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Differentiation and the Brain

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Students are becoming more academically and culturally diverse, making it more important than ever to shift away from a one-size-fits-all approach and toward differentiated instruction. The second edition of this best-selling book will help you create truly effective, brain-friendly classrooms for all learners. The authors share an array of updated differentiated instruction examples, scenarios, and exercises, as well as the latest educational psychology research from cognitive psychology, neuroscience, and pedagogy.

Learn more about teaching diverse learners using brain-based learning strategies:

  • Explore how the brain learns and approaches to differentiated instruction.
  • Sharpen your knowledge of developmental cognitive neuroscience and educational psychology to teach the best content in the best possible way.
  • Use the knowledge of educational neuroscience (neuroeducation) to benefit the students you teach.
  • Design and implement strategies for effective differentiated instruction.
  • Create a positive and productive learning environment that supports diversity in the classroom.

A joint publication of ASCD and Solution Tree

Contents:
Introduction
Chapter 1: The Nonnegotiables of Effective Differentiation
Chapter 2: Mindset, Learning Environment, and Differentiation
Chapter 3: Curriculum and Differentiation
Chapter 4: Classroom Assessment and Differentiation
Chapter 5: Differentiating in Response to Student Readiness
Chapter 6: Differentiating in Response to Student Interest
Chapter 7: Differentiating in Response to Student Learning Profile
Chapter 8: Managing a Differentiated Classroom
References and Resources
Index

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Chapter 1

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C H A P T E R

1

The Nonnegotiables of

Effective Differentiation

It seems awkward to even have to discuss the idea of differentiating curriculum and instruction to meet the needs of different kinds of learners, but the reality is that too many classrooms are still teaching with the focus of “one for all and all for one.” . . . Traditional school structures . . . make the idea of differentiating to maximize learning a mountain still to be climbed. But we must [climb it].

—H. Lynn Erickson

At an education conference focused on teaching and learning, a veteran teacher shared that she was teaching a multi-age class for the first time in her twenty-plus-year career as an educator.

“That must be quite an adjustment for you,” said the younger educator seated beside her. The more senior teacher reflected for just a moment and responded, “Actually, it really hasn’t been an adjustment for me. I’ve taught a multi-age classroom every year. But this is just the first time someone put the sign on my door.”

 

Chapter 2

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2

Mindset, Learning

Environment, and

Differentiation

If children recognize that we have seen their genius, who they really are, they will have the confidence and resilience to take risks in learning. I am convinced that many learning and social difficulties would disappear if we learned to see the genius in each child and then created a learning environment that encourages it to develop.

—Steven Levy

Hopefully, most teachers have had those days or moments of sheer professional joy when something clicks in the classroom or for a particular student and it is, at least for a time, undeniable that teaching can possess and be possessed by magic. No doubt most teachers have also had their share of moments during which the mountain that is teaching seems too high to climb. Both of these are outlier moments—the former leading us to conclude that all our students are brilliant, and the latter, that they are all beyond our reach.

In less manic or depressive moments, our attitudes (which evolve unconsciously and over time) shape our reactions to students. Some of us, for instance, are drawn to students who are quiet and compliant, while others gravitate to students who are full of surprises and challenges. Some of us may work more easily with boys, while others find it easier to work with girls. Sometimes teachers have difficulty seeing the world through the eyes of students who have economic backgrounds or cultures that differ markedly from their own. These sorts of preferences or limitations can certainly bear on teaching effectiveness. The more aware we are of such feelings, the more

 

Chapter 3

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3

Curriculum and

Differentiation

Overall, learner-centered environments include teachers who are aware that learners construct their own meanings, beginning with the beliefs, understandings, and cultural practices they bring to the classroom. If teaching is conceived as constructing a bridge between the subject matter and the student, learnercentered teachers keep a constant eye on both ends of the bridge.

—National Research Council

Curriculum and instruction are tightly intertwined in the classroom. The nature of what we teach (curriculum) sharply affects the impact of how we teach (differentiation). Creating multiple pathways for students to work with insipid or ill-defined curriculum is hardly worth the effort. In addition, the quality of the curriculum communicates clearly to students our level of regard for them and their potential. A strong curriculum is also a teacher’s ally in enlisting student motivation to learn. If the curriculum is flat or uninspired, or lacks meaning, it’s difficult for any other classroom element to be dynamic and robust.

 

Chapter 4

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4

Classroom Assessment and Differentiation

Most kids never talk about it, but a lot of the time bad grades make them feel dumb, and almost all the time it’s not true. And good grades can make other kids think that they’re better, and that’s not true either. And then all the kids start competing and comparing. The smart kids feel smarter and better and get all stuck-up, and the regular kids feel stupid and like there’s no way to ever catch up.

And the people who are supposed to help kids . . . they don’t.

—Andrew Clements

Teachers often use assessment predominantly to determine who got what was taught and who did not get it, so they can record a lengthy string of grades to back up what appears on report cards. Often, teachers are required to post grades daily on school websites to let parents know how their children are doing. As a result, assessment becomes almost synonymous with grading, and teachers lament, “If I don’t grade the work, the students won’t do it.” Both teachers and students begin to see assessment as a system to mete out rewards and punishment. Some students become acclimated to continual rewards and balk when the supply of them is threatened. Other students accept assessment data as evidence that they will never succeed in school, and their motivation to continue to put forth the effort to learn erodes and ultimately disappears.

 

Chapter 5

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5

Differentiating in

Response to Student

Readiness

Homogeneous curricula and materials are problematic enough if all learners are from a single language and cultural background, but they are indefensible given the great diversity in today’s classrooms, which requires a different conception of curricula and a different approach to materials. Differentiation and individualization are not a luxury in this context. They’re a necessity.

—Aida Walqui

The term readiness refers to an individual’s current proximity to or proficiency with a specific set of essential knowledge, understanding, and skills for a particular segment of study. For example, if a second grader is expected to write a coherent paragraph with a main idea and related details, a student who cannot yet write a complete sentence is not yet ready to write paragraphs. By contrast, a classroom peer who loves writing and keeps a notebook of stories she writes in her spare time comes to the task of writing a coherent paragraph at a very advanced readiness level. In fact, her level of readiness suggests the task might be pointless for her because it will probably not extend her capacity as a writer. Said another way, teachers who pay attention to the variance in students’ readiness levels ask themselves the question, “What is the degree of match between the student’s current level of knowledge, understanding, and skills and what he or she will be asked to do today (or this week, or in this unit)?”

 

Chapter 6

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6

Differentiating in Response to

Student Interest

It is wasteful to teach someone who is not interested and so is not motivated. . . .

It is not enough for the information to be clear and rational; it also has to be interesting. Learning has to be engaging and rewarding for students to learn.

—Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, Kevin Rathunde, and Samuel Whalen

When teaching is often equated with preparing for standardized tests, it would be easy to conclude student interests have no place in the classroom, unless a student happens to be interested in some portion of the prescribed agenda. Research, our own personal experience, and classroom observation, however, indicate student interests are anything but tangential to learning

(Amabile, 1983, 1996; Bruner, 1961; Csikszentmihalyi, 1990; Walkington,

Milan, & Howell, 2014). Student interests are conduits to motivation, relevance, and understanding. They even affect whether a struggling student will remain in school or become one of the increasing number of dropouts. One study asks nearly two thousand adolescents why they left school (Gould &

 

Chapter 7

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7

Differentiating in

Response to Student

Learning Profile

If she only knew . . . that I like to make stuff during science class, she would let us make rockets like Mrs. Bagen’s class. Instead, we read about rockets from a book. . . . If she only knew . . . that I need to talk if I’m going to learn, she wouldn’t send me to the principal’s office so much. She says my talking is disruptive in the classroom. She’s the only person talking. In my opinion, that’s a disruption.

—Jeff Gray and Heather Thomas

Virtually all people can learn most things in more than one way. However, while one approach may make the process of learning seem more natural or accessible to a particular learner at a particular time, another approach may confound the process for that same learner. Although individual preferences for learning are fluid, depending on the circumstances or context, a mismatch between how a student learns best in a particular context and how the teacher expects the student to learn can impede the learning process.

 

Chapter 8

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8

Managing a

Differentiated

Classroom

The greatest sign of success for a teacher is to be able to say, “The children are now working as if I did not exist.”

—Maria Montessori

A teacher with the conscious goal of supporting each learner’s success will necessarily learn to use all available classroom elements flexibly so there is room for a variety of students to flourish. The teacher will provide many opportunities for students to work in ways that work for them. This requires him or her being flexible and guiding students in working effectively with routines that permit both flexibility and predictability. For many teachers, the prospect of students doing a variety of things in a classroom at a given moment is daunting. It seems more viable—and easier—to have everyone work in a sort of lockstep manner. It’s just more comfortable for the teacher that way. However, the price for teacher comfort is often a classroom that accommodates only a portion of its learners.

 

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