Thursday, March 31, 2011

Integrating Understanding by Design and Differentiated Instruction: focusing on the students

This year I've been thinking a lot about UbD and DI and recently borrowed a book from the professional development section of our school library on this very subject.  Written by the gurus of these practices, Carol Ann Tomlinson and Jay McTighe, I knew that this was a book I wanted to read when on the very first page I came across the statement:  beset by lists of content standards and ...... accountability tests, many educators sense that both teaching and learning have been redirected in ways that are potentially impoverishing for those who teach and those who learn.

At the recent ECIS IT Conference I was in a session where we were asked what factors could influence how well a student was doing at school.  We came up with many different things, only one of which was connected with the actual teaching.  In the first chapter of the book it was pointed out that effective teachers take account of the following:

  • WHOM they are teaching - the students
  • WHERE they are teaching - the learning environment
  • WHAT they teach - the content
  • HOW they teach - the instruction
If teachers lose sight of any one of these, the quality of learning is impaired.

Having read previous work by Carol Ann Tomlinson, I know she believes in teaching to the high end.  That all students benefit from complex tasks that encourage creative thinking.  She says that differentiation begins with what are too high expectations for many students - but that the purpose of differentiation is to support and enable more and more students to succeed at these very high levels.  Often it is a matter of allowing learners to express their learning in ways that best suit their strengths through varied products and performances.  Yet assignments often don't allow opportunities for diversity and students are often not encouraged to express diverse views.

The final section of the first chapter states:  Excellent teaching is of immense importance.  So is coherent, meaning-rich curriculum.  But in the end, education is about learning.  Learning happens within students, not to them.  Learning is a process of creating meaning that happens one student at a time .... However impressive our curriculum design, it will have to be implemented in diverse ways .... and in response to diverse learner needs .... or it will not result in learning.

The next chapter is all about the content and what really matters in learning.  I'm excited to be reading more.

Photo Credit:  Think Different by Guy Fawkes

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