“…when we segregate students for instruction based on what we perceive they are capable of doing, we have already sent many of them messages that homogeneity matters more than community and that we believe only some students are truly smart.”
Carol Ann Tomlinson
My quest to learn more about differentiation by reading Carol Ann Tomlinson’s second edition of The Differentiated Classroom continues, as does my desire to share just a bit of my learning as I read. In addition to her book, I also enjoyed reading Carol's powerful response to a recent rant against differentiation; please take time to read her rebuttal here if you are interested.
A downside to reading this book and, in turn, trying to share my learning with others is that I simply find myself wanting to share word-for-word many of Tomlinson's sage insights. For example, she makes a strong case that no patented formula for differentiation exists. However, she does outline what she calls, “Three Pillars That Support Effective Differentiation.” Those three pillars are the three P’s of: Philosophy, Principles, and Practices. Although several chapters of the book are devoted to the latter two pillars, it is the former, philosophy, that must be our foundation for effective differentiation and, without which, we have no chance of effectively responding to the needs of all learners in our schools. What does a “Philosophy” of differentiation look like? According to Tomlinson, it is based on the following four beliefs:
- Diversity is normal and valuable.
- Every learner has a hidden and extensive capacity to learn.
- It is the teacher’s responsibility to be the engineer of student success.
- Educators should be champions of every student who enters the schoolhouse doors.
Last week, I crafted a few “We Will” statements educators should take to align with creating learning environments conducive to student growth. In hindsight, I think I got ahead of myself. Before we talk about any action steps (or behaviors), we must first examine our mindset (or beliefs). Do we believe in these four statements attributed to a differentiation mindset? Truthfully, as I read them, I saw them not merely as cornerstones of a “differentiation philosophy” but of an overall "educational philosophy." Years ago, a question that seemed to be in vogue during interviews--that I rarely hear posed nowadays--was, “What is your philosophy of education?” If asked today, my personal response would align with these four statements.
If we accept and welcome diversity among our students--and each other--as the norm, rather than the exception, we take our first giant leap toward existing as a thriving community of leaders and learners….who also happen to believe in differentiation. If we sincerely believe that every child we teach possesses hidden talents and a vast capacity to learn, we take another giant step toward creating a vibrant community of learners and leaders...while also serving as educators who are effective in differentiating services for our children. Next, we all know that the most powerful variable impacting student academic achievement is the classroom teacher. If every teacher accepts responsibility for engineering a successful journey of learning for each student they teach, we take a gargantuan step toward creating a high-achieving community of learners and leaders…who happen to respect and support each other’s differences, needs, and strengths. Finally, if each one of us champions every child who enters our schoolhouse doors, we take the largest step of all in creating a world class community of learners and leaders...a community that also happens to become known for having schools filled with differentiated classrooms.
Let’s avoid labeling our students or adhering to any preconceived notions of their learning potential; instead, let's believe in a community of learners and leaders, each of whom possesses an innate curiosity and capacity for growth and strive to ensure that each one realizes their full potential. I am thankful for the thousands of amazing teachers I know who operate from a philosophy grounded in the tenets of differentiation; believing in these tenets--and acting on these beliefs--is another way we Teach with Passion!