Why should you differentiate your instruction?
In Ontario, differentiated instruction (DI) has been actively promoted by the Ministry of Education since 2007. The Ministry has advocated for the use of DI to "foster instructional, assessment and evaluation practices that support student engagement, learning and academic achievement for all students in Ontario schools". ("2011 DI in Action Survey" p2). Fundamental to the DI strategy in teacher learning was the intent to offer multiple opportunities for teachers to learn about DI (DI workshops, DI mentoring/coaching, online webinars, DI summer programs, DI brochures, and teaching/learning examples, many of which are available on the GAINS website).
A 2011 survey conducted by the University of Ottawa revealed several interesting findings related to Ontario teachers' attitudes about DI:
- Teachers gave a very high rating to the statement, "Encouragement from school administration to try new practices or strategies" (Avg 4.06 out of 5)
- Well over 80% of teachers either strongly agreed or agree with the statement, “I believe that by implementing DI, student engagement can be significantly improved.”
- Some of the top professional learning strategies for implementing DI were identified as:
- Planning and teaching with a colleague focusing specifically on DI
- Mentoring by a DI-knowledgeable colleague
- Working with a DI-knowledgeable learning team facilitator
- Co-assessing student work
- Although teachers felt confident and supported in implementing DI they indicated that developing DI practice requires time;
- Most teachers are implementing elements of DI but some are unsure of the deeper implications and rationale for its use, and of its application to specific grades and/or subjects; misconceptions are evident.
As a result, the Ministry of Education concluded that school boards, administrators, and staff needed to continue their work by creating a deeper understanding of DI (with a particular focus on improving attitudes at the secondary level), which could happen by considering a range of professional learning approaches to promote and foster DI implementation. Additionally, I would argue that this study (along with others like it, such as the TLLP program), contributed to the current focus on job-embedded collaborative inquiry.
I have been fortunate to participate in projects like those with GAINS and DI projects such as those initiated in boys' literacy research on best practice and published in Me Read? (And How!). Some of the best professional learning sessions I have attended were as a result of Ministry initiatives for cross-panel work involving these documents. Me Read? And How! was created as a direct response to Me Read? No Way!; both documents outline a variety of strategies and programs (much of which were about differentiation, before it was called DI) created by schools to respond to poor rates of literacy in boys.
"It is critical that we provide classroom experiences that respond to the interests, needs, and learning styles of all students, and that we explore ways to engage boys and girls equally as readers and writers." (Me Read? No Way! p.5)Research has shown that differentiation works; students respond to an approach that takes their needs, interests, learning styles, and readiness into account.
"In a recent article entitled “What Students Want From Teachers” (2008), students identiﬁed what they needed in order to be engaged in the classroom. Their comments fell into the following categories (pp. 48–51):
➔ Take me seriouslyMuch of the above list speaks directly to the need to differentiate in order to engage the learner. In secondary schools, one of the biggest challenges is engaging the reluctant reader. It's so important to include their voice and choice when selecting texts for reading. In Education for All, teachers are reminded of the importance of differentiation for reading (especially for students with special needs):
➔ Challenge me to think
➔ Nurture my self-respect
➔ Show me I can make a difference
➔ Let me do it my way
➔ Point me toward my goals
➔ Make me feel important
➔ Build on my interests
➔ Tap my creativity
➔ Bring out my best self (as cited in Me Read? And How! p6)
"The instruction that students with special needs receive may not be different in content from that of other students, but teachers may need to deliver that instruction with more support and guidance, with more intensity, and with more opportunities to facilitate growth." (p93)Using research-based, high-yield instructional strategies has become the backbone of our board's BIPSA; ultimately, it's important that we are using the right strategies and interventions at the right time. To determine appropriate interventions and supports, assessment once again becomes so important for teachers. We need to ensure that we are constantly assessing for student growth.
"Effective teachers will, however, vary instructional strategies and methodologies to provide students with special needs with the increased intensity and duration of instruction they may require. At the same time, teachers need to keep all students engaged and active in the learning process". (Education for All, p 94).
Ontario Ministry of Education (2009). Me Read? And How! Ontario teachers report on how to improve boys’ literacy skills. Queen's Printer for Ontario.
Ontario Ministry of Education (2004). Me Read? No Way! A practical guide to improving boys’ literacy skills. Queen's Printer for Ontario.
Ontario Ministry of Education (2005). Education for All:The Report of the Expert Panel on Literacy and Numeracy Instruction for Students With Special Education Needs, Kindergarten to Grade 6. Queen's Printer for Ontario.
Ontario Ministry of Education, Research, Monitoring and Evaluation Team, Student Achievement Division (2011). "2011 DI in Action Survey: Toronto Region Part of the Evaluation of the Ontario Ministry of Education’s Differentiated Instruction Professional Learning Strategy" and "Key Learnings and Recommendations from the Evaluation of the Ontario Ministry of Education’s Differentiated Instruction Professional Learning Strategy".