The article describes three different teachers classrooms: Mr. Appleton, Mrs. Baker, and Ms. Cassell. All three teachers are teaching about ancient Rome.
Mr. Appleton’s class is very structured in that students go through the same process every time they learn a new subject which is read the textbook, take notes, listen to a lecture while taking notes, take quizzes, do the study guide, and then take a test. It is also structured in that students know exactly what is expected of them to learn. Mr. Appleton’s class is not differentiated at all. There are not many different activities that students can do to learn the material nor are there different questions or readings based on students’ capabilities. All students get the same questions and readings regardless of proficiency. Mr. Appleton’s class is also very fact based and fails to have students connect the material to big ideas or themes. It is also not very engaging.
Mrs. Baker’s class would be somewhat differentiated and lacks structure. She focuses on a lot of activities that engage her students. However, her activities are all over the place in that students get to learn what they want rather than all students learning the same thing. It is unclear what is expected from students to learn. Her activities also fail to capture big ideas or themes. She also fails to differentiate in a way that takes the content that all students are required to learn and tailoring it based on their proficiency.
Ms. Cassell’s class is structured, engaging, and differentiated. Ms. Cassell has clear objectives for all her students to learn. She connects these objectives to big themes. She also has activities and allows students to pick different activities, but her activities match the same objectives expected of all students. She also differentiates in a way that is tailored to students’ proficiency. Some students may get harder assignments while others easier, but all assignments have the same objectives.
People confuse differentiation to mean that students do different activities. However, different activities is not differentiation unless it is attached to the same objectives expected of all students. This is where Mrs. Baker’s class fails at differentiation. Differentiation also means taking the same assignment and varying it based on a student’s level. Differentiation also happens when students take the same objectives and personalize them, such as in Ms. Cassell’s class where each student adds his or her personal research and writing goals.
There are many ways to differentiate. In her class, Ms. Cassell differentiates learning-profiles, instruction, readiness, interest, and difficulty. All of this differentiation is tied to the same objectives expected of all students. If it wasn’t, then it wouldn’t be differentiated activities, but merely different activities.