So That All May Learn: Differentiating Instruction in the Primary Social Studies Classroom, pp. 2 of 7

These beliefs are important as they will influence educators’ decisions in curriculum planning and instruction.

Tomlinson (2003b) defines differentiated instruction as a systematic approach in curriculum planning and instruction to enable academically diverse learners to acquire the targeted knowledge, skills and dispositions of the planned curriculum. This approach is based on the belief that “One size does not fit all”, that is, a singular approach to instruction will not help all the students in the class to learn. Very often, because we have to meet the challenge of ‘covering’ the syllabus, we end up doing ‘stand up and deliver’ routines. Unfortunately we also often discover that not all the students are with us at the end of these routines and so we end up conducting remedial lessons (which sometimes are merely reprises of the ‘stand up and deliver’ routines). 

This does not mean, however, that we have to throw out all that we have been doing all these years. Experienced teachers are differentiating instruction when they reflectively select different content for different groups of students or when they set work of differing levels of difficulty for their students according to their abilities. Many teachers are already using mixed ability teaching in their lessons. My student teachers very often tell me that their lesson plans cater to ‘HAMALA’ (high ability, middle ability & low ability) students. So the idea of differentiating instruction is not new. What we need to remember is that differentiating instruction is not simply catering to student differences in abilities. In a nutshell, differentiated instruction is about differentiating the content, process and product of student learning in response to their differences in learning profiles, interests and readiness levels. This will be elaborated on in the next section.

How can I Differentiate Instruction?

In instructional planning a teacher has to consider two essential factors – student needs and curriculum requirements. A third important factor to consider is also the environment in which lessons take place. Thus, these three factors - who, what and where we teach, influence how we teach. (Tomlinson & Eidson, 2003a).

In considering who we teach when planning differentiated instruction, we should take into account three student characteristics:

An Inspiring Quote

"[Open-mindedness] includes an active desire to listen to more sides than one; to give heed to facts from whatever source they come; to give full attention to alternative possibilities; to recognize the possibility of error even in the beliefs that are dearest to us."

~ John Dewey, How We Think

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