Friday, January 4, 2013

Differentiated Instruction

Over the last two years, Gaston Day School's teachers have devoted two work days toward "differentiated instruction." At the most basic level, differentiated instruction is an approach to teaching that creates a classroom where all students can learn effectively, regardless of differences in ability or learning style. Differentiated instruction presents material in different ways and at different paces so that every student can realize their maximum learning potential.

Two teaching consultants, Judy Rhoads and Carolyn Coil, led separate workshops at Gaston Day last winter and this fall. Rhoads and Coil belong to the Creative Learning Consultants, an educational consulting team headquartered in Marion, Illinois. Both are veteran educators with extensive practical training and theoretical mastery. Rhoads presented "Successful Teaching in the Differentiated Classroom" last February to the Lower School, Learning Academy and Fifth/Sixth Grade Teams. She began her presentation with an assessment of how much our teachers are already using differentiated instruction. She next examined how using learning profiles for individual students can help teachers customize instruction to fit the particular makeup of their classroom. Finally, Rhoads gave our teachers a number of examples of ways to prepare differentiated lesson and unit plans for their classrooms.

Coil presented on the same topic last October in separate sessions with the Lower School and the Middle and Upper Schools. Coil discussed the following: 1) "flexible groupings"-- different ways to organize students into smaller groups within a classroom to maximize learning; 2) "curriculum compacting"--which gives students different choices in the ways in which they learn and demonstrate mastery of classroom material; and 3) "tiered lessons"--which allows students with different abilities to move at their maximum learning pace.

Why is it important to emphasize "differentiated instruction" at Gaston Day? The answer is so every student can learn as much as possible. Because no two students learn in the same way, great teaching must appreciate and address individual differences in learning style. Because no two students learn at the same speed, great teaching must recognizes and allow students to learn at different paces.

Good teachers have always unconsciously practiced differentiated instruction. In addition,Gaston Day has several programs that support differentiated instruction. The Learning Academy provides differentiated instruction for students facing learning hurdles and challenges. The three different upper school academic tracks--college prep, honors, and AP--is a way of clustering students into groups to maximize learning. But Gaston Day School wants to make differentiated instruction more deliberate and conscious. We particularly think differentiated instruction is important for our high-end learners in middle school. Differentiated instruction liberates our most advanced students to learn more.

The recent emphasis on differentiated instruction supports three of Gaston Day School's core beliefs. First, it is student centered. Second, it is a way of promoting teaching excellence by continuing to educate our faculty into best teaching practice. Finally, it reflects our commitment to having a challenging and relevant curriculum. Gaston Day School endorses differentiated instruction because it helps every student learn as much as possible in a way best suited to their individual learning style.