, and/or presenting the information in visual, tactile and auditory modes.

Differentiating by process would be varying the activities, varying the grouping of the students, and/or designing different learning centers.

Differentiating by product would be testing, holding student/parent/teacher conferences, creating student portfolios, assessing skill acquisition by having students design a game or create and teach an activity to other students.

Sound familiar? It is, because just like Molière's Bourgeois Gentilhomme was speaking prose all his life without knowing it, The Magnolia School has been practicing differentiation without calling it such. The fact is that there can be no multi-grade classroom instruction without differentiation. Teachers use flexible groupings to provide instruction to smaller, more homogeneous groups; our theme approach, by construction, provides multiple entry points into topics (e.g. water will be visited from the angles of physics, chemistry, biology, geography, history, economy, art and literature); theme books are offered at all reading levels; as much as possible, activities are designed to appeal to various learning styles; graphic organizers are used routinely; and all the alternatives to testing listed above are used to assess skill acquisition.

Are we "differentiating" instruction more than we are "individualizing" it? The debate is open, as the difference between the two terms is not that clear in the education literature. If one argues that more group than one-on-one instruction occurs in a differentiated versus an individualized classroom, then we are probably "differentiating" more than we are "individualizing". In any case, this is a good conversation starter for you when you next try to describe the school, something we hope you are all doing a lot, as it is time to advertise for next year enrollment.