Same As It Ever Was
This year the password is: "differentiated instruction". The walk through for the year is being conducted this week. Of course what would this post be without my take on why this doesn't work.
But in order to proceed, I realize I need to make it clear what differentiated instruction is. In a nutshell, differentiated instruction is "Creating multiple paths so that students of different abilities, interest or learning needs experience equally appropriate ways to absorb, use, develop and present concepts as a part of the daily learning process. It allows students to take greater responsibility and ownership for their own learning, and provides opportunities for peer teaching and cooperative learning."
Or in real people speak, differentiated instruction means differing what you are doing with students based on their different levels. Approaching things from different ways and giving the students an active role in their instruction. And if you're thinking there is nothing novel or different about this sort of instruction in this day and age, you would be right.
There's a few problems I have with this. For one thing, school has only been in session 20 or so days. So to sit down and start "grouping" kids by levels is a bit far fetched considering they are all novices on whatever it is they are learning. But there's yet another reason why this doesn't work in a district like mine.
Like I've lamented before, my district takes great pride in placing 3rd and 4th graders with higher standardized test scores in G&T, or Gifted and Talented programs. Only in my district, this placement is a crap shoot. There is no large gap between the "smart" students and the rest of the kids. In fact, some students are just lumped into G&T for what I believe is the real label, they're Good & Tame.
But, as I'm sure state funding ties into this somehow, someway my principal will hang on to this program no matter what. In the meantime, when you pull the smartest of the average kids out of the classroom, what you have left is the kids who are all about the same or at least differing shades of struggling. Asking students who are having trouble to teach each other a concept is like asking Helen Keller to teach you how to drive. It just isn't done.
Adding insult to injury is the help that is provided. In many ways my school goes above and beyond in terms of helping struggling students. We have before school programs. We have after school programs. Some kids even get pulled for small group during the day. And like other districts we also have teacher's assistants or paraprofessionals. These people do a variety of duties depending on the room they are in. Some actually help teach struggling learners, where others are better suited for making copies and creating kickass bulletin boards. Whatever their purpose, it's an extra set of hands in the classroom, which is always a help.
Only in my district these individuals rarely, if ever, go to the classrooms that need them. Instead they are placed with...the gifted & talented classrooms.
For differentiating purposes, here's the problem from a different perspective:
There are 18 capable students plus 1, 2 or 3 adults in classroom A. There are 21 struggling students with one adult and no additional instruction in classroom B. Which one will succeed and why? Be sure to explain your answer.
And contrary to popular belief, these kids aren't stupid. They know the score. They see that some classrooms have a lot of extra help and they know they need extra help they aren't getting. Consequently, they begin to see what the school really thinks of them. You try explaining a system that you don't agree with either to a curious eight year old.
But back to my original differentation rant. Have you ever tried to do with group work with 21 students, 14 or so of which would most definitely be classified in some capacity if they were in a different district? If you have you would know it's next to impossible. If you haven't you should still figure it's next to impossible. Just go with me on this.
So now the Assistant Superintendent is doing her announced walk through on differentiation, which in itself, is a laugh. She will be in each classroom for an allotted 3 minutes, no more, no less. We are told the time she is coming in to ensure we ARE doing differentiated instruction when she comes. But doesn't this defeat the purpose? I mean if you tell me five days in advance that you'd like me to be making cotton candy I'm also sure that could be arranged, but does witnessing something for a scheduled 3 minutes guarantee it's being utilizied on a daily basis? I think not.
And finally, the piece de resistance. When my principal was running around, scheduling times, she asked me if anybody was in the room with me at that time. She's still under the impression I have more help than I do. Occassionally another teacher comes in during that time, my writing block, to "assist" but really, it's just because the principal told her she had to. She has a class of her own, so she's not about to go above and beyond for me. So I told her that sometimes this teacher is int the room, sometimes not. She told me to make sure she was there that day.
Because you can't really differentiate without more than one adult and the Assistant Superintendent can't really know the horrible truth about how these kids are not getting help now can they? Cause that would be telling the truth and as we all know, telling the truth is wrong.
Wait, that can't be right.