Why I Don’t Like Differentiated Instruction

10/04/2011
A class in a newly rebuilt secondary school in...

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I have read countless books, articles and blogs on the importance of differentiating instruction. I disagree with almost all of them because of the teacher-centered approach they take. Learning isn’t instruction; learning is acquisition.

Instruction focuses on what the teacher provides or what the teacher tells the student and differentiation merely postulates that teachers need to provide a variety of materials and tell in a variety of ways.

That is teaching.

Learning is something else.

Learning is inquisition, investigation and association.

Inquiry Cycle

Learning starts with questions. Who? What? Where? When? How? Why? What happened? What will happen if…?

Investigation is not the teacher providing the answers before the question is asked. It is the process of the student seeking potential answers and testing them.

Learning emerges as the result of information gleaned in the investigation phase associating with prior knowledge leading to the synthesis of new knowledge and, when it works best, new and better questions.

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Keeping a Comment For Myself

08/07/2009
The Bay of Fundy at high water
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I write a fair number of comments on other blogs. I often think that some of my best thinking, if not my best writing, is posted at other people’s blogs instead of my own. It occurs to me that I can take some of those comments and give them another airing here.

Today’s post is in response to a post on The Edurati Review titled Making the Shift Part 1: No More Objectives. I suggest you read it, but I think my comment in response also stands on its own. This is what I wrote:

Over the history of schooling in the US there have been migrations from content to skill and back again. At the moment we are in a content-heavy era precisely at the wrong time. It is the wrong time because we are in an era of increasingly rapid change that is simultaneously broadening and deepening the trove of information that might be considered essential for teaching in school.

This broadening is evident from the overcrowded curricula that teachers are required to present and that students are expected to learn. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg; there has been an incredible explosion of knowledge so profound that the percentage of it that any one person can know continues to decline despite individuals actually learning more information.

If the amount of information available is deeper and wider, it becomes important to increase what one knows. Doing so takes skill, specifically research skill, organization skill, interpretation skill and discernment skill. Students who acquire these skills will be better equipped to determine what is important to know, learn it, recall it and use it.

So we realize it is very important to teach skills and the best way, perhaps the only way to increase competence in any skill is to practice, practice and practice some more. Practicing skill requires something to practice on or with. Potential pianists need pianos, doctors need cadavers and drivers need cars and roads. Students need information on which to practice their skills, and that returns us to content.

The shuttle between content and skill exists because one cannot exist without the other but it is not clear what the ideal balance between the two might be. Sometimes we overstress skill and need to introduce more content and other times, as now, content is over emphasized and there are cries for more skill instruction. The ebb and flow is never equal but it is as constant as the tides.

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