The principle behind differentiated instruction is pretty basic: to teach each child in a classroom in a personalized way. By eliminating the group instruction format in most circumstances, children are able to learn in unique ways that best suit their needs. This focus on individualization has certain advantages that appear in the classroom setting, but not without disadvantages appearing as well. Here are the key points to consider when evaluating the pros and cons of differentiated instruction.
What Are the Pros of Differentiated Instruction?
1. Kids get to learn in a way that makes information retention easier.
Some children learn better through visual instruction. Others learn better when they are able to read what they’re supposed to do. Some kids are extremely active and bounce off of the walls, yet are still learning while they are active. Sometimes children prefer to sit for hours at a time to absorb everything like a sponge. Differentiated instruction allows every child to find their best way to learn.
2. It documents how each child will learn so that everyone stays on the same page.
In the traditional school setting, only children with special learning needs are given an individualized education plan. This sets these children apart and often makes them the subject of bullying. Under a differentiated instruction plan, every student receives a documented individualized education plan. This helps parents and teachers stay on the same page with each other so that learning is consistent in every environment.
3. It eliminates teaching routines that become cumbersome.
When a teacher has taught the same curriculum in the same way year after year, it is very difficult to retain a passion for teaching. By having every child learn a different way, teachers are given the power to be creative in their approach to their curriculum. There are never any days that are the same because there is always something new to be learned.
4. It provides teachers with a higher level of flexibility.
Under group instruction guidelines, teachers are forced into standardized grading practices based on the specific demands of a governing entity. Under differentiated instruction, students are graded based on their own performance and work toward a passing grade based on their own needs and goals. Instead of being compared to other students, each student is compared to their learning baseline they had on the first day of school for that grade.
What Are the Cons of Differentiated Instruction?
1. It essentially creates a second full-time job for the teacher.
Each student needs an individualized education plan, which means every student must be evaluated to determine what their best learning style will be. Teachers are forced into a position where they have to individually teach each student every lesson every day, doubling their overall work requirements. A large classroom in such a system would make teaching impossible.
2. Some children could prevent the class from moving on.
Students all have different strengths and weaknesses. The problem is that some weaknesses can be profound enough that it forces the teacher to stop progressing through a curriculum until the student can understand the information sufficiently. It can slow down the educational process so well, in fact, that some students may not receive any help on some days because the teacher is so focused on the student who is struggling.
3. There really isn’t a schedule to follow.
Because differentiated instruction is based on student needs, the only schedule in place is a time when school starts and a time when it ends. There isn’t a jumping from subject to subject in the lower grades. Because schedules have long been part of the teaching experience around the world, this new system can be very difficult for teachers to function within. This change in habit can reduce a teacher’s energy levels and that ultimately limits their ability to be creative within the classroom.
4. It is difficult to evaluate the effectiveness of a teacher.
Because different students learn at different levels, evaluating the effectiveness of a teacher is very difficult to do. If one student proceeds at the same grade level while another grows three grade levels in a specific subject, was that because of the creativity [or lack thereof] of the teacher or the limitations of each student.
The pros and cons of differentiated instruction can certainly be helpful in small classroom environments. It may not be possible for this type of learning to happen in large scale classrooms. By evaluating these key points, each school district can decide if this is a structure they would wish to pursue.
Crystal Lombardo is a contributing editor for Vision Launch. Crystal is a seasoned writer and researcher with over 10 years of experience. She has been an editor of three popular blogs that each have had over 500,000 monthly readers.