I used to be a big fan of differentiated instruction. It all came together for me when I learned about the Schoolwide Enrichment Model at ConFratute and then helped schools use Renzulli Learning which is a terrific differentiation machine. A couple years later Marc Prensky’s book Teaching Digital Natives---Partnering for Real Learning was released and he even acknowledged me in it!! This also became part of the differentiation game to me. I began speaking and writing about differentiated instruction more and more and explaining to teachers that this really wasn’t that hard. Especially if we focused on student centered learning like the teachers I wrote about in my post, Student Driven Learning = Passion-Based Classrooms.
I realized that when teachers gave up control an empowered students to use the tools they want and meet learning goals in the way they choose, then true differentiation could begin and it wasn’t all on the shoulders of the teacher to figure out how to do this. So you might be wondering why, if I’m such a big fan of differentiated instruction, I have decided it’s not something I am willing to do any longer.
It was Tom Welch who reached out and asked me to join him in abandoning the term differentiating "instruction". He explained, it this way:
What we really need to help occur in classroom is differentiated "learning". This accomplishes the student ownership of the learning, allows for a passion-driven approach, shifts the responsibility for the learning to the learner (where it belongs) and changes the teachers role to what you consistently advocate. There also also many other reasons -- like the elimination of the typical classroom culture of dependency, and the way this allows learning to go viral by removing artificial timelines that ignore individual learner needs, passions and differences.
He goes on to recognize that many teachers groan when anyone talks about differentiated instruction because it just makes them feel inadequate. He shares however, that when he speaks about differentiated learning, and shares the way this shifts responsibility, etc, they begin to look at many elements of the learning process in a different way.
Tom is right! The conversation must evolve from “Differentiating Instruction” to “Differentiating Learning.” Our students will thank us!