April 9, 2007
Con Position Paper
Since the days of the one-room schoolhouse which combined six to sixteen year-olds in the same space, teachers have confronted the difficult task of responding to an increasingly broad spectrum of student needs, backgrounds, and learning styles. Teachers have struggled with how to better address and manage the variety of learning needs within a single classroom. According to one of the major advocates of mixed-ability classrooms, Dr. Carol A. Tomlinson, the solution now is the same as it was back then. She proposes that in order to ensure that struggling and advanced learners grow as much as they possibly can throughout the year, teaching needs to be differentiated (Tomlinson, 1999). Tomlinson suggests that students do not all learn in the same way. Some process information differently and at a different pace than others. She advises that the learner’s needs should direct the teacher’s instructional planning. Most teachers recognize that differentiating learning activities based on individual differences can increase the likelihood of achievement for all. So why isn’t everyone differentiating instruction? The subsequent questions highlight the major reasons why teachers are resisting the implementation of differentiated instruction in their classrooms.
Teachers seldom receive training in how to differentiate instruction. According to Peter D. Rosenstein, executive director of the National Association for Gifted Children, “Ninety percent of teachers do not know how to differentiate in a mixed-ability setting.” As a result, many teachers misunderstand what it means to differentiate instruction. Teachers think they are merely supposed to create different activities related to a topic. They frequently do not have a clear conception of what the students should gain from the different activities. Often, advanced learners are simply made to do more of the same work, rather than more complex work.
Furthermore, if administrators truly want educators to put differentiation into practice, they need to provide new and experienced teachers with ongoing, quality professional development